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Introduction
& Prolog
Part 1.
Metabolic Metaphysics
Part 2.
Star Larvae
Part 3.
Space Brains
Addenda
Epilog

The Star Larvae HypothesisAstrotheology and Christianity
Nature's Plan for Humankind
Part 3. Space Brains

Space Migration: Ascent to Heaven

Mother Earth has come to term. It's time to leave home.


 


The moon rocks that the Apollo missions returned to Earth revealed the moon to be a construction supply depot.

The lunar surface is rich in metals, including iron, aluminum, titanium, and magnesium. However, the most abundant element, accounting for 40 percent of the moon's surface by mass, is oxygen. The moon is an amalgam of rusted metals. Following oxygen, the most abundant element is the ever-useful silicon. There you have it: oxygen, silicon, and a lode of metals: It would have been tough to custom order a stockpile of materials better suited for creating an industrial revolution and residential sprawl in Earth-orbital space. Intelligent Design strikes again?

Developing the residential and commercial real estate potentials of space poses technical and political challenges, to say the least. But ultimately humankind will have to sort out those challenges. Each successive generation will see space colonization as increasingly attractive and commonsensical and might feel its pull with increasing urgency, as Earth becomes less and less hospitable to healthy living and to democratic ideals.

A new order of urban life is possible in space. Solar collectors the size of football fields (already being developed in Japan), manufactured from lunar materials and driving an economy of abundance—this is the vision of the future shamefully absent from political debates about space policy. And about human prospects generally. But conceiving of space as a frontier for settlement stands as a hopeful alternative to the bleak prospect of increasingly severe bouts of environmentally dictated austerity.

"So leave the recorders running and get your heavy metal ass in a space ship."

— William S. Burroughs
Nova Express

Even the ambitious space objectives announced by President George W. Bush in January 2004 lacked purposeful vision. A mining operation on the moon would have broad practical value, but burning resources to plant a footprint on Mars is cold-war thinking. Nonetheless, the Bush plan at least helped refocus NASA’s energies on a human presence in space, though the plan did not go nearly far enough. A visionary plan would open up the solar system to homesteading and industrial development.

Claiming economic necessity, President Barack Obama unplugged the Bush plan. In January 2010, he defunded it and directed NASA to underwrite private development of space taxis, which the agency then will rent back from the private developers. As the public and private sectors of the economy merge, history will see who benefits most from President Obama's redirection.

Retreating from space sells short the human future. The surface of a planet—any planet—is not an ideal location for an advanced technological civilization, let alone several of them. If humankind remains planetbound, then it guarantees for itself a Malthusian predicament. And Malthusian predicaments invite eugenic prescriptions.

A more uplifting prospect presents itself beyond the planet. Humankind's descendants will fulfill the full promise of human potential only if humankind accepts the call of the high frontier.

The Significance of the Frontier in American History

Geographical frontiers are arenas of opportunity, psychosociopolitical safety valves, places where malcontents can put their money where their collective mouth is. They can vote with their feet and head into the wide open spaces.

In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner read at a meeting of the American Historical Association a monograph titled The Significance of the Frontier in American History, in which he redirected the attention of historians away from the power centers in New England, with their orientation toward Europe, and toward the American frontier. Unlike his contemporaries, Turner did not see the United States as an extension of Europe:

"Whenever social conditions tended to crystallize in the East, whenever capital tended to press upon labor or political restraints to impede the freedom of the mass, there was this gate of escape to the free conditions of the frontier. These free lands promoted individualism, economic equality, freedom to rise, democracy. Men would not accept inferior wages and a permanent position of social subordination when this promised land of freedom and equality was theirs for the taking. Who would rest content under oppressive legislative conditions when with a slight effort he might reach a land wherein to become a co-worker in the building of free cities and free States on the lines of his own ideal? In a word, then, free lands meant free opportunities."

Turner's monograph and a book that followed became highly influential. What came to be called "The Turner Thesis" quickly became a foundation of American historiography. The thesis attributes to the frontier experience many of the developments and attributes (held by Americans to be) distinctive of the American ethos. The values to which American politicians give lip service—individual liberty, unobtrusive government, entrepreneurialism, abundance, economic opportunity—all were nurtured by settlement of America's western frontier, Turner argued.

The settlers of the American West left behind the aristocracies, privileges and monopolies that defined living conditions and constrained opportunities along the Atlantic coast. Rather than remain trapped in a disagreeable situation, the settlers packed their bags and staked their claims. The frontier presented an opportunity to make a fresh start.

The closing of the frontier—the end of abundant free land— is a primary cause of the economic malaise inaugurated by the crash of 2008, according to George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen. In The Great Stagnation, Cowen describes free land as an economic "low-hanging fruit" to be plucked without much interference. That fruit, he argues, has been consumed. And its disappearance exacerbates America's economic hardship. He observes,

"Up through the end of the nineteenth century, free and fertile American land was plentiful and there for the taking. a lot of this land was close to lakes and rivers. You could move from Europe, work hard on good U.S. topsoil, and enjoy a higher standard of living. The European peasants who remained at home did not have similar access to resources. the United States became the wealthiest country in the world relatively quickly, and probably it held this designation well before the close of the eighteenth century. So much fertile land coupled with a relatively high degree of social freedom explains much of this transformation.

"Not only did the United States reap a huge bound from this free land (often stolen from Native Americans, one should not forget), but abundant resources helped the United States attract many of the brightest and most ambitious workers from Europe. Taking in these workers, and letting them cultivate the land, was like plucking low-hanging fruit."

But divorced from a frontier, American exceptionalism withers.

Author Michael T. Klare offers up an even more dire view of the immediate future in The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources. Here’s an overview from the introduction,

"Whether on land or at sea, the outlook is the same: with existing sources of critical materials facing exhaustion, more and more of our essential supplies will have to come from places that are risky for reasons of geography, geology, politics, or some combination of all three. [. . . .] Government and corporate officials recognize that existing reserves are being deleted at a terrifying pace and will be largely exhausted in the not–too-distant future. The only way for countries to ensure an adequate future supply of these materials, and thereby keep their economies humming, is to acquire new undeveloped reservoirs in those few location that have not already been completely drained. This has produced a global drive to find and exploit the world’s final resource reserves—a race for what’s left. [. . . .] Under these circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that the various consuming powers will seek to gain control over as much as possible of what remains of these materials, producing an intense competitive struggle. This could lead to territorial disputes in areas where boundaries or ownership rights are contested—as is already evident in the Arctic region. In the past, such disputes have often erupted in armed combat, and there is no reason to believe that this will not happen in the future; indeed, the countries involved are already preparing for such combat by beefing up their capacity to operate in the Arctic and other contested resource zones, such as the East and South China Seas. The pursuit of vital materials in remote and marginal areas will also pose extraordinary environmental challenges and will lead to intensified clashes between outside powers and the indigenous peoples who occupy these areas."

If there's a battle brewing over Earth's resources, what better reason to prospect beyond Earth? The Western world must focus its attention on frontier development as an economic engine. Outer space yearns to fill the void left by the closing of the American West.

"The law of life is: advance or decay. Our task is not simply to recover, or to preserve, the best way of being human developed in the past. Our task is to envisage, and incarnate, a still better way, a way that fulfills the human potential more fully, a way that more completely realizes the image of God in us."

— David Ray Griffin
God and Religion in the Postmodern World

The cranks, the kooks, the visionaries, the messiahs, the fortune seekers—the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free—on the new frontier they all will be able to ply their wits. Having escaped the monolithic political-economic system hardening around the planet, they will be able to craft their own versions of the better life. The solar system beyond Earth is an arena in which human appetites can be satisfied.

"The 'mechanical age,' which to some appears as the very negation of the soul, is, on the contrary, the age of supreme psychical achievement. Science and invention are for ever annexing fresh regions of the universe and subjecting them to the free play of our mental faculties. The process of bringing material things into subjection to our will is a process of sublimation, which does not drag us down to the dust, but raises up dust into the realms of immortal spirit."

— E. E. Fournier D'Albe
Hephaestus or the Soul of the Machine

An age of exploration and colonization need not be an age of colonialism, however. Space colonization is not about converting heathens nor driving out savages. Where there are no natives to displace, but only unoccupied real estate to develop, there the industrial capitalist spirit can achieve its objectives without leaving behind a trail of victims.

As was American frontier settlement, space migration IS about taming the wilderness. It IS about converting natural resources into material wealth. It IS about expansion and development. And independence. All traditional American values and pursuits. NASA's Apollo program focused America's technological energies on an ambitious, peaceful challenge. But America's agenda today includes no comparable focus for those energies. What grand purpose does technological innovation serve? Convenience? Production efficiency? The more intrusive reach of political surveillance and control? Economist Cowen argues that innovation itself has slowed to a sputter.

President Jimmy Carter was castigated for his maladroit "malaise" speech. But it seems that his maladroitness was in his timing. Where on the contemporary scene, among the cognoscente, the experts and pundits, could one find a utopian picture to redirect human energies from plotting austerity to planning prosperity? The experts lack vision. They offer in its place ideology. But adherence to ideology butters no bread, except that of the control clique. And where there is no vision, the people perish.

Gerard O'Neill and the High Frontier

In the 1970s, Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill challenged the wisdom of "Limits to Growth." He had arrived at the insight that a planet makes for a less than ideal permanent residence. In 1969 O’Neill convened a freshman seminar to address the inspired question, as he later phrased it, "Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?" The class researched the relevant facts and projections and calculated the answer to be a resounding NO. The research revealed crippling expenses associated with any form of big geology. Planets per se turn out to be uneconomical real estate for long-term development. O’Neill estimated, for example, that one-fourth of the energy consumed in the United States for transportation goes to fighting gravity and atmospheric drag.

Space Colony Extraterrestrial MigrationIn 1977 O’Neill published The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space an exposition that laid out the technical and cultural dimensions of space colonization. O’Neill went on to become chief spokesman for the merits of expanding humankind’s ecological range to include the orbital space around Earth. He imagined and developed detailed plans for autonomous encapsulated ecosystems, each a mile or so in diameter and housing communities of from one thousand to fifty thousand inhabitants. The space colonization movement that coalesced under O’Neill’s tutelage attracted unlikely cohorts, including conservative U. S. Senator Barry Goldwater and counterculture impresario Timothy Leary. Despite the cheering of a handful of high-profile advocates, however, within a decade O'Neill’s vision came and went as a popular cause. Nonetheless, the central premise of The High Frontier remains cogent. The surface of a planet is not the most suitable real estate for a sprawling industrial civilization. So far, few people of influence in politics or science have been willing to pick up the torch and advance O'Neill's vision. But few endeavors could be more critical or timely. The bridge to space will have to be crossed, and sooner better than later.



Above right, Vintage 1970s toroidal space colony design, cutaway view, from studies conducted at NASA Ames. Above, a more recent design. Spacehabs.com hosts illustrations and video animations of still newer space colony designs. Below is a sampling of space-colony renderings from YouTube.

 

 

 

 

Bodies in Space: Biology in the Colony

Beyond their technical and political objections, critics of space colonies point out the damaging effects of weightlessness on the human body. But this objection describes only a relative problem. Weightlessness catalyzes the next stage in evolution. It triggers the phenotypic mutation/metamorphosis that converts humans into angels. As long as weightlessness is seen as a problem to be mitigated, and normal Earth gravity a norm to be preserved, then space always will seem like a place in which humans don't belong.

Nonetheless, a strange heaven beckons.

In any space colonization or long-term spaceflight proposal, the biological dimension will seem to be a problem. "During space flight, bone minerals (calcium and phosphorus) and their support matrix are slowly lost. . . . Muscle atrophy [also] represents a significant biomedical problem with special implications for long-term space flight," researchers caution in a NASA life-sciences bulletin. The writers concede that even regimens of vigorous exercise, "do not arrest the progressive atrophy that continues throughout expeditions into zero gravity."

"We have already clarified the meanings of flight and ascension in folklore, in the history of religions, and in mysticism; and we were able to show that the imagery in question was always that of transcendence and freedom."

— Mircea Eliade
Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries.

O'Neill was aware of these effects, and to protect against them he proposed that orbiting cities should spin. Centrifugal effects then would simulate normal Earth gravity and hold things "down." The ground under one’s feet in an O'Neill-type colony would be the inside wall of the spinning structure. As one approached the axis of rotation, the "pole" of the colony, the sensation of gravity would lessen, and at the pole it essentially would disappear. O’Neill imagined zero-gravity resorts and sports arenas at the poles. Others promoting the cause advocated spas and honeymoon hotels.

O'Neill assumed that space colonists would insist on such a simulated gravity. For one thing, they might want to return to Earth—in which case they would need their bones and muscles to work normally. What O'Neill seemed not to anticipate is that native extraterrestrials—inhabitants born in the colonies—might have little interest in the ancestral haunts. The prospect of going permanently gravityless is rarely addressed in space-faring scenarios. Even science-fiction writers tend to assume that our extraterrestrial descendants will want somehow to simulate the effects of gravity and preserve the terrestrial human form. The minds behind neither Star Trek nor Star Wars included in their tales any suggestion that weightlessness itself might attract space settlers. But weightlessness is the key to advancing the evolutionary program, and once it becomes a lifestyle option an avant garde fringe will flock to embrace it.

The alternative scenario, as it becomes more evident almost daily, is a planetbound, terminally toxic, ingrown, stasis. Maybe billions of high-tech low-life planets already are festering out there, each housing a permanent underclass—obedient, savant technicians bio-engineered to serve that world’s technocratic, psychopathic ruling dynasty. How long such a stultified planetary machine can persist before exhausting itself and putrefying is anybody's guess.

Humankind might consider running the alternative experiment.

Human civilization has survived its gestation and come to term. Congratulations. But now the fetus must be born or aborted. Sentience cannot tolerate the latter fate, not even as a resigned, "best we can get." A birth, a busting out into new geography with new energy sources, a taming of a frontier in the ordinary sense, beckons, and to refuse the call is to doom Mother Earth to barrenness.

The Earth is the womb of the Sun. And She has come to term.

Extraterrestrials born in the colonies will reject the McEarth model of the space colony, with its artificial "gravity." Rather than implement such an atavistic, environmental kludge, they will be free to settle comfortably into weightlessness. Any colony population that does so will discover something profound: growing up weightless not only inhibits development of load-bearing skeletal and muscle tissues. It also stimulates development of experience-bearing neural tissue. This is because brains are sensitive to and are programmed to adapt to their environments. This adaptability, a literal plasticity of the physical connections among brain cells, ought to predispose brains to develop with unusual vigor in weightlessness. Such enrichment should occur rapidly and show itself conspicuously already in the first generation of native extraterrestrials.

"A mass program of inner-voyaging will certainly shrivel into Ganges mysticism unless the visions can be precisely expressed in outer-space migration."

— Timothy Leary
Changing My Mind,
Among Others

Released from the tether of gravity, brains are free to move their bearers in ways more varied and complex than is possible on Earth, as NASA publicity footage shows. Extraterrestrial brains will have to become proficient at orienting and conducting their bearers dynamically in three dimensions. The familiar developmental milestones of childhood—rolling over, crawling, standing up, walking—will be eclipsed by the need to develop a repertoire of acrobatic competencies. Weightlessness will force extraterrestrial brains to tap resources that are left to spoil when brains develop on Earth. To navigate in their spatially complex world, space brains will have to avail themselves of as much and as complex and dynamic a network of internal circuitry as they can muster. As brains adapt to weightlessness they will evolve increasingly dense and baroque wiring, and this neurological enrichment will shape their bearers' experience in ways fundamentally alien to that of their Earthbound contemporaries. The enriching effects of weightlessness on brain development, and the impoverishing effects on other tissues, marks an evolutionary break, a metamorphosis of the hominid phenotype.

It sets the stage for the evolution of posthumanity.

NEXT > Neuroplasticity and the Enrichments of Weightlessness


The Star Larvae Hypothesis:

Stars constitute a genus of organism. The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase. Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.

Elaboration: The hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which    

 

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