All posts by Stocker Cary

Are aliens just hibernating?

 

Are we alone in the universe, or are we not alone in the universe? Someone once pointed out that a yes in either case is terrifying. Below, I’ve abridged an article called “A New Theory on Why We Haven’t Found Aliens Yet.” Basically it’s because they might be sleeping.

Right now, there’re some big trends indicating the general direction we’re going. The internet of things, the rise of self-driving vehicles, and advanced versions of CRISPR are just the tip of the iceberg headed our way. Those will probably be small jumps.

There’re people who think ultimately we’ll become more integrated, physically, with the digital world around us.Maybe, older civilizations have already done it. It’s really just food for thought at this point.

Probability tells us extraterrestrial intelligence should be out there, so why haven’t we found a single sign of it yet?

It could be that we’re simply alone in the universe or that there is some great filter preventing intelligent life from progressing beyond a certain stage. Maybe alien life is out there, but we are too primitive to communicate with it. Or we’re inside some cosmic zoo, observed but left alone.

Now, three researchers have another potential answer. Aliens do exist but they’re just sleeping.

Maybe the universe is too hot right now for advanced, digital civilizations to make the most efficient use of their resources. Their solution: Sleep and wait for the universe to cool down.

Sophisticated life may have elected to leave biology behind and live digitally to enhance their intellectual capacities or to inhabit harsher environments in the universe with ease.

Once you’re living digitally, it’s important to process information efficiently because each computation cost is tightly coupled with temperature. The colder it gets, the lower the cost is.

Surely any aliens could cool down their systems manually, just as we do with computers. It’s possible for a civilization to cool down parts of itself, but that, too, requires work. So it wouldn’t make sense for a civilization looking to maximize its computational capacity to waste energy on that process.

Humans may find the universe to be a pretty frigid place, but digital minds may find it far too hot. It’s likely that artificial life would be in a protected sleep mode today, ready to wake up in a colder future.

Over the next trillions of years, as the universe continues to expand and the formation of new stars slows, the temperature will drop to practically zero, allowing digital life to get tremendously more done. Tremendous isn’t an understatement, either. By employing such a strategy, they could achieve up to 1030  times more than if done today (that’s a 1 with 30 zeroes after it).

Just because the aliens are sleeping doesn’t mean we can’t find signs of them. A sleeping civilization has to preserve resources for the future. Processes that threaten these resources, then, should be conspicuously absent. This includes galaxies colliding, galactic winds, and stars converting into black holes, which can push resources beyond the reach of the sleeping civilization or change their resources into less-useful forms. We could look for those missing phenomena.

But one of the researchers says, “I personally think the likeliest reason we’re not seeing aliens isn’t that they’re sleeping,” he feels it’s more likely that “they don’t exist, or they’re very far away.”

Another researcher thinks, “Any assumption is extremely speculative.” Yet, he said, the theory has a place because it’s important to cover as much ground as possible. A wide set of hypotheses tested one by one—falsifying them, pruning them—gets closer to the truth. So, there’s a modest likelihood their sleeping aliens idea might be part of the answer.

It’s important to keep exploring solutions, trying to understand what might be out there and how this might explain our past and guide our future.

The hungry hummingbird

What would happen if we scaled up a hummingbird to human size? This is one thought, “A 2013 University of Toronto study concluded that if hummingbirds were the size of an average human, they’d need to drink more than one 12-ounce can of soda for every minute they’re hovering, because they burn sugar so fast.”

Fixing healthcare

Most Americans are too distracted by work life and family life to have enough bandwidth left over for analyzing complex issues.Especially healthcare issues.

Like most things, healthcare needs to be kept simple and fair. Our brains just don’t grasp all the nuances and implications of most healthcare plans. Then, with our brains  confused, we default to our biases (usually party loyalty) or to a simple metric such as how many people are covered.

Our government has been amazingly robust for hundreds of years, but it seems to fail under some conditions. One is when an issue gets too complicated for the public to understand. And the other is when corporations distort the system for profit.

Here’s a solution that might work in America today. I heard it from an older doctor, I’m not sure if it’s his idea or not, but it’s straight forward and simple: Everyone would be responsible for the first $2000 of their medical costs and the first $500 of their prescriptions each year. After hitting those maximums, the government would pick up the tab.

Maybe those numbers should be a little different, but they seem pretty reasonable. Each citizen would have some skin in the game but also know they’d be covered if things go south.

Yoga time

I’ve been practicing yoga three times a week for a few months.

Because you only have time to do a certain amount things, yoga has begun to shoulder out my practice of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

After about five years of BJJ I’d accumulated some minor but nagging ailments and I thought yoga might help.

It has helped but so has cutting out the BJJ. Some of the nagging ailments are probably age related, it’s definitely a young person’s activity. For me, the intensity of BJJ was ok, the problems came from the volume. Basically wrestling as hard as possible three time a week caught up with me.

Tick time

Summertime is tick time and ticks are found everywhere.

What to do when you find a tick with it’s mouth buried into your skin? Grab it by the head with fine pointed tweezers and pull firmly. It’ll probably hurt, If it doesn’t, you may have not extracted the head. Try again to get the little mouthpiece out, because it’s probably still in there. If you can’t, don’t worry too much about it. Just leave it alone and let your skin heal over.

Then wait. Tickborne diseases can take weeks to show symptoms. So be vigilant and look for any rashes. If you have any unusual symptoms, even if you think you’re just coming down with a summer cold, go to the doctor and take advantage of modern medicine.

By the way, this picture isn’t from information about ticks. It’s just what I imagine is going on beneath the skin after a tick bite.

The giving pledge

Jeff Bezos is a clever guy with unique approaches in business. Now he’s reached out through Twitter for philanthropy ideas to address problems “here and now,” it could be a new direction for philanthropy.

Some people feel like alleviating  misery better use of their money than promoting joys – like orchestras, university programs, and the like. Both are doing good and sharing wealth with society at large.

Lots of the very wealthiest people join Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, promising to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime.

As part of their pledge, they write letters describing their giving philosophies. For example, George B. Kaiser, an Oklahoma oil and finance guy purportedly worth about $8 billion wrote this

“I recognized early on that my good fortune was not due to superior personal character or initiative so much as it was to dumb luck. I was blessed to be born in an advanced society with caring parents. So, I had the advantage of both genetics … and upbringing.”

He feels “morally bound to help those left behind by the accident of birth. Though almost all of us grew up believing in the concept of equal opportunity, most of us simultaneously carried the unspoken and inconsistent ‘dirty little secret’ that genetics drove much of accomplishment so that equality was not achievable.”

By channeling a lot of his giving to early childhood education he hopes to promote kids’ genetic endowments.

As Bezos’s wealth climbs, it’s around billion and growing, it’ll be interesting to see what impact his philanthropy has.

It doesn’t matter who gets shot

It doesn’t seem to matter who gets shot. A congressman and others were shot while practicing baseball and nothing much has come of it so far.

I guess looking back at Sandy Hook, America decided, through its inaction on gun control, that killing children was ok. So what’s the big deal if a congressman gets seriously wounded by being shot in the hip? Was the lack of response to the Sandy Hook killings the end of the debate over gun control?

Why is it so hard to implement any solutions to what is really a public health issue. Probably because the vast majority of gun owners are behaving within the law. But when a few act out (killing and injuring innocent people) it reflects badly on the majority. There must be some acceptable controls that can be put in place.

The extra cookie

I ran across this interesting metaphorical story on Kottke.org that uses a cookie to illustrate the connection between luck and privilege. I’ve shortened it a little:

In 2012, Michael Lewis gave the commencement speech at Princeton, his alma mater. Near the end of his speech, Lewis, who wrote Moneyball and The Big Short, addressed luck’s role in rationalizing success. He told the graduates, who’re already winners in so many of life’s lotteries, that they “owe a debt to the unlucky.” 

A few years ago, a psychology department staged an experiment using students. They broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams into a room, arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader and gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there.

It should’ve been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group.

Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

The rise of cold drip coffee

A recent NYT article proclaimed that the United States is becoming a cold brew nation. I’m from New Orleans where it’s long been popular and I probably make a batch about every week and a half. So of course I’ve talked about cold drip coffee before.

The article provides a little history about cold drip coffee and its recent rise in popularity across the US. the focus of the article is about the retail business but If you like cold drip coffee and are curious, the device I use is a Toddy home brew model. Below, I’ve edited the article for length and clarity. (Cold drip is just another name for cold brew coffee.)

What’s cold brew? Essentially, it’s the method of preparation. You steep coffee grounds in room-temperature water (which isn’t “cold,” strictly speaking) for six to 20 hours (depending on the recipe) to make a concentrate that can be diluted with water and served over ice. By giving up heat, you have to add time.

What was once a regional curiosity largely limited to New Orleans and the South is now found throughout the country. The shift started about 10 years ago, when cold brew was adopted by innovative coffee shops like Blue Bottle.

Cold brew was a niche market until 2015, when Starbucks introduced the drink in a number of stores; it is now available at all of their shops. It’s a coffee with both mass-market appeal and indie credibility. Today, you can find cold brew at a coffee shop where everything is meticulously crafted by hand, and at a Dunkin’ Donuts.

The drink’s range is expanding even more rapidly when you count “ready-to-drink” canned, bottled and packaged coffees. You can get that New Orleans-style iced coffee in a school-lunch-size milk carton, or that nitro cold brew in what looks like a beer can. Ready-to-drink is now appearing everywhere. As of last month, you could find bottles of Slingshot Coffee, a small-batch company in Raleigh, N.C., at nearly 250 Target stores in the South.

Cold brew is more than a slowed-down version of hot coffee; it’s a noticeably different product. Hot water will bring out the acids in coffee, a characteristic that professional tasters call “brightness.” Cold water doesn’t but still gets the full range of mouthfeel and sweetness.

And it can be served more quickly. As one shop owner said, ” From a logistical standpoint, we can get cold brew out the door in 10 seconds,If you want a coffee and you want it quick, cold brew is the answer.” Provided she made enough the night before.

How do shrinks think?

I’m curious about why people sometimes behave the way they do. Combine a psychologist and an MD and you’ve got a good start at figuring out people’s behaviors. But what insights into the human condition do shrinks have? And what enables them to help people who’re suffering from different forms of mental anguish? Do they know something most of us non-mental health folks aren’t tuned into?

Dereck Sivers jotted down some observations of psychiatrist G. Livingston as Sivers read Livingston’s book. These observations were gleaned over his life as a therapist. I’ve paraphrased and listed some of his ideas but in no special order.

I don’t have a clear idea of what people need to do to make themselves better. I am, however, able to sit with them while they figure it out. My job is to hold them to the task, point out connections I think I see between past and present, wonder about underlying motives.

The vast majority of your life’s results come from small behaviors, repeated thousands of times over the decades. Sure, habits are notoriously hard to change and some of us are compulsively self-destructive. But knowing is much more powerful than not knowing.

A staggering proportion of human activity is motivated by the desire to feel safe and secure.

Nothing outside your own mind can properly be described as negative or positive at all. What actually causes suffering are the beliefs you hold about those things. If your map doesn’t agree with the terrain, then the map is wrong, but It’s difficult to remove an idea with logic that wasn’t put there by logic.

There’re few solutions to life’s problems, only trade-offs.

The three components of happiness are: something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. Get plenty of psychological sunshine. Circulate in new groups. Discover new and stimulating things to do.

Most people know what is good for them and what will make them feel better: exercise, hobbies, time with those they care about. They don’t avoid these things because of ignorance of their value, but because they’re no longer “motivated” to do them. They’re waiting until they feel better. Frequently, it’s a long wait.

Only bad things happen quickly. All the happiness-producing processes in our lives take time, usually a long time: learning new things, changing old behaviors, building satisfying relationships, raising children. This is why patience and determination are among life’s primary virtues.

We are responsible for most of what happens to us.

In judging other people, pay attention to how they behave – not to what they promise. Past behavior is the most reliable predictor of future behavior.

The statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas. Memory is not an accurate transcription of past experience. Rather it’s a story we tell ourselves about the past, full of distortions, wishful thinking, and unfulfilled dreams.

My favorite therapeutic question is “What’s next?” which bypasses the self-pity implied in clinging to past traumas.

Any relationship is under the control of the person who cares the least.

Life’s two most important questions are “Why?” and “Why not?” The trick is knowing which one to ask.

When confronted with a suicidal person I seldom try to talk them out of it. Instead I ask them to examine what it is that has so far dissuaded them from killing themselves. People in despair are intensely self-absorbed. Suicide is the ultimate expression of this preoccupation with self.

When people fall in love, no justification for their attachment is necessary. When people fall out of love, the demands for an explanation are insistent: What happened? Who’s at fault? Why couldn’t you work it out? “We didn’t love each other anymore” is not, in most cases, a sufficient response.

Nobody likes to be told what to do.

It’s possible to live without criticizing and directing everyone around us. I ask people in conflict to withhold that criticism to see if this changes the atmosphere. It’s amazing how radical this suggestion seems.

Awfulizing is the idea that any relaxation in standards or vigilance is the first step toward failure, degradation, and the collapse of civilization as we know it.

The ability to laugh is the most therapeutic.

Our feelings (anger, shame, delight) appear almost instantly, and, left alone, they don’t last very long. But inventing a narrative around an event or a person keeps the feeling going for a very long time.” If you’re not happy with the feeling, try dropping the narrative. It’s your narrative, the story you have to keep telling yourself again and again, that’s causing the feeling to return.

Parents have a limited ability to shape their children’s behavior, except for the worse. Our primary task as parents is to convey to our kids a sense of the world as an imperfect place in which it is possible, nevertheless, to be happy. Do this by example. Demonstrate qualities of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Parents can try to teach the values and behaviors that they’ve found to be important, but it’s the way we live as adults that conveys the real message to our kids about what we believe in. Whether they choose to integrate these values into their own lives is up to them. Kids have a keen nose for hypocrisy.

Behavior that’s reinforced will continue; behavior that’s not will extinguish.

Children raised in homes where parental control is severe turn out to have a poor set of internalized limits because they have experienced only rigid external rules. Conversely, in families where there are few constraints children do not have a way to learn those guidelines necessary to live comfortably with others.

“What can I do to make sure this kid turns out well?” Not much, but maybe cutting down on the fights and not trying to control your child’s every decision might help.

Enjoy life even as we are surrounded by evidence of its brevity and potential for disaster. Mental health is a function of choice. The more choices we are able to exercise, the happier we are likely to be.

Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves.

If every misfortune can be blamed on someone else, we’re relieved of the difficult task of examining our own contributory behavior or just accepting the reality that life is full of adversity. Most of all, by placing responsibility outside ourselves we miss out on the healing knowledge that what happens to us is not nearly as important as the attitude we adopt in response.