Archive for the 'Wave Guide 4: Education' Category

Jan 05 2012

Is Earth Unique? What this “Benchmark Moment” Means for ETs and Our Future

Astronomer John Gribbin (Alone in the Universe; 2011) uses the latest astrophysics to make an impressive scientific case that we are alone in our Galaxy.

This is despite several hundred planets currently known to exist around nearby stars, and despite NASA’s recent discovery of Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like stars, as well as the potential for billions of such worlds in our Galaxy of almost one trillion stars.

Even Gort and Klaatu (from “The Day the Earth Stood Still“; 1951) could learn a trick or two from the ultra-ETs — suggested by current astrophysics and physics — that might be visiting us today.
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Despite this “benchmark moment in the history of science” according to Berkeley astronomer Geoffrey Marcy (Wall Street Journal, 12/21/11), Gribbin traces the origin of human intelligence and civilization from the Big Bang to today, and shows that the odds of our development are so small that we are most likely the first high civilization to arise in the Milky Way.

For example, Gribbin points to the origin of the Moon by an impact with a Mars-size body over 4 billion years ago as a pivotal and yet very dicey event. The impact itself had to avoid destroying Earth’s spin (as apparently happened at Venus) and yet excavate and launch into space enough material to form an unusually large Moon that could gravitationally anchor Earth’s axial tilt. Without such a Moon our rotation axis would wobble chaotically due to tugs by Jupiter, Venus and other bodies, and undermine the long-term climate stability conducive to the development of high intelligence and civilization.

Last summer Howard A. Smith of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics also independently found ETs to be scarce in the Galaxy — in American Scientist (July-August, 2011) — as did I last March: Click HERE. I used an updated, anthropic version of the Drake Equation to show that unless a high-tech civilization lives for at least millions of years (highly unlikely) we are probably alone in the Galaxy.

However, other scientists hold contrary views. For example, as I noted in October, 2010:

Following scientific meetings in 2009 at the Vatican on Extraterrestrials, the prestigious UK Royal Society has had not just one, but 2 scientific meetings in 2010 (in January and just last week) to consider if exterrestrials are here on Earth and how to properly greet them.

This current growth of interest in ETs and Earth-like planets is part of a multi-century trend recognized by 21stCenturyWaves.com. It extends back to at least the 19th century and has presaged and figured prominently in each transformative Maslow Window since that time.

For example, just after the financial Panic of 1893 that ultimately led to “Panama fever” and “pole mania” of the early 20th century Maslow Window, it featured the founding of Lowell Observatory in Arizona to study evidence for a highly intelligent canal-building civilization on Mars. Early in the Apollo Maslow Window, Frank Drake began the radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) almost a decade before humans first landed on the Moon in 1969.
For more see: “State of the Wave: ETs Surge to Center Stage.”

If we take Gribbin’s conclusion seriously for a moment, it has a number of intriguing implications for the cosmos, ETs, and our future:

1. If we are the first lofty civilization to develop in our Galaxy then radio SETI should not expect success, and we will never see interstellar Von Neumann machines in our vicinity. But the good news was envisioned by Marshall Savage in The Millennial Project (1992):

The stars are our destiny…Strewn like diamonds…All these treasures are free for the taking. There is no guardian genie. There are no alien owners to be bargained with, no evil empires to be vanquished…The galaxy is free and open now in a way it never will be again.

2. If there are no native ETs in our Galaxy, then UFOs may come from very far away — other galaxies or even other universes — and will require exotic transportation concepts (e.g., wormholes) to arrive here. This is a future that could begin tomorrow or may already be in progress, and was imagined — both the good and bad news — by Deardorff et al. in JBIS (2005):

While the ‘We are alone’ solution to Fermi’s paradox was once a seemingly valid one, this answer is now incompatible with the infinite universe and random self-sampling assumption consistent with inflation theory. We thus find ourselves in the curious position that current cosmological theory predicts that we should be experiencing extraterrestrial visitation…

The huge technological head start of the presumed ETs would still come as a great shock to many … The implication that we would be powerless relative to their presumed capabilities and evolutionary advantage may be most unwelcome … science would have difficulty coming to terms with the situation.

3. If there are no ETs from anywhere, then UFOs may originate from covert, terrestrial sources (e.g., secret military aircraft) and we have arrived in Jacques Vallee’s intriguing world of Messenger’s of Deception (1979):

UFOs may be a control system…there is a genuine technology at work here, causing the effects witnesses are describing. But I am not ready to jump to the conclusion that it is … some kind of “spacemen.”

The social, political, and religious consequences of the (UFO) experience are enormous … over the timespan of a generation… Is the public being deceived and led to false conclusions by someone who is using UFO witnesses to propagate … social conditioning?

and

4. Gribbin’s conclusion scientifically elevates human civilization to the pinnacle of the Galaxy which has important implications for both space colonization and theology:

My view is that while life itself may be common, the kind of intelligent, technological civilization that has emerged on Earth may be unique, at least in our Milky Way Galaxy…

Whether or not you see the hand of God in any of this, it would mean that we are the most technnologically advanced civilization in the Universe, and the only witnesses with an understanding of the origin and nature of the Universe itself.

2 responses so far

Dec 28 2011

Newton, Jupiter, and the 2012 Prophecies

Last month the Los Angeles Times (J. Rubenstein; 11/6/11) was cackling about the fact that doomsday just never seems to come. You’d think — given the alternative — they’d be celebrating.

In 1974, The Jupiter Effect never let bad science get in the way of an exciting story.
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Rubenstein, a MacArthur Fellow and history professor, for some reason delights in picking on Harold Camping, the rather dull Christian radio personality. Camping’s doomsday forecast for October 21 didn’t materialize — surprise !! surprise !! — so Rubenstein launches into a even duller lecture.

Doesn’t it say somewhere that Jesus will come “when you do not expect him…” (Luke 12:39-40 (NIV)), “like a thief in the night…” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 (NIV)). So why get so excited about a guy like Camping who can’t possibly be right about a specific time based on his own rules (i.e. the Bible)?

Rubenstein also mentions the formerly celebrated “Jupiter Effect” of 1974. Although Camping was presumably talking about the actual, biblical end of days, the Jupiter guys were just expecting a big earthquake near Los Angeles in 1982 — which didn’t occur.

The author of The Jupiter Effect was astronomer John Gribbin who since then has written a number of good scientific books. His latest is Alone in the Universe — Why Our Planet is Unique, which I’ll comment on soon. Expanding popular interest in Earth-like planets, extraterrestrial beings, and UFOs is a signal that we’re approaching the next Maslow Window.

After the Jupiter Effect, Rubenstein does mention the end-time prophecies associated with the Mayan calendar in 2012 — which the professional astronomers do not support — and even the 11th century Crusades (!), however he leaves out one of the most interesting forecasts.

One of the greatest scientists of all time — Isaac Newton (1642-1727) — whose transformative insights into classical mechanics, gravitation, mathematics, and optics set us on the road to modern science, was also very interested in Bible prophecy. And unlike Copernicus, who finally published his Sun-centered theory just before his death in 1543, Newton decided to keep his controversial biblical calculations secret until after his death.

After decades of study, Newton calculated that our current world would end in 2060 when Christ would return to establish his new kingdom. According to an authority on Newton, Stephen D. Snobelen:

The year 800 is a significant one in history, as it is the year Charlemagne was crowned emperor of Rome in the west by Pope Leo III at St. Peter’s in Rome. Since Newton believed that the 1260 years corresponded to the duration of the corruption of the Church, he added 1260 to 800 A.D. and arrived at the date 2060 for the “fall of Babylon” or cessation of the apostate Church.

For more details click Here.

Without necessarily buying into Newton’s chronology, it is interesting that 2060 — Newton’s date for the Battle of Armageddon — is about one decade before the projected culmination of the second Maslow Window of the 21st century; i.e., 2060 is similar to 1960 (early in the Apollo Maslow Window), just 2 years before the Cuban Missile Crisis almost started WW III.

Best-selling author David Flynn has suggested that 2013 is a more likely date than Newton’s 2060 “based on the founding of Rome and the methodology of Daniel’s prophecy.”

While 21stCenturyWaves.com does not know when the current world will end, both dates — Newton’s 2060 and Flynn’s 2013 — are similar in terms of long wave timing; i.e., both dates occur at the beginning of projected Maslow Windows, including the late 21st century Window (around 2060) and the next Maslow Window near mid-decade. Over the last 200+ years, these are times when significant wars or major conflicts — including the Cuban Missile Crisis — have occurred as the world approached a self-organized critical state. Both times would be consistent with a major Armageddon-style battle of biblical proportions.

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Sep 30 2011

“All your people must learn before you can reach for the stars.”

…According to Captain Kirk on Stardate 3259.2 (“The Gamesters of Triskelion”). If he’s right we face significant challenges according recent evaluations of U.S. schools.

In 2011, SAT scores in reading and writing have gone south like never before.
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For example, according to The Space Foundation the situation is simple.

The basic problem is that the U.S. education system is not producing students in quantity and at a level of achievement to be globally competitive.” This is because of “declining interest and achievement in the math, science, and technology subjects that are critical to the space industry.

This is reminiscent, as we’ve pointed out previously (See #4), of the declining U.S. educational situation in the 1950s, just prior to the surprise Soviet launch of the first satellite Sputnik. This “Shock of the Century” was a game-changer for K-16+ education in the U.S., and we may currently be reliving key elements of this 1950s chronology.

While math scores have plateaued over the last decade, the even more fundamental reading and writing SAT scores of the graduating class of 2011 have set new lows. According to the College Board, which runs the SAT, the average reading and writing scores were “the lowest ever recorded,” (Wall Street Journal; S. Banchero, 9/15/11).

Of the 1.6 million high school seniors who took the SAT this year only 43% achieved scores high enough to indicate they were likely to succeed in college. This mirrors the concern about student achievement generated by the other college entrace exam, the ACT, which showed that only 25% were ready for the academic rigors of college.

At the precise time the importance of a college degree is increasing, the ability of the U.S. to compete in a global economy is decreasing,

concluded Jim Montoya of the College Board.

The retired chair and CEO of Lockheed Martin, Norm Augustine, agrees. But surprisingly his emphasis is not on math, reading, or writing. It’s on history, the subject on which current American high school seniors do worst, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Wall Street Journal, 9/21/11).

Augustine faults the “rote memorization” used by some history teachers as a large part of the problem and contends that poor history performance “puts American employers and America’s freedoms in a worrisome spot.”

A failing grade in history suggests that students are not only failing to comprehend our nation’s story and that of our world, but also failing to develop skills that are crucial to employment across sectors.

These include critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and communication. Importantly, students who develop skills in these areas have a much higher probability of being employed and also “tend to perform better in science and math.”

21stCenturyWaves.com agrees because the likely directions of our Star Trek-like future are best revealed by historical patterns in the economy, technology, and geopolitics over the last 200+ years.

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Jun 16 2011

Business and Environmental Cycles: A New Cosmic Connection?

For thousands of years, spectacular planetary alignments in the sky have been used to foretell disasters on Earth. After all, the Latin roots for “dis” and “aster”, mean literally “bad star”. Although today’s astronomers dismiss cosmic calamities due to alignments and emphasize their beauty, new science suggests the planets may indeed be influencing human affairs.

Years ago some claimed that the famous alignment of May 5, 2000 was a harbinger of cataclysms on Earth.
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Recently, it’s become clear that there is a major, multi-decade climate cycle on Earth about 60 years long with a temperature variation of 0.25 degrees C. Power spectra also identify weaker climate cycles of about 30, 20, 15, and 10 years.

In addition to direct T measurements, this is evidenced by climate data from ice cores, sea sediments, and a large variety of other records that extend back from decades to centuries. Even the traditional Chinese and Tibetan calendars are structured in 60 year cycles.

What’s equally intriguing is that ~60 is the magic number for the Kondratieff Wave (55-60 yr), the Stewart Energy Wave (56 yr), the Gaus Anxiety Wave (55-60 yr), and the time between transformative Maslow Windows (55-60 yr) that are well-documented and associated with long economic and business cycles since the 19th century.

Long business cycles have traditionally been linked with “creative destruction” caused by innovations in technology (e.g., railroads, electricity) that cluster in time, according to Harvard economist Joseph Schumpter (1942).

Others have suggested long waves are closely linked with — and possibly triggered by — generational cycles of Strauss and Howe (1991), major wars (Goldstein, 1988), and even sunspots (Modis, 1992).

After noting that the numbers of sunspots occur in relative peaks every ~55 years and that this rhythm is mirrored in tree rings, Modis makes the intriguing suggestion:

If the environment is modulated by such a pulsation, it is not unreasonable to suppose that human affairs follow suit.

In his recent game-changing article in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics, Duke University physicist Nicola Scafetta notes that the ~60-year climate cycle, and several others, are apparently

synchronized to the natural oscillations of the solar system, which are driven by the movement of the planets around the Sun.

For example, Jupiter and Saturn take about 12 and 30 years, respectively, to go around the Sun. Plus the time needed for Jupiter and Saturn to line up relative to the Sun is 20 years, while 60 years are required for the combined orbits of Jupiter and Saturn to repeat. All are factors of 60 and contribute to that super-cycle.

Based on his model, Scafetta confidently estimates that “at least 60% of the observed (global) warming since 1970 has been naturally induced” by the 60-year planetary cycle; i.e., not due to human-related emissions of CO2.

You may be aware of the National Solar Observatory’s stunning forecast this week. Based on “highly unusual and unexpected” behavior of the Sun, “the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.”

According to the National Solar Observatory’s Associate Director, Frank Hill,

This could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades. That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate.

Today via email Dr. Scafetta confirmed to me that his independent model is consistent with the NSO forecast. Indeed, his model

predicts reduced solar activity because of a 60-year cycle that was in its maximum in 2000-2002 and now is going down.

He also wisely cautioned us to wait for publication of his new results.

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Mar 20 2011

Kepler, Watson, and Gott Point to the Rare Earth Hypothesis

The Drake Equation was humanity’s first serious attempt to think systematically about advanced extraterrestrial civilizations in our Galaxy. Devised by Cornell astronomer Frank Drake during the early 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, it was his ebullient goal to estimate their number and use radio telescopes to achieve contact.

Will interstellar probes, such as the one discovered on the Moon in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” ever really be found?
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The number (N) of high-tech (e.g., communicative) civilizations in our Galaxy is traditionally estimated by considering 7 factors requiring stellar, planetary, biological, social, and technological information.

In 1961, Drake had good guesses about the astronomical factors, but little else. His surprisingly conservative estimate for N was 10 — hardly significant motivation for a radio search for ETs in a galaxy 100,000 light years across. But Carl Sagan made up for it; by 1974 his estimate for N was one million!

Today there are new data and ideas that illuminate the 3 biggest lingering mysteries involving N: 1) the abundance of Earth-like planets, 2) the origin of life and intelligence, and 3) the typical lifetime of high-tech civilizations.

This new information makes N seem more consistent with the Rare Earth Hypothesis of Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee (University of Washington).

Not only intelligent life, but even the simplest of animal life, is exceedingly rare in our galaxy and in the Universe … (However) life in the form of microbes or their equivalents is very common…

Earth-like Planets
Two JPL scientists recently calculated that only about 2% of Sun-like stars have Earth-analog planets. The first four months of data on planet transits of 153,000 FGK stars, as observed by the NASA Kepler spacecraft, indicate that Earths are “relatively scarce.” (See: “Latest Data from NASA’s Kepler Mission Suggests Earths are ‘Relatively Scarce’.”)

High Intelligence
Andrew Watson’s 2008 Astrobiology paper expands the anthopic model of Carter (1983) which assumed that an unknown number n of “critical steps” affect the timing and development of complex life and intelligence; the critical steps are

… defined as being intrinsically unlikely to occur in the time available.

Watson’s best guess is n=4 — i.e., appearance of prokaryotes, eukaryotes, cell differentiation, and homo sapiens — and that each event is separated by about 1 Gyr. If the probability for each step to occur either at or before the observed time (on Earth) is ~0.1, the cumulative probability of high intelligence developing on an Earth-like planet would be < 0.0001. This is consistent with Lineweaver and Davis (2002) who estimated that 13% of Earthilke planets older than 1 Gyr will experience biogenesis, based on the rapid appearance of life on Earth. The probability of 10(-4) seems optimistic considering biologist Ernst Mayr’s 1995 comment.

There have been perhaps as many as 50 billion species since the origin of life. Only one of these achieved the kind of intelligence needed to establish a civilization.

Longevity of High-Tech Civilizations
Princeton astrophysicist Richard Gott’s well-known and hotly-debated Copernican formula — aka the “Doomsday Argument” — was originally published in Nature in 1993. According to the New York Times (7/17/2007; J. Tierney) Gott has successfully used his technique to forecast the longevity of “Broadway plays, newspapers, dogs, … the tenure of hundreds of political leaders around the world.”.

In 2006 Gott’s approach received a vote of confidence from philosophers Bradley Monton and Brian Kierland in The Philosophical Quarterly who concluded that Gott’s technique is Bayesian and is a “useful tool for difficult situations” including those where little empirical data exists.

Gott can predict the future using only one piece of information: how long something has existed up to now. And he needs to be assured that there are no observational selection effects; i.e., there is nothing special about your location in time or space (the Copernican Principle). For example, using only the information that Homo sapiens has existed for 200,000 years, Gott predicted at the 95% confidence level that our species’ future duration is “between 1/39 and 39 times 200,000 years,” (5100 yrs and 7.8 Myrs).

A nuclear doomsday has only been possible since 1945 (66 yrs) so, at the 95% confidence level, it is unlikely to arrive in less than 1.7 yrs but most likely by 2574 yrs from now. An even shorter high-tech human civilization duration is suggested by the AI Singularity, described by Kurzweil and others, projected to arrive by 2045; this would give humans a total high-technology lifetime of only around 100 yrs. Note that the nuclear and singularity timeframes are less than the species lower limit, suggesting that our species will continue but possibly not with our nuclear or technological capability (at least under human control).

Estimating a 21st Century Value for N
We’ll use L — the longevity of a high-tech civilization in the Galaxy — as a parameter:
Using the values above, N = 1.4 x 10(-5) x L
(This assumes that the fraction of intelligent civilizations in the Galaxy that develop high technology is 100%.)

Therefore, N as a function of L (high-tech lifetime) is:
1) For the species UL (8 Myr), N = 112 (closest ETs are ~10,000 light years away)
2) For the species LL (205 Kyr), N = 2.8
3) For the Nuclear DD (2640 yr), N = 0.037
4) For the Singularity (100 yr), N = 0.0014

Summary
Initial Kepler results plus the Watson/Carter model of intelligence appear to preclude other intelligent ETs in our Galaxy unless their L’s are in the millions of years. This was attained only by our species upper limit, using Gott’s technique; the closest ETs would be ~10,000 light years away. Other high-tech civilization timescales — species LL, nuclear doomsday, and singularity — are consistent with the Rare Earth Hypothesis.

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Mar 13 2011

Latest Data from NASA’s Kepler Mission Suggests Earths are “Relatively Scarce”

Jet Propulsion Lab scientists recently released calculations indicating that about 2% of Sun-like stars are expected to have “Earth-analog” planets. Joseph Catanzarite and Michael Shao base their estimate on the first 4 months of data (released February, 2011) on planetary transits of 150,000 FGK stars from observations by NASA’s Kepler mission. This is much lower than previous estimates.

Super-Earths like this one discovered around Gliese 876 probably have active plate tectonics and more volcanism than Earth, but are relatively scarce.
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The authors’ analysis informs planning for future missions that will study nearby Earth-analog planets, and it also highlights an important trend noticed by 21stCenturyWaves.com that is typical of approaches to 1960s-style golden ages of prosperity, exploration, and technology — e.g., the 2015 Maslow Window — over the last century+:

As we ascend toward another crescendo in human achievement — the 2015 Maslow Window … UFOs are being seen in China and around the world, potentially habitable planets are being discovered around nearby stars, and even the Vatican and the Royal Society are openly planning to properly greet intelligent interstellar visitors. One of the most important NASA missions ever flown — the Kepler spacecraft — will accelerate this ebullient trend in 2011.

Although a habitable zone (HZ) refers to the region where liquid water can exist on a planet’s surface, the fraction of Sun-like stars with Earth-analog planets is a strong function of the adopted HZ boundaries. Catanzarite and Shao define the scaled semimajor axis (mean planetary distance scaled to the square root of its star’s luminosity relative to the Sun) as between 0.95 AU to 1.37 AU (AU is Astronomical Unit = 1 Earth-Sun distance) from Kasting et al. (1993). Because Kasting et al. did not consider clouds (which can cool interior planets) and CO2 (which can warm distant worlds), the authors also consider the more optimistic scaled HZ boundaries of the Exoplanet Task Force Report (2008): 0.8 AU to 1.6 AU.

In addition to HZ boundaries, the JPL scientists’ Earth Analog region is defined by a scaled planetary radius (i.e., relative to Earth’s radius) from 0.8 to 2. The lower value corresponds to a mass of about 50% of Earth’s; the lower limit for retention of an Oxygen atmosphere. The upper value is adopted by the Kepler scientists and, assuming Earth-like parameters, implies a planet with twice the surface heat flow of Earth and half Earth’s lithospheric thickness. Active plate tectonics and volcanism is expected in these super-Earths.

Catanzarite and Shao fit the Kepler transit data to power laws for both the planet radius and the scaled planet distance; they judge that the power laws are excellent fits to the data for distances from 0.2 AU to 0.5 AU (inside the HZ limits) and planetary radii from 2 to 4 (just larger than the EA range). Using the power laws, the Kepler data set is then extrapolated into the Earth analog region defined above.

After removing probable false detections and correcting for the observational effect that not all planets’ orbit planes are in Kepler’s line of site (to produce an observable transit), the authors obtain their surprisingly low value of 2%, +1.6%/- 1.1%, for the fraction of Sun-like stars with an Earth-analog planet.

Although their estimate will become more accurate when the full 3.5 to 6 year Kepler data set is obtained, the authors comment on its surprising implications for planning future missions that will image and take spectra of Earth-analog planets,

Our result that Earths are relatively scarce means that a substantial effort will be needed to identify suitable target stars prior to these future missions.

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Dec 13 2010

China’s Recent Educational Quantum Leap Triggers a “Sputnik Moment”

All this talk about “Sputnik Moments” may seem very historical — in the most obscure sense of the word — to Millennials and others who didn’t actually live it.

For example, even Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein recently criticized Obama’s insightful allusion to Sputnik by claiming that…

Most people under 40 have no idea what Sputnik is. It’s an un-innovative way to talk about innovation.

Fifty-three years ago the surprise Soviet launch of “one small ball” became the “shock of the century” and instantly transformed U.S. education.
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Some historical perspective on Sputnik is sketched HERE, but before we focus on that, let’s describe China’s great accomplishment. Almost exactly one long wave after Sputnik, according to Chester Finn of Stanford’s Hoover Institution (Wall Street Journal, 12/8/10),

China has delivered another shock. On math, reading, and science tests given to 15-year-olds in 65 countries last year, Shanghai’s teenagers topped every other jurisdiction in all three subjects.

The United States was once again in “the middle of the pack.”

It’s hard to imagine how distraught Americans were about Sputnik in 1957, but as I wrote 2 years ago in Math and Science Education Perspectives,

Only 10 days after Sputnik the New York Times identified U.S. education as the problem, because Soviet science students were better motivated and given more prestige. Scholastic Magazine chimed in by announcing a “classroom Cold War” with the Soviets. Indeed, within a few months a Gallup poll reported that 70% of respondents believed that U.S. high school students should become more educationally competitive with their Soviet counterparts!

It’s a key forecast of 21stCenturyWaves.com that major elements of this Sputnik-related history are likely to repeat.

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, legitimate public concerns about the state of education will skyrocket because of anxiety over America’s ability to compete with the rest of the world in space and technology. And it’s already begun.

See #3 in: “DecaState of the Wave — 10 Space Trends for the Decade 2010-2020”.”

Finn doesn’t see this quantum leap in China’s educational performance as a fluke at all. Indeed, he feels China will be able to replicate it with “10 cities in 2019 and 50 in 2050. Or maybe faster.”

China has delivered a Sputnik-style wake-up call to “those who think American schools are globally competitive.”

We must face the fact that China is bent on surpassing us, and everyone else, in education.

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Oct 14 2010

State of the Wave: ETs Surge to Center Stage

In the 1950s this might have been called a UFO “Wave”, but today it just appears that interest in extraterrestrials – some of whom might even be coming here – is the rage from China to London and of course to Hollywood.

Does our growing global fascination with extraterrestrials suggest the new international Space Age is just around the corner?
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A Chinese Astronomer Says Yes
Wang Sichao, a veteran astronomer of the Purple Mountain Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said flat out in August that “extraterrestrial beings do exist and their UFOs have the ability to visit our earth,” (Peoples’ Daily Online, 8/23/10). His statements are as unequivocal as former Apollo Moon-walking astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who has claimed for years that “…we have been visited on this planet and the UFO phenomenon is real … It has been covered up by governments for quite some time now,” (7/28/2008, ABC News).

However, Wang believes that Stephen Hawking’s recent warnings that their arrival would be a bad day for humanity are premature.

“If they are friendly to us, we can promote the human beings’ civilization through exchange and cooperation with them. If they are not, as long as we prepared for their invasion, we can beat them back based on their weaknesses. After all, they are life entities, they would show their slips,”

Obviously the professor is an optimist. Anyone with the technology to travel across interstellar distances could also make us wish they hadn’t. The classic Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man” comes to mind!

Wang’s public statements come in the wake of 8 reported UFO sightings in China since June. For example, last month an airport in Inner Mongolia was shut down for over an hour because a UFO — reportedly seen both visually and on radar — was buzzing the field.

Unknowns Lurk Everywhere
UFO sightings are not limited to China — they appear almost everywhere. A quick scan of the Mutual UFO Network website, a 40+-year-old, science-based organization, indicates that current aerial unknowns range from a silent boomerang in Boise to agile cigars in Australia.

Over the last 100+ years, a global surge in UFO/ET interest has presaged and figured prominently in each transformative Maslow Window.

For example, the ultra-ebullient Peary/Panama/T. Rosevelt Maslow Window (~1901-13) followed the founding of Lowell Observatory in Arizona to probe the “canals” on Mars. Lowell saw the canals as convincing evidence for a global Macro Engineering Project built by intelligent Martians. His public loved it and in 1907 the Wall Street Journal actually announced “…the proof by astronomical observations…that conscious, intelligent life exists upon the planet Mars,”

Likewise, early in the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, astronomer Frank Drake inaugurated the famous Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) using a radio telescope in West Virginia. Later he and Carl Sagan ebulliently asserted that a million advanced civilizations might exist in our galaxy, and in 2010 Drake reiterated his ebullient belief that it’s “only a matter of time” before we detect them. Before aligning exclusively with radio SETI, Sagan wrote a stunning, but currently obscure scientific paper (in 1962) in which he argued that advanced ETs had already visited Earth using interstellar spacecraft aided by relativistic time dilation.

If this century-plus pattern holds, we should expect global interest in ETs, UFOs, Earth-like planets, and human expansion into the cosmos to accelerate as we approach the new international Space Age around 2015.

Is Life Abundant in the Galaxy?
It’s not just UFOs that are grabbing the global public, it’s anything to do with extraterrestrials. For example, Chandra Wickramasinghe, Director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, flatly asserts that current astrophysical research “overwhelmingly” supports his theory that human life started outside of Earth; i.e., that all humans are, in fact, “aliens from outer space.”

In his recent article in the International Journal of Astrobiology, Wickramasinghe argues that the spectral signatures of interstellar dust clouds are due to “biologically derived aromatic molecules.” Thus major components of interstellar materials are actually “… degradation products of biology,” suggesting life is not rare in our galaxy.

The Royal Society Seeks Extraterrestrials
Not to be left out — following scientific meetings in 2009 at the Vatican on Extraterrestrials — the prestigious UK Royal Society has had not just one, but 2 scientific meetings in 2010 (in January and just last week) to consider if exterrestrials are here on Earth and how to properly greet them.

At the Royal Society, Professor Paul Davies of Arizona State University suggested that, contrary to the approach of radio SETI, “We need to give up the notion that ET is sending us some sort of customised message and take a new approach.”

This flurry of ET-related scientific meetings, astrophysical research, and UFO sightings occurs in the context of the exciting recent discovery of the first extrasolar planet with the potential to be genuinely Earth-like. It orbits the red dwarf star Gliese 581 and is nearby — only 20 light years away. If advanced Gliesan’s ever existed, they should be here by now.

What if ET Really Phones Home?
And finally, to complete the pop culture scene, the new movie Skyline opens November 12. It features UFOs and extraterrestrials on Earth and a Rapture-like scene that’s unforgettable. As in the 1960s Space Age, cinema is likely to play a major role in the 2015 Maslow Window.

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Sep 26 2010

Californians Reveal the Secret of the Future

The secret of the future is, of course, education. And if you’re interested in the economy or technology, it’s science education.

Innovation in technology — a major driver of U.S. economic competitiveness –doesn’t grow on trees, it begins with world-class math and science instruction in K-12 classrooms.
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This week (9/23/10) the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering concluded again that

A primary driver of the future economy and concomitant creation of jobs will be innovation, largely derived from advances in science and engineering. While only four percent of the nation’s work force is composed of scientists and engineers, this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96 percent … So where does America stand relative to its position of five years ago … our nation’s outlook has worsened. While progress has been made in certain areas … the latitude to fix the problems being confronted has been severely diminished by the growth of the national debt over this period from $8 trillion to $13 trillion … Further, in spite of sometimes heroic efforts and occasional very bright spots, our overall public school system—or more accurately 14,000 systems—has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in mathematics and science.

Of course, growing public concerns about the quality and international competitiveness of math and science education in the U.S. are not new. From 21stCenturywaves.com of 6/20/09,

Growing public calls for improvement of U.S. education are reminiscent of those one long wave ago during the 1950s when the Cold War and Sputnik were the global focus. For example, in Math and Science Education Perspectives, I reminded readers that only 10 days after the surprise launch of Sputnik “the New York Times identified U.S. education as the problem, because Soviet science students were better motivated and given more prestige.” And 70% of Gallup poll respondents believed that U.S. high school students should become more educationally competitive with their Soviet counterparts!

In this context, Californians recently revealed their vision for the future of science education. In April, The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning in Santa Cruz conducted phone interviews with 1004 adults and followed them up with focus groups in Sacramento, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Seventy-four percent of those surveyed believe that science education in the schools is essential to keep America and California at the forefront of technology and innovation. But 56% believe California has fallen behind and is “near the bottom in education”.

Californians believe that science instruction should start early. Seven in 10 believe science teaching should start in elementary school; 6 in 10 think 3rd grade is about right. And two-thirds believe that in high school all students should study biology, chemistry, and physics.

Many Californians are unsure about the quality of teacher preparation in the area of science instruction. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed either do not know or do not believe that the background and training of K-12 science teachers is adequate.

One Sacramento focus group member summed it up this way:

Placing more emphasis on science in K-12 opens the doors to understanding the physical universe, logic, critical thinking, and rational behavior, as children mature and grow into adulthood and become citizens within our society.

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Jul 31 2010

The Way Space Really Works

Recently a good friend of mine — a member of the great Apollo generation, those who actually used their engineering, scientific, and management expertise to send us to the Moon — was lamenting the current dormant state and uncertan future of the U.S. space program, and asking how we can change this.

His bottom line was, “What needs to be done?”
(This post is my slightly altered response.)

These same issues came up in Freeman Dyson’s talk at ISDC 2010 recently. What we should do is keep working and be patient. But we won’t have to wait much longer…!

Here’s the way space really works …

Global space advocates — Young and Old — You make space work
And this BOOM’s for You!

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Big Apollo-style programs (e.g., the Panama Canal) come in cycles. To develop political support for them requires many people in society to feel like they’re “getting ahead”, and that requires a John F. Kennedy-style economic boom which “lifts all boats.”

1) The reason no one’s been back to the Moon in 40 years is simple: There hasn’t been a Kennedy-style boom since the 1960s …
Click: Why 40 years?

2) Complexity theory gives us insight into the punctuated equilibrium character of great explorations from Apollo all the way back to Lewis and Clark … and to sketch the future …
Click: Space – The Fractal Frontier

3) I think the new international Space Age is almost upon us (within 3-5 yrs). And part of the reason is, ironically, the financial Panic of 2008 and our current great recession …
Click: 10 Space Trends

4) I first experimented with some of these ideas in Space Policy in 1996 but didn’t really get interested in it until, of all things, NATO had an international conference in Portugal in 2005 on how long-term economic trends might be influencing warfare and global security. And in my talks to all kinds of audiences over the last several years, my experience is that if you can actually personally remember the 1960s it will probably be easier to grasp than if you’re younger.

But in fact, given current trends, young people — especially if you were born before 2000 — are in for a wonderful cosmic ride.
Click: Young people and their new Space Age

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