Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Web is a Long, Strange Trip Sometimes

Do you ever have one of those browsing sessions that seems ... well, surreal somehow? Remember when weblogs used to be about the random linkwalk? Don't pretend you can't remember. Brace yourself for one of those.

The Space Review is one of the better wastes of time on the Web. So good, in fact, that I once wasted some time writing an essay for it myself, only to see it blown out of Rand Simberg's right nostril. I probably check The Space Review once every two weeks, there's always something good. And at ISDC 06, I even got a chance to meet Jeff Foust, its editor (while we both towered over somebody's improvised toy demo on the floor, trying to suppress skeptical expressions.) And I thought: here's a solid guy in an community featuring an awful lot of vapor at times.

Tonight, I was reading a review by Jeff of Beyond Earth: The Future of Humans in Space. Jeff's not too crazy about this book. And who but the crazy would be, when it has a chapter about how NASA ignores Cydonia, you know, the Face on Mars? The stuff of a thousand cult web pages?

In this review, an intriguing chapter title caught my eye: "Harnessing Bacterial Intelligence: A Pre-Requisite for Human Habitation of Space". Well, I thought, that's a new one. I'm not going to buy this book just to read that chapter. Maybe I can find an extended abstract at least? I Googled on the title, and found the whole chapter.

You must read this.

Dr. Eshel Raphael Breslav Ben Jacob is unquestionably possessed of a ravening, quirky, sometimes downright eerie intelligence. What makes this chapter unsettling reading is the impression one gets that he believes bacteria are possessed of a ravening, quirky, sometimes downright eerie intelligence. After pawing through some of the many papers and presentations he has on-line, one of which features lovely photos of bacterial colonies and less pleasant photos of Franksteinian culture growths on chip surfaces (with insets from Winnie the Pooh), I finally summoned up the courage to take a poke at his "Quotes of Wisdom" link.

And I find that, at the end of a list of quotes from luminaries such as Einstein, Laplace, Thomas Mann, he ... quotes himself. Uh-oh. But it gets worse -- look at the quote:

"“Darwin, a free thinker who dared make far-reaching conclusions based on observations, would have been dismayed to see the petrified doctrine his brainchild has become. Must we admit that all organisms are nothing but watery Turing machines evolved merely by a sequence of accidents favored by nature? Or do we have the intellectual freedom to rethink this fundamental issue?”
Eshel Ben Jacob, Endorsement on the Book Uncommon Dissent By William Dembski

Dembski, Dembski ... wait a minute: he's that Intelligent Design guy! And what's going on with him these days? A quick search takes me to his Wikipedia entry, and an external link takes me to his blog, where I discover that he was one of Ann Coulter's pre-publication reviewers (a "sounding board" for chapters 8-10") for her recent blockbuster best-seller, Godless.

The Web is a long, strange trip sometimes. And so is this quixotic (and maybe somewhat diogenesian) quest for the answer to a question that's been troubling me all my life: is it crazy to think that human beings have a future in space? In being among those who do, who seek permission to believe, I find myself in very odd company sometimes.


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