Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Transductionist's Intergalactic Survival Guide, Part Two: How to Settle Space

In my last post, the first part of my planned survival guide to the galaxy, I discussed the human resolve to leave the planet Earth in search of new frontiers in space.  In this post I will discuss some suggestions as to what to look for in our destination.  In order to shorten the title of this guide I have decided to remove 'The Transductionist's Intergalactic Survival Guide', from the official title of  future posts to make the topic more discernible, but will include the meta tag, 'TIS Guide,' with each post in the series, which makes me glad that I didn't choose the alternative title 'The Transductionist's Intergalactic Travel Guide' because of the wrong crowd it might attract.  Enjoy.

Spaceship, Ady age 7
 The Transductionist's Intergalactic Survival Guide, Part Two: How to Settle Space

National space organizations around the world have consolidated a lot of their efforts into exploration of the solar system and maintaining a space station in low Earth orbit.
Both of these goals are vital to our survival in space.  In the second part of this guide to survival in the wastelands of space, I focus on one of these goals, which is also the first priority in colonizing space; namely the destination.  Most individuals and organizations must have a directed goal in mind, to keep spending in check and to keep from slipping into oblivion.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Transductionist's Intergalactic Survival Guide, Part One: Why We Need Space

Rocket, Ady age 7
 In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams we follow the exploits of earth man Arthur Dent who travels through the universe in his bathrobe after the Earth is destroyed to make way for a bypass; because bypasses have to be built.  If you haven't heard of the book you probably haven't traveled much in the western spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, and if you haven't read it, then you should.  Its a quick read, full of satire, and is at least good for a laugh.  The idea that the Earth could be destroyed for any reason, including to make way for a bypass, is the reason we all strive so hard to figure the universe out.  The unknown is what will eventually kill us.  So while Adams ultimately had a good idea to write a survival guide to the universe, he never really lets us see more than bits and pieces of it.  But in this, the first part of a series, I will try to show how the technologies and know-how collected every day right here on planet Earth, might ultimately serve us well when we abandon this rock.  To begin, I will explain why me must leave the Earth and perhaps convince you that we will.  In future parts, I will address the all important how.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Putting the Reductionist Back Together Again

For the past century, at least, a debate has raged in the poster pinned halls of scientific institutions over two methods of investigation; namely, top down or bottom up.  These two methods can be seen in the text books published in many scientific fields.  In my own field of neuroscience the text books are divided into molecular neuroscience and systems neuroscience.  The bottom-up approach, also known as the reductionist model of investigation, focuses on sub-cellular and cellular mechanisms in order to describe biological phenomena from cilia dynamics in the gut all the way up to group behavior patterns.  However it is limited in many ways by the techniques used in these investigations and is criticized for an inability to predict complex systems accurately. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

How to make money in science

Ha.  You can't make money in science.  At least not in the system in which science currently resides (for a business perspective read Peter Kissinger's article at ddn), but bare with me and I will walk through some policy changes and some personal considerations that may make the pursuit of science into what it should be; the main outlet for innovation that drives the economy of the world and your pocket.  Right now, companies are mining the data that is gathered by technicians, graduate students, post-docs, and yes, sometimes, principal investigators (P.I.s) in academic institutions in order to pull forth gold from the dredged up lesser rocks and sediment spewed forth in journals every week.   They take that information and make drugs out of it, or make leaner beef, or genetically modify your corn and then they make money from it.  And the P.I.s, the post-docs, the graduate students, and technicians, well, they mostly don't.   They do, however, get to bask in the glow of a job well done, holding their head up high, knowing that they have done their part for mankind while convincing themselves that they have no need for fancy things; like a working automobile or gourmet macaroni and cheese.  Is it any wonder why the US has seen a decreasing interest in math and science? Any well adjusted parent would be wise to steer their children into athletics or acting because it has at least the same odds of making nothing and much better odds of making a lot [a good discussion of this at Jeff Selingo's Next post at the Chronicle].