Bringing Star Trek closer to reality

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The best part about having a new Star Trek movie (and one with great reviews as well) is the number of articles that are then written about the subject - not the movie itself, but whether humanity will ever be able to achieve something akin to what those in Star Trek have. Not just from a technological point of view, but a sociological one as well. Two of these are particularly interesting IMO.

Here's one from that deals with the idea of becoming a peaceful humanity on a more or less utopian planet, and the overall conclusion is that this might not be so unrealistic. As long as the bar is not set too high you could probably make the argument that a number of countries in the world are already utopian to a certain extent. If a country has a representative democracy, people can live out their lives the way they wish, crime is relatively low and there is no risk of war then the basic requirements have already been met.

One part of the article I strongly disagree with though:

Taking this idea a step further, Richard Koenigsberg, a former professor of psychology at Queens College in New York City, argues that it's not governments, but the idea of countries at all that creates war.

"Warfare is linked to the human attachment to 'nations.' As long as people believe that countries are the most significant thing in the world and that 'nations have the right to kill,' then warfare will persist," he said.
This idea smacks of the simplistic idea found in New Atheism that religion is also what causes people to kill / do bad things, and that if you could just remove the attachment to that we would have a much more peaceful society. No, there's no idea in the human consciousness that one can just remove that bring about a complete change in the way we conduct business. What does bring about change is much simpler: education (curiosity) and communication with others. A situation like the one you see in the movie Wag the Dog couldn't exist anymore, because now whenever anyone of a certain prominence makes a statement there is an army of a few million bloggers and others to check whether what is being said is true or not. Remember the attempted attack on Obama during the 2008 campaign for his tire gauge comment? The GOP made a go at trying to show the comment as a sign that Obama was out of touch on energy policy, but over the next few days you saw article after article saying that this just wasn't true, and that proper tire pressure really is a good part of a proper national energy strategy...and the prevalence of online video has also been a game changer. If you want to know what someone said on a subject, do a quick search, find the video of them saying it, and make up your own mind.

Below that article are a ton of comments, so take a look at those as well.

The second one is here, and it's entitled "why we need to reach the stars (and we will)". This one is all about technology, specifically about the eventual development of a warp drive. The idea behind a warp drive is quite simple: because it's technically impossible to move faster than light within space-time, all you have to do is work with space-time itself. This is known as the Alcubierre drive, and the concept is as follows:
The ship would ride this wave inside a region known as a warp bubble of flat space. Since the ship is not moving within this bubble, but carried along as the region itself moves, conventional relativistic effects such as time dilation do not apply in the way they would in the case of a ship moving at high velocity through flat spacetime. Also, this method of travel does not actually involve moving faster than light in a local sense, since a light beam within the bubble would still always move faster than the ship; it is only "faster than light" in the sense that, thanks to the contraction of the space in front of it, the ship could reach its destination faster than a light beam restricted to travelling outside the warp bubble. Thus, the Alcubierre drive does not contradict the conventional claim that relativity forbids a slower-than-light object to accelerate to faster-than-light speeds.
Where to start? Once the economy has improved again (which it seems to be beginning to do, ever so slightly) it might be nice to see some funding set up for something like NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program (discontinued in 2002) again.

If you check Google Trends there's much, much more interest in the term "Star Trek" than there is for the term "warp drive", but if you take a look at the two separately and then combine them so that the comparison is to themselves instead of the other term the correlation is quite interesting:

More interest in Star Trek = more discussion on warp drive = better for humanity.


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