Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for February 1, 2020

in rsslog •  2 months ago 

NASA's space commercialization initiative begins with space tourism plans for the ISS in 2024; SpaceX lawyer expresses the firm's hopes for 1 million rocket launches per year; A post about two distinct modes of thinking, with and without internal narration; A TED talk describing the use of virtual reality (VR) in American science education; and a Steem-based video discussion on the topic of why people believe in conspiracy theories

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First posted on my Steem blog: SteemIt, SteemPeak*, StemGeeks.


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  1. NASA to add 'space hotel' to ISS, in privatization push - In a commercialization initiative, NASA has inked a multi-year contract with Axiom Space to expand the International Space Station. The existing contract covers building a commercial space habitat for space tourism. Axiom, in turn, has already signed at least one contract with a tourist for the amount of $55 million. Other desired build-outs that will comprise a so-called "Axiom Segment" are still under negotiation, and include a crew habitat, a large window for viewing the Earth, and a research and manufacturing facility. The first module is planned for launch in 2024. In addition to the $55 million fee, space tourists will also need to pass physical and medical exams, and complete 15 weeks of training. Opening low-Earth orbit facilities for commercial access is one prong of NASA's 5 part plan for commercialization of space. The other components include (i) making the ISS and astronauts available for commercial projects; (ii) Enabling private astronaut research missions to the station; (iii) Pursue long-term and sustainable opportunities to provide these services; and (iv) quantify NASA's long-term demand for projects in low Earth orbit. Critics raise the concern that privatizing the ISS means that the taxpayers will be subsidizing space tourism for the "ultra-rich", and the Institute for Defense Analyses says that a commercially owned ISS is unlikely to be commercially viable by the 2025 time frame. Meanwhile, China has plans for its own manned space station by 2022.

  2. SpaceX hopes to launch 1 million rockets a year with a business that could upend commercial aviation - According to a Tweet by Elon Musk, the design goal for SpaceX's Starship is an average of 3 flights per rocket per day, or 1,000 per year. The company's senior legal counsel, Caryn Schenewerk, expanded on those numbers in a recent speech to the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) sponsored 23rd annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference, saying that the firm eventually hopes to reach one million launches per year, or even 15 million. Schenewerk also noted that the majority of those launches would be for point to point travel between locations on Earth. The article notes, however, that current space launch regulations pose a huge barrier to achieving that vision. For example, every single rocket launch currently requires huge amounts of paperwork and red tape, and it should not be necessary to close a region of air for four hours before a launch when the precise moment of launch is on the schedule. Another obstacle is that space firms like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and others don't freely share their telemetry data. The speech comes at a time when the FAA's Streamlined Launch and Reentry Requirements (SLR2) are due for submission in the fall.

  3. Head-voice vs. quiet-mind - Citing a blog post, Eric S. Raymond expresses his surprise at learning that some people have a voice in their mind that is constantly narrating their thoughts and others don't. Raymond says that he is mostly a quiet-mind thinker, but reports on 3 modes of thought, "(1) the roaring flood of free association, which I normally don’t observe; (2) the filtered pre-verbal stream of consciousness, mostly camshaft thinking, that is my normal experience of self, and (3) narratized head-voice when I’m writing or thinking about what to say to other people.". By "camshaft thinking", he's talking about the ability to consciously perceive the visual appearance of an object - like a camshaft - without actually seeing it. Personally, my own thoughts are all narrated. I had never heard it expressed it as quiet-mind vs. head-voice, but I have long been aware of these sorts of differences in the way that people think. Back in the early 2000s, I had conversations with a friend where we noted two differences in the way we think: (i) I was (and am) unable to visualize things - in the sense of actually seeing planned events - inside my mind (which is bizarre, since my "internal narrator" uses words like "that" and "there"); and (ii) She could not understand a distinction that I drew between "thinking" and "feeling". To her, the two were the same thing. I had postulated at the time that the differences had to do with visual vs. verbal modes thinking. (Aside: I also suspect that this difference in thinking is why some people get so annoyed by breeches in the there/their/they're class of misspellings. That sort of mistake is something that I have to proof-read very carefully to avoid, since they're all the same thing when verbalized by the "internal narrator".)

  4. How virtual reality turns students into scientists - This TED talk was posted in May of 2019 and it came across the site's RSS feed on January 28, 2020. In the talk, Jessica Ochoa Hendrix, discusses her work using virtual reality (VR) to educate American students in science. She says that her extended reality program has been under development for several years, and that it gives middle-schoolers the opportunity to see what it would be like to be a marine biologist, even if they've never seen the ocean. Her gaming company combines an inexpensive VR experience with a digital journal that they can use "to write down their notes, to answer questions, to construct models and to develop hypotheses." These hypotheses can then be tested inside the VR game world. The talk also includes a video demo of the software, including both the VR world and the digital journal. The game also gives teachers a view of their students' activities so they can grade the work as it progresses. Because the students' brains are still developing, the gaming activity is limited to two minutes in duration.

  5. STEEM Why Do We Believe In Conspiracy Theories? | Answers With Joe - This post by @answerswithjoe contains a youtube video discussing the phenomenon of conspiracy theories. The video notes that people who believe one conspiracy theory are more likely to believe others, and that every major world disaster has at least one conspiracy theory attached to it. It goes on to suggest that the reality of an unpredictable world is difficult for people to accept, and conspiracy theories arise as an evolutionary mechanism for people to feel like things are "under control". It also points out that conspiracy-minded people are often smarter than others, but that there's a fine line between healthy skepticism and unhealthy paranoia. This topic was also covered in Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for November 15, 2019, which covered Michael Shermer's idea of constructive conspiracism.

    Here is the video by @answerswithjoe, but click through and give the post an upvote.

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I also am surprised to learn of the difference between ways people think. I note my surprise is consistent with the fact that people poorly understand each other, all too often.

Regarding conspiracy, it's just a fact of life that conspiracies happen. If they didn't the FBI wouldn't exist. Almost all the charges the FBI formally brings are conspiracy charges. A conspiracy is just two criminals agreeing to commit crimes, and criminals aren't just muggers. It's almost impossible for white collar crimes to be undertaken without involving two or more people.

Frankly, I consider government to be a criminal conspiracy. Call me a whacko. Remember that on April 15th.


This point, "my surprise is consistent with the fact that people poorly understand each other, all too often" reminds me of a quote that was attributed to Kurt Gödel. He reportedly said,

“The more I think about language, the more it amazes me that people ever understand each other at all.”

And Gödel ties into conspiracy theories, too. I seem to recall that he died by starving himself to death because he thought that people were trying to poison his food.

On this point, "Regarding conspiracy, it's just a fact of life that conspiracies happen", Michael Shermer made the same point in the constructive conspiracism post.

If I remember correctly from the November post, he made a truth table style of argument, saying that believing in a false conspiracy theory is usually harmless, but believing in a true one is helpful, so even though false theories may be more common than true ones, it's still evolutionarily beneficial for people to have a predisposition towards believing them.

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