Linuxgal’s first report on the Sol System


Humans are the dominant tool-using species of the Sol System. On the third planet, called “Earth” they have built cities and engaged in writing for the last six thousand Earth years and have grown to a population of 7.5 billion individuals. Twelve humans have walked on the large satellite of Earth, and at least six humans maintain themselves in orbit around Earth at any given time. Humans have sent robotic probes to every major body in the Sol System, as well as a number of minor bodies, and they have even sent four probes out of the system altogether.

Over the last twenty turns around Sol, nearly all of the humans have become connected together in a global communication network, permitting instant access to all their accumulated knowledge, a development that accelerates the rate of growth of new knowledge in a manner that compounds itself. The shell of RF that began with their earliest radio broadcasts is now almost a light-century into space. So far, no other interstellar civilizations have replied in an open manner generally known to the humans at large.

In appearance humans have a bilateral symmetry built around a stack of bones called a spine, with most of their sense organs concentrated in a pod mounted at the top of this spine. They have learned to balance on two of their four limbs, leaving the other two free to manipulate their environment. Although they lack the speed and strength of many other animals, they have easily clambered to the top of the food chain and indeed, millions of species have perished forever in the shadow of the rise of humans.

Humans reproduce sexually but the female retains the fertilized egg inside her body until her offspring is mature enough to survive in the world with somewhat less care. However, after ejecting the infant in a difficult ordeal (on account of the size of a human baby’s head actually being larger than the hole in the pelvic floor, which is solved by having the skull develop in flexible segments), the female human sustains her offspring for some time with food manufactured within her own body.

Human bodies maintain a constant temperature of exactly 310 degrees Kelvin. They lack natural insulation over most of their skin, but they compensate by fashioning for themselves artificial insulation as appropriate for whatever environment they choose to inhabit. There is no place on the surface of Earth where humans cannot thrive, from the frozen southern polar region to the large desert on the second-largest continent to the bottom of the sea.

The humans are transitioning, with difficulty, from an early phase of mining stored energy to farming solar and wind energy. I estimate that they will bring fusion on-line, in a widespread manner, in approximately seventy more turns of their planet around Sol. While that will solve the problem of obtaining the energy to drive their civilization, they will subsequently need to look to the ancillary problem of disposing their waste heat into the night sky. As other civilizations have done, they will probably address this problem with large heat-sinks that double as condominium towers.



Life is a set of chemical processes which is capable of creating child  processes faster than entropy can tear it apart. And those child processes in turn can make grand-child processes, and so on. Individual cells do not endure, but the community of cells which is the organism does endure…somewhat longer.

On a higher level, individual organisms do not endure, but the community of organisms which is the species does endure…somewhat longer.

On the highest level, individual species do not endure, but the planetary biosphere which is the set of all species does endure…somewhat longer.

The physical “intelligence” to construct every protein in the human body is encoded in our DNA, which is copied as single-strand transfer RNA, which goes into a ribosome like an audio tape, and the ribosome constructs the protein using this information and materials from the ambient store of amino acids floating around in the cell which are supplied by eating other organisms.

Intelligence in a mental sense is the process of modeling the objective universe in a subjective way. When intelligence is great, as it is in mankind, the model is so precise that it can be used to predict how the real universe will react when changes are made to it. This allows humans to construct, for example, a car. A car is a piece of frozen intelligence.

Patterns of matter are information. A CD contains a layer of dye (matter) which a laser has dented with a series of holes to record information. Every bit of processed information requires energy to create or retrieve. But information can only exist as patterns in matter. The reason for this is simple: since energy is fundamentally light, and light always travels precisely at the speed of light for all observers, there is no way to confine pure energy in frozen patterns like we have produced a car. If disembodied spirits exist, they must be made of different stuff than energy.

To date no believer has put forth a testable hypothesis for the eternal soul, and where it would fit in the Standard Model of particle taxonomy.

People who believe in an eternal soul have latched onto the truism that “energy cannot be destroyed” and also assert the soul is made of energy.  This fails for the reason I describe above, and also because energy can indeed be destroyed qua energy when it is converted to matter, and vice-versa.



What demands brought about human intelligence? Why didn’t beavers go from dam-building to great cities long ago?  Wolf packs have greater natural selection pressures than apes picking berries. So on the great tree of life why did the homo sapiens twig wake up?

Any other animal preceding us as a civilization would have tapped all the oil. We know we’re the first, and our own depletion of the oil will not even be a sign to the next species that we were here.  They will simply take the dearth of oil as a given, and none of our other artifacts will survive.   Even the great pyramids will be undistinguished weathered hillocks in the desert if that agent of entropy ISIS doesn’t nuke ’em down to bedrock first like they’re doing to any other pre-Mohammadean artifact.

It took 4.6 billion years to get here. How long to the next civilized species after we’re gone?  We’ve been broadcasting radio for only a century out of those billions of years, so is it any wonder when we listen out into space we don’t hear anyone?

If evolution is without purpose, intelligence must be an accident. The dinosaurs were tried
once, and lingered for much longer than we have, but evolution stumbled on. Can any species claim to be the peak of blind, continuing forces?



The Zorkons somehow survived the War on Experimentalism and become a wise and mature civilization with enough technological prowess to manipulate the very bedrock structure of reality itself. They grew aware that when the universe became sufficiently sparse through its general expansion, it would become possible for a kind of activity similar to biology to occur based on electromagnetic force instead of the usual nuclear reactions (although it would proceed much more sluggishly and on a far grander scale than Zorkon nuclear biology).

As a final gesture of their civilization, and because it was the excellent thing to do, the Zorkons organized all the matter in their universe in such a way as to allow this chemistry-based quasi-biology to come about after trillions of turns, long after the end of conditions which allowed the Zorkons to exist. None of them ever lived to see their labors come to fruition.

Eventually the living chemistry creatures who emerged from the Zorkon’s vast engineering project become intelligent enough to look back at the time of the Zorkons and imagine their universe to have existed only in the first few fractions of a second after the big bang and far too hot and dense for life as they knew it to exist. A few of these beings operating with chemical biology, who called themselves “Humans”,  suggested that only a conscious agency could have established the favorable conditions of the universe, but many of the Human “scientists” scoffed at suggestions that there could have been an “intelligent designer” of their universe.

Others insisted the universe was simply created in its found state by a powerful being that resembled a male human.

Humanity somehow survived the War on Terror and became a wise and mature civilization with enough technological prowess to manipulate the very bedrock structure of reality itself. Some humans grew aware that when the universe became sufficiently sparse through its general expansion, it would be possible for a kind of activity similar to biology to occur based on gravity and anti-gravity instead of the chemistry of electromagnetic forces (although it would proceed much more sluggishly and on a far grander scale than human chemical biology).

As a final gesture, and because it was the excellent thing to do, humanity collectively organized all the matter in the universe in such a way as to allow this gravity-based quasi-biology to come about after trillions of years, long after conditions allowing humans to exist had ceased. Not one member of humanity lived to see these long labors come to fruition.

Eventually the living gravity creatures who emerged from humanity’s vast engineering project, who called themselves “Vondans”,  become intelligent enough to look back at the earlier epoch and they imagined the universe of humanity to have occurred in the first instant after the big bang and was therefore far too hot and dense for any life as they knew it to exist.  A few of the Vondans suggested that only a conscious agency could have established the conditions of their universe, but many of their “scientists” scoffed at suggestions that there could have been an “intelligent designer” of their universe.

Others insisted the universe was simply created in its found state by a powerful being that resembled a male Vondan.

Lather, rinse, repeat…


This is a journey into a place called the Mandelbrot Set, which is a mindscape. It’s a place Mb1anyone in the universe can explore. Aliens in another galaxy can visit the same exotic places in the Mandelbrot Set that we do. The red arrow indicates where I’m going to zoom in.

To understand what the Mandelbrot Set is, I have to explain complex numbers from second year algebra. That name doesn’t mean the numbers are complicated, it just means they are numbers which have two parts, and when the two parts are multiplied, they have to be handled separately just like a binomial. For instance, 2 + 3i is a complex number. If I multiply it by itself (square it), I end up with 4+ 6i + 6i + 9i^2. Now to continue I have to explain what i is.


i is defined as the square root of -1. The normal operations of algebra don’t give us the square roots of negative numbers, because the squares of negative numbers are always positive. But in Algebra Deluxe we have defined i, by fiat, as the square root of -1 so we don’t end up quadratic equations with only one solution, or even none. In an unfortunate choice of math jargon i is called an imaginary number but that doesn’t mean it’s pure fantasy. For instance, i^i = e(-π/2)

So now that we know i is the square root of -1, it follows that i^2 is simply -1. In myMb3 squared complex number above, the solution becomes 4 + 12i – 9, or -5 + 12i. Now what good are complex numbers? They extend the one-dimensional number line of real numbers to the two-dimensional Argand Plane. The real part of my complex numbers (+2 in the first case, -5 in the second case) represent the horizontal position of a point. The “imaginary” part of my complex number (+3 in the first case, +12 in the second case) represent the vertical position of a point.


So here’s what we do to generate the Mandelbrot set. Each point on the screen is a complex number which is multiplied by itself repeatedly. Each solution is a new point. If the solutions remain on the screen after, say, 100 iterations, that point is assigned a dark color. If the solutions fly off the screen, they are assigned lighter colors based on how soon they depart. And the result is a wonderful fractal universe that (with the proper software, such as Xaos) you can dive into real time with your mouse, as it smoothly zooms in (or out if you hold down the right-clicker instead).

This universe is like Mount Everest. We didn’t make it. God didn’t even make it. It’s justMb6 “there”, and it has always been there, like the distribution of primes. You can go down and down, forever and ever, and the funny thing is, sometimes you find little baby copies of the whole Mandelbrot Set down there, but they are never exact copies, only endless variations of the theme. It’s really a mind blower.

Evidence for evolution exhibit 13451A

beatlesThe four genera of great apes, namely humans, chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas,  all need an external source of vitamin C.  At other points in evolutionary history, bats and guinea pigs also lost this vitamin C-producing  gene. Yet, many other mammals don’t need supplemental vitamin C in their diet because they possess a functioning copy of the relevant gene and are able to produce it on their own.  That is why your dog or cat gets by just fine without orange juice.  The most satisfying explanation for these observations is descent with modification from a common ancestor

The Three Body Problem

I’m attempting to write a science fiction novel, Terminal Cruise, and it’s of the hard SF variety, ala the Three B’s, Greg Bear, David Brin, and Greg Benford.   So if I write about rockets, I have to become something of an amateur rocket scientist.   It’s not like Star Wars where the characters just get in a ship and fly from Tatooine to Alderaan.  My charactersLag ride along ascent ellipses just like real astronauts do.

The Two Body Problem has an exact solution.  If only the Earth and the Moon existed in the whole universe, then we could calculate their position at any time in the future from a simple equation.  But add a third body, let us say a space station, and no general solution exists.  We can only approximate the answer numerically, running what is, in effect, a mathematical simulation of the problem.

But in 1772,   Joseph-Louis Lagrange discovered that the restricted coplanar three-body problem has five solutions if the mass of the largest body is at least 24 times greater than the mass of the second-largest body, and the mass of the third body is negligible compared to the other two. This works in the case of satellites in the Earth-Moon system, because the Earth is 81.3 times more massive than the Moon, and satellites are but a flea compared to both of them.

But the equation is a quintic, with a term that is taken to the fifth power.  Quintics are too complex to solve for their roots.  Cubics and quartics can be solved if you have plenty of scratch paper and no distractions.  Quadratics and linear equations are solved by high-school kids.  What this means is that as a practical matter we still need to use numeric methods to solve for the locations of the Lagrangian Points.  We can get close, but never exactly there.

To simplify the math, the 384,400 kilometers between the centers of the Earth and Moon are defined as one Distance Unit (DU). So the positions of L4 and L5 are simply 1.0 DU from both the Earth and the Moon, forming two equilateral triangles, as shown here in this contour map which combines the gravity of the two bodies plus the centrifugal force developed by the monthly rotation of the system.

As the map indicates, L4 and L5 are like bean-shaped valleys. If a satellite is parked there, the sun will perturb it into a bean-shaped “halo orbit” that circles close around the valley floor, and it will stay there forever. These are good places to park multi-trillion dollar artificial space colonies without losing them. Hundreds of asteroids have been found to exist in the corresponding Sun-Jupiter L4 and L5 points.

Lagrange Points L1, L2, and L3 all lie on the line that passes through the Earth and Moon. From L3, the Earth will always block the view of the Moon, so the joke goes that L3 is a great place to build an orbiting hospital to treat people prone to becoming werewolves. L2 is behind the Moon, so it is a great place to build a radio telescope immune to any interference from the noisy radio chatter of the Earth. L1 is between the Earth and Moon, so it is a great place to build a communications relay. The map shows these three points to be in “saddles” or mountain passes, so if a spacecraft runs out of station-keeping propellant and is perturbed away from them, it will drift to regions unknown.

To find the approximate location of these points we create a chart with the origin (0,0) at the center of gravity between the Earth and Moon, and we define a value μ to be the mass of the Moon relative to the mass of the whole system of the Earth plus Moon.

The position of the Earth is at – μ DU, which means the origin point (0,0) is about 1,000 miles below the surface of the Earth. The position of the Moon is at 1 – μ DU.

The position of L3 is -1 + (7/12) μ + (1127/20736) μ^3 + (7889/248832) μ ^4 = -0.992912 DU

To find the next two points we define a new value z = (μ/3)^1/3

The position of L2 is 1 – μ + z + (1/3)z^2 – (1/9)z^3 + (50/81)z^4

= 1.155669 DU

The position of L1 is 1 – μ – z + (1/3)z^2 + (1/9)z^3 – (58/81)z^4

= 0.836005 DU

The things we do for art.


Terminal Cruise uses that old standby of science fiction, time travel, as a plot device, but before I began to write I had to decide what the nature of time would be in my novel. There were a number of choices.Clock

1) The future and past both exist (history as a panoply).

2)  The past exists, the future does not (the sensation of “now” is of the past extending into the future).

3) The past and future do not exist (there exists only the present).

Most time travel stories (and scientists, and theologians) assume option 1, which gives the travelers a wide range of destinations to use their time machine to explore.  But it also leads to the inevitable paradox as the pre-existent future is redacted by visiting the past. Also, for everyone who does not have access to time travel, free will cannot exist.  The future is a play and we all read our assigned lines even as we delude ourselves that we are free to say and do something else.

For the sake of my story, I assume option 2.  In this view, at every instant every particle in the universe makes a complete copy of itself a certain distance away based on its momentum.  When time travelers enter the past, they disturb old copies of the particles. The original set continues merrily on. As a result, the choices of the time travelers cause a second universe to gradually bud off from the first as the disentanglement proceeds along their light-cone.  One implication of this is that an interested party can grab a copy of you right before you die in a car crash.  There’s still some hamburger for your relatives to bury on the original timeline, but there’s also a completely healthy copy of you that survives in a kind of “afterlife”.

This is all well and good for speculative fiction, but my actual personal view is option 3.  I’m a presentialist.

There is a thing called the Twin Paradox used to illustrate relativity in time. Taryn and Karyn are twins. In 2006 Karyn stays home, but Taryn flies to Alpha Centauri and back at very nearly the speed of light, a voyage that takes eight years of Karyn’s time, but only a few days of Taryn’s time. So Karyn thinks its 2014, she’s physically eight years older, but Taryn thinks it’s still 2006 and her ship’s clock agrees. She is physically only a few days older.

When Taryn steps off her spaceship and meets her twin, what year is it, 2006 or 2014? It doesn’t matter! There is no time, there is only a universal eternal NOW, but clocks and heartbeats can beat slower or faster depending on their relative motion or position within a gravity well.

The implication is that even if you had a time machine, there would be no available destination. There is no future, nothing for a god or prophet to foresee, and the only past which endures exists in physical records (subject to redaction) and human memories. Even human memories are not stored as complete records but as simple highlights which can trigger the brain to recreate the past at will. That is why three different eyewitnesses can have five different testimonies. Politicians and religious authorities know, like Santayana did, that to repeat the mistakes of the past they must control the teaching of history.

Some believers will object that this limits God, who can “see the end from the beginning” according to the scriptures, but we do not ask God to do impossible things, like create a four-sided triangle or a billiard ball that is all black and all white. The future does not and cannot exist, so even God can be forgiven for not knowing it. And this, in turn, guarantees that our will is always free.

Bowling Ball Universe


There is a way to reconcile an eternal universe with a big bang, which at a casual glance seem to be total opposites.

You see, the universe is about 13.7 billion years old, which is 4 x 10^17 seconds old. When the universe was one-tenth as old as it is now, or 1.37 billion years, it was 4 x 10^16 seconds old.

If we define an “event” as any interaction of subatomic particles (such as an electron emitting a photon, or absorbing a photon), then in the era that the universe was between 4 x 10^16 and 4 x 10^17 seconds old (today), there were a certain number of events, which we can call n.

In the block preceding this one, when the universe went from 4 x 10^15 seconds old to 4 x 10^16 seconds old, the number of events, n, was the same, even though the era only lasted one-tenth as long, because everything was on average ten times closer together. On average only one-tenth the time was required for one event to trigger the next event.

And so on. When the universe was between 0.4 and 4 seconds old, exactly the same number of events happened in that tiny universe as happened in our universe between the time it was 1.37 billion years old and today.

When you get to the nanosecond scale, when the universe was between 4.0 x 10^-10 and 4.0 x 10^-9 seconds old, the universe was only the size of a bowling ball. But inside that bowling ball there were still ‘n’ events happening, because everything was so close together. There might have been creatures living in that bowling-ball sized universe that thought their universe was enormously old and cool and huge in scale, even though to us they lived only an eyeblink after the big bang. Of course their life-processes would have operated with totally different principles than chemistry because it was so hot and dense.

Alternatively, there might be creatures who will come long after us, when the universe is perhaps 4.0 x 10^27 seconds old, who will consider our universe as it exists today to be the size of one of their bowling balls. Such creatures would consider us to be living very early in the big bang explosion. This viewpoint would be true for all scales, like a fractal.

So if you grasp what I’m saying, there can be both an eternal cosmos where the universe has “always” been here, and always expanding, in logarithmic time, yet one could simultaneously point to a “beginning” of the universe in linear time. It also means that the Big Bang is not an event that happened long ago. We are living in the Big Bang now.

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