Saturday salon 7/7

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.

2. The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism

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.

He says:

    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.

17 thoughts on “Saturday salon 7/7”

  1. This post got a bit out of hand and is really three loosely connected posts in one. I still intend to do a small segment as an explainer on the GST fix. I’ll do it later, and let you know when it’s done.

  2. Thanks Brian:
    Alright. I’m a dreamer. Human beings will (unless they make themselves extinct first) find some way, a better way, of crossing interstellar space and settling elsewhere. Frédéric Marin and Camille Beluffi have taken us one more step along the way; good on them, It won’t be in my lifetime though.

    Overcoming hopelessness? That’s given me a whole weekend of cogitation.

    David Leyonhjelm should have had more grace and good manners in the face of provocation.

    He should go.

    Whatever her background, Sarah Hanson-Young crossed the line well-and-truly when she did not discriminate All from Most from Many from Few from None That was not only unfair and insulting, that was blatantly dishonest. My own feeling is that it was not a heat-of-the-moment thing. Well, she certainly did score undeserved publicity but at an awful cost to women who have been striving to overcome unfairness and harshness in their lives – as well as at a cost to men who try their hardest to do the right thing by womenfolk.

    She should go, too.

  3. GB, I note in passing that in telling SHL she should ‘stop shagging men’ DL did not discriminate All (men) from Most (men) from Many (men) from Few (men).

    Just sayin’.

  4. I’ve always queried whether SHY was the best advocate for the causes she cares passionately about. Di Natale was wise to take immigration off her, so she only has finance, trade, the arts, education, youth, water and the Murray-Darling Basin.

    However, no-one deserves what she’s copped.

  5. See also 18C: stupid white man and venting students.

    Mark Kenny quoted Senator David Leyonhjelm thus:

    “If you want to take offence, that’s your choice. You have the choice of choosing another feeling. Offence is always taken, not given. So if you don’t want to be offended, you, it’s up to you; don’t be offended.”

    Then he got stuck into him:

    David Leyonhjelm is a boorish, supercilious know-all with the empathy of a besser block.

    Then about Leyonhjelm and Malcolm Roberts:

    You see, this gormless duo has declared, with all their angry-white-male certitude, that a verbal abuser cannot cause offence or humiliation. It is all in the mind of the recipient.

    In their peerless assessment of the lived experience of all minorities, they have decreed that the fault of hate-speech does not lie with the utterer of a given slur or insult, no matter how cruel, baseless, or humiliating. Rather, the “offence” lies with the recipient – the subject who simply “decides” to be affronted.

    That’s Mark Kenny in Free-speech fundamentalists break free of good conscience.

    DL should not be in parliament and probably would not be, had he not been listed at the top of the ballot paper which confused some voters who thought he was a Liberal.

  6. Science fiction often has tales of people who set out to visit some planet far far away and find when they arrive that the planet has been colonized by people who left earth after they did on a faster ship.

  7. Unfair to Besser Blocks.
    I have never heard a Besser Block use crude language.

  8. I would advise SHY, if she asked me, to read the 2nd post.

    Truth is DL is very empathetic but the need for a think skin come from being in the centre protecting “ Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness “ from the authoritarian types on the left and right.
    He gets labeled with everything from a far right neoconservative to a far left progressive every day and shrugs it off. I’m guessing he’d have a chuckle at Kenny’s insulting screed or just say fuck off. If such an insulting article were published with SHY as the subject she’d lawyer up and assume the victim position.

    Libertarians are just individuals copping it from collectivists on all sides. Being armed with resilience and hope helps.

  9. zoot:
    Good point. DL did not specify, either, whether the men were tall or short or of indefinite height; that was a serious omission for an experienced politician. Nor did he indicate whether the men were physical or fictional beings. It is none of my business if SHY is virginal, promiscuous or only so on days of the week ending in a “Y” – but DL, having made his insulting, offensive remark did neglect to tell us whether he himself was a participant, partial participant, aspiring participant, rejected participant or dejected participant in any such shaggery. There is far too much secrecy in government these days and DL is only making it worse by covering up his own part, real or imaginary, in the matter he raised. He has had plenty of time to tell us the truth yet he has remained silent on his own part in this. He must go.

    Although you do have choices – usually very limited choices – about how you can respond to offence inflicted on you, but DL is wrong about offense being taken, not given.

    I do have my own doubts about SHY’s apparent passion and sincerity over certain causes and issues. Young or not, woman or not, Greens or not, I see SHY as just another self-serving , manipulative and ruthless politician.

  10. Brian (Re: 1. How realistic is space travel?)

    Getting into low earth orbit requires an enormous amount of energy. To lift a payload of 1 kg mass into low earth orbit (with a theoretical minimum terminal velocity of 8 km/s) without consideration for lifting the fuel, the fuel tank, the rocket engine, the cargo container, and all other requirements for a self-contained lift system (i.e. rocket) requires a theoretical 32 MJ of energy minimum from the Earth’s surface. But this is the theoretical minimum to get into space but won’t keep the mass in orbit for long – escape velocity is more like 11 km/s. Without at least one space elevator, I think space travel would be hugely energy intensive.

    Once organic life is in space, cosmic radiation becomes a significant problem, particularly outside the Earth’s magnetic field, that requires adequate shielding. Adequate shielding is likely to be heavy.

    Beyond Mars’ orbit, the Sun’s solar radiation energy density is probably inadequate for powering a spacecraft’s energy systems, so some other long-term sustainable self-contained energy system is required.

    Then there’s the propulsion system that can get the spaceship to a destination in a reasonable amount of time, which if fast enough has relativistic implications.

    So I think there are major problems that need to be resolved before humanity can travel to other star systems.

    But humanity needs to sort out a sustainable, affordable, reliable, zero-carbon emissions energy system here on Earth, and soon (before 2050).

  11. Ambi, when I said “poets” I really meant other creative writers also. The German “Dichter” comes closer.

  12. May I also point out that 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is irrelevant in this instance.

  13. Geoff Miell:
    Your last point first: We do need to solve a lot of very dangerous problems here on Earth before we can actually get going on human exploration of Space beyond the Moon.
    Of course sending rockets straight up is energy-intensive; the Space Elevator is a brilliant – but not the only – concept for putting payloads into Space.
    Way way back in the ‘Fifties, the Soviet Union was toying with the idea of spiralling gradually into Space with tremendously huge but efficient aircraft as the first stage launch vehicles; I believe some commercial venturers are now revisiting the concept.
    Since aerodynamics is of little importance in a hard vacuum, why not have an exceedingly large volume space-craft with the small living and cargo modules inside and with the large volume between taken up with some sort of very low mass magnetic shielding system? The whole vessel doesn’t have to look as sleek as a Buck Roger’s spaceship, just so long as the humans inside aren’t fried.
    Propulsion? Ah, at last. A non-homicidal use for nuclear power. Then again, who is to say we won’t find the celestial equivalents of terrestrial fair winds and favourable currents in interstellar Space? (Though we stand Buckley’s Chance of finding any such if nong-nongs keep trying to save(??) revenue by cutting back on research in pure science).

    The easiest way to go into Space would be to invite Dr. Who around for tea. Wonder how much he would charge to charter the Tardis

    Can understand your attitude when DL has to cop it, all the time, from the oxygen-thieves on both side of mainstream politics – but that doesn’t excuse him for behaving like a dill and a schoolyard bully or like an adversarial lawyer. His most despicable outrage was in making SHY look like a responsible, caring advocate for respect towards women; that was unforgivable.

  14. Six boys now out of the cave in Thailand.

    69 dead in Japan and millions out of their homes with more heavy rain predicted.

  15. Correction, four boys out of the cave. The media have been moved away from the scene of action. I believe the Thai media have closer access. So there was some guesswork in initial reports.

  16. I despise Lee (Brown) Rhiannon more than SHY. The way Lee still talks about re-nationalisation, bringing back the closed shop and waxing nostalgic about the Green Bans and the BLF reminds everyone that she’s a political dinosaur who thinks Butskellism will come bacx.

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