This Little-Known Math Genius Helped America Reach the Stars
In 1958, a woman stumped the panelists on “What’s My Line?” It took the actors Arlene Francis and Jack Lemmon, journalist Dorothy Kilgallen and publisher Bennet Cerf, celebrity panelists of the popular television game show, quite a while to figure out her M.O.
When they finally discovered what she did, the show’s host admitted that he, himself, was surprised by her occupation. The panel consisted of the stars of the day, but it was Mary Golda Ross who helped people reach them as the first female engineer at an elite, top-secret think tank.
Ross’s gender alone made her a hidden figure in the world of early spaceflight. But something else the panelists didn’t know about Ross was her Native American heritage.
Her great-great grandfather, John Ross, was the longest-serving chief of the Cherokee Nation. During his tenure, he fought to preserve his nation from white settlers’ incursions—and later was forced to lead his people along the march that became known as the Trail of Tears.
Nasa announces alien life could be thriving on Saturn’s moon Enceladus
It might look like a frozen wasteland, but beneath the inhospitable surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, life could be thriving in warm underground seas, scientists believe.
Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft has picked up the first evidence that chemical reactions are happening deep below the ice which could be creating an environment capable of supporting microbes.
Experts said the discovery was ‘the last piece’ in the puzzle which proved that life was possible on Enceladus, a finding all the more remarkable because the small moon is 887 million miles away from the Sun.
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“If we knew that life had started independently in two places in our Solar System, then we could be pretty confident that life also got started on some of the tens of billions of planets and moons around other stars in our galaxy.”
God in the machine: my strange journey into transhumanism
I first read Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, in 2006, a few years after I dropped out of Bible school and stopped believing in God. I was living alone in Chicago’s southern industrial sector and working nights as a cocktail waitress. I was not well. Beyond the people I worked with, I spoke to almost no one. I clocked out at three each morning, went to after-hours bars, and came home on the first train of the morning, my head pressed against the window so as to avoid the spectre of my reflection appearing and disappearing in the blackened glass.
At Bible school, I had studied a branch of theology that divided all of history into successive stages by which God revealed his truth. We were told we were living in the “Dispensation of Grace”, the penultimate era, which precedes that glorious culmination, the “Millennial Kingdom”, when the clouds part and Christ returns and life is altered beyond comprehension. But I no longer believed in this future. More than the death of God, I was mourning the dissolution of this narrative, which envisioned all of history as an arc bending towards a moment of final redemption. It was a loss that had fractured even my experience of time. My hours had become non-hours. Days seemed to unravel and circle back on themselves.
. . .
By this point I’d passed beyond idle speculation. A new, more pernicious thought had come to dominate my mind: transhumanist ideas were not merely similar to theological concepts but could in fact be the events described in the Bible. It was only a short time before my obsession reached its culmination. I got out my old study Bible and began to scan the prophetic literature for signs of the cybernetic revolution. I began to wonder whether I could pray to beings outside the simulation. I had initially been drawn to transhumanism because it was grounded in science. In the end, I became consumed with the kind of referential mania and blind longing that animates all religious belief.
Nearly 40 Years Later, Jonestown Offers a Lesson in Demagoguery
On Nov. 18, 1978, an itinerant preacher, faith healer and civil rights activist named the Rev. Jim Jones led more than 900 of his followers to kill themselves by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor Aid at their Jonestown settlement in the jungle of Guyana. Nearly 40 years later, questions still linger regarding the Jonestown massacre and the man who inspired it.
Journalist Jeff Guinn details how Jones captivated his followers in his new book, The Road to Jonestown. He calls Jones a “tremendous performer” who exhibited “the classic tendencies of the demagogue.”
Guinn says Jones, who founded Peoples Temple church, would take current events and exaggerate them to create a sense of fear and urgency. He drew his followers to Guyana by convincing them that America was facing imminent threats of martial law, concentration camps and nuclear war.
John Coltrane Draws a Picture Illustrating the Mathematics of Music
Physicist and saxophonist Stephon Alexander has argued in his many public lectures and his book The Jazz of Physics that Albert Einstein and John Coltrane had quite a lot in common. Alexander in particular draws our attention to the so-called “Coltrane circle,” which resembles what any musician will recognize as the “Circle of Fifths,” but incorporates Coltrane’s own innovations. Coltrane gave the drawing to saxophonist and professor Yusef Lateef in 1967, who included it in his seminal text, Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns. Where Lateef, as he writes in his autobiography, sees Coltrane’s music as a “spiritual journey” that “embraced the concerns of a rich tradition of autophysiopsychic music,” Alexander sees “the same geometric principle that motivated Einstein’s” quantum theory.
Neither description seems out of place. Musician and blogger Roel Hollander notes, “Thelonious Monk once said ‘All musicans are subconsciously mathematicians.’ Musicians like John Coltrane though have been very much aware of the mathematics of music and consciously applied it to his works.”
Coltrane was also very much aware of Einstein’s work and liked to talk about it frequently. Musican David Amram remembers the Giant Steps genius telling him he “was trying to do something like that in music.”
David Chalmers Thinks the Hard Problem Is Really Hard
When I asked where “hard problem” came from, Chalmers replied that in the early 1990s, he started distinguishing consciousness from cognitive functions, like “self-monitoring.” “I’d say, ‘That’s the straightforward stuff. We’ve really got to worry about this.’ And at some point it just became useful to say, ‘That’s the easy stuff and this is the hard problem.’” He used the phrase "hard problem" in a talk he gave at “Toward a Scientific Basis of Consciousness,” a meeting held in Tucson in 1994, and it caught on. “I had no idea this whole ‘hard problem’ thing would blow up the way it did.”
Chalmers has never claimed to be the first person to point out that consciousness is a special kind of problem. He noted that Descartes and Leibniz, among others, thought along similar lines. So did Herbert Feigl, who in the 1950s separated the mind-body problem into the sub-problems of sentience, sapience and selfhood. “It was pretty clear that by the problem of sentience he meant what we now think of as the hard problem.”
Thomas Nagel also famously asserted in his 1974 essay “What is it like to be a bat?” that “consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really difficult.” Chalmers agrees with Nagel that “we need radical ideas” to solve the mind-body problem. “When it comes to the mind-body problem, you’ve got to have a tolerance for some kind of craziness.”
Is Matter Conscious?
The nature of consciousness seems to be unique among scientific puzzles. Not only do neuroscientists have no fundamental explanation for how it arises from physical states of the brain, we are not even sure whether we ever will. Astronomers wonder what dark matter is, geologists seek the origins of life, and biologists try to understand cancer—all difficult problems, of course, yet at least we have some idea of how to go about investigating them and rough conceptions of what their solutions could look like. Our first-person experience, on the other hand, lies beyond the traditional methods of science. Following the philosopher David Chalmers, we call it the hard problem of consciousness.
But perhaps consciousness is not uniquely troublesome. Going back to Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, philosophers of science have struggled with a lesser known, but equally hard, problem of matter. What is physical matter in and of itself, behind the mathematical structure described by physics? This problem, too, seems to lie beyond the traditional methods of science, because all we can observe is what matter does, not what it is in itself—the “software” of the universe but not its ultimate “hardware.” On the surface, these problems seem entirely separate. But a closer look reveals that they might be deeply connected.
Consciousness is a multifaceted phenomenon, but subjective experience is its most puzzling aspect. Our brains do not merely seem to gather and process information. They do not merely undergo biochemical processes. Rather, they create a vivid series of feelings and experiences, such as seeing red, feeling hungry, or being baffled about philosophy. There is something that it’s like to be you, and no one else can ever know that as directly as you do.
When the State gets it wrong, innocent people die — I was almost one of them
Earlier this month, Governor Asa Hutchinson issued execution dates for eight men on death row, all to be carried out over the course of ten days. He didn’t care that there’s a chance at least two of them may be innocent, or that several others suffer mental disabilities that cross the line into the realm of handicaps. None of that meant anything to those trying with all their might to push these executions through. While several judges have stayed the executions for now, the mindset behind these rapid fire executions should scare all Americans. But perhaps one of the scariest parts, for me, is knowing I could have been the ninth man on the state’s death list.
Most people take a stance on the death penalty based on things they’ve read in the newspaper, saw on television, or by swallowing the hubris spewed by politicians eager to scare you into voting for them. Mine is not. My views on the death penalty are based on the fact that I spent over 18 years looking at the system from the inside, waiting for the state to murder me for a crime I did not commit. While awaiting execution at the hands of the state, I grew to know these men — the eight Hutchinson is rushing to kill — on a personal, face-to-face basis.
The state would have you believe that these men are irredeemably evil, that they are ravenous monsters bent on bloodshed, like creatures out of a horror movie. They are not. The men that local politicians are foaming at the mouth to kill showed me more kindness and simple humanity than anyone trying to execute them ever did. In fact, if not for one of them, Don Davis, I’d probably not have made it out of prison alive. He stood by my side and watched my back against sadistic prison guards who would have beaten me to death without a second thought.