Workstations of the Future.

Imagine a user standing at a table, wearing glasses, gesturing in the air, and turning in various directions with flowing motions of the whole body. She’ll both type and talk, depending on what she’s doing and what her workplace is like…Read more.

Why I Am A Scientific Progressive – And An Optimist

In this blog entry I explain how I derive my political principles from evolutionary theory. “In this election season I’d like to say why I think of myself as a “scientific progressive” — and moreover, an optimistic one. My political identity’s deeply shaped by a lifetime of reading about, and writing about, science. Let me explain how.” Read more.

Three new posts on SETI

I’ve put up three new blog entries, all of them about SETI:

The Uncanny Valley of Alien Technology

How Incomprehensible Could Extraterrestrials Be?

Will Extraterrestrials Understand A Message We Send?


What’s The Connection Between Deafness and SETI?

Most of my readers know me as someone who writes about deafness, cochlear implants,neuroscience, and neurotechnology. So you might wonder, what am I up to in writing about astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)? Let me explain…Read on.

The Visitor from Planet X

Why not send the code of an AI to extraterrestrials? Now that would be a real visitor, able to converse with its hosts and share details of Earthly life and thought, and return with its new knowledge. For it the trip would be instantaneous both ways. Decades or centuries would pass on Earth, of course, but it’d still be faster than physical spacecraft and more satisfying than just exchanging greeting cards. Read more.

Will Extraterrestrials Understand A Message We Send?

In this blog entry I discuss a message transmitted from the Evapatoria Deep Space Antenna in Evapatoria, Ukraine to four target stars between May and July 1999. It’s called the Cosmic Call. Can we assume that this message will be understood by any intelligent alien mind? What hidden assumptions of ours might not be shared? Read on.

The turning point: The moral example of UC Davis students, and Occupy Wall Street

The video is shocking. (See it here.) A line of students sits on the ground, heads bowed. A police officer dressed in riot gear walks up to them, holding a pepper spray gun. He theatrically raises his arm, as if about to carry out an execution, and presses the trigger. A foul-looking orange spray shoots out.

Methodically, deliberately, he walks to the end of the line, saturating each student. He might as well be casually spraying bug spray. When he reaches the end he begins walking back in the other direction, spraying each of them again. The students huddle in obvious pain. People in the crowd nearby gasp in shock and began chanting, “Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!”

Communicating with Intelligent Aliens

May 21, 2011. My newest blog entry: Communicating with Intelligent Aliens. I consider the prospect of communicating with aliens from the perspectives afforded by linguists: Mark Johnson and George Lakoff on the one hand, and Guy Deutscher on the other. Are our bodies and histories likely to be so different as to make communication impossible? Or can the gulfs be crossed by patient efforts at explanation? Read the posting to find out.


Tonight I saw Francis Fukuyama lecture at Politics & Prose about his new book, THE ORIGINS OF POLITICAL ORDER. He gave an impressive performance, lecturing for an hour on how governments form, both for better and for worse.

A point that stuck with me was that governments have to overcome the natural human inclination to transfer power to immediate family and clan relations. It’s natural for kings to want to pass on the crown to children. But doing that greatly reduces the chance of competent governance; as he put it, if generals pass their power to their children, they’re not going to win wars. And from this perspective, clerical celibacy makes sense because it forces an end to nepotism and hereditary office. (First time I’ve ever seen any value in clerical celibacy.) So any successful government has to break a clan and kinship-defined polity.

Are We Alone in the Universe?

If you want a field where august authorities come to completely different conclusions, try astrobiology. Some people are certain that there is life off the earth (and some even think that we have already found it), while others insist that life is rare and intelligent life even more so.

I’ve been reading a slew of books in this field, including Ward & Brownlee’s “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe,” Paul Davies’s “The Eerie Silence: Renewing our Search for Alien Intelligence,” and Marc Kaufman’s “First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth.” Read on for my take on these books…