Saturday, August 27, 2016

Infinite Frontiers

When I was about 21 years old I read a book by Walter Prescott Webb called The Great Frontier. In it he pointed out that when Europeans moved to North America they found an incredibly rich continent barely peopled. It was a Great Frontier and it had a profound effect on the people who moved here to get away from the crushing burden of Europe. In many ways it was what created the American character.

Unfortunately those kinds of Great Frontiers are gone, until we invent Stargates and people the Galaxy. Too bad Warp Drive doesn’t exist, because the original “Star Trek” was about those Great Frontiers of the future (and I think that’s why it was so popular. Along with having sex with beautiful green-skinned women).

When I was 12 I desperately wanted to live on the Enterprise.

There are still frontiers, although no one is going to be moving to the bottom of the sea or Antarctica. There are still frontiers of the intellect and imagination, but those are only for certain people, and those people are not the average ones.

I suppose someday we might be able to terraform Mars. Who knows? But if we could some people would be there like a shot. Bye bye Earth! See ya! (the writer Peter Beagle once said that if Middle Earth existed he, too, would be there “like a shot”).

This comes from all that science fiction I read in my early teens. If you’re susceptible to it (and I was) it expands your mind and it never goes back to the original shape.

When I was about 12 or 13 I read a novel by the late Poul Anderson called Brain Wave. In it he postulated that the Earth had been in an IQ-suppressing field for a few hundred thousand years, and then one day it pops out.

Everyone’s IQ shoots up to about 400. Of course he spends the rest of the novel imaging what the effect would be on the entire population. But what he wrote about it is that allofasudden there were all these new frontiers opening up because of our super-duper brains. Interstellar travel, for one.

Anderson was notorious about writing such stories. What if we had wings and hollow bones and could fly? What if we could live in the sea like dolphins? What he wrote was always about being More than Human.

Sooner or later we’re going to take control of our evolution. So what are we going to do with it? Create people who can fly? Or live in the sea? They’d be new frontiers.

Some people are always seeking new frontiers. Again, mostly these days they are of intellect and imagination. That’s why I’ve always been so intrigued by people such as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, both of whom mostly lived in their imaginations (honestly, what else can Hawking do?). Both were seeking new frontiers.

There is something – curiosity, seeking a better life, the intellect and imagination I mentioned – that in some people is always seeking these new frontiers. And it’s a good thing, too, because otherwise we’d be permanently stuck in about 20,000 BC. Which would make us Less than Human.


kurt9 said...

Interesting you mention wormhole/stargates as a possibility and not warp drive. You must be aware of Dr. Woodward's work with Mach's Principle. Although currently focused on a space drive (sub-light of course), his work does open the possibility of transversible wormholes (absurdly benign wormholes is what he calls them) which are essentially stargates.

Warp drives have been comprehensively disproved.

Peter Hamilton's "Commonwealth" novels starts out with a society that has wormholes (that they run the trains through!) but no spacecraft.

Unknown said...

Sub-light is so slow! Bah! A turtle!

Unknown said...

I'm familiar with the Woodward Effect although of course I do not understand it!

Chris Mallory said...

We still have the frontier of the ocean floor. It has barely been touched.

kurt9 said...

I've bought and read Woodward's book and am on his email list. I understand the Woodward effect conceptually but not in great detail. The mathematics behind it is surprisingly simple. Where I'm weak is on some of the engineering facets of it, particularly relating to the details of how electrostrictive and piezo-electric materials work.