May 17 2010

Animal Spirits, Complexity, and “The Most Dangerous Guy Out There”

New York Times Magazine (5/16/10; B. Wallace-Wells) features a revealing profile of former Chicago professor and current Obama regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein. A profound devotee of behavorial economics — which assumes that human irrationality is predictable — Sunstein commented that its elaboration “is the most exciting intellectual development of my lifetime.”

Did positive Keynesian Animal Spirits drive both the Panama Canal in 1914…
Click

… and the Apollo program in 1969? Click .

The Times’ piece is of interest to us at 21stCenturyWaves.com because John Maynard Keynes — the first prominent behavorial economist — invented the concept of “animal spirits” to explain the crucial role of confidence (both optimism and pessimism) in the economy. Conceptually, animal spirits appears related to “ebullience” which — through the psychologically expansive effects of Maslow’s hierarchy — triggers public support for great explorations and MEPs.

In fact, animal spirits and ebullience may be two sides of the same coin. For example, positive animal spirits stimulate actors in the economy to produce a boom. While ebullience, although typically affluence-induced, operates in the elevated Maslow (self-actualizing) mode and makes great expectations and MEPs seem almost irresistible. Negative animal spirits rapidly terminate the boom, erode ebullience, collapse society’s elevated Maslow state, and “close” the Maslow Window.

But the Times explains that not everyone is happy with Sunstein’s vision.

Conservatives see a Big Brother strain in Sunstein’s philosophy (Glenn Beck called him “the most dangerous guy out there”), while some liberals worry that behavorial economics is too immature to handle the weight of guiding policy.

This is partly because of two Sunstein beliefs:
1) the idea that the human quality of irrationality can be predicted,
and, according to the Times,
2) “this is the controversial part — that if the social environment can be changed, people might be nudged into more rational behavior.”

Animal Spirits Exist
More interesting at this point — given the still-embryonic state of the science — is the recent discovery by a University of California, Irvine economist that animal spirits are actually important to business cycles (Investers Chronicle, 3/26/10; C. Dillow). Fabio Milani compared the expectations of individual economic forecasters (from the Survey of Economic Forecasters) with a learning model featuring a “rational expectations solution” to the system. According to Milani,

Private sector agents in some periods may be overly optimistic — by forecasting a higher future output or lower inflation rate, for example, than implied by their learning model — or overly pessimistic. These waves of over-optimism and over-pessimism, which are exogenous to the state of the economy, are defined as the expectation shocks in the model.

Milani’s “expectation shocks” can account for more than half of the variation in the U.S. GDP over the last 40 years. Not only did his expectation shocks fall before each of the last 7 recessions, they are near an all-time low now. Thus animal spirits, expectation shocks, and ebullience are apparently at work during business cycles.

The Market is a Complex Adaptive System
Herbert Gintis (3/31/2009) of the Santa Fe Institute modeled the market in 2007 as an agent-based complex adaptive system. In his review of Akerloff and Shiller’s book, Animal Spirits (2009), Gintis suggests that animal spirits are only part of the story:

The major thesis of the book is only partially correct in attributing macroeconomic instability to human foibles … Akerlof and Shiller do not have enough evidence to assert confidently that people are driven by irrational animal spirits to produce market volatility. People imitate the successful, both in my agent-based model and in real life. This is generally quite rational behavior, but it can produce “behavioral cascades” that are destabilizing

Part of the confusion apparently arises because of evolving conditions that affect the notion of “rational” versus “irrational.” Is it rational for investors and businesses to join the bandwagon when a strong upward economic trend has been established? Probably yes. On the other hand, is it irrational for investors and businesses to assume that the boom will continue forever? Yes, for sure.

Therefore, investors who were initially rational may become irrational as the boom peaks. This is especially true when the system becomes strongly fractal and increasingly unpredictable.

It appears that animal spirits have an empirical foundation and, together with ebullience, are able to explain the psychological rationale behind widespread public support for great explorations and MEPs during Maslow Windows. The fact that public support is short-lived and that Maslow Windows display punctuated equilibrium — e.g., are separated by 55 to 60 years — is consistent with the idea that we’re dealing with a complex adaptive system that requires 5 – 6 decades to repeatedly self-organize into a critical state (the Maslow Window).

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Jul 20 2009

Tom Wolfe's "Giant Leap to Nowhere"

Today Tom Wolfe (New York Times, 7/19/09) added his name to the growing list of commentators who are frustrated and puzzled by the Apollo Moon program’s abrupt end almost 40 years ago, and even more so by the fact that no human has traveled beyond Earth orbit since 1972!

Tom Wolfe asks today if we’ve lost the “right stuff.” Click mercury7.jpg.

1972 was a LONG time ago. If you’re over 40 years old, think about where you were then and what you were doing. (Those under 40 are excused from this exercise.)

Most of my reply to Wolfe’s op-ed has already been published at “The Secret of Why Apollo Was a ‘Giant Step, Full Stop’” so I won’t repeat it here. But because Wolfe did write The Right Stuff (1979), the celebrated story of the Mercury 7 astronauts (made into a movie in 1983), his take is interesting.

Although it was a small step for Neil and a giant leap for mankind, the first Moon landing was “a real knee in the groin for NASA,” according to Wolfe.

The American space program, the greatest, grandest, most Promethean — O.K. if I use “godlike”? — quest in the history of the world died in infancy … the moment the foot of Apollo 11′s Commander Armstrong touched the surface of the Moon.

How did this uber downer happen?

Maybe because he’s a writer, Wolfe thinks “the answer is obvious. NASA had neglected to recruit a corps of philosophers.” By the mid-1970s the only philosopher who could explain the real importance of Apollo was the developer of the Saturn V, Wernher von Braun, who was dying of cancer. But according to Wolfe, Von Braun’s “heavy German accent” and former WW II nazi connections limited his use.

In fact, based on the last 200 years of Great Explorations and MEPs, the moral of the story appears to be: “Great leaders help, but the economy rules“. It is very unlikely Von Braun himself or even an army of Von Brauns could have changed the course of 1970s macroeconomic history or the related decay of Apollo ebullience that began as early as 1966. As they have for every Maslow Window of the last 200 years, these fundamental factors initially enabled and eventually terminated the Apollo program and have kept humanity trapped in Earth orbit since 1972.

Wolfe alludes to the short-lived effect of ebullience without using the term, “Everybody, including Congress, was caught up in the adrenal rush of it all. But then, on the morning after” they began to wonder about it’s real meaning. This effect is graphically portrayed in the riveting 1960s political history, The Liberal Hour.

According to Wolfe, the answer is Mars. “For 40 years, everybody at NASA has known that the only logical next step is a manned Mars mission…” However, current plans — the U.S. returning to the Moon by 2020 — ignore historical trends of the last 200 years which point to closure of our next Maslow Window by 2025 or before, leaving little time for Mars. Unless we change the plan, such as Buzz Aldrin has proposed lately, our next shot at Mars may be delayed until 2070.

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Jul 11 2009

Young People, Long Waves, and a Glimpse of Their Coming Space Age

Thanks to Aron Sora, a recent high school graduate who blogs at habitationintention.blogspot.com for his intriguing comment about his and other young people’s future:

I’m going to graduate from college in 2013, just in time for the Maslow window. I want to be an active participant in the next window … I just feel really lucky about my birth date since it will lead to me having a undergrad degree two years before the window or a doctoral degree about mid-way.

The next Maslow Window should open near 2015, and trigger a New Space Age for young people! Click mars_base.jpg.

1) Let me reiterate that there is every reason to believe that the 2015 Maslow Window will open approximately on time, based on the last 200 years of Maslow Window timings and current data. I’ll give a brief summary here with more to come soon.

U.S. unemployment recently reached 9.5% and the prediction market Intrade projects, at the 80% level (up from 50% in April), that it will surpass 10% by December, 2009. Although “casting doubt on prospects for the U.S. economy to soon rebound,” (Wall Street Journal, 7/3/09), this is still a long way from the devastating unemployment rates during the Great Depression (25% in 1933 to 17% in 1939).

Although Jeffrey Frankel, a Harvard economist, is “expecting the recovery to be a slow one,” (WSJ, 7/3/09), another Harvard economist — Robert Barro — who has examined data on recessions back to 1870 for the U.S. and 33 other countries, says there is only a 20% chance that our current crisis will result in a GDP decline of 10% or more (a major depression has 25% decline).

Akerloff and Shiller (2009) see current parallels with the Panic of 1893 and its major recession; e.g., “U.S. unemployment rose to 12.3% in 1894, peaked at 12.4% in 1897, and did not fall below 10% untill 1899.” However, the 1890s recession was followed by a time of “sustained prosperity” (Fischer, 1996) that we know of as the Peary/Panama Maslow Window (~1903-1913), one of the most ebullient decades in the history of the United States.

The fact that — over the last 200+ years — no Maslow Window has ever been delayed or in any observable way diminshed by a financial panic or recession, plus the special parallels with the “1893 to 1913 Panic – Recession – Maslow Window” experience , suggest the 2015 Maslow Window will open on time. (More to come in future posts.)

2) 1930 was a good birth year for future Apollo astronauts. What about the first Mars explorers?

It’s true. The entire Apollo 11 crew — Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins — was born in 1930, as were many others. An incomplete list includes Tom Stafford (Apollo 10), Pete Conrad (Apollo 12), Ed Mitchell (Apollo 14), Jim Irwin (Apollo 15), and John Young (Apollo 16), etc.

The irony is that they had to be born during the Great Depression to be chronologically positioned for the long wave as it ascended into the unparalleled economic boom of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window. These and most other Apollo astronauts were born about 40 years before they went to the Moon (1969-72).

Using this model, and assuming the 2015 Maslow Window will culminate near 2025, the Apollo astronaut analogs — possibly the first Mars explorers — were born near 1985; they’re called “Millennials.” They graduated from high school near 2002 and college near 2006; some will get PhDs soon.

Like their Apollo analogs, the Millennials are positioned for their approaching Maslow Window (near 2015) but have less in common with them than you might expect. For example,
a) the Millennials have not experienced a major international war as destructive as WW II or Vietnam, and
b) the Millennials are affected by the Panic of 2008 and the current major recession in the decade before their Maslow Window, which did not occur prior to the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window.

Thus it’s interesting that the Millennials’ general life experience, as we approach their Maslow Window during a major recession, may have some key elements more in common with the polar explorers of the Peary/Panama Maslow Window than with the Apollo explorers of the 1960s. Remember also that although pre-Maslow Window financial panic/recessions are the rule over the last 200 years, they are not required to produce a Maslow Window as shown by the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window.

3) When’s the best time to be born?

Many good things and bad things happen near peaks of the energy cycle, about a decade after the Maslow Window begins. The exact timing varies with the specific Maslow Window over the last 200 years but, in general, Maslow Windows are usually terminated by a rapid decline in the economy and/or a major war.

The biggest challenges will be experienced by young people who leave school and come into the world looking for their first real economic opportunity (i.e., job) near the culmination of the Maslow Window. That often occurs around the age of 20. So based on this Maslow Window model, a good rule of thumb is: Think twice about being born about 20 years before an energy cycle peak.

At the most vulnerable time in your professional life, you will be impacted by the abrupt end of a major economic boom and you may be caught up in a major war. Although many are able to “turn lemons into lemonade” you should be aware that these twice-per-century challenges can be formidable. Perhaps the worst aspect is that you’ll be too young to personally participate in the great explorations or MEPs of your Window. And after 10 years of watching them, when you finally are old enough to join the fun, it will all end. We’re talking here about people born between about 2000 and 2010 (they may not be reading this yet!), between 1945 and 1955, and between about 1888 and 1898 (also probably not reading this).

It’s much better to be 20 years or older as the Maslow Window begins. As you emerge into the economic world the long boom will be fully warmed up. Almost anything you do will be profitable. And the ebullience of the Maslow Window will make you feel like it will never end. Of course it always does in about 10 years, but by then you’ll be better established in your career and less vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune — of the economy and the world. Remember the Apollo astronauts were about 30 as their Maslow Window opened, and as more mature people go into space, even being 40+ might be OK; e.g., in 1971 Alan Shepard became the oldest person to walk on the Moon at 47, and in 1998 John Glenn became the oldest human to fly into space at 77. To optimally participate and prosper from the last 3 Maslow Windows (including the 2015 Window), it was best to be born between about 1975 – 2000, 1920 – 1945, and 1863 – 1888.

Although these rules of thumb are broadly consistent with the last 200 years of macroeconomic data and historical trends, they are only approximate and are subject to many exceptions. For example, if you were born during “sub-optimal times,” having supportive parents or being a resourceful person can make up for many challenges associated with the long wave.

But if you’re secretly holding out hope that the lessons of the last 200+ years regarding Maslow Windows and long waves will magically melt away, don’t bet on it. For example, the stunning MEP trio of the Panama Canal, Apollo program, and the International Space Station illustrate the power of the long wave. Amazingly, neither Ferdinand de Lesseps nor President Ronald Reagan — both brilliant leaders about 100 years apart — could make their MEPs materialize during unfavorable portions of the long wave. While Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John Kennedy became heroes for successfully initiating the Panama Canal and Apollo program during their respective Maslow Windows. And even the Clinton/Bush ISS has recently become known as an “international marvel” as we approach another Maslow Window. The moral of the last 200+ years regarding great explorations and macro-engineering projects is: “great leaders help, but the economy rules.”

In any case, if you’re thinking about having kids this year, and plan to be supportive parents … go ahead!! The economic recovery should begin next year and, although it may be followed by a few years of sluggish growth, we should return to the rapid growth levels of 2007 relatively soon. The long-awaited 2015 Maslow Window will open on time. And remember, history shows that whether you do experience a financial panic/recession just before your Maslow Window (e.g., 1903-1913; or 2015-2025) or whether you don’t (e.g., 1959-1969), your Maslow Window will be spectacular.

As for Mr. Sora, who just graduated from high school and was born in 1991, he is a Millennial and is well chronologically positioned to be about 24 when the next Maslow Window begins. Nice birthdate Aron, work hard and enjoy your Maslow Window!

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May 25 2009

Kurzweil's Singularity and the Human Future in Space

The New York Times (5/24/09, J. Markoff) highlights the fun idea that developments in artificial intelligence may someday produce a Skynet-like system (as in Terminator Salvation); i.e., “a military R&D project that gained self-awareness and concluded that humans were an irritant…”

Technologist Ray Kurzweil believes The Singularity is near. Click kurzweil.jpg.

This idea dates back to the ebullient Apollo Maslow Window in a 1961 short story by Arthur C. Clarke. First called “The Singularity” in 1993 by Vernor Vinge, it referred to a future time when humans would be overwhelmed by the acceleration of technological progress. Extrapolating from Moore’s Law, AI pioneer Ray Kurzweil predicted in 2005 that technological progress would accelerate to the point when machines had “not only surpassed human intelligence but took over the process of technological invention, with unpredictable consequences.”

And he said it would occur in 2045.

This is one reason I don’t forecast beyond 2030! But all kidding aside, it’s relevant to the favorite question of many of my friends: Besides WW III or a planet-sterilizing comet impact, what would it take to throw off the long wave of the last 200+ years and invalidate the 2015 Maslow Window concept?

My usual response is that it would apparently require something worse than the Civil War, WW I, WW II, the Cold War, the Great Victorian Depression of 1873, The Great Depression of the 1930s, and numerous financial panics and major recessions (including the current one) of the last 200 years. Because amazingly, the long wave didn’t blink during any of those. However, having computers take over the process of technological invention — and probably eventually everything else — would certainly be something new!

Kurzweil, currently 61, envisions uploading the contents of a human’s brain into a computing environment — providing a type of immortality — within his lifetime. At the 2006 World Future Society meeting in Toronto where I happened to catch him, Kurzweil also suggested creating a Manhattan-style project to develop this capability. He had an enormous crowd and we all caught the symbolism when his computer malfunctioned during the presentation and nobody could fix it. Nevertheless, Kurzweil’s a genuine celebrity in the technology and futures communities.

But not everyone is buying the show. For example, William Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, believes bad news is more likely than a Kurzweilian utopia with ultra-computers attending to our every need, “I wasn’t saying we would be supplanted by something, I think a catastrophe is more likely.”

And expanding on the fact that Moore’s Law is not a law of physics, merely an industrial pattern, physicist and management consultant Theodore Modis asserts that Kurzweil’s approach is not really scientific. “Kurzweil and the singularitarians are indulging in some sort of para-science, which differs from real science in matters of methodology and rigor. They tend to overlook rigorous scientific practices such as focusing on natural laws, giving precise definitions, verifying the data meticulously, and estimating the uncertainties.”

Modis questions Kurzweil’s key forecasts, including whether The Singularity will ever occur, because Kurzweil’s exponentials are actually “S” curves. For example, regarding supercomputing power, “assuming that the exponential trend will continue until 2045 (which I personally doubt) we find that computer power will reach 6×10**23 Flops (floating-point operations per second) at ‘singularity time’. But … until computer power reaches a final ceiling, there must be further growth of less than two orders of magnitude. This translates to an ultimate computer power of less than 10**25 Flops, which is in flagrant contradiction with Kurzweil’s forecast of 10**50 and beyond!”

Modis is passionate about his anti-Singularity beliefs. Although I first read about the 56 year energy cycle in his 1992 book and have been in contact with him since my 1996 Space Policy article, he more recently gently complained about Figure 1 in Cordell (2006), because it could be misinterpreted to support The Singularity.

Neither Modis nor I actually finished Kurzweil’s book. Modis admits that “Around Page 150 I got fed up and stopped … as science fiction goes, even realistic one like Kurzweil’s, I prefer more literary prose with plot, romance, and less of this science.”

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Apr 19 2009

Images of the First Space Age Point to the Future

Continuing last week’s mini-tour of Space Age sites associated with the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, one has to be especially impressed with the spectacular space icons of southern New Mexico and Arizona, and how they point to the approaching, new Space Age near 2015.

The elegant McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory models Camelot-style scientific ebullience. Click mcmath1.jpg.

Alamogordo, NM — just up the road from the White Sands National Monument and Holloman Air Force Base (currently with 2 squadrons of F-22 Raptors) and at the base of the Sacramento Mountains, home of the National Solar and Apache Point observatories — is the site of the New Mexico Museum of Space History.

Boom-town Alamogordo, NM hosts a superb space museum. Click sonmmuseum.jpg.

The Space Museum commemorates everything from Goddard’s early rocket experiments near Roswell to a mockup of the International Space Station. Also included is the International Space Hall of Fame, which honors individuals who’ve made key contributions to the exploration of space. To emerge from this place not excited about the past, present, and future of humans in space…you’d have to be from another planet!

The John P. Stapp Air and Space Park honors the Space Hall of Fame inductee and amazing aeromedical pioneer of the 1950s. Click stapppark.jpg.

As one of the initial superheroes of the 1st Space Age, John Paul Stapp, M.D., Ph.D. is probably not as famous as he should be today. In 1954 he set a world land speed record of 632 mph and then stopped in 1.4 seconds — pulling just over 20 g’s in the process.

In 1954, The Sonic Wind No. 1 rocket sled propelled Dr. Stapp to 632 mph. Click sonicwind.jpg.

Dr. Stapp was initially concerned about the relation of g forces to pilot injuries during plane crashes and later applied his knowledge to car crashes. For his almost unbelievable rocket sled runs he became known as “The Fastest Man on Earth”, made the cover of Time magazine, and subjected himself to a record-setting 46.2 g’s!

Dr. Stapp shows that pulling 20+ g’s is not as easy as it sounds…! Click stappstop.jpg.

Dr. Stapp, who retired as a Colonel in the USAF, also proved that for all the cracked ribs, mild hemorraging, and broken wrists that he experienced, it didn’t affect his longevity one bit. Amazingly, he passed away in his Alamogordo home in 1999, at the age of 89.

About one long wave ago (~ 56 years) Dr. Stapp’s experiments paved the way for high-performance air- and spacecraft of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window. Today’s analogous technology development phase for the 2015 Maslow Window is continuing in the International Space Station, among space entrepreneurs (e.g., Virgin Galactic), at national space agencies, and elsewhere.

For example, the current headquarters of Spaceport America is in Las Cruces. According to their website, construction of a road to the Spaceport site, about 45 miles north of Las Cruces, should be completed soon.

The remains of this V-2 were recovered at White Sands after testing. Click v2.jpg.

The first Space Age began shortly after W. W. II with test launches of the German V-2 rocket at the White Sands Missile Range, also known as the “Birthplace of the Race to Space.” Some may remember the historic first, and so far only, landing of a Shuttle at White Sands by Gordon Fullerton and Jack Lousma (STS-3) in 1982. The local pop culture space connections also include famous rumors of a UFO landing at Holloman AFB in 1971 (or before) as dramatized by Rod Serling in the 1974 documentary video “UFOs: Past, Present, and Future.”

The XQ-2 Drone beckons to the Tombaugh IMAX Dome Theater and Planetarium. Click xq-2.jpg.

The Tombaugh Theater and Planetarium sits between the Space History Museum and the new Alamogordo campus of the New Mexico State University. As a teenager I met Professor Tombaugh and was invited to his home in Las Cruces during a family vacation (we lived in Michigan) for a peek through his 16″ telescope. The issue of the Journal of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers that he autographed for me is understandably still one of my prized possessions.

On the campus of New Mexico State University, the Tombaugh Observatory honors the former NMSU professor and discoverer of Pluto. Click tombaugh.jpg.

Professor Tombaugh was probably most famous as the discoverer of Pluto, but was also a long-time observer of Mars and played an important role developing scientific rationales for human missions to Mars (e.g., see the 1963 Exploration of Mars, Vol. 15, Adv. Astronaut. Scis., Ed. by G.W. Morganthaler) during the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window. Starting in 1949, Tombaugh was comfortable going public about his many observations of UFOs. He supported the Extraterrestrial hypothesis and was an early voice calling for a serious scientific investigation of UFOs, much like the University of Arizona’s Dr. James McDonald later did, and more recently Stanford’s Peter Sturrock.

The House that Gerard Kuiper Built — The Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona. Click ualunarlab.jpg

Dr. Gerard Kuiper, known as “the Father of Modern Planetary Science,” established the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona in 1960 to give NASA more scientific information about the Moon and planets. For NASA, the idea was to support the Apollo program and eventually human missions to the planets during the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window.

“…A source of pride to the nation.” President John F. Kennedy, 1960. Click solart.jpg.

To the Camelot-style icon of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, President John F. Kennedy, “The great new solar telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona is a source of pride to the nation. The largest instrument for solar research in the world, it presents American astronomers with a unique tool for investigating the nearest of all the stars, our Sun. The project is of exceptional interest to all our citizens…Bold in concept and magnificent in execution, the instrument is the crowning achievement…” Writing in 1960, JFK’s ebullient tone is unmistakable, as it will be near 2015 when the next Space President describes the scientific challenges of the next Space Age.

Every clear day, the secrets of the Sun are revealed in the observers room. Click solarobs.jpg.

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Apr 10 2009

Space Daily, Gila Bend, and the Next Space Age

Space Daily recently (4/7/09) published an intriguing editorial on the next Space Age that was inspired by the recent 25th National Space Symposium of the same theme. It’s hard to resist focusing on a few key Space Age-related issues here, because this weblog was founded to provide a long-range perspective on the human future in space.

I’m more than suitably inspired for this task having just checked in to none other than the Space Age Lodge in Gila Bend — basically across the street from the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range in the southwest desert of Arizona — as I spend a few days visiting friends and space sites in AZ and NM.

The Space Age Lodge in Gila Bend is a genuine icon of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window that tantalizingly points to the next Space Age. Click spaceage.jpg.

More than just a fun, out-of-the-way place sporting pictures of the Shuttle in every room and the Space Age Restaurant, the Space Age Lodge is a genuine 1960s icon. The Lodge was initially built in 1964 — at the apex of the Apollo Maslow Window — by Al Stovall, who not only had his own copper mine and his own plastic factory, he was also a major supplier of manganese to the U.S. military during WW II. After Sputnik in 1957, Mr. Stovall became very interested in NASA and eventually displayed his large collection of personally autographed photos of nearly every astronaut of the 1960s. After getting my masters from UCLA, I stumbled onto this place enroute to starting a PhD program at the University of Arizona under Gerard Kuiper. When I saw all the autographed astronaut photos on the lobby walls I thought I’d been out in the sun too long!

Unfortunately you can’t see them anymore. When Al passed away in 1973 (apparently shortly after my visit) his autographed photos were returned to family. But the spirit of Al Stovall and the First Space Age are still captured here by the current owners.

Space Daily recognizes the close connection of technology, finance, and the first Space Age. “It seems that such historic periods (the first Space Age) end as a result of two converging events: the “new” technology of the time reaches a mature, established, stable state; and new, societal-changing technologies become widely adapted…(As) the space industry was showing its age…The public seemed to lose interest, government enthusiasm seemed to wane and the industry began consolidating.”

Macroeconomic patterns and historical trends of the last 200 years show that the 1960s Space Age was similar to earlier major pulses of Great non-space Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects that have clustered together every 55 to 60 years. This can be seen in 200 Years and is described in Cordell (2006) and throughout this weblog. These spectacular decade-long “Maslow Windows” are fundamentally driven by major, twice-per-century economic booms, when widespread affluence-induced ebullience thrusts many in society to elevated states in Maslow’s heirarchy. For a few fleeting moments, the unprecedented exploration and technology projects seem irresistible, in the style of Keynesian “animal spirits.”

Space Daily expresses concern about our current financial crisis and recession and asks the question, “Will there be another Space Age?”

They seem unaware that — over the last 200 years — financial panics and major recessions are a common feature of the decade just preceeding every Maslow Window except one (the post-WWII Apollo Maslow Window). Space Daily concludes that “only after the new global economy has matured and stabilized will a new ‘Integrated Space Age’ be realized.”

They’re correct. And every indicator suggests this process will culminate with the opening of the next Maslow Window near 2015.

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Nov 29 2008

10 Lessons Peary & Amundsen Teach Us About the Human Future in Space

Riveting polar expeditions of the 1903 Maslow Window resulted in the discovery of the north pole by Adm. Robert Peary (U.S.) in 1909 and the south pole by Roald Amundsen (Norway) in 1911; this “pole mania” featured daring adventure, international competition, and tragic accidents. The Peary/Amundsen Maslow Window has intriguing parallels with the 1960s Apollo Moon program and many lessons for the future human exploration and settlement of the Moon and Mars.
The top 10 lessons of Peary and Amundsen include:

10. The early 20th Century Peary/Amundsen Maslow Window (1903 – 1913) featured the spectacular achievement of Admiral Robert Peary — first credited with reaching the north pole — and the “Heroic Age” of Antarctic exploration including Roald Amundsen, discoverer of the south pole, the tragic deaths of Robert Scott and his crew, and the aborted transantarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton… For more, click HERE.
The presence of both widespread ebullience and spectacular exploration of new geographical sites forms the core of Maslow Windows of the last 200 Years, and will likely be the zeitgeist of the 2015 Maslow Window

Amundsen and crew reach the “last place on Earth” in December, 1911. Click southpole.jpg.

9. Antarctic exploration in 1843 by Sir James Clark Ross — discoverer of the well-known Ross Ice Shelf — was the last mid-19th Century foray into the Antarctic by explorers for more than 50 years. Polar expeditions were replaced by the central African adventures of Dr. David Livingstone as the focus of the world’s attention during his Great Exploration. The postponement of polar exploration until the early 20th Century is consistent with the general rules of thumb for Great Explorations (GEs) during the last 200 years: a) GEs are separated by 55 to 60 years, b) their sequence is from closer geographical sites to those of greater inaccessibility (e.g., central Africa vs. poles), and c) new GE sites always stimulate great public interest. And thus our next Maslow Window should arrive near 2015 and involve humans to Mars, Moon bases, or possibly both.

8. Clarence King — a 19th Century version of both Carl Sagan and Howard Hughes –was one of the greatest explorers of the American West, but because of poor long wave timing he’s not associated with a Great Exploration. During his important exploits, Americans were devastated by the Civil War and Europeans were distraught by the financial Panic of 1873… For more, click HERE.
Scentist-Explorer Clarence King is a classic example of a great explorer not having the global impact you’d expect because his discoveries occurred in the decades between Maslow Windows; these often dark decades — over the last 200 years — are inhabited by major wars and financial contractions that quickly destroy societal ebullience and make Great Explorations temporarily impossible.

7. “This is the greatest factor — the way in which the expedition is equipped — the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck,” according to the discoverer of the south pole, Roald Amundsen. In the 15 major antarctic expeditions from 8 countries during the Heroic Age, there were a total of 17 crew deaths, including Scott’s entire party of 5 while returning from the pole. Having been overcome by extreme weather and questionable strategic decisions, Scott’s ill-fated crew is reminiscent of the famous California-bound Donner party during the ebullient mid-19th Century Maslow Window, who was trapped by unusual, early snow storms in the California mountains after ill-advised voluntary delays.
Great Explorations always involve significant risks, especially in an atmosphere of international competition. Experience has shown (see Stuster, 1996) that the best way to ensure crew safety and mission success is by trying to anticipate every potentially threatening situation and taking appropriate precautions.

Monument near Donner Lake indicating the 20+ foot depth of the snow in 1846 (B. Cordell, 1999). Click donner.pdf.

6. The international conquest of Antarctica was launched in 1895 when a general resolution at the 6th International Geographical Society in London exhorted scientific societies world-wide to support antarctic exploration. This echoed a similar theme ventilated by London’s Royal Geographical Society in 1893. Between 1901 and 1917 — the “Heroic Age” — 15 expeditions to Antarctica were mounted by 8 countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, France, Japan, Norway, and Australia.
The Heroic Age of antarctic exploration proved that international cooperation can be a powerful tool for science and exploration, and suggests that it will be essential for human expansion into the cosmos.

5. The financial Panic of 1893 caused estimated unemployment over 10% for 5+ years. The crisis initially lasted only 18 months but was followed by another recession that continued into 1897. The combination of GDP declines of several % coupled with population growth meant that GDP per capita didn’t recover to 1892 levels until 1899… For more, click HERE.
The Panics of 1893 and 2008 have interesting parallels, including that they began 10 and 8 years before their Maslow Windows opened, respectively. The Panic of 1893 suggests that the 2015 Maslow Window might be delayed only briefly as the global economy recovers to its mid-2007 “greatest ever global boom” status.

The 2015 Maslow Window may still arrive on time and feature Great Explorations even greater than Peary & Amundsen and Apollo, and MEPs more amazing than even the Panama Canal. Click panama.jpg.

4. Unike the Lewis and Clark expedition, which opened the West to human settlers, the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration did not trigger massive human migrations to the polar regions. And while important meteorological and geographical science was done, it was the sheer adventure of polar exploration that enthralled the world… For more, click HERE.
That’s why during the 1960s Maslow Window, President Kennedy did not propose sending a mission to exploit the polar areas or anywhere else on earth, he chose to go to the Moon. It was the next obvious target that would globally demonstrate America’s technological prowess (Apollo was also an MEP), as well as revitalize education and society by activating raw human exploration passions — that have been hard-wired into us for 200,000 years.

3. “To a visitor from Mars it must have seemed that the Western world in 1914 was on the brink of Utopia,” according to historians J. Harrison and R. Sullivan (1966). Unfortunately, this pinnacle of Polar Maslow Window ebullience crashed in 1914 with the onset of World War I, the “Great War.” For more, click HERE.
The Peary/Amundsen Maslow Window is consistent with the lesson of the last 200 years: public support for Great Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects typically vaporizes shortly after the economic boom peaks due to financial, political, and/or military factors. Maslow Windows flourish for less than a decade, and — unless we make special plans for it — the 2015 Window is unlikely to be an exception.

2. Although antarctic exploration began with an international organization in the mid-1890s, the desire to be first to the pole — i.e., pole mania — was overwhelming to some explorers. When Amundsen realized that Peary had reached the north pole in 1909, he made secret plans to be first to the south pole. For more, click HERE.
The Amundsen-Scott pole mania episode is reminiscent of the 1950s Cold War, which featured the International Geophysical Year’s plans to launch satellites into Earth orbit and resulted in the surprise Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957; Sputnik ignited the Race to Space as the Apollo Maslow Window opened. As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, is an Amundsen/Sputnik-type surprise likely to trigger the Next Race to Space?

1. Will there be a Grand Alliance for Space? Although the Polar Maslow Window failed in that regard (See #2), it’s likely the technical and financial challenges of early 21st Century space colonization will require a globally coordinated approach. The last 200 years indicate that twice-per-century pulses of Great Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects are likely to be the focus of global ebullience in the foreseeable future — especially in space. And AIAA’s Jerry Grey and others have even suggested a multi-decade plan for unified, global settlement of the solar system. The spectacular achievement of the $ 100 B International Space Station and current international plans for Moon exploration and bases suggest hopeful movement in the right direction.

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Oct 25 2008

The 1960s Apollo Maslow Window was "Transformative"

And, indeed the social scientists think so too. As we approach the spectacular 2015 Maslow Window — a decade that economic and other indicators over the last 200 years suggest will be the analog of the 1960s, including a Camelot-like zeitgeist — a new academic social science journal is bursting over the horizon. “The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture.” It’s published by Routledge and edited by Jeremy Varon, Michael Foley, and John McMillian.

The 1960s was the time of humanity’s greatest explorative event: the first man on the Moon. It was and is the greatest because it was the first time humans left Earth and set foot on another world. The Sixties was also the first time in the last 200 years that a Great Exploration (i.e., Apollo to the Moon) was thoroughly integrated with the predominant macro-engineering project (i.e., the Apollo program infrastructure) of its time. For example, the Great Explorations of 1909-11 (the polar expeditions) — which many decades later were judged to be among the top 100 greatest events in all human history — were unrelated to their great contemporary MEP: the Panama Canal — except maybe in their joint sharing of a feeling of almost global ebullience.

The momentous Saturn V symbolized the first time a Great Exploration was thoroughly joined with an MEP in the last 200 years. Click saturnv.jpg.

The Apollo Moon program was fundamentally triggered by an unparalleled economic boom accompanied by the surprise 1957 launch of Sputnik and the intense confrontations of the Cold War. However in the typical pattern of Maslow Windows during the last 200 years, Apollo was effectively terminated by declining 1960s ebullience and affluence due to the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, Apollo remains a major international symbol of the Sixties.

Although, in their Editorial announcing the new Sixties journal, the editors somehow forgot to mention the most compelling technological and geopolitical theme of the Sixties — the race to space — maybe in time they will rediscover it, because they are on the right track. For example, they sense that the 1960′s produced an ebullience “that continues to initrigue, inspire, confound, amuse, tempt, repel, and capture us.”

In the Sixties, the editors recognize that “all this energy — by parts dignified, militant, uptopian, and delusional — was of great consequence…No recent decade has been so powerfully transformative in much of the world as have the Sixties.”

The Sixties decade “has become plainly iconic.” It continues to “not only define us but remains urgently with us.” But the editors display frustration with their lack of understanding of what created the Sixties’ “transformative longing”: “As time passes, and periodic predictions that a given society or the world is poised for a similar experience prove false, the very fact that ‘the Sixties’ happened at all seems increasingly remarkable.”

We can help them with this one. The last 200 years show that rhythmic, twice-per-century major economic booms create climates of affluence-induced ebullience (known as Maslow Windows) that are momentarily manifested by Great Explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), massive MEPs (e.g., Panama Canal), and a utopian feeling of “transformative longing” (e.g., Apollo). The record shows that exceptional ebullience does not propel all people to elevated levels in Maslow’s heirarchy. Tragically, some trigger major wars.

The Sixties editors prefer to consider the “long Sixties” from 1954 to 1975. According to the 56 year energy/economic cycle, the year 2008 corresponds roughly to (2008 – 56) 1952. So it’s not surprising that academics have renewed interest now in the Sixties. Long-term trends — over the last 200 years — indicate the “new 1960s” will begin in only 5 to 7 years..

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Oct 11 2008

"Warp 10, Scotty!"

Will any future Captain Kirk ever say that for real?

In any case, growing excitement over a far-future interstellar propulsion system can be taken as evidence for early ebullience … a key characteristic of the approach to the next Maslow Window.

The September issue (Vol. 61, No. 9) of the prestigious Journal of the British Interplanetary Society features six articles on how we may someday be able to travel to the stars using a faster-than-light (FTL) warp drive.

The secret to the stars may be the Alcubierre warp drive.
Click alcubierre.png.

Although this may sound impossible now — and indeed our Universe may prohibit it — the first serious scientific speculation about warp drive was published in 1994 by Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre. His solution to the Einstein field equations features a “bubble” of highly curved space-time powered by a local expansion of space-time at the bubble’s rear and a corresponding contraction in front. It’s especially nice because while the bubble is executing FTL speeds, the spacecraft — comfortably ensconced inside the bubble — remains at rest with respect to normal space-time and thus doesn’t fuss with annoying time dilations or relativistic mass increases. Old fashioned wormholes need not apply in this future scenario.

But for now, the Alcubierre drive remains “scientific speculation” because of 19 unsolved physical problems with the concept, according to BIS Warp Drive Symposium Chair K.F. Long. For example, it’s not known yet how to disturb space-time to produce the desired “bubble” or how to obtain the large amounts of negative energy needed to maintain it. Plus, the 2nd Law of Thermo may prohibit negative energy anyway.

But assuming it’s possible, how long do aspiring galactic explorers have to wait? Jeremy Gardiner offers an estimate based on an interesting historical analogy with manned spaceflight to the Moon. Although Galileo first observed the Moon’s mountains and valleys in 1610, the first fictional account of human Moon travel was in 1657 by Cyrano de Bergerac. That was even before Newton published the rules (e.g., gravity) about how to get there in 1687. Robert Goddard discussed the theory of rockets in 1919 and then demonstrated it for liquid propellants in 1926. After being refined by the Germans (V-2), the Russians, and the Americans, the first manned landing occurred in 1969 — slightly over 300 years after Cyrano’s fictional winged spacecraft with staged rockets!

The Warp Drive timeline includes Einstein’s Special and General Theory in 1905 and 1915, John W. Cambell’s 1930 novel that first described warp drive (and later movies and TV shows like Star Trek), and the 1994 Alcubierre warp paper. Thus Gardiner suggests a real warp drive might be available around 2180!

Mark your calendars…

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Oct 02 2008

The Moon is First on NASA's List (Even If Not in Our Hearts)

Space News reports (9/30) that building bases on the Moon followed sometime later by human spaceflight to Mars, is a logical sequence for NASA, according to NASA boss Michael Griffin. Indeed, those advocating near-term human Mars missions may not be “fully cognizant of the difficulties of sending astronauts to Mars.”

To be safe, Griffin recommends that a human mission to Mars should be simulated by a stay at the space station (like interplanetary flight to Mars), and 6 – 9 months on the Moon without resupply (like being on Mars). This strategy’s been supported by the National Academy of Sciences and others in the past. In fact, going back to the Moon might be more fun than it sounds because a recent National Research Council report suggests we know more about the Moon than any extraterrestrial world, but “we have barely begun to solve its countless mysteries.”

Griffin’s strategy is reminiscent of how the Apollo program worked: every key step was rehearsed in a relatively safe environment before men landed on the Moon. For example, Borman’s Apollo 8 crew in December, 1968 was the first to achieve lunar orbit, but it did not simulate a landing. That was reserved for Stafford’s Apollo 10 crew who flew to within 14 km of the surface. And before astronauts flew to the Moon, the rendezvous operations of the Command and Lunar Modules were perfected in Earth orbit on Apollo 7 and 9.

NASA carefully rehearsed each key step before astronauts landed on the Moon in 1969. Click buzz.jpg.

However because of the Soviet-American race to the Moon, not everything was done systematically by the book. For example, George Mueller initially drew the ire of Wernher von Braun by suggesting “all-up” testing of the Saturn launch vehicle to save time.

Great Explorations over the last 200 years offer a unique perspective on the next step into space. The rhythmic, twice-per-century sequence of the hugely popular explorations was: Lewis & Clark/North America, Dr. Livingstone/Equatorial Africa, the Polar Expeditions, and Apollo/Moon. The lesson of the last 200 years is that although all four sites were riveting to the public, their chronological sequence was determined primarily by accessibility of the most interesting, unexplored site given the technology of the time.

So maybe we should bypass the Moon and go directly to Mars — the next logical Great Exploration target — because six Apollo crews already landed on the Moon almost 40 years ago. However, the Moon’s proximity (relative to Mars) and increasing international interests in Moon colonies (and even tourism) suggest the global public may soon be riveted by the spectacle of the irreversible, large-scale expansion of human civilization to the Moon.

But for Mars fans there is one lingering problem. If we take the history of the last 200 years seriously, it’s clear that even Great Explorations have only brief moments in the Sun — generally less than a decade — before ebullience fades, public support declines, and/or a war tragically intervenes. And based on the last 200 years, the next Maslow Window is likely to open near 2015 and close in the mid-2020s, assuming wildcards do not shorten it.

Assuming the U.S. (or someone) is able to return to the Moon by 2020, the bad news is that will leave only a few years at most to develop Mars systems, rehearse the crews, and execute the first human missions to the Red Planet. If we miss this Window the next one opens late in the 21st Century (~ 2071)!

But maybe the Moon will be enough for a while. In 1984, the wonderful German rocket scientist Krafft Ehricke — who ironically under NASA EMPIRE contract in 1963 described mid-1970s launch windows for manned Mars as “realistic” — once told me in San Diego that Earth-bound parents would someday love being able to go into their backyards on cool, clear nights and point to the exact spot on the Moon where their children were serving!

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