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Will We Survive the Next 1,000 Years?

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[Note: The following editorial began as an entry in my weblog, Posthuman Blues. The finished version also appears on the Center for Psychology and Social Change website. --M.T.]

Will the human race survive the next 1,000 years? Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, for one, doesn't think we will unless we expand into space. It's sad commentary on our predicament when a week's worth of precision bombing in Iraq could have financed a manned Mars exploration program. Will humans make the evolutionary cut? Almost certainly not. But that doesn't exclude our descendants, who may not be human in any recognizable sense.

We are treading a vast and portentous ontological gulf: it's crunch time, and the next few hundred years will be absolutely decisive in determining the direction taken by (presumably) intelligent life on this planet. Either the Earth will become a planetary mass grave or it will become a fondly remembered home, a quasi-utopian sanctuary and beloved womb. Our posthuman descendants will take on a variety of forms; almost by definition, they will be multiplex, vastly intelligent, and as tenacious as any virus.

The cosmic background radiation, signature of the Big Bang, encompasses the known universe.

A thousand years, in geological time, is less than an eyeblink. In this context, a mere century can be viewed as a single defining event. If so, it's not unreasonable to expect that our flailing attempts at ascension, burdened as they are with superstition and bureaucracy, are being watched by others in the space-time neighborhood. We might be quite amusing to them. Or quite sickening.

Upon learning of my interests, people invariably ask me about my "beliefs" in aliens and the Cydonia region on Mars. The point I try to make is this: If extraterrestrials exist -- which I think they probably do -- then it doesn't logically follow that they're here (although they very well might be). Secondly, aliens are not likely to think in terms of 1950s sci-fi films. I doubt there are too many cosmic altruists out there, like the blatantly messiahnic "Mr. Carpenter" from "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

On the up-side, I don't think actively malevolent civilizations are too common, either. Why destroy or enslave another civilization when reason suggests that advanced ET intelligences will be able to provide for themselves?

Our time as an endlessly complacent species is running out. In a very true sense, it has always been running out, but our technological society is just waking to the fact...and perhaps wishing it was all a bad dream. Our weather patterns are showing ominous new trends; global warming continues; deforestation and desertification hack away at our biosphere's roots with the unheeding avarice of out-of-control clockwork. Can we rouse ourselves in time to make a difference? Or is Earth to become a clone of Mars, arid and wind-scoured, any remains of civilization consumed by dust?

An ecological 9-11 might get our attention, but it also might consume too much of it: while we feebly try to restore order, an uncatalogued asteroid might be racing silently our way. Or the rain forests will unleash an airborne Ebola in an attempt to maintain some semblance of homeostasis. Evidence strongly suggests that Mars died a convulsive and sudden death via meteor bombardment. If this is true, Mars exploration may prove essential if we're to protect our own planet from a similar fate.

Our planet seen from space: beautiful yet vulnerable.

Earth is gradually but inexorably dying under what William S. Burroughs aptly referred to as a mudslide of "devalued human stock." Don't think our planet won't fight back, even if its weapons seem initially quaint compared to humankind's iconic nuclear stockpiles.

As I write, our planet is steered primarily by soulless multinational corporations and bigoted governments whose "future" is as reassuringly near as next month's NASDAQ or voter opinion polls. Is this how it ends, snuffed out into petrochemical oblivion before we make the critical move off-planet? Our space shuttles crash because they're obsolete, fragile museum pieces. But our smart-bombs are cutting edge: gleaming chrome and laser-light, avatars of technological cunning.

But if we have every reason to be deeply afraid, we also have room to be deeply hopeful. We possess the technology to stage a crewed mission to Mars. It is within our means to colonize the Moon and extend our reach to the outer planets, probing the enigmatic moons of Jupiter for life and looking for evidence of extraterrestrial visitation. If we can establish beachheads in space, we will be helping to ensure that the human legacy is not lost in some unguessable orgy of destruction.

If we -- almost certainly not the familiar carbon-based "we" but a greatly empowered posthuman "we" -- still exist in 1,000 years' time, we will have achieved a monumental victory over entropy and our own penchant for violence. Destroying a posthuman civilization won't be easy. But destroying a merely human civilization is almost absurdly simple in a cosmic context.

Survival implies drastic change. Parting ways with the familiar can be difficult but is nonetheless imperative. We can embrace the future by creating it, or we can retread the past by succumbing to xenophobia and the pathological allure of war and destructive energy sources. Our collective predicament transcends national allegiance and geopolitical clashes. The future is not some static entity waiting for us to catch up; it is a dynamic realm that demands creativity, intellect, foresight, and drive.

We know that planetary extinction is a real possibility. What will we choose to do about it?

[More specifically, what will our elected leaders choose to do about it? Here is a Unofficial Mission Patch Captures Drama of Manned Mars Mission

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Digital artist kenn brown, a frequent contributor to "Wired" magazine, has crafted a photorealistic mission patch to be worn by hypothetical astronauts in 2012. The spacecraft depicted in the patch appears to be nuclear-powered, possibly a variation of the "Orion" pulsed nuclear blast propulsion concept.

Image courtesy kenn brown.

I like this patch's sense of palpable verisimilitude. It's time for the real thing.

(For more "mondolithic" imagery, visit brown's website.)


New Animation Highlights Cydonia "Urban Substrate"

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In the online journal New Frontiers in Science, Mark Carlotto examines a conspicuous collection of eroded fragments that form a coherent "square" most unlike the disordered local topology. Coincidentally (?), this assortment is located along an axis that intersects both the Face and the D&M Pyramid.

"In particular, several rectangular arrangements can be seen," writes Carlotto. "Some of these arrangements are aligned, more or less, in the direction of the crustal dichotomy in this part of Mars. On Earth, in the Middle East for example, it would certainly be seen as a possible archaeological site. But it is on Mars."

Anaglyphic image courtesy Mark Carlotto.

Clayton Spencer Ireland, working independently, has identified the same curious feature and has highlighted it in a GIF animation, revealing a high level of internal symmetry (below).

Image courtesy Clayton Spencer Ireland.

The "Urban Substrate," whatever it is, adds yet another level of enigma to the Cydonia region and deserves a very close look by future spacecraft.


The Enterprise Mission's New "Discoveries"

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Richard Hoagland's Enterprise Mission website has posted a series of photos that appear to document parallels between Iraqi architecture and anomalous features on Mars. In my opinion, readers have every reason to be extremely skeptical of this latest offering.

In the first image, titled "Another Tale of Two Cities--Baghdad...and on Mars," an overhead image of Baghdad is compared to reticulated terrain on Mars vaguely suggestive of a terrestrial-style city. My question: Why the comparison to Baghdad? While the Martian grid is indeed interesting (although hardly "proof" of extraterrestrial intervention), it could just as easily be compared to New York, Kansas City or Toronto. Is there a reason for the specific comparison to Baghdad? If so, why isn't this made clear in the image?

While the Enterprise Mission's examples of "Cydonian" architecture in Iraq are spurious, the Middle East is rich in enigmatic artifacts such as this earthwork in Iran.

The second image is called "Further Tales of Two Cities--Baghdad...and Cydonia, on Mars." The argument above is again applicable. There are no corresponding features between the alleged Martian structures and the structures seen in Baghdad, only a basic rectilinear motif characteristic of virtually all modern cities on Earth.

Secondly, and equally damaging to those who would have us think there is some exotic architectural connection beteeen Iraq and Cydonia, the Mars image in question is the infinitely disputed false-color "underground city" image discussed previously. There is very little reason to think this image is a faithful reproduction of actual buried structures. The image itself is almost certainly irrelevant. The supposed correspondence to Baghdad is infinitely more so.

Viking frame 70A13.

The third image is "The Strange 'Saddam Airport Face'", an interesting but utterly unpersuasive comparison between Viking frame 70A13 and a blurry portion of an Iraqi airport in which a crude, face-like visage can be made out. There is indeed a superficial similarity to 70A13, and the implication is that this is not a coincidence. But if Saddam Hussein's architects had information concerning the Face on Mars and were instructed to incorporate it into the airport's design, why must we look to a low-resolution image of the Face taken in the 1970s to see the resemblance? New, high-resolution images of the Face reveal a formation with notable differences, including a truncated (damaged?) eastern "mouth" and alleged feline characteristics.

It's strange that the Enterprise Mission uses 70A13 when better imagery exists. In any case, the blurred nature of the Saddam Airport photo invites the question: Does the face-like appearance vanish when seen in greater clarity? Better images of the so-called "Saddam Airport Face" are needed to mount a proper investigation.

Lastly, we come to "Saddam's 'Tetrahedral' Saucer," which features a monument from Hussein's regime that incorporates a decorative tetrahedron. Readers of the Enterprise Mission site realize that tetrahedrons are vital cornerstones in Hoagland's fascinating "tetrahedral message of Cydonia." While I agree with Hoagland that certain formations in Cydonia appear to represent tetrahedral geometry (an element of Hoagland's controversial "hyperdimensional physics"), the presence of a tetrahedron on Earth proves nothing--least of all a Martian connection.

Tetrahedrons are the simplest of the Platonic solids. There is nothing intrinsically strange or esoteric about them. Unsurprisingly, they are commonplace in art all over the world. The Iraqi monument is merely another example of a human artist utilizing a geometric lingua franca to produce a pleasing effect, not evidence of a legacy of hidden knowledge.

A rare photo of a pyramid in Iran.

None of this is to say that the Middle East has nothing to teach us about the apparent structures on Mars. Iraq, situated between the Tigris and the Euphrates, is indeed the birthplace of recorded history. If there is a terrestrial connection, however ancient, it would be foolish to condemn the possibility of finding it buried in the dust of time. But at the same time, we must beware the ever-present Will to Believe.


Hexagon in Cydonia?

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Electrobus has created a most interesting animation suggesting a possible connection between a supposedly hexagonal crater in the Cydonia region and the alignment of the Face. Given the various other alignments and parallels associated with the Face, the placement of the "hexagon" in Kelly's presentation may not be coincidental.

The most significant problem posed by the "hexagon" is the object's true shape. A camera with five times the magnification of the Mars Orbiter Camera aboard the Mars Global Surveyor is set to investigate Mars in 2005. If trained on Cydonia, a better approximation of the "hexagon's" true shape may be determined.

To view Kelly's animation, see the URL below:

Thanks to Mark Kelly and Chris Joseph.


"Old Man in the Mountain" Dies

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Shape-from shading side-view of the Face on Mars by Chris Joseph.

Along with Carl Sagan's famous comparison to "Jesus in a tortilla chip" and more recent attempts to debunk the Face (such as the consummately unfacelike Middle Butte Mesa and Camelback Mountain), the Old Man epitomized the mainstream science community's aversion to planetary SETI. Its demise is lamentable but oddly appropriate; while the Face has yet to be proven artificial, data acquired since it was first photographed by the Viking mission in 1976 has stregthened the case for a non-natural origin.

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