Sunday, May 31, 2020

Delayed Sunday Afternoon Personal Update and General Commentary -- Interspersed w/ Multiple Rose Pictures Taken This Lovely D.C. Flowery But Otherwise Less-Than-Merry Month of May

Roses in the yard of 1648 (?) 35th Street NW, Georgetown, Washington, D.C., 2:06 p.m., May 29, 2020

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This entry is just a Sunday early afternoon update. I'm in a bit of a hurry to get to Gary's place, and I just don't have time to post a lot of pictures.

The ones in here are a series of flower-themed ones -- all rose bushes -- taken on four separate occasions this not-so-merry Month of May on walks out-and-about in my Dupont Circle neighborhood around 21st and 22nd Street or in Georgetown (see file name for general location).


Except for the lead one, 'm not captioning them, partly because I don't remember precisely where I took each of them and partly because I'm in a hurry to finish this entry. The file names contain time and date info, though.

I should point out that this has been quite an extraordinary spring for roses and other flowers, although now the weather is getting very warm and humid and we need some rain.

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As for the update ...

Apologies for no entry last night.

I had an unusual sort of Saturday in that I met two of my office coworkers -- my friend, Matt, and my supervisor -- neither of whom have been in the office since mid-March when "maximum teleworking" began as a result of the Covid-19 situation. (I continue to go into the office because I'm in an unusual situation whereby I can and do go.)


We had arranged to meet on the National Mall for a sort of picnic -- with appropriate social distancing, of course. I suggested the shady areas near the World War II Memorial and Constitution Gardens.

Unexpectedly, Tim said he was available and in D.C. and could join us.

I walked down there from my apartment, meeting Tim en route. I brought some food and drink.


Our picnic, or whatever it was, was joined at the edges by a number of squirrels and two ducks, for a couple hours and had a good conversation, although I think toward the end, it was too political (on current matters of unrest in the United States -- see below) to have with one's supervisor.


Tim and I walked over to the Washington Harbour complex in Georgetown by sunset and then to Dixie Liquors by the Key Bridge and up the Exorcist Steps and seated for a while in a grassy area on a picnic bench at the corner of 37th St, which dead ends as St. Mary's Court and a steeply drops off on a tangled-wooded embankment to Canal Road, and Prospect St.

We parted around 10 p.m., by which time I had had a lot to drink. I walked home and immediately fell asleep for most of the next 14 hours.


I suppose I should make a few remarks here on all the protests, riots, looting, and general mayhem in cities across the United States -- focused on Minneapolis -- in what is the latest spasm of America's never-ending racial passion play with all the usual actors in their usual assigned roles to include the WOKE media and its phalanxes of even MORE WOKE television cable and print commentators encouraging, if not outright stoking, the action.

Yes, we have a mini-civil war going on in the United States right in the context of an ostensible Covid-19 (quasi-)pandemic that has shut down so much of society nationally and globally -- and triggered an economic depression that will probably last longer than anyone initially assumed.

The good news, though, is that the MEDICALLY WOKE Millennials here in D.C. are wearing their masks and social distancing.


About that, the city tentatively started its phase 1 reopening on Friday, May 29th, but my own attempt to go to a place -- Nick's Riverside Grill at the Washington Harbour complex in Georgetown -- was a bad dud.

It was on Friday, and rather than walking to the office at L'Enfant Plaza, I voted in the D.C. primary at Hardy Elementary School in Burleith. The Ward 2 election is a two-parter with 7 candidates on the round 1 ballot -- including the semi-incumbent, Jack Evans -- that is to be followed by a runoff election. I voted for John Fanning, though I don't expect him to win.

I did speak on the phone and by text to Brooke Pinto's mom. That's the level of "retail" attention Ward 2 voters have gotten in the race. Maybe I'll vote for her if she's in the run off.


Anyway, I walked down to the Georgetown Potomac riverfront. Nick's and some of the other places were sort-of open for outdoor service. I sat at a table by myself, and the young, overly aggressive Hispanic or Middle Eastern-ethnic American waiter immediately was belligerent in terms of setting out rules of what I could or couldn't do or HAD to do (wear a mask) until my order arrived -- but only AFTER I gingerly tried to place an order.

I don't need that shit. And I've made my peace with the fact that for whatever reasons, in this place and time, as a middle-aged, weird-looking, short, pudgy, strange white guy, I'm just immediately the object of fear and loathing. Yes, I appreciate the fact it has been different everywhere else since God created the Earth 7,000 years ago or 4.5 billion years ago (take your pick).


I don't understand this level of self-righteous contempt, if not outright hatred, of that generation. And remember -- I'm a Gen X'er, not a Boomer, and my cohort really got fucked over by the Boomers because we outright believed all their lies. And who knew they would never fucking go away.

So, wearing my mask, I walked up to his outdoor register computer and cancelled the order. He gladly called that out to his manager, who asked "Why??" I didn't stay around to have any discussion.


Instead I walked to the Whole Foods at Foggy Bottom and bought a lot of food and was in for the Friday night, watching my nighttime-to-late-night-to-wee-hours comfort TV starting with The Munsters at 7 p.m. Cozi TV and ending with It's a Living at 4 a.m. on Antenna TV.


OK, that's all for now. I need to head over (on foot) to Gary's place (that's a roughly 3 mile walk) on Longfellow Street NW. Wendy, who lives not far from there, is to join us. I haven't seen here in, I think, 13 months, possibly longer. I've lost track of time.

Lastly, I'm going to try to post another entry later tonight about the ongoing unrest in America, but realistically, it might not be until Monday night.

--Regulus

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Seeking and Finding Any Oasis -OR- A Farrago of Ugly Trumpian Topical Odds & D.C. Springtime Pretty Picture Ends in the Time of Covid-19


Above: The tiny oasis town of Bardaï in the Tibesti Region of northern Chad (Tchad?) deep in the endless Sahara Desert of North Africa. I just really like the picture. Others of the town that I found don't look quite so One Thousand and One Nights fabled:

Bardaï Central Market, Nov 26, 2014 (coincidentally, my 45th birthday); photo by Flickr user David Young, who seems to be something of a globe-trotting professional photographer.

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As for the remaining pictures in this entry, specifically, the outdoor ones here in D.C., they are from the sets that I took over the past several weeks (in April and May) while on various daytime walks. They are not topically related to the entry, and I'm not captioning them. The file names contain location and time info.


Wednesday night. Well, it'll be Thursday morningwee hours by the time I posted this entry.

I'm home in my small, comfortable, carpeted, dimly lamp-lit apartment. The window a/c is purring away and its comfortably cool inside.


I'm watching TV. The Carol Burnett Show just ended and Perry Mason is now on. It is "The Case of the Shifty Shoebox," an episode I have not previously seen. A young Billy Mumy is featured in it. There is also The Twilight Zone, The Nanny, Designing Woman, Murphy Brown, and It's a Living, among the late night shows that I watch.

Great Lakes sector base reflectivity radar mosaic looped 0318 - 0428 UTC 28 May 2020

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The night is a warm and rather humid one outside (73°F / 67°F dew point) with a nominal but hardly impressive-looking chance of rain. There is a tropical fetch -- and, indeed, even a remnant quasi-tropical system bringing lots of rain to parts of North Carolina and southwestern Virginia.

NWS/WPC/NDFD U.S. surface weather map forecast looped 06Z 28 May to 00Z 30 May 2020 showing fronts, precipitation type, and likelihood

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However, for the second time in as many weeks, a highly meridionally elongated, stagnant pattern is causing everything to miss the "DMV" region. This includes two pre-season sub/hybrid weak tropical systems that NHC felt compelled to name (Arthur last week, Bertha this week).

Various dynamics from the 0Z 5/28/2020 GFS in six-hour time steps through hour 48

These include Q divergence, stream function, 850-mb vorticity, and irrotational wind.

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We are not in any sort of drought, but these blocked / anomalous patterns are annoying since we always miss out everything. Sterling (LWX) itself manages to remove the joyful interest out of ANY weather situation.


There are a lot of things I want to write about but it just takes so long to compose an entry, and then I end up awake literally all night watching my old comfort TV shows on one of three channels (MeTV, Cozi TV, and Antenna TV) and surfing the internet, not to mention having some drinks.


Last night, I actually didn't get to bed until 6:30 a.m., as I was reading astronomy news and listening to music on YouTube. Despite that, I still got up by 11 a.m., and after getting properly ready, walked to the office at L'Enfant Plaza, where I continue to be the only person who is physically going into that office until further notice.


About postings, I would like to compose a topically-themed entry, in particular, one one related to the Covid-19 pandemic ("public health emergency") and all related matters:

New York Time print edition front page,
Sunday, May 24, 2020

The print edition contained three full pages totaling 1,000 deaths -- or 1% of the total, so you would need 300 pages to get the full death toll.

Topic: The gyrating number of new cases and daily deaths here in the United States -- with a slight and recently sharp downward trends, respectively, but the death toll having definitively crossed the psychologically disturbing 100,000 threshold ...

Washington Post online headline tonight

The print edition for May 28, 2020 will probably have a very similar headline.

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Topic: The flash economic depression that the United States (and much of the world) has entered as a result of the pandemic and preliminary efforts at staged, phased reopening (including here in D.C. starting on Friday) ...


Above: Truly chart-distorting staggering unemployment numbers. The April U-3 rate of 14.7% is likely to reach at least 20% in May as it peaks in the Great Depression-level 20 to 25% range

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Topic: The "culture war" crap involving the response to Covid-19 including the "mask wars" and Trump's stoking of conflict for his own purposes ...

Trump wearing a mask when he thought no cameras were around while touring the Ford Rawsonville Components Plant, Ypsilanti, Mich., May 21, 2020.

The plant is manufacturing ventilators, masks, and other medical supplies at the present time. Fortunately, and whether through extreme social distancing or whatever, there has not been here in the United States -- even in the New York City pandemic "hot zone" at its peak six weeks ago -- the sort of life-and-death acute ventilator shortage that there was in Italy.

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About that, I still refuse to wear any OUTSIDE -- and despite some D.C.-style ugliness involving certain uber-PC aggressive lesbians and trying to stick their scrawny arms in your face while walking past them on the sidewalk or other fearful females leaping into oncoming vehicle traffic rather than get within 12 feet of you -- but of course I wear a mask (I presently have seven of them) in stores and, yes, on that damn Metro. It's just easier.


Topic: Trump and his his never ending stream of obscene tweets that appeal to his grotesque base locked in the Jonestown phase of the Trumpian cult and libertarian ass-hats everywhere while Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg seek to become trillionaires before Jeff Bezos.


Topic: All these present day Big Tech billionaires, not to mention Bezos and whatever is his supposed to be his business model (a planetary-scale company store owner, I guess), are just parasites and the platforms they created vectors for the breakdown of civil society, indeed, the human psyche outright.

A Better Topic: Trump and his actually downward-trending poll numbers ...

Trump 538 adjusted approval / disapproval trend through May 27, 2020

Of note, the uncorrected Rasmussen daily tracking poll -- historically a Trump/GOP-friendly polling outfit -- reached 42 approval / 57 disapproval or minus 11 points, the highest such negative reading since Jan 2018.

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Topic: Trump and the upcoming election ... Although this topic is so volatile and agonizing that I think it best to postpone talking about it until the election is upon us.


For that matter, Trump, Trump, Trump, and this perverted dystopian reality we find ourselves in which he is less a human being leader of the country and more our collectively vomited hairball of everything wrong with American society in the early 2020s.


There seems to be a pattern here.

Topic: Then there is also my own pet issue of how the Republican Party has so much institutional power but is really powerless and ineffectual against the unstoppable power of the Culturally Marxist identity-based PC left and its endless, nihilistic twitter mobs that are forever seeking targets to vaporize from public and private life (like that New York Central Park white lady and the black bird watcher and the whole silly obligatory media "Race in America" passion play that we must endure).


But that sort of entry composition is not going to happen tonight. I'll be up until at least 4 a.m., and once I get past the two episodes of that strangely enjoyable 1980s show It's a Living (on Antenna TV at 4:00 and 4:30 a.m.) with its fun opening theme song, then I know its hopelessly late (early).


That being the case, for this entry, I'm just featuring this list of topical ideas without delving into any of them in detail.


I would like to note here that I updated two of my recent entries including this one on the grave and gravesite of a little boy (7 years old) named Chester J. Rivers in Alexandria who died a long time ago (in 1968) to note that there is a second similar grave in close proximity for an even younger boy (2 years old) named Dennis James McCargo who died not long thereafter (in 1970).


I also updated my extended entry on Columbia University Astronomy Prof David Kipping's work on exoplanets and the chances of abiogenesis to include a new study that he has that came out earlier this month. As I noted in that update, I honestly don't know if that news somehow is why I discovered the Cool Worlds Lab website and YouTube channel last Friday night. But the update is highly relevant to the larger piece.


Speaking of astronomy news -- but on a far, far closer to home and more personal scale but still very noteworthy -- the planned launch earlier today of two NASA astronauts (Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, pictured directly above on March 30th) to the International Space Station (ISS) in the first manned ("crewed") spacecraft since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 was delayed due to stormy weather around Cape Canaveral.


The SpaceX Crew Dragon space capsule atop a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket -- intended to be the spacecraft's final demonstration flight before NASA certifies SpaceX to make regular flights to the ISS -- is now scheduled for Saturday, May 30th at 3:22 p.m. ET. I really hope all goes well.


A lot is riding on this and the abso-frickin-lutely last thing we need as a country or for the world right now is any trouble with this endeavor.

Here is the New York Times article on it, updated to reference the delay. Yes, it's a delay, but only a minor one -- and better delay it than have any mishaps, directly or indirectly caused by the weather.


Before ending, I would like to post a link to this New York Times op-ed that appeared earlier today by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson -- authors of the upcoming book Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality. Their op-ed is entitled [link embedded]: Republicans Think They Can Get Away With It. They Might Be Right.


I may repost this op-ed in its entirety in an upcoming entry because it delves into those political topics that really interest me involving the counter-majoritarian structures and levers of power that are used by the GOP to maintain its hold in a country in which it is an ever-shrinking relative minority.


And on that note, I will end this entry. My next planned entry will be on Friday or Saturday.

--Regulus

Monday, May 25, 2020

David Kipping's Cool Worlds Lab Awesome Video Essays: Many, Many Worlds In Our Cosmos But Just Possibly -- Except For This One -- All Lifeless (UPDATED With Relevant New Study Findings)

**Updated 8:31 p.m. May 27, 2020: See bottom of entry.**

Friday night, I discovered the YouTube-based public outreach and education channel called Cool Worlds. It is maintained by the Cool Worlds Lab at Columbia University, which in turn is run under the leadership of Prof. David Kipping.

A Columbia University Assistant Professor of Astronomy, Kipping's research areas involve extrasolar planets, moons and rings; stellar rotation, granulation & limb darkening; and astro-statistics.

His department webpage (linked above) states:

David received his B.A. and M.Sc. in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, UK followed by a Ph.D. from University College London, UK. Before joining Columbia University, David spent time at Harvard as a postdoc through the Sagan and Menzel fellowships.

The Cool Words channel contains multiple video essays (each about 25 minutes in duration) that are at once detailed and sophisticated and yet very understandable and engaging for the informed and interested public (yes, let's caveat that sort of public).

Prof. Kipping has a nice presentation style -- eruditely British but minus any arrogance or condescension for his viewers.

Specifically, I discovered the Cool Worlds YouTube channel through the following video essay:


How Many "Earth-Like" Planets Are There Really?

This video essay delves into the Drake Equation and why so many researchers come up with such radically different estimates for "Earth-like" planets.


The Drake Equation as conceived by astronomer Frank Drake (who turns 90 this coming Thursday) in 1961:


N in the above equation is the number of communicative extraterrestrial civilizations (i.e., we can pick up their intentional or unintentional electromagnetic broadcast signals) in the Milky Way Galaxy. However, as we shall see below, N also denotes the number of inhabited worlds in any aggregation of planets in any galaxy, galaxy cluster, galactic supercluster, local universe, or even the entire Observable Universe. (You could even theoretically use it or number of inhabited Universes in the self-replicating Multiverse.)

N = R* x fp x ηe x fl x fi x fc x L


This video essay considers the terms fp -- that is, "f subscript p", to refer to the fraction of stars with planetary systems -- and ηe -- "η subscript e" where "η" is lower case Greek letter (although lower case "n" is sometimes used), and refers to number of habitable planets per planetary system.


These two terms are multiplied together into η🜨 ("eta earth") to refer to the number of habitable planets per star, or more properly, the frequency of Earth-like plants per star.

Size-based categories of planets size a frequency chart

Regarding the above image, I'm not sure on what the frequency values are based (perhaps its all from the now-retired Kepler Space Telescope).

The point, though, is that in considering a planetary taxonomy, a habitable planet refers, as based upon size and mass, to the two categories of "Earth" and "Super-Earth" planets and combined with the distance of the planet from its parent star. The Earths and Super-Earths are rocky planets to include the ocean worlds (since they have a rocky core).

Exoplanetary taxonomy: Size (relative to Earth) versus orbital period (in Earth days)

Not included in the "family" of habitable planets is the category of Mini-Neptunes, which are a type of gas dwarf that contains a rocky core and a dense gaseous envelope of volatiles. Larger and more massive than this type are the ice giants such as our Solar System's Uranus and Neptune. (The above taxonomy chart includes, somewhat unclearly, "ocean worlds" with ice giants. I say unclearly since, to me, ocean worlds are Earths or Super-Earths covered in liquid oceans -- potentially tens to hundreds of miles deep.)


Also not included as in the habitable planet classification are the larger planetary categories known as the gas giants -- such as our Jupiter and Saturn -- as well two planetary types not represented in our Solar System, namely, the cold gas giants and the "Hot Jupiters."


Then there is also how far away a planet is from its star -- and for a habitable planet, it refers to those that orbit within the star's circumstellar habitable zone (CHZ), a.k.a., the Goldilocks Zone. But that parameter itself is uncertain as it depends on the star's size and temperature and associated output. What's more, there is disagreement among astronomers are the appropriate width of a CHZ. Refer to the chart above by Chester Harman. For large version of it, see here.


Although we have the taxonomies described above, different astronomers use different assumptions about size, mass, and CHZ. As a result, as shown in the above image of a dozen different studies between 2011 and 2019, resulting η🜨 (eta earth) values range over a factor of 100, which is really not useful.


A way around that is to define a new quantity called gamma, denoted by upper case Greek letter gamma, Γ. In this case, Γ🜨 ("gamma earth") is defined as the rate of planets per logarithmic unit of radius per logarithmic unit of period.


The video uses an analogy for gamma earth involving number of gas stations per mile in a habitable zone of specified size, as shown above. As I understand, by using logarithmic scale for radius and for orbital period of planet about its parent star, it effectively sidesteps the issue of a fixed CHZ size.

Most exoplanets are detected using the transit method -- with the resulting (tiny) dip in starlight allowing for a calculation of the planet's size. The frequency of transits lets astronomers determine a planet's orbital period and hence distance from its parent star. However, stellar rotations -- and hence any planetary systems and associated planes of the ecliptic -- are randomly oriented with respect to each other including to our own Solar System.

The resulting steradian angle adjustment means that it is necessary to adjust (increase) the number of suspected planets by a factor of ~100.

But even doing that, we are still really don't know how many habitable planets per planetary system exist -- and, in fact, the Kepler mission only found 1 exoplanet (Kepler 452-b) that is orbiting in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star.


The point of this is put in perspective certain breathless media accounts -- from the New York Times, no less -- declaring that the Kepler spacecraft found evidence for as many as 40 billion "habitable Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way Galaxy," and yes, I enthusiastically wrote about that here.

And, of course, we still know nothing involving the last four Drake Equation terms. And that brings me to the second, even more thought-provoking is the following video-essay by Prof. Kipping.

Could We Be Alone?

Description: There are trillions upon trillions of stars and worlds in our Universe. Faced with such large numbers, it's tempting to conclude that there must surely be other life out there, somewhere. But is this right? Could the probability of life beginning be a number so small that we are alone? A video essay by Professor David Kipping.


Clarification: At the opening of this video, Prof. Kipping states that, as far as we know, there are approximately 70 sextillion stars (that's 70 x 10^21 stars) in the Observable Universe, which is to say 70 billion trillion stars. A working assumption -- based upon what we've found so far within a few hundred light years of Earth -- is about 5 to 10 planets per star. But just assuming just one habitable planet per star (i.e., a planet that meets the upfront baseline conditions involving size, mass, and CHZ position for habitability), this also results in an estimated 70 sextillion habitable planets in the Observable Universe.


Or as he poetically states: "The unfathomable scale of this celestial ocean transcends human comprehension."

It is on that mind boggling number -- which is said to be greater than the number grains of sand on all the seaside beaches of Earth -- that folks typically assert that there HAS to be intelligent life on other planets. As he frames that question:

"How could it be that amongst this unimaginable number of opportunities for life to get going, it only happened once??"

Prof. Kipping makes a compelling case on why it COULD be the case that Earth represents an incredibly rare instance of "abiogenesis"-- biological life (as we know it) emerging out of nothing but the right basic organic ingredients -- in the Cosmos to the point that it COULD be the ONLY such example in our (Observable) Universe.


To clarify, he isn't saying this IS the case or that it is even LIKELY the case, but rather, based upon the information we have so far and how the statistics of it could work out, this COULD be the case.


The analogy he uses for spontaneous abiogenesis on our planet is that of successfully picking (getting through) a lock that our planet did so quickly -- with life arising within a few hundred million years of Earth's formation precisely because life "got through the lock" but that doing so (getting through the lock) represents a statistical outlier case.

Is it on the order of one in a billion, meaning we live in a Universe teeming with life to include many advanced alien civilizations? Is it one in a trillion, so that life arises about once per galaxy? Is it one in a quadrillion, meaning life occurs basically once per galactic cluster?

Or is it some arbitrarily infinitesimal probability, e.g., one in an octillion, so that Earth is the only instance of life in the Observable Universe?

That is, we happen to be the case where it happened. The as-yet-unanswerable question is what are the odds of getting through the lock?


Consider N habitable worlds in a galaxy. Prof. Kipping argues that the case of exactly one inhabited world (also denoted by N) in each galaxy, i.e., N = 1 per N is, in and of itself, highly unlikely.


Instead, statistically, it is much more likely that the probability of abiogenesis and hence inhabited worlds, N, in a galaxy is much greater than 1 or much less than 1. The former represents a crowded galaxy (and, by inference, Universe) and the latter represents mostly empty galaxies. For the latter case, it is schematically shown as follows:


In this case, the result is that in any collection of N galaxies are mostly empty. In our own Local Group, we would almost certainly live in the only galaxy containing an inhabited world, namely, our own Earth.


Ditto to include the Virgo Supercluster, a.k.a., the Local Supercluster. In fact, the argument extends to the Observable Universe -- which brings us back to the possibility that we are the only example of life in it. What's more, you could use the same argument from a multiverse perspective -- most universes are actually devoid of life.

Schematic of the Virgo Supercluster (or Local Supercluster) of galaxies including our Local Group

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I would point out that the Universe is still in its childhood, so to speak, so abiogenesis could occur elsewhere a billion years hence. Or maybe humans will someone colonize the Milky Way Galaxy -- and, its descendant species, beyond, although that would more likely be machine-based rather than biological.

That aside, Prof. Kipping features some nice interview quotes from the late Carl Sagan and late Richard Feynman. And his ending is quite moving -- assuming that we are Alone:

What a responsibility it is then to be alive. This one place, this one Earth, may be the diamond of the Universe. And so everyone of us here on Earth would be incredibly special. You, me, every person you bump into, every person you see. Every person you've loved or hated in your life. Everyone of the billions of people living here on this planet would be incredibly special, incredibly rare. The diamond of the Universe.

It was in November 2018 that Prof. Kipping and his grad student, Jingjing Chen, had published in Astrobiology the following paper (link to abstract): On the Rate of Abiogenesis from a Bayesian Informatics Perspective.


Just to be clear, this article is different from the June 2018 piece "Dissolving the Fermi Paradox" by Anders Sandberg, Eric Drexler, and Toby Ord that analyzed the Drake Equation in the context of the Fermi Paradox (i.e., "where is everybody?").

That piece concludes thusly, hubristically:

When we take account of realistic uncertainty, replacing point estimates by probability distributions that reflect current scientific understanding, we find no reason to be highly confident that the galaxy (or observable universe) contains other civilizations, and thus no longer find our observations in conflict with our prior probabilities.


We found qualitatively similar results through two different methods: using the authors’ assessments of current scientific knowledge bearing on key parameters, and using the divergent estimates of these parameters in the astrobiology literature as a proxy for current scientific uncertainty.

When we update this prior in light of the Fermi observation, we find a substantial probability that we are alone in our galaxy, and perhaps even in our observable universe (53% – 99.6% and 39% – 85% respectively). 'Where are they?' -- probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.

Bitch. That piece garnered a fair amount of media attention and some real pushback.


Let's just be clear here: Prof. Kipping is providing a coherent and logical argument for what COULD be the case for abiogenesis and hence life elsewhere in the Cosmos. He is NOT saying that is MUST be that because, as he freely admits, we simply don't know if we are alone or not.

And on that note, I think it's time to end this entry.

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UPDATED 8:31 p.m. May 27, 2020


I must point out that Prof. Kipping just had published a paper on the very topic about abiogenesis, specifically, this paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) [link embedded]: Columbia astronomer uses Bayesian statistics to shed light on the odds of life and intelligence emerging.

The PDF version is here.

First, let me say that I honestly don't know if it is just a coincidence or not that came across the Cool Worlds Lab YouTube website right at the time that this piece was published. It was late Friday night and I was surfing astronomy stuff (not necessarily "news") and came across the website.

Secondly, this study seems to counter, at least a little bit, what Prof. Kipping argues above.

Quoting the first sentence of the last paragraph of the Conclusions section: Overall, our work supports an optimistic outlook for future searches for biosignatures.

The "Significance" paragraph states:

Does life’s early emergence mean that it would reappear quickly if we were to rerun Earth’s clock?

If the timescale for intelligence evolution is very slow, then a quick start to life is actually necessary for our existence -- and thus does not necessarily mean it is a generally quick process. Employing objective Bayesianism and a uniform-rate process assumption, we use just the chronology of life’s appearance in the fossil record, that of ourselves, and Earth’s habitability window to infer the true underlying rates accounting for this subtle selection effect. Our results find betting odds of >3:1 that abiogenesis is indeed a rapid process versus a slow and rare scenario, but 3:2 odds that intelligence may be rare.

End of Update and of Entry.

--Regulus