New developments in nuclear fusion, zero-point energy, and the Fermi paradox
Keeping up with the pace of scientific discovery is getting harder and harder; either we really are approaching the Singularity, or I'm just getting old. In any case, I would fall woefully behind if it weren't for two excellent websites: Centauri dreams by Paul Gilster, and Brian Wang's Next Big Future. Both sites are firehoses of content, even more so (for my interests) than, say, slashdot. This week in particular they've presented a smorgasbord of cool ideas.
First, Paul talks about a recent paper studying the Drake equation (which attempts to deduce how many civilizations there are in the galaxy). People have speculated about this for decades; what the authors of this paper do is show using statistical analysis that even if the galaxy contains hundreds of communicating civilizations (CC's) they may never be able to find one another.
This could explain some things.
Next Big Future posts lots of really interesting pieces on technology; I have a particular interest in one endeavour, Robert Bussard's polywell fusion reactor. This week NBF has a great summary of where the US navy's stealth program to develop such a reactor is at. The science is encouraging; the levels of funding are not. Luckily Barack Obama's new technology czar seems to be aware of the work, so maybe things there will take off.
Even more intriguing are recent attempts to harness zero-point energy. I'd been playing with designs for a zero-point generator in my head for quite some time, and the patents talked about in this article are, physically, close to what I'd imagined. The mechanism by which it operates is very different, though.
A working zero-point generator would be more than revolutionary, partly because these devices could be made arbitrarily small. They could do far more than transform our civilization: I was thinking last night that you could build them into the mitochondria of a cell, making such pesky activities as eating and breathing unnecessary for maintaining positive energy flow. Even more than nanotechnology, this kind of zero-point energy makes anything possible.
Except... there's a problem here which is similar to the Fermi paradox. Life has evolved ways to play nanotechnological and quantum-mechanical tricks many times--chlorophyl's mode of action is a great example, as it depends on quantum-mechanical tricks to shift energy with maximum efficiency. So, if the tiny Casimir-effect devices being talked about now are possible, why didn't life stumble across the design sometime in the past 3.5 billion years? As with alien civilizations, one can validly ask, if they can exist, where are they?
Bookmark Centauri Dreams and Next Big Future. If the world is going to change overnight, they'll give you the heads-up the evening before.
Dear Karl: Here's Why I Hate You
2) Your writing already hurts my brain enough as it is. And when I say hurts, I mean not that it's bad but that the amount of ideas in them words causes me to have spontaneous nosebleeds as numerous quantum worlds are opened up rendering me a stunned Bowman to your all seeing all knowingh Monolith.
3) Your posts on science do nothing but further rip open these nosebleed universes and cause me great concern as to how I will remember to buy milk when I am trying to comprehened the vastness of what you have written.
4) You post the links to these two amazing sites that are yes, FIREHOSES of knowledge that I must not only drink from, but stand under, run to and engorge myself until near death with their output.
This is why I hate you and why I must ask you to not change a thing so I can continue to learn from and loathe you.
Chang, the Ugly United States of American.