Talking a Lot More

Since the advent of the Internet and digital communication, humanity has the ability to talk quite a lot more. That’s great! Brains talk a lot internally, which is why humans, with lots of brains, have tended to do well. But brains had a lot of time to develop, from smaller to bigger, from quieter to louder.

Human brains suffer abnormalities like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and depression, all of which have as one of their components a dysfunctional communication mechanism. If we don’t talk to each other right, it can cause trouble. Big trouble.

Certain disciplines, more talkative than others, such as philosophy and mathematics and law, attempted to develop protocols for talking. We have logic. We have principles of discussion. We have rules of civil and criminal procedure and other niceties of law.

But these are largely segregated. They haven’t percolated. We’re still developing, refining (and always will be) the modes of discussion, of discourse, of talk.

We should try not to be too stressed out over poor communication incidents on the internet. The forum software and topical organizations, even the ones that try to allow for the silent readers (lurkers) to assist in shaping the conversation toward more fruitful grounds, are still very basic. You often find conversations that went far away from the advertised topic very quickly. You find others that discuss aspects of the topic that seem pointless, rather than getting to the meat of the matter.

You see a lot of static between communicators. There is a general lack of compassion. People get at each other, rub the wrong way, hold grudges, miscommunicate constantly. Sometimes it feels like a mixture between a preschool and a rap battle, except the topic is neither someone’s binky nor someone’s bling.

Worse, these broken communications at higher levels can influence talk-heavy realms like politics, shaping the discourse and the patterns of thinking. Today’s disagreement over the use of the subjunctive is tomorrow’s government shutdown, or something.

Ah, but that’s what the First Amendment is all about, after all. The fact that there is some influence happening is a promising sign that the lobbyists have not quite managed to wean the leaders off of reality entirely. Unfortunately, it seems the leaks they left are to the sewer system, not to the sky.

So the good news is the fact that over time systems tend to naturally improve their communication mechanisms. They adapt. The bad news is, as far as I know there’s no telling how long it may take for the internet to improve when it comes to general communication. If you look at niches, like the Linux Kernel’s communication, some places seem to do it fairly well.

But, crucially, Mcluhan’s “medium is the message” seems to obtain (but it would be nice to see some experiments done to confirm it, anyway). So if you build a 4chan, you seem to more or less get a 4chan. If you build a Facebook, you get a Facebook. Within certain parameters, like volume of use, maybe some basic demographic features. If so, we can improve the communications as much by improving the systems as our own behaviors.


Solar Messaging for Interstellar Discovery

The sun, our star, emits something on the order of 400 terawatts (trillion, trillion watts; 15 zeros) of radiation. Per second. It is the biggest thing we have going for us. It lets us see, keeps us warm, powers our plant life.

In examining the question, “is earth alone?” we might turn to the sun. Launched in 2009, the Kepler space telescope has been finding remote planets. It has definitely found over one hundred such planets, and has thousands more unconfirmed. It does this work by focusing on the stars. It looks for telltale changes in what the star looks like over time, looks for a dimming that is caused by an orbiting planet moving between the star and the telescope.

The planets are too distant to be seen (yet?) by our instruments. But the stars, putting out terawatts of energy per second, we can see the stars.

And if we wish to signal to other intelligent life, or if it wishes to signal to us, the stars may be the most obvious and best bet. Because where else are we going to pick up a transmitter that can output terawatts?

But the trouble is how to wire this massive, powerful transmitter. As small as we are, with as limited resources as we have, it seems improbable we can make much of an impact on the solar output in any meaningful way. And even if we could, what way would that be, that would produce a detectable difference that would be definitive proof of life to aliens across the galaxy?

More importantly, what should we look for in the stars we can see?

The SETI Institute has been looking for intelligent life out there. But they tend to look for the alien equivalent of terrestrial signals: microwaves, radio waves, laser beacons. But, as far as I know, they do not look at the stars themselves, for anomalous readings that might indicate some subtle tampering by a local intelligence.

In a few hundred years, maybe, we will have advanced our space program and asteroid catalog far enough that we might endeavor to shift some asteroids about. We might do this with minimal effort, using a chain reaction in which we nudge one or a few asteroids ever so slightly. In this effort, we might produce a distinctive pattern for aliens who happen to glimpse our star. Maybe one that gives some sort of prime-number-based sequence to the next generation of alien Kepler-esque telescopes.

We might look for the same sorts of patterns in the stars we examine with our next generations of planet-finders.

Or maybe there is some other property of the stars we will learn to manipulate more easily? That we might find alien stars exhibiting the same changes?

What secrets do you see looking up at the stars? What secrets do you fail to see?