Sunday, December 31, 2006

Doomsday's Dodge--Taking Out Insurance on the End of the World

Civilisation is a delicate thing. It could end in many ways. If we humans were prudent, we would take certain precautions.

The folks at the Lifeboat Foundation feel the same way. They are dedicated to the creation of Ark I, a self-sustaining space colony for the preservation of technological civilisation.

Ark I will be initially placed in orbit around the Earth at a height of 400 kilometers (248 miles) to make it easier to engage in trade and tourists from Earth. Both it and the other Arks will be moved further away from the Earth as the project progresses.

Why should we live in orbit rather than on a planet or moon? Because orbit is far superior to the Moon and Mars for colonization, and other planets and moons are too hot, too far away, and/or have no solid surface.

Another such group is ARC--Alliance to Rescue Civilization. Here is part of ARC's mission statement:

ARC Mission:

The mission of the Alliance to Rescue Civilization (ARC) is to protect the human species and its civilization from destruction that could result from a global catastrophic event, including nuclear war, acts of terrorism, plague and asteroid collisions. To fulfill its mission, ARC is dedicated to creating continuously staffed facilities on the Moon and other locations away from Earth. These facilities will preserve backups of scientific and cultural achievements, and of the species important to our civilization. In the event of a global catastrophe, the ARC facilities will be prepared to reintroduce lost technology, art, history, crops, livestock and, if necessary, even human beings to the Earth.

ARC Vision

The Alliance to Rescue Civilization is a very long-term international project. It seeks to copy and continuously update the essence of Earth in its many forms for safekeeping at a manned site off the planet (the Moon or a huge station are the leading candidates.) ARC would in effect comprehensively back up Earth's collective hard drive for use in rescuing and rebuilding the planet in the event of a catastrophic disaster, natural or man-made. It would in no sense be a time capsule, but would rather be an updated record of Earth's multiple life forms, flora and fauna, and its broad spectrum of arts and sciences, history, technology and all else that constitutes the planet's collective nature and culture.

In the event of a major catastrophe, for example worldwide plague, comet impact, nuclear war or social collapse, the staff of ARC will function in a rescue capacity rather than as librarians. They will be prepared to help the survivors reestablish a functioning technological society, or in the worst instance, to repopulate the Earth themselves, and re-introduce the additionally needed biological species here. The primary mission of ARC will be to secure our tenancy of this planet, although it is fully compatible with plans to extend human settlement beyond the Earth-Moon system. ARC will provide our manned space program with the central purpose which it has so sorely lacked, linking it firmly to human survival on our home planet and elsewhere. The ARC facility will stand as a visible and inspiring symbol of our aspirations, one which can overcome the negative connotations associated with disaster relief. With ARC in place, of course, other scientific and commercial uses of space will be facilitated. ARC can serve as an engine that pulls many freight cars.

In 1975, Oscar Falconi wrote an essay on the need for humans to colonize space. He discusses several ways in which humans might destroy themselves and their ability to survive on earth. Arthur C. Clarke reached the same conclusions as Falconi in his 1951 book, The Exploration of Space. More recently, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking wrote: "I don't think the human race will survive . . unless we spread into space."

It is wise for humans to take precautions against likely disasters. Distributing human knowledge databases in different regions of space might be helpful one day.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Psychological Neoteny: Bruce Charlton's Take

The problems of the neotenous society, and psychological neoteny, have received extensive coverage on another Al Fin blog. But it seems that we are not the only ones to ride this particular hobbyhorse. Bruce Charlton is an Evolutionary Psychiatrist at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Charlton is the author of a fascinating online ebook--The Modernization Imperative--and was featured in a Discovery Channel news article earlier this year. seems a growing number of people are retaining the behaviors and attitudes associated with youth.

As a consequence, many older people simply never achieve mental adulthood, according to a leading expert on evolutionary psychiatry.

...Formal education now extends well past physical maturity, leaving students with minds that are, he said, “unfinished.”

“The psychological neoteny effect of formal education is an accidental by-product — the main role of education is to increase general, abstract intelligence and prepare for economic activity,” he explained.

“But formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity to new learning, and cognitive flexibility."

"When formal education continues into the early twenties," he continued, "it probably, to an extent, counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity, which would otherwise occur at about this age.”

Charlton pointed out that past cultures often marked the advent of adulthood with initiation ceremonies.

While the human mind responds to new information over the course of any individual’s lifetime, Charlton argues that past physical environments were more stable and allowed for a state of psychological maturity. In hunter-gatherer societies, that maturity was probably achieved during a person’s late teens or early twenties, he said.

“By contrast, many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people," he said.

"People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.”

Isolating children and young adults inside classrooms, away from the productive world and meaningful responsibility, will probably result in large numbers of "failure-to-mature" adults, as we see in modern western societies. Immature adults are unprepared to face the momentous challenges that western civilisation faces today. There are many "micro-pockets" of maturity within these societies--small arenas where teens and young adults are faced with meaningful responsibility, and acquire useful competencies.

But those micro-pockets of reality exist outside of school curricula.

Stem Cells From the Umbilical Cord--More Than You Could Imagine!

I have cut dozens of umbilical cords, and drawn blood samples from many more. I never dreamed cord blood would eventually be recognized as a major new source for multipotent stem cells! Cord blood stem cells can be differentiated into all three germ layers now--ectoderm, endoderm, and mesoderm. It was recently reported that scientists at the University of Minnesota differentiated respiratory epithelial cells from umbilical cord blood [UCB].

To obtain the MLPC [multi-lineage progenitor cell] from cord blood, we used a stem cell isolation technology — PrepaCyte-MLPC — from BioE. We successfully isolated the rare MLPC from four UCB units obtained from the American Red Cross.

...We then put the UCB stem cells into culture and allowed them to expand using mesenchymal stromal cell growth medium (MSCGM) prior to adding small airway growth medium (SAGM), both mediums from Cambrex BioScience (East Rutherford, N.J., USA). Following several days in culture, we demonstrated differentiation of MLPCs into type II alveolar cells, which was confirmed by the presence of a definitive type II alveolar cell marker — surfactant protein C (SPC).

The process of sequentially using growth factors and media to differentiate stem cells into mature cell types continues to fascinate me. No one truly understands the potential of stem cells from cord blood, menstrual blood, the testicle, the breast, the brain--or any of the growing number of stem cell sources. Although Australia has legalized the production of human embryos specifically for the purpose of producing stem cells, few other countries have followed the Aussie's lead. That means that other countries will either learn to work with what is legally available, or will fall badly behind the researchers in Oz.

There is growing expertise in producing increasing varieties of cell types from readily available sources of stem cells. Resourceful scientists with ingenuity can do amazing things with the materials on hand.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Global Intelligence--The Basis for the Human Future

Hong Kong (PRC) 107 Russia 96 Fiji 84
South Korea 106 Slovakia 96 Iran 84
Japan 105 Uruguay 96 Marshall Islands 84
Taiwan (ROC) 104 Portugal 95 Puerto Rico (US) 84
Singapore 103 Slovenia 95 Egypt 83
Austria 102 Israel 94 India 81
Germany 102 Romania 94 Ecuador 80
Italy 102 Bulgaria 93 Guatemala 79
Netherlands 102 Ireland 93 Barbados 78
Sweden 101 Greece 92 Nepal 78
Switzerland 101 Malaysia 92 Qatar 78
Belgium 100 Thailand 91 Zambia 77
China (PRC) 100 Croatia 90 Congo-Brazzaville 73
New Zealand 100 Peru 90 Uganda 73
United Kingdom 100 Turkey 90 Jamaica 72
Hungary 99 Indonesia 89 Kenya 72
Poland 99 Suriname 89 South Africa 72
Australia 98 Colombia 89 Sudan 72
Denmark 98 Brazil 87 Tanzania 72
France 98 Iraq 87 Ghana 71
Norway 98 Mexico 87 Nigeria 67
United States 98 Samoa 87 Guinea 66
Canada 97 Tonga 87 Zimbabwe 66
Czech Republic 97 Lebanon 86 Congo-Kinshasa 65
Finland 97 Philippines 86 Sierra Leone 64
Spain 97 Cuba 85 Ethiopia 63
Argentina 96 Morocco 85 Equatorial Guinea 59

Table courtesy of Wikipedia
Map courtesy of R. Pongett

The tabular data above comes from Lynn and Vanhanen's IQ and the Wealth of Nations. For a good review of Richard Lynn's more recent and comprehensive Race Differences in Intelligence, look here.
Here is another fine analysis of the concept of GDP vs. IQ--with the element of free market rules thrown in.

Of muslim nations, Malaysia has the highest average IQ, 92. Malaysia's population contains 30% ethnic Chinese. Turkey has the second highest average IQ of muslim nations at 90. All other muslim nations have average IQ's of less than 90--some of them much less.

It is possible that some individual nations are misplaced on the above table, with average IQs either a bit higher or a bit lower than stated. But it is possible to detect trends by looking at different groupings of nations and their average IQ.

Given that population average IQ needs to be at least 90 for a modern technology based nation to function, immigration policy should be oriented toward inviting high value immigrants.

Observing what happened to Zimbabwe's prosperity after Robert Mugabe drove the most prosperous (and presumably most intelligent) farmers from their land, provides a good example of what NOT to do. Idi Amin's actions in Uganda provide another example. Fidel Castro's actions in Cuba provide a third. You don't want to drive out your intelligent and resourceful groups.

Update (26Dec06): Visit this Fourmilab page for a graphic illustration of the change in average global IQ with projected population trends. Accompanying the animated graphic is a thoughtful discussion of some of the issues involved in projecting trends in global intelligence.

Thanks to an Audacious Epigone commenter.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

US Education--What Will It Take To Make It Work?

The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workplace has released a new study on the state of education in the US. That would be allright except--they also released a big set of recommendations on how to solve the huge problems they identified in the US educational establishment. These recommendations are already starting to cause waves--tsunamis, in fact.

They declare that America's public education system, designed to meet the needs of 100 years ago when the workplace revolved around an assembly line, is unsuited to today's global marketplace. Already, they warn, many Americans are in danger of falling behind and seeing their standard of living plummet.

In its place, the group proposes a series of controversial reforms:

• Offer universal pre-kindergarten programs and opportunities for continuing education for adults without high school diplomas.

• Create state board exams that students could pass at age 16 to move either on to community college or to a university-level high school curriculum.

• Improve school salaries in exchange for reducing secure pension benefits, and pay teachers more to work with at-risk kids, for longer hours, or for high performance.

• Create curriculums that emphasize creativity and abstract concepts over rote learning or mastery of facts.

"We've squeezed everything we can out of a system that was designed a century ago," says Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and vice chairman of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, which produced the report. "We've not only put in lots more money and not gotten significantly better results, we've also tried every program we can think of and not gotten significantly better results at scale. This is the sign of a system that has reached its limits."

The report is getting attention in part because of those involved - people like William Brock, the former senator and Reagan-era Labor secretary; John Engler, National Association of Manufacturers president and former Michigan governor; and Joel Klein, chancellor of New York's public schools.

It's also unusual in its scope and ambition, looking at public education in the context of changes in the global economy and workforce needs, and examining education for everyone from preschoolers to adults.

The esteemed contributors to the report understand that the US educational system is corrupt to the core, and must be reformed. Unfortunately, they appear oblivious to the rot at the very core of factory education--the separation of school from responsibility and the real world.

Until the public understands the dysfunctionality of the very idea of age-segregational schooling, and the psychologically neotenous methods of education being used, the destruction will go on.

Psychological neoteny is a sad legacy to leave the future, because the neotenous will be unable to stand up to the challenges of the future.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

On Letting the Muslims Kill Each Other

Muslim jihadis appear to have no scruples concerning who they kill. It is easy for them to rationalize killing almost anyone. In Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, and other countries, muslim on muslim violence is common, and deadly.

Diana West suggests that it might be in the best interest of westerners to simply allow the various sects, factions, schisms and tribes of Islam to fight among themselves for a while.

There's another Middle Eastern strategy to deter expansionist Islam: Get out of the way. Get out of the way of Sunnis and Shi'ites killing each other. As a sectarian conflict more than 1,000 years old, this is not only one fight we didn't start, but it's one we can't end. And why should we? If Iran, the jihad-supporting leader of the Shi'ite world, is being "strangled" by Saudi Arabia, the jihad-supporting leader of the Sunni world, isn't that good for the Sunni-and-Shiite-terrorized West?
With the two main sects of Islam preoccupied with an internecine battle of epic proportions, the non-Muslim world gets some breathing room. And we sure could use it — to plan for the next round.

To plan for the next round? That is an interesting way of stating that the war between Islam and the modern world will not end until either Islam reforms itself to be more tolerant, or Islam is gone forever from the universe.

Since neither result is likely to occur in the next hundred years, expect the long war (multi-millenial so far) to continue.