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If we need to rebuilt civilization – should we spare some oil for it?

“Out of the ashes”, by Lewis Dartnell, featured in aeon.co

“Imagine that the world as we know it ends tomorrow. There’s a global catastrophe: a pandemic virus, an asteroid strike, or perhaps a nuclear holocaust. The vast majority of the human race perishes. Our civilisation collapses. The post-apocalyptic survivors find themselves in a devastated world of decaying, deserted cities and roving gangs of bandits looting and taking by force.

Bad as things sound, that’s not the end for humanity. We bounce back. Sooner or later, peace and order emerge again, just as they have time and again through history. Stable communities take shape. They begin the agonising process of rebuilding their technological base from scratch. But here’s the question: how far could such a society rebuild? Is there any chance, for instance, that a post-apocalyptic society could reboot a technological civilisation?

Let’s make the basis of this thought experiment a little more specific. Today, we have already consumed the most easily drainable crude oil and, particularly in Britain, much of the shallowest, most readily mined deposits of coal. Fossil fuels are central to the organisation of modern industrial society, just as they were central to its development. Those, by the way, are distinct roles: even if we could somehow do without fossil fuels now (which we can’t, quite), it’s a different question whether we could have got to where we are without ever having had them…” read full story

 

 

Gene Editing in Human Embryos

DNA manipulation technique using CRISPR enzymes, binds to particular parts of the genome before splicing it, promissed nothing less than a revolution in genetics.  Now it starts bearing fruits, and initial human-dna editing testing under way, even as many heed warnings on ethical issues.

Chinese researchers were cautious enough to select only non-viable embryos.  While results were not consistent enough to indicate we mastered genetic altering, it stands as a clear statement that this fronteer is open for game.  And that (some) researchers are not waiting until the ethical debate around it is settle – if such a thing is even possible.

A couple of recent articles about this on MIT Review, by Jason Pontin, and in Popular Science by Alexandra Ossola

 

Writers’s reading lists: Neil deGrasse Tyson

When a reader on Reddit’sAsk Me Anything series asked “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?” this is what Neil deGrasse Tyson posted [edited to fit a list format]: 

  1. “The Bible – to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.
  2. The System of the World (Newton) – to learn that the universe is a knowable place.
  3. On the Origin of Species (Darwin) – to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.
  4. Gulliver’s Travels (Swift) – to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.
  5. The Age of Reason (Paine) – to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.
  6. The Wealth of Nations (Smith) – to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.
  7. The Art of War (Sun Tsu) – to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.
  8. The Prince (Machiavelli) – to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.

If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”
 

“Kinds Of Minds: Toward An Understanding Of Consciousness” by Daniel C. Dennet

Brilliant combination of philosophy, artificial intelligence, and neurobiology.
in “Kinds of Minds” Daniel Dennett takes reader to inquire about minds of one own’s, other humans’, animals, A.I.
From the role played by language to the intrinsic capabilities embeded in DNA and RNA.
You can take a peek into the first chapter in the video below read by the author himself, and other chapters on youtube.

might also relate to this post on a collection of texts on anthropomorphism

“Determining Possible and Necessary Winners Given Partial Orders” by L. Xia and V. Conitzer

“Usually a voting rule requires agents to give their preferences as linear orders. However, in some cases it is impractical for an agent to give a linear order over all the alternatives. It has been suggested to let agents submit partial orders instead. Then, given a voting rule, a profile of partial orders, and an alternative (candidate) c, two important questions arise: first, is it still possible for c to win, and second, is c guaranteed to win? These are the possible winner and necessary winner problems, respectively….”