The God Trinity

On planet Earth there are around 10,000 distinct religions that exist, and around 80% of the world’s population is affiliated with one of the four largest ones, which is Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism. With the exception of Islam, it is astonishing how often in world religions that the concept of a trinity of some form appears to come up. That is, one God that reveals itself in three forms or three Gods that occupy the space of the almighty divine.

In Christianity, founded around 2,000 years ago, there is only one God, but who exists as coeternal persons who are known as the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet are said to be one substance, essence or nature. In this definition God exists as three persons or hypostases, but is one being and has a single divine nature.

In Hinduism, founded around 2,500 years ago (and considered the world’s oldest religion), there are three principal deities that make up the divine. In this system, the goal of life is to realise that one’s soul is identical to the supreme soul. The triple deity of the supreme divinity is called Trimurti, for which the cosmic functions are personified. This includes Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. When incarnated into a single avatar it is known as Dattatreya.

In Buddhism, founded around 2,600 – 2,400 years ago, it is the goal in life to overcome suffering and the cycle and death of rebirth, such as through the attainment of Nirvana. In Mahayana Buddhism there is the concept of the three bodies or modes of being of the Buddha. Firstly there is the dharmakaya (the body of essence), the unmanifested mode and the supreme state of absolute knowledge. Second there is the Sambhogakaya (body of enjoyment), the heavenly mode. Third there is the Nirmanakaya (body of transformation), the Earthly model or the Buddha as he appeared on Earth or manifested himself in an Earthly Bodhisattva.

Taoism is a religious tradition of Chinese origin, founded around 2,400 - 2330 years ago. It teaches that an individual should become one with the unplanned rhythms of the Universe called The Way (Tao) which is the natural order of the Universe. In Taoism there is the concept of the Three Pure Ones, that is three divine teachers which constitute the divine trinity and are the three highest Gods in the pantheon. The Pure Ones represent a deity and a heaven. In this belief system, the Tao produced One, then One produced Two, then Two produced Three, and then Three produced all things.

Another one of the world’s oldest religions is Zoroastrianism, founded around 2,600 years ago, which is also considered the origin of the idea for a dualistic cosmology for good and evil, heaven and hell, and therefore a judgement after death. The principal deity of this system is Ahura Mazda who is the creator and the highest possible. But he is also often invoked in a triad with Mithra and Anahita.

Whilst many of the world’s religions appear to be vastly different in both their beliefs and doctrines, if one digs deep enough one can find similarities which perhaps reflect the fundamentally true nature of the Universe. But instead, each of the religious systems represents merely an interpretation of the divine, much the way people may view a piece of art painting differently.

One can’t but wonder, what could be accomplished between people if instead of the differences between various belief systems, instead we focussed on what is similar, and allow for artistic interpretation of the nature of reality as a fundamentally subjective human experience. This would surely be one way from which we can achieve a unified cosmic and spiritual perspective on our shared suffering and destination at the end of our days on this Earth.

References

1.       African Studies Association, History of Africa, 32, p.119, University of Michigan, 2005.

2.       The Global Religious Landscape, Pew Research Center, 18th December 2012.

 

The Great Journey of Growth

The French surgeon and Nobel Prize winning biologist Alexis Carrel once said “Man cannot remake himself without suffering for he is both the marble and the sculptor”. Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, is alleged to have once said “Greater in battle than the man who would conquer a thousand-thousand men, is he who would conquer just one – himself. Better to conquer yourself than others”. When we consider the endeavours and journeys of human beings throughout history, this theme of conquering yourself and growing as a result of the journey is a common one.

One of the greatest pieces of literature ever written is the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia believed to have been written around four thousand years ago during the Third Dynasty of Ur. In this story, King Gilgamesh, a great a mighty warrior leader, is tamed by his intimate friendship with the primitive man Enkidu. They go on many journeys together, and in one they both face great fear and slay the monstrous demi-god Humbaba.  However, later Enkidu dies and Gilgamesh is stricken with grief and so he goes on a long journey to find the secret to eternal life, eventually meeting Utnapishtim who is the man who survived the great flood. Gilgamesh does not learn how to make his own life eternal, but he does in the end come home to his City of Uruk from where he views all that he built and realises that although he will not live forever, his legacy will continue in that city. In order for Gilgamesh to learn and appreciate the legacy of his own creation, despite the inability to prevent his own physical death, he had to embark on a long journey of self-discovery.

Others have noticed the importance of the journey and its effects on the spiritual growth of a human being. In the introduction of the 2005 Vintage Books edition to Bruce Chatwin’s ‘In Patagonia’, Nicholas Shakespeare said: “….the idea of the journey as a metaphor, in particular Lord Raglan’s paradigm of the young hero who sets off on a voyage and does battle with a monster. Such journeys are the meat and drink of our earliest stories”.

Many ancient tribes also practice coming of age type rituals, where adulthood is marked by the completion of a journey. For example, historically the Aboriginal Australians children when they came of age would go on a great walk about which may last up to six months duration and would cover 1,000 miles. The child would be expected to survive in the wilderness on his own and without human interaction, building his own shelters, hunting and living off the land. He would communicate with the spirit guides and discover himself, whilst singing the ancient songlines that so described the geographic landscape of their country.

Aboriginal Australian

Aboriginal Australian

Throughout human history it has been a core part of our make-up to explore and discover what is over that next horizon. This has led to us climbing the highest mountains, sailing the largest oceans and trekking the vast lands. We then proceeded to explore the air and sky until we had dominance over it, and then we looked towards the heavens and realised this was the next great journey that awaits us.

As human beings seeks to explore interplanetary and interstellar space, this will have an impact on our maturity as a species. These journeys are sure to be difficult, containing many successes and many failures – and those successes will be even richer because of those failures. As a society we will evolve to a new level of understanding, wisdom and maturity, and by implication give us the character we need to go even further.

As individuals involved in the endeavour to explore and colonise space, this seems like a grand adventure, much bigger than any of our single lives. Whether we are a writer of books or someone who is actually building companies and space hardware, our concentration is focussed on the same direction. Due to the nature of this endeavour, it is likely that there will be many more failures than there are successes. Indeed, although human beings among the planets may seem to be something that is in our near-term possible future, it is clear that human beings around other star systems is much further away, and this may even be centuries. Given this, why do many still work towards the goal of human beings in interstellar space? Especially given the metaphorical monsters of space radiation and other risks.

It is because we grow from the attempt, and that even a life that is closed-off with a failure in reaching for something seemingly impossible as a vision, has much more value than a life closed-off with achieving something that is merely possible and may even be mediocre as an ambition. It is in our nature to set ourselves impossible challenges, because that is how we grow as individuals and as a community. It is as the poet Alex Elle once said: “I am thankful for my struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength”. The path of exploration, is the only sure way by which we can discover ourselves.

The Black Hole Evaporator Engine

In 1960 the American physicist Robert Bussard published a paper that some considered the solution to the problem of true interstellar travel. It was a proposal to use a special type of engine that did not require carrying vast quantities of fusion fuel, but instead would utilise the natural hydrogen fuel of the interstellar medium that is dispersed throughout the space between the stars. It would do this using a large magnetic funnel to scoop up the fuel and then direct it through a fusion reactor. The paper was titled ‘Galactic Matter and Interstellar Spaceflight” (Astronautical Acta, 6, pp.170-194, 1960) and it received wide coverage and enthusiasm.

Interstellar Ramjet (Rick Sternbach)

Interstellar Ramjet (Rick Sternbach)

However, in the years that followed it quickly became clear that there may be some fundamental problems with the idea of the interstellar ramjet that may make it unworkable. From a physics perspective, it was quickly realised that one of the problems with using hydrogen is that it has a very small cross section. Indeed, this is why modern day fusion reactor laboratories are attempting to ignite isotopes of hydrogen instead, such as deuterium and tritium. In addition, even if you could capture these interstellar protons, they would have such a substantial energy that they would first have to be moderated down to a lower energy in order to pass them through a fusion reactor.

Another issue identified was that in order to get started in the first place, some quantity of fuel would be required to get up to sufficiently high velocity, and so the vehicle mass would be far from small. Finally, calculations conducted by others suggested that as the starship moved through the interstellar medium, this material would act as a form of drag on the vessel, and so introduce inefficiency into the motion that was likely significant and even critical to the design.

Years later, an idea was to occur to one author (Kelvin Long) but based on speculative calculations conducted at the time on what happens when high energy particles are collided together. It was based on two developments in physics occurring at the time and it even led to a study undertaken by the International Space University in a post-graduate project titled “Project BAIR: The Black Hole Augmented Interstellar Rocket” by Andrew Alexander, co-advised by Kelvin Long.

The first was the construction of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN or the large particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland.  One of the experiments in this facility was known as the Large Hadron Collider, which achieved its first collisions in 2010 with energy of 3.5 TeV. However subsequent to this it was upgraded to a 6.5 TeV beam until it shut down for further upgrades in 2018.

Prior to the high energy collisions, speculation was mounting in the literature from the field of General Relativity and its successor String Theory, that there may be extra-dimensions, and in particular four-spatial dimensions, with the implication that the Planck Length (and the associated Planck mass) could actually be much larger (and much lower) and would occur around the ~1TeV scale. This led to the speculation of what happens when two high energy particles collide, so that they collapse inside their Schwarzschild radius to produce a mini-black hole. If such a microscopic black hole was created, then according to the best theories it would rapidly decay completely via Hawking radiation effect. This caused a frenzy of discussions in the media and even a court case to try and prevent the LHC from switching on.

Whilst some were concerned over the possibility of generating mini-black holes on Earth, it also seemed possible that this physics effect may have an application to the interstellar ramjet, and in particular the issue of the very small cross section of hydrogen and the difficulty with causing it to undergo fusion at high energy. The idea that occurred was to allow the high energy protons to be magnetically scooped up as designed for the interstellar ramjet, but rather than try to moderate them down to lower energy or to capture them, to just allow them to naturally collide with each other, if a sufficient number density could be assembled. If the predictions of higher-dimensional physics were correct, then the collision of these protons would result in a collapse into a mini-black hole and the immediate evaporation of various particles via Hawking radiation. Some of these particles would be neutral so could not be directed magnetically, but some of them would have charge, and then if they could be channelled rearward, this would represent an effective exhaust. Hence the mechanism was called a Black Hole Evaporator Engine.

Black Hole Evaporator Engine (graphic by Adrian Mann, Concept invented by K. F. Long)

Black Hole Evaporator Engine (graphic by Adrian Mann, Concept invented by K. F. Long)

The idea was pursued a little, and it was even proposed that some of the particles could be injected into a large ring collider, much like CERN, so as to increase the probability of particle collisions. Subsequent calculations found that it was likely to be an inefficient propulsion mechanism, but the work done on this innovative project was not sufficient to rule out its plausibility.

As we seek to cross space in search of planets around other stars, it is clear that just like the stars, we are likely going to have to use similar energy mechanism to make this a reality. This includes fusion, which is the source of power at the heart of all stars and is responsible for their birth and lifetime through the stellar structure and evolution of the main sequence. But it may also be possible that the death of a heavy star, in its final state as a black hole, may also have lessons to teach us, in that a black hole may give us the drive power we need to explore the galaxy and beyond.

The Mystery of Gobekli Tepe

At around 12,500 years ago, human beings started to domesticate plants and animals around the world. This was the start of the geological epoch known as the Holocene. During this time, human beings also started to transition from a hunter-gatherer species to an agricultural-farming one, and thereafter began the great creation of towns and cities and the basis of civilisation. Prior to this ‘Neolithic Revolution’, we were nomadic creatures, with no written language, and with tools and technologies driven largely by our need to hunt on the land and sea and survive the elements day to day.

We need to remember also that 12,500 years ago corresponded to the end of the last ice age, where vast ice sheets had covered much of North America, Northern Europe and Asia, with their maximum extent around 26,500 years ago. The glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere began to retreat around 19,000 years ago. After the end of the last ice age came the period known as the Younger Dryas, which was between 12,900 to 11,700 years ago, which saw a temporary reversal of the gradual climatic warming. This was clearly a dramatic time to be on planet Earth and in particular in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is interesting that the Neolithic Revolution really came at the end of this ice age, permitting the conditions for human beings to thrive, apparently for the first time. Or was it?

The archeological site at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey

The archeological site at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey

Between the years 1996 to 2014 a site in Turkey was excavated by a renowned German archeologists called Klaus Schmidt, from the University of Erlangen. The site was in the South Eastern Anatolia region of Turkey and it had the appearance of a hill, and so it was called ‘Potbelly Hill’ which in Turkish is written Gobekli Tepe. The site is around 1,000 ft in diameter and 50 ft high and is located 2,500 ft above sea level. Schmidt and his team were not the original discovers of the site, but it had originally be discovered in 1963 by the American archaeologist Peter Benedict from the University of Chicago in co-operation with Istanbul University.

After having spent several years excavating the site, Schmidt uncovered several layers which he had radiocarbon dated to 7,370 - 7,560 years ago (Enclosure C), 7,970 - 8,280 years ago (Enclosure B), 8,620 - 9,110 years ago (Layer III) and 8,800 - 9,2130 years ago (Layer III). The team found an astonishing set of T-shaped pillars forming what appeared to be a Temple or stone circle configuration. Many of the pillars contained pictograms and animal relief carvings, presumably to represent sacred symbols. The animal reliefs included lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, donkeys, snakes and other reptiles. They even included insects, arachnids and birds. Overall, the site displays the signature of a high culture and with a sophisticated knowledge of architecture and also possibly astronomy, and the use of stone tools - not expected of a hunter gatherer society.

Examples of some of the stone T-shaped pillars found at Gobekli Tepe

Examples of some of the stone T-shaped pillars found at Gobekli Tepe

The discovery of Gobekli Tepi is evidence suggestive of a non-linear history, which departs from so called gradualism. To construct a site like this, and noting that only around 5% of it has been excavated by archeologists to date, does not seem possible with a simple hunter gatherer society. This project would have required perhaps several hundred people working on it for years or decades, and they had to be fed with sufficient resources to not interrupt the construction. Just like the Clovis First model of the America’s, much of our understanding of history appears to be in need of revision. In fact, the site is suggestive that we are living in a post-apocalyptic era, and that there may be some truths to the mythologies of a great flood that swept across the Earth and also that prior to this existed advanced human societies.

The most incredible thing about this site in Turkey, is the view from Schmidt, that the site had been deliberately buried after its use. What could motivate a people to bury such a site? There would appear to be two possible reasons, which is to protect it (or preserve it) or to hide it from discovery by others. But protect it from what? And to hide it from whom? One thing is for sure, the only way we are going to unlock the answers to these questions is by fully committing to a major archaeological excavation program in Turkey. Let us hope that happens soon.

Shock Ignition ICF for Space Propulsion

The Sun is a giant fusion reactor, generating energy through the ignition of hydrogen fuels at the centre of its core, the radiation from which then takes around 50,000 years to travel through the opaque atmosphere to reach the outer envelope of the photosphere. Whilst a nuclear fission reactor will create lots of nasty radiation products which then have to be stored for tens of thousands of years, a nuclear fusion reactor on Earth would not have the same problems and is relatively clean whilst also offering the potential to produce reliable energy on the Earth for the national grid. If we can make it work in an Earth-based laboratory then this also brings the possibility of applying that same technology to a spacecraft propulsion system.

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The key requirement to obtaining ignition in an inertial fusion capsule is through spherical convergence of a spherical fuel by hydrodynamic implosion to a state of what is called the fusion triple product. This species that the product of the confinement time, particle number density and the plasma temperature has to be greater than a certain number. When this occurs, then the fuel will ignite and generate a self-sustaining reaction and the goal is to produce more energy out of the capsule than went into creating it, so called energy gain. This criteria is also known as the Lawson criteria, named after John Lawson who first derived it in 1955 and then published it in a public document titled “Some Criteria for a Power Producing Thermonuclear Reactor” (Proceedings of the Physical Society, Section B, 70, 1, pp.6 - 10, 1955).

Conventional direct drive method of ‘hot spot’ ignition inertial confinement fusion

Conventional direct drive method of ‘hot spot’ ignition inertial confinement fusion

In conventional inertial confinement fusion, this state is achieved by impinging multiple laser beams onto the surface of the capsule, what is known as an ablator shell. These lasers will then mass ablate the surface causing a rocket effect and the transfer of momentum so that the spherical system starts to move inwards. The mass ablation also leads to a full ionization of the surface and so the creation of a corona layer of ions and free electrons; a plasma state. The goal is to compress the capsule up spherically and with high symmetry, until a high compression state is achieved at the centre and where the so called ‘hot spot’ ignition occurs under direct drive. The problem with this approach is that some of the electrons generated at the surface may be energised by the laser electromagnetic wave, and so accelerated up to suprathermal energies. This means that they will depart from a Maxwellian distribution and travel inwards into the fuel, ahead of the full compression. As they enter the fuel, they deposit their energy there and heat it up, so that it wants to expand, and this is an inefficiency on the implosion.

To help to mitigate some of these issues, at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in San Francisco the team uses a ‘Hohlraum’ or radiation cavity, so that the implosion occurs via an indirect drive. That is, the lasers (192 in total) do not direct impinge on the capsule surface, but instead impinge onto the surface of a gold cavity that surrounds the capsule, and this then generates an x-ray heat bath which surrounds the capsule to ensure uniform symmetry.

Indirect drive ‘hot spot’ method of inertial confinement fusion

Indirect drive ‘hot spot’ method of inertial confinement fusion

There is however another way of achieving energy gain, which has received little attention in the literature but most importantly for space propulsion, holds the promise of high gain. And by high we are talking about an order of magnitude higher than can be achieved in ‘hot spot’ ignition. The method is known as ‘shock ignition’ and some of the first to propose it included R Betti et al in “Shock Ignition of Thermonuclear Fuel with High Areal Density” (Physical Review Letter, 98, 155001, 2007) and L. J. Perkins in his paper titled “Shock Ignition: A New Approach to High Gain Inertial Confinement Fusion on the Ignition Facility” (Physical Review Letters, 103, 045004, 2009).

In shock ignition the primary drive pulse is initially used to slowly compress the fuel to a high density and a pressure of several hundred Mbar due to spherical convergence amplification, but under the threshold required for ignition. The return shock wave then centrally reflects and begins to travel outwards, but before this happens a second ignition pulse is sent into the capsule and the ignitor shock eventually collides with the outgoing return shock from the first pulse, sending a collision shock back inwards and thereby heating the central hot spot to ignition conditions. So shock ignition depends upon the dynamics and interaction of three shock waves, the initial return shock, the ignitor shock and the collision shock. This is a simple scheme and it does not require the use of any short pulse lasers; in the way that an alternative method called fast ignition would need for example. This then helps to minimise the laser-plasma instabilities.

One of the neat things about shock ignition is that the capsules have an unusually large ablator shell. This means that any suprathermal electrons generated in the corona will deposit their energy into that ablator shell and they will not make it into the fuel which would otherwise cause expansion. The result of this is that the energy deposition into the ablator shell therefore contributes towards the implosion, resulting in an amplification of the pressure pulse - and this is why a much higher gain is possible in principle.

For a normal NIF type hot spot ignition design capsule, the irradiation of the surface will also lead to Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities and will increase proportional to the capsule In Flight Aspect Ratio (IFAR) which is a measure of the average shell radius to its thickness (~2 for shock ignition, c.f 5 for conventional thin walled designs used in other methods). But for shock ignition, the IFAR is maintained low due to keeping on a low adiabat associated with the low implosion velocity promoting stability during the acceleration phase, this means that the RT instabilities for shock ignition are much reduced compared to conventional ICF.

Like many of the inertial confinement fusion capsule designs, they are untested to the point of ignition and gain. But it gives hope for the future that we have so many different types of designs to experiment with, to ensure we get the performance that we need for either an Earth-based reactor or a space based propulsion system. It is likely, that shock ignition designs will have a key role to play as we seek to optimise performance and mitigate losses whilst we are attempting to create a star in a reaction chamber on Earth or in space.

Extraterrestrial or Hyperdimensional Hypothesis

Recently, the nuclear physicist and writer Stanton Friedman passed away. He was a prolific author of books on the unidentified flying object phenomenon and gave hundreds of lectures. His belief, was that alien visitations were true and he was a proponent of the ‘nuts and bolts’ perspective, in that alien technology is here today and governments were aware of this. This is known as the Extraterrestrial hypothesis, and it makes the claim that observation of craft in the sky or claims of visitations and abductions, are best explained by the acceptance that a non-human intelligence has travelled here on an alien starship purely to visit the planet.

Many follow his view point and he leaves behind a trail of dedicated researchers who also subscribe to this perspective. The idea that aliens are visiting our planet from another planet around another star, is attractive to many, and some want it to be true. This could be because they see it as a possible solution to the problems of our civilization and our inability to solve them ourselves, or it could just be because the idea is cool. That said, not all subscribe to this opinion.

A clip from ‘Earth versus the Flying Saucers’ movie, 1956 (Columbia Pictures)

A clip from ‘Earth versus the Flying Saucers’ movie, 1956 (Columbia Pictures)

The French/American researcher Jacques Vallee takes a radically different perspective, despite the fact that early on in his career he had supported the extraterrestrial hypothesis. But his views began to change, and a factor in this was the absurdly large number of visitation cases being reported, which made the Earth and its people appear to be like the equivalent of the local interstellar zoo for travelling alien tourists.

Instead, Vallee advocated for a different idea, known as the interdimensional hypothesis. This holds the view that visitations originate from other realities and dimensions that coexist alongside our own reality, perhaps in a multiverse of universes. In particular, the fact that our history is littered with ideas of mythological or supernatural creatures (goblins, elves, giants, dwarfs) might suggest that we are in fact witnessing a psychological phenomenon that has been with us for as long as human beings have existed.

Vallee makes some chief objections to the Extraterrestrial hypothesis, which were first laid out in his paper titled “Five Arguments Against the Extraterrestrial Origin of Unidentified Flying Objects” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 1990). It is worth listing these arguments in full and to make some counter-point comments as a devil’s advocate argument:

  1. That unexplained close encounters are far more numerous than required for any physical survey of the Earth; Although this does not take into account the vast number of planets around other stars that could be inhabited. If the galaxy is teaming with life, then the numbers of reports would correlated with a crowded galaxy. That said, it seems unlikely that many different species would be visiting Earth independent of each other, without interaction, communication and potential conflict among themselves over say visitation rights, for which we would then become aware of.

  2. That humanoid body structure of the claimed aliens is not likely to have originated on another planet and is not biologically adapted to space travel; It could be that a species downloads its consciousness into a biological form that is grown at the destination, in an attempt to increase the interaction and encounter potential, by making efforts to appear like humans.

  3. That the reported behaviours in many of the abduction reports contradicts the hypothesis of genetic or scientific experimentation on humans by an advanced intelligence. This would be true, except for the situation where visiting aliens had a form or anatomy completely different to our (as different as say a jelly fish to us) and they had no idea how we operated because we were so alien to them. However, if the aliens are ‘advanced intelligence’ and have figured out star travel, then this implies they should easily figure out our anatomy without the need for crude experimentation techniques.

  4. That the extension of the phenomenon over all recorded human history suggests that it is not a contemporary phenomenon. Unless one considered that all past observations and reports, pre-dating the development of modern industrialised society, were just stories due to the lack of education, informed opinion and the ability to rationally comprehend observations and also record them reliably. But then how do we explain that not only did the reports continue, but they increased?

  5. That the apparent ability of unidentified flying objects to manipulate space and time might suggest radically different and richer alternatives. The reported flight capabilities of such craft certainly go beyond what the existing or projected aerospace capabilities of our modern technological societies can achieve. And there is sufficient data, observations from pilots and radar measurements from radar stations, to clearly demonstrate that objects are being observed. The question is, are people seeing what they really think they are seeing and is what they see external to themselves or an image generated internally to the brain?

galaxycluste.jpg

Whatever ones views are on the Extraterrestrial or Interdimensional hypothesis, it is clear that from the vast number of reports annually across the globe that some strange phenomena is occurring. Perhaps none of these hypothesis are true, but instead we are witnessing a psychological phenomenon which results in an as yet unknown symptom of our brain tissues exposure to certain technologies. We certainly live in a technological world, and electromagnetic fields are moving through the airspace almost as a constant background sea upon which our consciousness now swims. Who is to say that this isn’t having an effect on our brain, causing delusions, hallucinations or merely manifesting our best fantasies or worst nightmares but as a waking dream state?

It is clear however that something is going on, and it is wrong for governments to take the attitude they do, which tends to be dismissive of peoples claims. If this is not visitations by aliens from other stars or from other dimensions, then we could be looking at a global phenomenon of a form of mania, in which case this should also be of interest to governments, who are charged with looking out for the well-being of their populations. One thing is for sure, the conversation is not likely to end any time soon and the reported sightings will surely continue into the future.

Inventory Stele and the Sphinx in Egypt

The Great Sphinx of Giza in Cairo, Egypt, is one of the most remarkable sculptors ever devised by human hands. It is claimed by Egyptologists to be dated to the Old Kingdom during the reign of the pharaoh Khafre/Khufu in around 2558 - 2532 BC. But much controversy has arisen over the Sphinx in recent years, with claims that it may be much older than this. In particular, the erosion of the Sphinx enclosure shows evidence of precipitation induced weathering which is caused by significant and prolonged periods of rain fall or flooding. The Boston University geologist Robert Schoch claims that this suggests its age is more like around 10,500 BC, which pre-dates Dynastic Egypt by many thousands of years.

The Great Sphinx in Egypt

The Great Sphinx in Egypt

Its dating is further complicated by claims that the Sphinx faces exactly due east as a perfect equinoctial marker, where it looks upon the sunrise at dawn. At the same time, it also faces the rising constellation of Leo, but this also occurs around 10,500 BC. None of this is helped by the controversial ‘restoration work’ that is carried out by the local Egyptian authorities amid claims they are trying to cover up evidence that would allow accurate dating of the Sphinx.

However, there is a little bit of history that is not so widely known to the public, and it has been hidden from public display for some years, after initially being exhibited at the Cairo museum, but now appears to have been withdrawn from public display. That is the Inventory Stele. This is a commemorative tablet that apparently dates to the 26th Dynasty which is around 670 BC. It was found in in Giza in 1858 by the French archaeologist Auguste Mariette when he was excavating the Isis Temple which is located on the Giza complex. Although some Egyptologists view the Stele with great caution and is claimed by scholars to be a fake contemporary to its dated age, this is also convenient because the writing on the Stele appears to convey information which contradicts the historical view of Dynastic Egypt.


Inventory Stele of ancient Egypt, once displayed in the Cairo Museum

Inventory Stele of ancient Egypt, once displayed in the Cairo Museum

In fact, although it has largely been dismissed as a fraud, Robert Schoch and its colleague Manu Seyfzadeh have published a paper titled “The Inventory Stele: More Fact than Fiction” (Archaeological Discovery, Vol.6, No.2. pp.103-161, April 2018), in which they conclude “From our analysis we conclude that while we cannot rule out a couple of minor modifications of names from the original written version we date to the 5th Dynasty, there is no plausible reason to dismiss the entire account recorded in this Late Period version on those ground alone and that the events it describes appear more factual than fictitious”. The authors attribute the current dating to misconceptions in part due to errors and oversights contained in two referenced translations. So what does the Inventory Stele actually say? He is a brief extract:

Long live the King of Upper and Lower Egyupt, khufu, given life....He found the house of Isis, Mistress of the Pyramid, by the side of the hollow of Hwran {The Sphinx} and he built his pyramid beside the temple of this goddess and he built a pyramid for the King’s daughter Henutsen, beside this temple. The place of Hwran Hormakhet is on the South side of the House of Isis, Mistress of the pyramid....He restored the statue, all covered in painting, of the guardian of the atmosphere, who guides the winds with his gaze. He replaced the back part of the Nemes head-dress, which was missing with gilded stone. The figure of this god, cut in stone, is solid and will last to eternity, keeping its face looking always to the East.

These words, imply that the Great Pyramid and the Temple of Isis existed before the time of Khufu (c.2580 BC), and it describes how Khufu came upon the Sphinx, where it was already buried in the sand. Whether one believes this viewpoint or instead the view of main stream Egyptologists, is a matter of personal opinion, and to come to an informed opinion certainly requires substantial study of the artefact, its history and translations. But if the words are to be believed, then this would be proof that Khufu did not build the Great Pyramid or the Sphinx and that they were already on site long before his time. This would then bring the dates of 10,500 BC or 12,500 years ago, into the realm of plausibility. Although there is debate about the dating of the artefact, there is little disagreement about its content, which appears to be genuine. This debate is sure to run on and the accurate dating of the text on the Inventory Stele may be the key to unlocking the true history of what happened on the Giza plateau all those millennia ago.

Roddenberry's Starships: Art vs Science

The television series Star Trek, was created by Gene Roddenberry. Since that original series which debuted in 1966 for three seasons on NBC in the United States, it has produced many spin-off series. This includes the original series (1966 - 1969), The Next Generation (1987 - 1994), Deep Space Nine (1993 - 1999), Voyager (1995 - 2001), Enterprise (2001 - 2005) and Discovery (2017 - present). This has been an amazing franchise which has also produced 13 motion picture films.

A warp drive Starship from the  Star Trek  Universe (Paramount Studios)

A warp drive Starship from the Star Trek Universe (Paramount Studios)

A key element of the Star Trek universe is the starships themselves, based on some undefined warp drive technology that manipulates space and time in a way that allows it to transport across the galaxy and beyond, and still be home for tea. From a physics perspective this appears to break all of the known laws as we understand them. In addition, the engineering challenges with constructing such a vast machine are daunting to say the least. As the episodes of Star Trek rolled on year on year, there were efforts by the production team to introduce a science basis behind the technology. This led to the invention of an entirely new language with mentions of technologies such as ‘dilithium crystals’, ‘tractor beams’, ‘replicators’, ‘universal translators’, ‘cloaking devices’, ‘deflector shields’ and a whole manner of other ideas.

It is interesting to note that whilst some of these technologies are far from being a part of the real world of science, others have actually maturated into actual devices, and the observation that science fiction inspires science as much as science inspires science fiction is an interesting one. Indeed, far from the sciences being seen as rigorous and the arts creative, it has been said that science needs the creativity to flourish and art needs rigour to have value.

So it was that in 1994, the Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre produced a paper titled “The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel within General Relativity” (Classical & Quantum Gravity, 11, L73 - L77, 1994), in which the author demonstrated how the General Theory of Relativity, allowed in principle for space to expand and collapse in a way analogous to a warp drive. This paper was such a seminal publication for the field, that it literally created an entire new genre of theoretical physics research. Even more amazing, when we consider that at the time Alcubierre was a graduate student. Although many of the physics issues for a workable warp drive still look prohibitively difficult, the fact that we can realise so much about this theoretical construct so earlier on in the birth of the idea, gives some optimism that the research may lead to something interesting at least.

Mathematical shape function visualised of the Alcubierre warp drive metric of General Relativity

Mathematical shape function visualised of the Alcubierre warp drive metric of General Relativity

However, there is an intriguing history of the design of a Starship from the Star Trek universe that many people may not be aware of, which is that, whilst in conventional engineering design shape tends to follow function, it is the other way around thanks to Gene Roddenberry, in that function follows shape.

The history of the creation of this starship, is described in the book by Stephen E Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry titled “The Making of Star Trek” (published by Ballantine Books, 1968). In this book the authors detail the design briefing specified by Roddenberry for the U. S. S Enterprise:

We’re a hundred and fifty or maybe two hundred years from now. Out in deep space, on the equivelent of a cruiser-size spaceship. We don’t know what the motive power is, but I don’t want to see any trails of fire. No streaks of smoke, no jet intakes, rocket exhaust, or anything like that. We’re not going to Mars, or any of that sort of limited thing. It will be like a deep-space exploration vessel, operating throughout our galaxy. We’ll be going to stars and planets that nobody has named yet...I don’t care how you do it, but make it look like its got power.

Then, so it was that the set designers came up with the gorgeous concept that we see in the television show and movies today. In the subsequent discussions with the set designers, when they made comparisons to the existing space program, or Buck Rodgers or Flash Gordon, the response of Roddenberry was “This we will not do”. The same response was given when comparisons were made to concepts from companies like North American, Douglass and TRW. What Roddenberry seemed to be reaching for was an acknowledgement that this machine was in the far future, and more advanced than even the most visionary thinking scientists of the day were conceiving.

Roddenberry wanted something that was beyond the reach of existing paradigms. This is consistent with the second law of the science and science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke who said “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible”. It is interesting to note that Roddenberry had previously had extensive discussions with Clarke and so was likely familiar with this law given it was published in his book “Profiles of the Future” published in 1962.

So it was that the team produced the beloved Starship concept of Star Trek, driven by an engine called a warp drive for which nobody could describe how it really worked. That warp drive, seems to have come out of the requirement not to have any smoke, flames or exhaust. From a scientific extrapolation perspective this made no sense at all. But form an artistic perspective it was pure brilliance and perhaps not something science would ever had created on its own; science needs the creativity of the arts.

This demonstrates the value of interdisciplinary thinking and the risks of working only in specialised areas. It is clear that to progress technologically science needs the arts. Would the idea of a warp drive ever been realised if it had not been conceived from this artistic background? We will never know for sure, but as long as we practice both in unison, as a form of joyous dance, the novelty produced from our species knows no bounds.

Creation of the Universe in Mythology

The story of the origin of our planets, solar system, galaxy and indeed universe is one that science continues to ponder with its ever more precise measurements and long-range observations of the past. But philosophy, mythology and religion had an opinion on these going back to the dawn of civilisation. In the Judaic—Christian tradition we are left with the legacy of the Old Testament and its description of the creation of the world. In the Bible, it says:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day and the darkness he called night.
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Tahiti is one of the largest island in French Polynesia located in the central part of the Pacific Ocean. The native people of Tahiti have their own mythology about the creation of the world:

Ta-aroa rested for a long time in his shell. It was shaped like a seed and spun around in the infinite emptiness in constant darkness. There was no sun, no moon, no earth, no mountains. there was just churning, unbound water. There were no people, no pigs, no birds, no dogs, no man-made objects, no sea and no freshwater. Ta-aroa flicked his fingers against the inside of the shell where he sat so cramped - and it cracked and opened. He squeezed out, stood up and shouted: “Is anyone there? Is anyone under there”? Not a voice answered his calls! Then he created the world of his own flesh - and the different parts of his body became the different parts of nature - except for his head, which he kept for himself.

The Sami people are native to large parts of northern Norway and Sweden and also parts of Finland and the Murmansk Oblast of Russia. This is the Sami tradition:

Sami mythology contains several stories about the creation of the world and man. Here, the world was not created from nothing but was transformed by the gods. The Sun god was called Beaivi, which is also the Sami word for sun. According to the Sami mythology, the reindeer came to earth riding rays of the sun. On the Sami drum, several central gods were placed on the Sun’s rays. One story tells of the god Ipmill, who was tormented by the noise from the spirits of the underworld. So he decided to create a new world. Ipmill sacrificed a female reindeer from the sacred mountain passevare, and built a new world, of the body parts of the animal: the bone became the skeleton of the earth, the flesh became the land, the veins became rivers, and the hairs became forests. Ipmil made the reindeer’s head into the sky, and the eyes became the Sun and the Moon.

Japan is an island country in East Asia, located in the Pacific ocean off the eastern coast of the Asian continent. This is the Japanese tradition:

Two gods were commanded: “Fix this floating country and put it in order”. To help them with their task, they were given the heavenly jewelled spear. The gods stood on the hovering bridge of the heavens and pointed the spear downwards. When they touched the sea, the salt water solidified, and the salt dripping off the spearhead and became an island. This is Onogorojima, “The island that solidified itself”. The gods descended from the heavens, erected a Column to the heavens and built a hall. Later, the gods gave birth to all the islands of Japanese. They then gave birth to the god of the wind, Shinatsuhiko, then the god of the trees, Kukunochi, the god of the mountains, Oyamatsumi, and the god of the fields, Kaya-no-hime...

The Maya people were an ethnolinguistic group of indigenous people of Mesoamerica. The group that inhabited the region of Guatemala had this tradition:

Still it hovers. It is motionless, in peace and without a ripple. It is desolate, and the heavens are empty. These are the first words and the first story. There are no people there, no animals - no birds, fish, crabs, trees, cliffs, caves, ravines, grasslands, forests. Only the sky reposing in itself. The earth has not yet appeared. There is only the ocean, and the ocean is motionless beneath the sky - that is all there is. Nothing has been put together. Nothing moves, or vibrates or makes a sound in the sky. Then came the word. The first light and man appeared in their minds...

The Greenlandic Inuit are the indigenous peoples and the most populous ethnic group in Greenland. This is their tradition:

Our ancestors talked a lot about how the earth and its people came into being. They did not understand how to hide words in lines like the white man, they just told stories, the people who lived before us. Long ago, when the earth was created, it came crashing out of the sky. Dirt, mountains and rocks - everything came from the heavens. After the earth had been created, came the people. The earth itself game them form. Small children grew right out of the ground, they sprouted in the underbrush covered in leaves, and they then lay there between the bushes, wiggling around with their eyes closed - they could not even crawl. They got their nourishment from the earth. But the people, who did not understand death, soon became too numerous and the earth became overcrowded. Then there was a mighty flood. Many drowned, and thus the population was reduced. We can still see traces of this floor high up in the mountains, where you can find mussels.

The peoples of the pacific Northwest had this tradition:

Before there was anything - before the great flood, before the animals roamed the fields and the forest covered the land, before the birds flew among the trees and before fish, whales and seals swam in the sea - before all this was darkness - darker than thousand stormy winter nights. All the light in the universe was hidden in a tiny box. The Raven has always existed and always will. After turning into a fledgling, he finally caught hold of the light - a beautiful, radiant orb. Changed again into a huge, shiny black shadow the raven spread its wings snapped up the light and flew out into the vast darkness. The world was transformed: mountains and valleys appeared, the rivers glittered and life awakened everywhere. Far away another great winged creature rose into the air - that was when the light struck the eyes of the Great Eagle for the first time. The Eagle attacks the Raven, who lost half of the light. It fell onto the rocky ground and shattered into many tiny pieces that bounced back into the sky. They are still there - as the moon and the stars that light up the night. The Eagle followed the Raven to the end of the world. There the Raven set the last part of the light free. The light stained the clouds red, and then the sun climbed up over the mountains to the east.

Aboriginal Australians are the various indigenous people of the Australian mainland. Here is there tradition:

The dream time tales of the Aboriginals have no beginning or end, but glide into and intertwine with each other. Told through 10,000 years. An eternal process of creation. A great darkness filled the heavens. This darkness was quiet and peaceful, and encased within it lay the earth, cold and lifeless. On the surface were mountains and tall peaks, hills, valleys and plains, and deep caves and grottos. In these caves, there were forms of life, but without awareness or their surroundings. There was no wind, not even a gentle breeze. One day, the Great Father Spirit whispered softly to Goddess of the Sun: “Now, you shall awaken and go out and give life to the world and all that it holds. First you shall wake the grass, the plants, and then the trees. After covering the earth’s surface, you shall create insects and fish, reptiles and lizards, snakes, birds and mammals. Nothing shall be created that does not benefit the other parts of creation”. All the mammals, birds and reptiles now used the opportunity to examine this strange new creature that had appeared with the rain, the thunder and the lightning. They gathered to talk about what they had seen, and all gave different accounts of this new being.

In ancient Egypt there were many creation myths. The texts describe a process without beginning and end, where the Universe is a dynamic living organism. This is their tradition:

In the beginning, before there was any land of Egypt, all was darkness, and there was nothing but a great waste of water called Nun. The power of Nun was such that there arose out of the darkness a great shining egg, and this was Re. He was all-powerful, and he could take many forms. “I am Khepera at the dwan, and Re at noon, and Tem in the evening”, he said. and the Sun rose and passed across the sky and set for the first time. Then he named Shu, and the first winds blew; he named Tefnut the splitter, and the first rain fell. Next he named Geb, and the earth came into being; he named the goddess Nut, and she was the sky arched over the earth and with her feet on one horizon and her hands on the other; he named Hapl, and the great River Nile flowed through Egypt and made it fruitful.

These bits of scripts were taken from an exhibit at the Archaeology museum in Stavanger, Norway. They illustrate the variety of ideas and the creativity of thinking, but also perhaps the commonality between some of them. Science has replaced these mythologies with the Big Bang model which is closely linked to observational evidence. Yet, there is still so much we do not understand about the nature of the Universe, such as what is dark matter and dark energy and are there other universes in a giant multiverse? In an infinite sea of possible universes, and if we take the meaning of infinity to its extreme interpretation, then by definition all of the above mythologies will occur at least once, no matter how crazy. Perhaps what matters is not how we got here, but that we are here, and what we will do with the limited time that we have been given.

Being Human

A homo sapien (‘thinking man’) is an extinct species of the genus Homo, which also includes Homo erectus. The genus is believed to have emerged out of Africa from a predecessor species approximately 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. The term Middle Palaeolithic defines the period when Homo sapiens first emerged and the emergence of the full behaviour modernity occurred around 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, in what is known as the Upper Paleolithic. During this period the modern human arose though cognitive and genetic changes.

The behaviour modernity, is a trait that distinguishes current Homo sapiens from other anatomically modern humans, hominins and primates. This is characterised by abstract thinking, planning, exploitation of games, music, dance, art and others. But what does it mean to be a human being?

Homo sapien skull, Smithsonian Natural History Museum , Washington D.C (K. F. Long)

Homo sapien skull, Smithsonian Natural History Museum , Washington D.C (K. F. Long)

Anatomically, we have two upper limbs (arms), two lower limbs (legs), hands and fingers, feet and toes, a head and neck, a chest, an intestine and stomach, a spinal cord, certain organs for physical function such as heart, lung, kidneys, liver and more. But clearly this does not define a human being, although it does appear to define our shared genus of hominins.

Our interaction with the physical world around us is provided by our senses. This includes our touch, taste, smell, hearing and vision. All of our connections to the physical world are enabled by these senses, transmitting information down specialised neurons in the skin. Any changes in pressure, temperature, vibration or pain and other sensations are all attributed to the different receptors in the skin, and ultimately this change is communicated to the brain which then measures that change against a model of the world that it has built based on experience.

But what if we were to remove the human body, and just place the human brain in a jar. If sensors were connected to the key parts of the brain so that you could still experience those key senses of touch, taste, sound, hearing and vision, but through computational input that is say on a random number generator to ensure variety of experience, would you know the difference? Would you still feel like you were a human being if those sensory inputs matched exactly your model of the real world? Would you know when you were not?

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It would seem that your physical anatomy does not really define who you are. Then if we consider the future possibilities for the evolution of homo sapiens in different environments. Like if we adapt to living more permanently in water or as we explore space and settle other planets with different atmospheres, radiation levels, gravity. Indeed, in a micro-gravity environment where people just float around, what use is there for legs? Would it be more sensible if those legs evolved to become a second set of arms?

Then what defines being human? Is it our cognitive abilities? Is it our artistic and scientific output? Is it our ethics and morals about what is good and bad, right and wrong? Is it in how we treat others and other life-forms? With the advances in medical sciences, it seems that in the future our very anatomical definitions for what is a human being will be difficult to define. With the continued convergence of biology with technology (artificial intelligence) our cognitive and abstract abilities are surely to receive an exponential enhancement from the existing capacity.

As we continue to explore the new domains of exploration and discovery, it is important to move forward with an understanding for what is important to us. What is it that we would like to preserve, and what other things do we not mind if they undergo change? Are we okay if we continue to evolve (naturally or artificially) into something else that is definitely not what we would recognise as human today? Since we are still exploring our ancestral genus and those of other hominins, and we do not yet have a complete picture for how each is related, it is also important that we keep an eye on where we are going and what we will become. Preserving our human nature, may be the biggest challenge that still awaits us, in the climate of a dynamic and evolving universe.