1. How realistic is space travel?
As reported in the New Scientist, Frédéric Marin, an astronomer at the University of Strasbourg, France and Camille Beluffi, a physicist who works for Casc4de, a data firm in Strasbourg, have done a thought experiment on the feasibility of reaching the nearest Earth-like planet, which happens to be Proxima b, around 4.25 million light years away, a mere 40 trillion km.
Using the fastest vehicle yet made by humans, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which can crank up to 700,000 kph, the trip would take 6,300 years. This calls for a tribe to persist that long.
They modelled biological factors, such as fertility rates, life expectancy, and even the odds of an ecological catastrophe such as a major plague.
They found that you would need a minimum of 49 males and 49 females to guard against a population crash or inbreeding. There would be a population cap of 500 and a social code so that procreation was verboten before age 35 to stretch out the generations. This would have to be varied rationally as population levels were monitored. As a safety precaution they would take along a sperm and embryo bank.
According to NASA Proxima b may not be all that hospitable. I think we should plan to be here on Earth for the next million years or so at least.
The importance of being realistic was a large part of my response to two episodes of ABC RN’s All in the mind with Professor Martin Seligman, known as the Father of Positive Psychology, addressing an exclusive audience in Australia on happiness and human flourishing:
His thesis is that psychology in modern times divides into two eras, before Martin and after Martin. (Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association in 1998.) Psychology was traditionally focussed on the science of how past trauma creates present symptoms, and how to reduce people’s misery. His mission, which he thinks has been largely successful, is for psychology to focus on expanding our experience of human happiness and well-being.
Scott Barry Kaufman review in the Scientific American is a necessary antidote. In brief, that binary is simplistic and denies in particular the work of many humanistic and personality psychologists, going back to Carl Jung, Karen Horney, Viktor Frankl, and Carl Rogers, who don’t get a mention.
That is to take nothing away from Seligman. I was interested in his broader sketching of the Axial Age about 2500 years ago where, within a band of 200 years, suddenly across the planet in places unrelated to each other the Buddha, Moses, Confucius, Jainism, the Upanishads, La Baguita, and Zarathustra appeared. The idea comes from Karl Jaspers, apparently.
- We now live in the beginning of the second axial age. And I’ll try to characterise why this is important and what it’s about. Starting roughly with the Enlightenment, but not necessarily stemming from it. For the first time there was human progress. So after the first axial age there were 2,000 years in which by no criterion that I can think of was there anything like human progress. But now, for the first time, in the last 300 years, there’s been human progress.
He’s a big fan of Steve Pinker:
- One hundred and fifty years ago the average age of death was about 40. Now it’s pushing 82 in Australia and the rest of the world. Two hundred years ago only 10% of the people on this planet had access to clean water. Now 90% of the people on earth have access to clean water.
The material conditions for happiness and well-being are on the way to being universally achieved; now we have to learn how to make gains experientially. He does not have much time for Abraham Maslow, but he is talking about Maslow’s higher needs beyond the basics of safety, shelter and sustenance.
He is impressive when he is talking about the effects severe trauma are bell-shaped. On the left you have those who are permanently damaged. However, for the most part people survive severe trauma, and three months later they are more or less on track. On the right of the bell curve there is a portion, bigger than the victims on the left, who a year later have indeed grown stronger through trauma.
But most of all, resilience and hope, which will improve our chances, can be taught and learned.
If you Google you can find plenty, including The PERMA Model: Your Scientific Theory of Happiness. Better than pills, and better than standard psychological approaches, but not perfect.
I parted company when he said that our default mental state was dreaming (that’s probably true) and this shows that we live in the future. I think the present is the only place we can be, and if anyone thinks they are somewhere else, they are deluded. I’d prefer to be present where I am, (not an original idea, I got it from a Quaker about 40 years ago.) even though that may not be the best for my well-being.
Seligman emphasises personal agency, which served him well personally and fits with the foundational values of the Union – Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Seligman’s contribution has been phenomenal. From this entry:
- Commonly known as the founder of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman is a leading authority in the fields of Positive Psychology, resilience, learned helplessness, depression, optimism and pessimism. He is also a recognized authority on interventions that prevent depression, and build strengths and well-being. He has written more than 250 scholarly publications and 20 books.
However, in his calculus of human progress there is no accounting for the fact that we live in and with an environment,itself a Goldilocks speck in a vast and mostly empty universe, and no accounting of how we treat other species. For him, no worries about limits to growth.
3. Free speech, libertarianism, manners and how women are treated in the work place
As a disclaimer, I regard libertarianism as a virulent strain of ideological thought that mutated from liberalism to the detriment of our polity and our personal and social life generally.
Carl Rogers, mentioned above, said that we should have “unconditional positive regard” for other people, especially in raising children and client-centred therapy. I’ve often tried to apply it to people generally. It’s difficult with serial killers, torturers, or people like that Austrian man who locked his daughter in the cellar and had children by her.
Generally speaking, I also believe that we should not finally judge people unless we walk a mile in their shoes, which in practical terms means never. That being said, we all have to operate on interim judgements on the best information we have.
In the case of Sarah Hanson-Young, I find her annoying and have no desire to walk a mile in her shoes. Time better spent elsewhere. However, go a few metres with her and read her piece in The Guardian about how over 10 years the situation has gotten worse, and it is now time to make a stand.
David Leyonhjelm was a vet. Vets often prefer animals to humans, but I would not take my sick dog to him if he returned to practice. He shows no capacity to de-centre, and little capacity to take information from sources external to him. And about zero compassion and empathy.
In racial discrimination law (18c) there is a concept which a judge would use of the view of the ‘ordinary Australian’. I think the ‘ordinary Australian’ would think Leyonhjelm should apologise for what he has said about SHY, especially in the public media.
Remember the ‘ordinary Australian’ is a construct in the mind of a judge, not an opinion gained through a poll. However, I assume SHY will look to defamation law rather than 18C, which is about racial vilification.
There has been comment on the previous Saturday Salon thread. I’d like to make three points here.
The first is that Leyonhjelm believes that offense is not something perpetrated, it is caused by a decision of the target to be offended. In practical terms it means that he thinks everyone has a hide as tough his.
Secondly, the behaviour of the Senate is appalling, especially the comments directed at women. See ABC RN Drive interviews with Richard Di Natale and Sue Lines, Deputy Senate President (Labor):
Di Natale sits directly in front of SHY. He says remarks that are specific and personal which are “awful” come from “right across the parliament”, remarks that should not be made in any workplace, let alone the senate which should he held to a higher standard. Di Natali makes reference to a 7.30 Report interview where SHY says:
- what I put on the record in the Senate last Thursday around sleeping with men.
Various men’s names are yelled at me across the chamber inferring and suggesting that they are men that I have, I am having apparent relationships with and I am often told to change the way that I look or the way I speak.
I am often criticised for not smiling at people enough when I am, in fact, having a very serious political argument.
But the ones that really, I am talking about, are those that relate to relationships that I am apparently meant to be having.
Leyonhjelm’s defends himself here.
Di Natale implies Labor participation in bad behaviour by not excluding them and using the phrase “right across the parliament”.
You could not hope for a fairer or more perceptive appraisal of the state of affairs than the one given Sue Lines. She wants “well-informed, considered and respectful debate”. The Senate is an aggressive, ego-driven place, she says. She wants debate to be about issues and to eliminate all personal attacks, not just sexist ones. There is a debate to be had as to whether the rules should change, or whether senate members should take personal responsibility for their behaviour. As such, Leyonhjelm appears to have broken no rules, and a censure motion would just sit on the books. She accepts the proposition that all senate members have to take responsibility for the coarsening of public discourse.
Lines points out that the original incident took place during a division, during which she had a paired absence. At that point most members would have been bunched up on one side of the chamber, so remarks could take place unrecorded by Hansard.
Thirdly, Katherine Murphy’s piece in The Guardian is worth a read. She too, has had enough and will in future call bad behaviour to account.
That page links to an excellent piece by Gay Alcorn, who addresses the issue of what is going on at Sky News. Along the way she makes the point that the Senate has delivered a real-life case study for what has been called a world-first inquiry into sexual harassment at work by the Human Rights Commission in response to the revelations of the #MeToo movement.
See also 18C: stupid white man and venting students for more on David Leyonhjelm.