Category Archives: Science

How to reverse-engineer the universe.

Be Consistent About Science Disbelief

Science tells us how old the planet is and allows us to make increasingly-accurate estimates of when past events occurred. That same science can predict future events on the same time scale. For example, if you date asteroid/comet impact craters, you start to get a sense that major impacts happen happen regularly which gives you some ability to blindly guess if the next major impact is due next week, next year, or several million years from now. The same thing can be done with volcano eruptions. The megavolcano underneath Yellowstone National Park (the overkill engine that runs the Old Faithful Geyser) last erupted 640,000 years ago, and experts estimate that we have between 10,000 and 20,000 years before it erupts next. Similarly, estimates of the remaining life of our sun (~4.5 billion years) are intertwined with the data that tells us how old it is (also 4.5 billion years).

Now that we’ve established that, how should you interpret data that suggests the earth is also about 4.5 billion years old, if your religious interpretation compels you to believe that the planet is only about 6,000 years old? Given that science, which is internally consistent on its backward and forward projections of timescales, contradicts your belief, would it be logical to accept that science has the relative ordering of things right and just has the magnitude wrong? To address this issue, I would like to present the science->fundamentalism year converter algorithm.

In principle, this is like converting between Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures, or converting human years to dog years, and it’s not quite as straightforward as converting between currencies. Let’s start with the age of the planet. Science says 4.5 billion years. Fundamentalism says 6,000 years. So a function to convert from SCI years to FDN years could just divide the science year by 750,000 to get the fundamentalism year. This is an oversimplified model, and here’s why: Using this conversion function, the impact that killed off the dinosaurs 65,000,000 years ago would seem to a fundamentalist to be 86 years ago, and everyone agrees that no impact that large happened 86 years ago. The issue is that scientists and fundamentalists actually tend to agree about the last few thousand years which coincide with the timeline of the Old Testament.

We need an OVERLAP value that is somewhere around 5,000 years, roughly corresponding to the rise of the early Egyptian civilization. If a year is less than or equal to OVERLAP years before today, the science years and fundamentalism years are the same. Otherwise, we deduct OVERLAP years from the absolute value of the year, with “now” being year 0, then do the division, then add back OVERLAP. Unfortunately, this does horrible things to our divisor, since the implication is that somewhere in those (6,000 – OVERLAP) years, the earth formed and became habitable. This means that 4,499,995,000 science years convert to 1,000 fundamentalism years, making our new divisor a whopping 4,499,995 years. On this scale, the impact that wiped out the dinosaurs happened 5014.44 years ago. Now that’s more manageable, and it fits the viewpoint many fundamentalists have that people walked alongside dinosaurs and even rode them.

The implication of this, however, is disturbing. Projecting forward, we still use the new divisor. So when science says that our sun will burn out in 4.5 billion years, fundamentalism says this is really 1000 years from now! Certainly plenty of time for the rapture to take all the good people into heaven, but what about the smaller timescales like the next supervolcano eruption in North America? 10,000 – 20,000 science years becomes between 19.5 and 39 hours. I hope I post this in time for people to escape the imminent eruption.

The algorithm (and pseudoc0de, if you’d like to write it up):

OVERLAP=5000 # must be < $FND_EARTH_AGE

YearsAgo_SCI2FND(years)  {

if (year < OVERLAP) {
return years ;
}  else {
return ((years – OVERLAP) / DIVISOR) + OVERLAP);

YearsFromNow_SCI2FND(years) {
return years / DIVISOR

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to define YearsFromNow_FND2SCI and YearsAgo_FND2SCI.

What Will be the Last Physical Technology Created?

Excluding software, what do you predict will be our culture’s last technological creation? This has to be something that, once made, means “game over” for our culture. It’ll break the world, but we’ll want it anyway.

When I asked this once before, a friend of mine replied, “A really good sex robot.” It should be obvious why that might make half the planet reprioritize their lives and stop showing up to work on time.

My personal view is that it’d be a replicator. While I think a culture could recover from that, it’d be tricky. You can bet that most everyone on the planet would want a replicator, and it’d literally spread virally, since your neighbor could replicate a replicator for you. People could make food, replacement parts, even larger replicators that could build bigger things like cars and houses. The replicator could make whatever you needed to stay clothed, fed, and sheltered. All you’d need is material to feed it, and we have plenty of garbage even today. In such a scenario, the most important job would quickly become that of replicator programmer (yes, I’m biased in thinking that) but finding them would be hard, since everyone’s basic needs would be met, reducing the motivation to work.

What do you think?