The Final Frontier

The keys to our future

Phish — Also Sprach Zarathustra

For an astronaut gazing down on the earth from aboard the ISS, I imagine there must be a certain perspective gained perhaps unknowable to those of us here below. Each of us on our own interfaces and interacts with society in our unique ways, but we each see only points of contact with our surroundings, every touch a wave function’s collapse, every conversation only a single shared presence amongst the throng. To an astronaut in orbit, these points of contact are experienced at an entirely different scale, every stray glance a population’s assessment, every photograph a Schrödinger’s box large enough for a big functional rocket.

To experience civilization from such a distance, I imagine the perceived granularity abstracts individuals from points to distributions. The clouds’ haze obscuring the crisp details of landscape. For these statisticians inferring distribution properties from such a sampling, the central limit theorem suggests that the derived sample statistics will often be normally distributed, even if the underlying distribution is not. Such convergence to gaussian driven by the stochastic elements acting independently. But our distant observer must surely discover that our mass does not follow these rules. Through the interconnections of agents and feedback between scales the distributions of our populations bear transience, mountains as yet unclimbed are scaled, new plateaus ever achieved.

Such progress is certainly not assured for our society. There may be barriers and pitfalls, there may be properties of non-ergodicity at play, there may be points of no return. We may never predict with certainty these obstacles in our path, the best we can hope is that we learn from what inferences are available to us. Some clues we may find in evidence or trends, others we can only discover from the cold mistress of experience.

There are heroes among us, those whose sacrifice has made possible our journey. For with every new system and capability we can never model every eventuality. There are outcomes beyond our foresight, risks that emerge from the complexity. With every failure we gain some knowledge, every individual sacrifice furthering our collective cause.

And oh what a cause. The fulfillment of promise. From the contributions of individuals, the progression of humanity. The expanded frontiers of our reach. The conquering of our limits. The evolutionary leaps.

Make no mistake, these milestones are each of durable significance. Non-ergocidity applies not just to exit barriers but entry barriers as well. There are some thresholds which once crossed may be no turning back, no return to prior form. We must be cautious of what creations we allow brought to life, for there are tiers of risk between those born by the individual and the collective, and even the tiniest systemic risk over time may compound to monstrous proportion.

This does not preclude the need for invention, for there are challenges before us that may only be bested by creation. We graduated from the Bronze Age with the invention of steel, the Industrial Age by the knowledge worker. These transitions are surely self-evident in retrospect, but were never assured, and only through intentional experimentation and explorations into the unknown could ever be realized. Each paradigm in its own right the fulfillment of a moon shot.

Such moon shots may be the work of governments, private enterprise, or the two in tandem. These considerations are just logistics. In the end what matters not is the means, what matters is the ends. We all have our parts to play, whether they be captain, pilot, navigator, or engineer. Some of us may even just be here to document the journey.

For a fisherman on night expedition offshore from the Florida Keys, I imagine one gets a kind of window onto the experience of an astronaut in space. Out amongst the stars, away from the lights of the city, so much comes into focus, like in the solitude of a trail near the end of a long run. The cellular signal long out of reach, the only connection to shore a radio dependent on a battery’s charge, and that solitary motor which you can only pray will come through for you and your shipmates when it is time to start up for the long journey home.

Deodato — Also Sprach Zarathustra

Books that were referenced here or otherwise inspired this post:

Apollo 8 — Jeffrey Kluger

Apollo 8

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Photographs taken at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.

For further readings please check out my Table of Contents, Book Recommendations, and Music Recommendations.



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Nicholas Teague

Writing for fun and because it helps me organize my thoughts. I also write software to prepare data for machine learning at Consistently unique.