Flavin’s Corner
February 2003

Homo superstes: a conservation of our species

We need to think about moving.  Much like an alleged paranoid who ultimately proves correct and is being stalked, perhaps we should extrapolate from the tales told by the Catastrophists of global events in the past that drastically affected the biots of Mom Terra, and begin to make preparations to leave the planet if a situation develops which would necessitate such.  And, of course, I realize that certain pets and ferns might be reluctantly left behind.  The human race must survive at all costs.  Moving, at some point, should probably better the odds of our continued survival against the myriad of horrible things that could, and may eventually, befall us.  I’m not suggesting we begin packing immediately; though I think we should consider looking for a new home.  Arranging for movers in advance might be a good thing, as well.

Any conflict with Iraq or North Korea, though begun with conventional means and forces, has the potential of escalating to an involvement of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.  That would suck.  A terrorist smallpox or anthrax attack, whether undertaken by foreign or domestic murderers, would also suck.  I’m not terribly afraid of cloned babies, right now, though my position is open to amendment if it becomes trendy and foolish.  Meat grown in a lab could be a tasty thing, though meeting kosher or halal standards might be difficult.  Oh, and then there’s all the recent near-collisions with space rocks.  I’m not sure we can really count on Bruce Willis.  I’m thinking we’ll need to relocate at some point, hopefully later rather than sooner, but I think the move is inevitable.

It’s not like Mom Terra is going to be around forever.  We should be clear on that.  And planetary dotage could be harsh on us.  It remains cosmic comedy that just as we’re getting comfortable with evolution, we’re going to have to address devolution. The Life and Death of Planet Earth by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee (New York: Henry Holt/Times Books; 2003) discusses the upcoming retirement years of Mom Terra and they’re described as being more strained than those between Dr. Laura and her late mother.

Space Migration plus Intelligence Increase equals Life Extension
[Get off the planet, get smarter, and we'll live longer.]

The rascally, Massachusetts-born rogue professor, ‘60s drug guru and visionary, Dr. Timothy Leary (1920-1996) was a charismatic cheerleader for change and often utilized the ideas of others (i.e., Crowley and celebrity, Lilly and ketamine, Wilson and guerilla ontology), but his legacy also contains significant original work.  His publications between 1957 and 1960 (The Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality: A Functional Theory and Methodology for Personality Evaluation, The Multi-level Assessment of Personality, and The Existential Transaction) were solid enough to land a Harvard gig.  And, after Harvard failed to renew his contract and the subsequent High Priest of High years, which ended with his incarceration on charges of marijuana possession, Dr. Tim was made to take a psychological test he’d designed years before to measure a prisoner’s violent tendencies and ascertain a corresponding security risk.  He passed his test, was assigned to a minimum security facility, and made an escape shortly thereafter.  Despite the escape, Dr. Tim’s test enjoyed widespread use throughout America’s penal system for many years and versions are probably still in use somewhere.

After his recapture and in jail again, Dr. Tim began (very understandably) to consider getting the hell out of Dodge on a more permanent and profound level.  During 1973 and 1974, along with fellow inmate L. Wayne Benner, he devised the SMI2LE formula (shown above).  Getting out of jail was no longer good enough for Dr. Tim.  He wanted to get off the planet. 

Dr. Tim suggested that life on Mom Terra was deposited from space through the design of a Higher Intelligence, which is somehow behind and beyond the curtain of conceptual (and consensual) rational reality.  Said “Higher Intelligence” was never defined as specifically God, extraterrestrial, our future selves, or a cold result of an inanimate universe spinning off animation.  I doubt Dr. Tim’s “Higher Intelligence” was anything like the “Higher Power” at the nondenominational Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (though Bill W. did have a thing for LSD).

A few years later, Fred Hoyle and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe suggested through a series of publications that comets and meteorites could have introduced complex molecules (“seeds of life”) to a young Earth.  The theory, generally referred to as panspermia (or, when combined with Lovelock’s Gia hypothesis, sometimes called ‘Cosmic Ancestry’), continues to attract attention, most recently with the claims of the imprints of fossilized microbacterial life in meteorites from Mars. [Note: See F. Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe, 1976 Nature 264:45, 1977 Nature 266:241 and Nature 268:610, C. Wickramasinghe, 1977 New Scientist 74:119, and Lifecloud: The Origin of Life in the Universe by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe; New York: Harper & Row, 1978.]

On May 1, 2003, in a joint mission of NASA and the ISAS, the Muses-C will lift off from Kagoshima, Japan.  The goal of the mission is to collect three surface samples from an asteroid and return the material to Earth.  I’m unsure if it’s hoped that the material will contain complex molecules or evidence to support panspermia, but anytime we get out of our neighborhood it’s a good thing.  And, of course, importing rocks from outer space (rather than waiting for them to slam into us) has its own rewards.

The hound of Zeus, the tawny eagle, shall violently fall upon thy flesh and rend it as 'twere rags; and every day and all day long shall thine unbidden guest sit at thy table, feasting on thy liver till he hath gnawn it black.
From Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, c. 430 BCE 

Not mentioned during the 2003 State of the Union Address, President Bush will soon be recommending in his 2004 budget the funding of NASA’s Project Prometheus, a proposed nuclear propulsion system which has been around in different forms for decades, but always overlooked due to political (anti-nuclear) considerations.  As part of the Nuclear Systems Initiative (NSI), the proposed nuclear propulsion system is being heralded as a means to get to Mars and back faster and perhaps go for a spin around the solar system afterwards.  Now, there’s something to SMI2LE about!

It must be remembered that we’re dealing with current scientific theories and models about life and its origin in the universe and everything is subject to change when new data becomes available.  Though I’ve a soft spot in my heart for a Star Trek future with hot extraterrestrial babes, I’m not convinced even simple life-forms exist on other planets (or flu-bugs on comets).  There’s maybe and might, but not is.  Not yet, anyway.  Perhaps we, Homo sapiens sapiens (the last of the Hominidae) are the universe’s way for it to regard and experience itself.  We might very well be alone and the universe is counting on us to survive.  Homo superstes, if we’re lucky and we get serious about Sirius and start thinking about moving.

From: "No Going Back" 11-19-99
As far as life beyond Earth is concerned, an important observation was recently made by Apollo 12 astronaut, Pete Conrad, "I always thought the most significant thing we found on the whole goddamn Moon was that little bacteria who came back and lived and nobody ever said shit about it."  Bacteria on the Moon?  Perhaps... 

When Apollo 12 touched down upon the Moon on Nov.12, 1969, one of their assignments was to retrieve the camera from the unmanned Surveyor 3, which had landed two and a half years earlier.  After returning to Earth, the camera and some other materials brought back from Surveyor 3 were found to contain Streptococcus mitis, the common bacteria which produces strep-throat. It would appear that the bacteria hitched a ride to the Moon, survived without air, food, or water, in a way chilly environment, and recuperated nicely once it got back to Earth.  And, as this line of argument goes, there may be other examples of the strep bacteria aboard Surveyor 3 at this time.  So, there is life beyond Earth, but ...it originated here! [Note: The claims of Streptococcus mitis surviving in space and some examples still on the Moon have been challenged. It's been suggested there was contamination after Apollo 12 returned to Earth and there are no terrestrial microbes presently on the Moon.  I guess ...only time will tell.]

Packing extra underwear,

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