Fine Tuning the Drake Equation with the Rezabek Ratio

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Starlink Satellite Constellation

After the 2013 Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress a number of those of us who participated continued to correspond about interesting ideas that came out of the conversations, and one of these ideas was that of the Rezabek Ratio. During a discussion of METI (active messaging of extraterrestrial intelligence) by Jim Benson, Heath Rezabek suggested that someone opposed to unregulated METI could broadcast a static or random signal as a masking counter-signal to a METI signal and essentially silence the outbound METI signal. Formally, this can be expressed such that the factors of the Drake equation, which terminates with the number of communicative civilizations (which Carl Sagan would have identified with the number of civilizations in possession of large radio telescopes), could be supplemented by another factor that represents the number of communicating civilizations the signals of which are electronically suppressed. We came to call this factor the Rezabek Ratio after Heath. …


Alternative Neural Architectures for Consciousness

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The issue of Science for 25 September 2020 features a crow on its cover with the headline “Avian Awareness: Carrion crows display sensory consciousness.” There are three articles in the journal on this theme, “A neural correlate of sensory consciousness in a corvid bird” by Andreas Nieder, Lysann Wagener, and Paul Rinnert, “A cortex-like canonical circuit in the avian forebrain” by Martin Stacho, Christina Herold, Noemi Rook, Hermann Wagner, Markus Axer, Katrin Amunts, and Onur Güntürkün, and “Birds do have a brain cortex — and think” by Suzana Herculano-Houzel.

Everyone who has watched crows carefully knows that they are intelligent birds. A friend once told me that if he went outside and pretended to target crows with a broom handle as though it were a gun, the birds would not move, but if he went outside with an actual gun, the birds would scatter. There is a video of a crow repeatedly sliding down a snowy roof, as well as another video of two crows sliding and rolling on a snow-covered car, which looks like the kind of intentional play behavior we associate with mammals (there are many similar videos of crows playing). I’m sure everyone has their own anecdotal account of avian intelligence. …


Another Counterfactual Central Nervous System

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The Reflex Arc.

In A Counterfactual on Central Nervous System Development I speculated on the possibility of an evolutionary trajectory in which central nervous system (CNS) clusters developed supervening upon sensory organs, so that the organisms of such a counterfactual biosphere had “smart” sensory organs — smart eyes, for example — and perhaps the entirety of a sophisticated brain evolved supervening directly upon sensory organs. …


Overcoming the Idée Fixe of World Government

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The western historical imagination has been haunted by the collapse of the Roman Empire, here illustrated by Thomas Cole in his painting “Desolation” (1836) from the series “The Course of Empire

Ever since I first became interested in futurism in the 1970s, and I began to read everything I could find on futurism, I noticed the almost exclusive interest in world government as the political paradigm of futurism, and even at the time I thought it was odd. I still find it odd today, and so I have gone looking for explanations for the political monoculture of futurism. …


A Case Study of Norse Civilization and Some Reflections on the Methodology of the Study of Civilization

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Usually when a civilization goes into decline, its geographical extent contracts at the same time as its social and political institutions lose complexity, so that contraction and loss of complexity are correlated for causal reasons. One could distinguish the cases in which territorial contraction (perhaps caused by aggression by a neighboring power) causes loss of institutional complexity, and those cases in which the loss of institutional complexity causes the loss of territory.


The Idea of Civilization-States Becomes a Geostrategic Talking Point

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I first heard the term “civilization-state” in 2012 (cf. some brief comments on the article and Civilization-States and Their Attempted Extirpation), and then just a few weeks ago I ran across an article by Bruno Maçães, The Attack of the Civilization State.

Now Black Pigeon Speaks has made a video about civilization states, Clash of Civilizations and Neo-Turkish Caliphate Rising, in which he cites several sources of which I was unaware: The Irresistible Rise of the Civilization-State by Alex Roussinos, China, Russia and the return of the civilisational state by Adrian Pabst, and the book The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State by Zhang Weiwei. …


Cultural Evolution from Distant Past to Far Future

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We can construct an historical sequence in the development of civilization on Earth such that a small number of pristine civilizations initiate an age of agricultural civilizations, and later with the industrial revolution the paradigm of agricultural civilizations, by now almost ten thousand years old, gives way to a new paradigm. This new post-agricultural paradigm I addressed in Permutations of Post-Agricultural Civilizations: Industrial, Technological, and Scientific Formations, in which I suggested that a tightly-coupled STEM cycle entails differences of emphasis that can yield scientific, technological, and industrial engineering civilizations. We are still early in this development, and we have not yet seen the possibilities of this paradigm play out. …


Industrial, Technological, and Scientific Formations

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Having recently written about scientific civilization through the lens of comments by Jacob Bronowski and Susanne Langer, I have been doing more research on the idea of scientific civilization for further posts in the series. This has brought additional material to my attention, but it has also raised questions. Why focus on scientific civilization? Does scientific civilization have a special place in the future of civilization, or ought it to have a special place in the future of civilization?

In particular, what relationship does scientific civilization have to other forms of post-agricultural civilization, or what we might also call modern civilization? One can find “industrial civilization,” “technological civilization,” and “scientific civilization” used synonymously, which raises the question as to whether these ideas are subtly distinct or not. Is there a reason to distinguish between industrial civilization, technological civilization, and scientific civilization, or should we regard them as different names for the same thing? …


A Commentary on Susanne K. Langer on Scientific Civilization

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Susanne K. Langer 1895–1985

When I wrote about Jacob Bronowski on scientific civilization I noted that the book in which Bronowski mentioned scientific civilization was about the history of science, not about civilization, but Susanne K. Langer’s 1961 essay “Scientific Civilization and Cultural Crisisis a discussion of civilization that takes up the idea of scientific civilization in an explicit way:

“Science is the source and the pacemaker of this modern civilization which is sweeping away a whole world of cultural values. It is with good reason that we are meeting here to discuss the role of science in civilization; I would like to carry the issue a little further, and talk about the effect of this scientific civilization on human culture throughout the contemporary world. For it is not only in countries on which it has impinged suddenly and dramatically, but also in the countries of its origin — in Europe and America — that the technological revolution, with its entirely new mental and material standards, has deeply disturbed local and even national cultures.” …


The Failure of Enlightenment Universalism

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Bruno Maçães

I was very interested to see the article “The Attack Of The Civilization-State: A world society seemed to be advancing. But then the civilization-state struck back” by Bruno Maçães (formerly Portugal’s secretary of state for European affairs) about civilization-states. I had previously encountered the term “civilization-state” in a Martin Jacques article (A Point Of View: Is China more legitimate than the West?) for the BBC in 2012. I wrote about this in some brief comments on the article, and then again in Civilization-States and Their Attempted Extirpation.

As with the earlier BBC article by Martin Jacques, there is a lot here with which I agree, and a lot with which I do not agree. It is an interesting read, but it should be read with caution. Maçães points out China’s and India’s growing rejection of western political ideas, which are tied to the nation-state, but he doesn’t discuss the extent to which the liberal democratic nation-state of the west is itself in crisis and many within the west have recognized that the liberal world order will eventually have its reckoning. Of course, to do this would have required an essay of twice this length or more, so I can understand why Maçães didn’t do this. …

Nick Nielsen

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