Autodidact: self-taught

Oct
31
2014

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

by V. L. Craven

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Having previously waxed poetic about my love of Caitlin Doughty and her YouTube channel Ask a Mortician and website Order of the Good Death  you can imagine my glee upon learning she had written a memoir about her early years as a crematory assistant, mortuary school student and work in the death industry after graduation.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is more than just a memoir of the macabre–it’s a meditation on the way Western culture treats death with Doughty as a stand-in for the average American who wants to see dear ol’ Mother Deadest looking ‘natural’, even though the process to make her appear that way is about as unnatural as possible.

Doughty starts her journey terrified of death, of facing her own mortality, (the current response of most Westerners). She takes a job as a crematory assistant at Westwind Cremation and Burial and, due to her interactions with the decendents that pass through, her entire philosophy on death (and, necessarily, life) changes. It’s a philosophical journey that encompasses history, religion, mythology and biology, is frequently hysterical (I was laughing out loud every other page) but also deeply affecting.

Of particular interest to anthropology-types were the parts about how we’ve come to deal with death the way we do in this part of the world at this point in time, as opposed to the way other people have done. Or do deal with it but simply in different places on earth like the tribe in Brazil that practises cannibalism as part of the death ritual. They’re not having a gourmet, Dr Lecter-style feast whenever someone dies, either. It’s not enjoyable, but it’s what they do. (Next time you have to go to a wake of a family member you hardly knew be grateful you at least don’t have to eat them whether you want to or not because, ‘That’s just what we do. It’s how we say goodbye. Now be polite and finish off Cousin Martha’s foot.’)

Doughty’s writing style is personable, like chatting with an old friend, if that friend is Wednesday Addams. If you’ve watched many of her Ask a Mortician videos you can hear her voice in your head when reading, which makes the funny bits funnier and the moving bits that much more gut-wrenching.

Speaking of guts, this book is most definitely  not for the squeamish. Human bodies are organic matter and  things happen to organic matter when it begins to break down. Or when it’s embalmed or cremated. Doughty believes in lifting the veil on what death practitioners do and she’s straight-forward about everything that goes on in all its messy, sometimes amusing, human glory.

This book  is, however, excellent for fans of Mary Roach, particularly the one about what happens to the body post-mortem, Stiff . I would also recommend the poet and mortician Thomas Lynch’s wonderful Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade .

This one is definitely 5/5.

 

And because it’s Halloween, here’s Caitlin talking about the relationship between death and Halloween.

Feb
17
2013

Sunday Science and Technology

by V. L. Craven

The Science Part of the Post

There was a bit of a kerfuffle in Russia this week. It seems a meteor exploded several miles above the earth and …things happened.

Sunday Science and Technology

The sort of things that leave giant holes in ice lakes in Siberia.

So… we didn’t see it… I know we were all paying attention to the incredibly unimaginatively named 2012 DA14*, but a bit more attention to the things that could seriously bollocks up a well-populated area would be appreciated. After all, if outer space sends us an event that’s going to mess up Earth’s shit, there’s not a lot we’ll be able to do about it so let’s focus on things we can affect.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news , world news , and news about the economy

This is a very interesting page about the last time a (really big) meteor hit Russia . Basically, it must have been scary as hell before the time of massive media telling you the rest of the world wasn’t under attack by blue light fire throwers capable of breaking things forty miles away. So, though your day is a thousand times more bizarre than you’d expected, it wasn’t the beginning of an alien invasion or the end of the world.

Weather Underground has a great article with more information and photos and video, as well.

*I know that there are quadrillions of bodies in space and astronomers are very busy and don’t have time to name all of them, but if something is going to have any real impact (sorry) on Earth, give it a name a person can shout at the sky whilst clinching their fists in frustration. They should name them based on size, speed, and weight, as well as possible consequences; if it could do an enormous amount of damage it’d be a Class A Fuckton meteor with an appropriate name like Ragehorn or Titanium Handgrenade.

The Technology Part of the Post

You know how, sometimes you want information on a medical problem and you go to Wikipedia and MYGODMYEYESWHYYYYY!

Sunday Science and Technology

YAY! I’mma learn something! NOOOOO!

There, in front of you are the most horrific, psychically scarring images outside of a Saw film. At least with gore-porn films, you expect it & you know it’s not real. But no one needs to know what an excised verruca looks like. After my husband and I finished gagging and cringing and lamenting our lack of eye-bleach over the aforementioned photos, we found Hide Images . It’s an extension available for Firefox, Chrome and Safari and will hide images, logos, backgrounds, videos, iframes (Facebook boxes, YouTube, etc.), and multimedia/flash objects.  Click on the button whilst the page is loading and it removes all images before they’ve had a chance to make you regret every life decision that’s led you to the moment of seeing those images. Click the button again and the images return. It’d be nicer if you could tell the extension to load all pages from a site without images initially, but I’m happy to no longer fear vomiting on my laptop because I wanted to learn something new.

With our tax refund I’m getting a subscription to Poe Forevermore , the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe from Library of America, and a Kindle Fire.

Sunday Science and Technology

Ugly Hill by Paul Southworth

Its primary use will be reading comics, but I’d like to check out free apps. So please share your recommendations.

Yay! Kindle Fire!

Yay! Edgar Allan Poe!

Yay! Not being killed by a meteor!

Dec
22
2012

Dumb Ways to Die

by V. L. Craven

 

A Tumblr of gifs from the advert .

And the very geeky parody:

Nov
23
2012

Finding Darwin’s God

by V. L. Craven

Finding Darwins God

Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth R. Miller

15: As Dawkins admits: This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.

21: The very practice of science, at its core, is a constant exercise of extending what we do know about the world, and then correcting what we thought we knew for sure.

24: [Personal note: Current response to evolution:] Despite the inadequacies of his analysis, it turns out that Anaxagoras’s contemporaries were not at all amused by his calculations. He was condemned by the authorities and banned for life from the City of Athens, such was the rage of its citizens against the notion that the sun could be explained as mere matter.

56: It is high time that we grew up and left the Garden. We are indeed Eden’s children, yet it is time to place Genesis alongside the geocentric myth in the basket of stories that once, in a world of intellectual naivete, made helpful sense. As we walk through the gates, aware of the dazzling richness of the genuine biological world, there might even be a smile on the Creator’s face—that at long last His creatures have learned enough to understand His world as it truly is.

58: At its core, evolution threatens the sense of the specialness we enjoy in a world where we have come to view ourselves as the centerpiece of creation.

94: The advocates of intelligent design have no explanation beyond the whim of the designer himself. That’s just the way he chose to do it.

165: Creation myths serve many purposes. They produce a sense of unity and purpose among believers, reassuring them of their place in the grand scheme of things.

167: …public acceptance of evolution—or any other scientific idea—doesn’t turn on the logical weight of carefully considered scientific issues. It hinges instead on the complete effect that acceptance of an idea, a world view, a scientific principle, has on their own lives and their view of life itself.

167: Less than half of the U.S. public believes that humans evolved from an earlier species. The reason, I would argue, is not because they aren’t aware of strength of the scientific evidence behind it. Instead, it is because of a well-founded belief that the concept of evolution is used routinely, in the intellectual sense, to justify and advance a philosophical worldview that they regard as hostile and even alien to their lives and values.

179: [Stephen Jay Gould wrote:] Science and religion are not in conflict, for their teachings occupy distinctly different domains…
The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack of overlap between their respective domains of professional expertise—science in the empirical constitution of the universe, and religion in the search for proper ethical values and the spiritual meaning of our lives. The attainment of wisdom in a full life requires extensive attention to both domains.

170: Interviewer: Gould disputes the religious claim that man is at the center of the universe. The idea or a science-religion dialogue, he says, is “sweet” but unhelpful. [Speaking to Gould] What is it sweet?
Gould: Because it gives comfort to many people. I think that notion that we are all in the bosom of Abraham or are in God’s embracing love is—look, it’s a tough life and if you can delude yourself into thinking that there’s all some warm and fuzzy meaning to it all, it’s enormously comforting. But I do think it’s just a story we tell ourselves.

171: William Provine, biologist and historian of science at Cornell: Modern science directly implies that there are no inherent moral or ethical laws, no absolute guiding principles for human society… We must conclude that when we die, we die, and that is the end of us… Finally, free will as it is traditionally conceived—the freedom to make uncoerced and unpredictable choices among alternative courses of action—simply does not exist… There is no way that the evolutionary process as currently conceived can produce a being that is truly free to make moral choices.

173: The appeal of creationism is emotional, not scientific. I might be able to lay out graphs and charts and diagrams, to cite laboratory experiments and field observations, to describe the details the details of one evolutionary sequence after another, but to the true believers of creationism, these would all be sound and fury, signifying nothing. The truth would always be somewhere else.

174: Jack Hitt: I felt again the warmth of believing tht for every inch of infinity there has already been an accounting.. Everything has a reason for being where it is… I had felt it before, in childhood, when everything around me radiated with specific meaning and parental clarity. That, after all, is what creationists feel that evolution has stolen from them.
To Wise and many others, the disciples of evolution have crushed the innocence of childhood, poisoned the garden of belief, and replaced both with a calculating reality that chills and hardens the soul. How sweet it would be to close one’s eyes to “Darwin’s damn theory,” and once again sleep blissfully (Gould notwithstanding) in the bosom of Abraham.

181: E.O. Wilson: The highest form of religious practice, when examined more closely, can be seen to confer biological advantage. Above all they congeal identity. In the midst of the chaotic and potentially disorienting experiences each person undergoes daily, religion classifies him, provides him with unquestioned membership in a group claiming great powers, and by this means gives him a driving purpose in life compatible with his self-interest.
In Wilson’s view, it is essential to remember that we humans, even at our most primitive, are social animals. This means that any gene programming a behaviour to make one small group or tribe more cohesive than another might be favoured by natural selection. A band of slightly religious hunter-gatherers might be just a little bit better in hunting and gathering than one that was less cohesive. To put it another way:
When the gods are served, the Darwinian fitness of the members of the tribe is the ultimate unrecognised beneficiary.

183: To Wilson, once an evolutionary explanation for the existence of religion has been fashioned, the very idea of God is doomed. [Personal note: people aren't logical, though]
Wilson never asks if there might be another way to view the religious impulse, that even if it is more the product of genes than culture, it still is fair to ask whether of not those genes might be the way a Deity ensured His message found receptive ground. [PN: there's a fresh approach]

184-5: The conventions of academic life, almost universally, revolve around the assumption that religious belief is something that people grow out of as they become educated. The prospect of an educated person who sincerely believes in God, who prays and fasts, or who is naïve enough to think that there is actually such a thing as sin, is just not taken seriously. There is, in essence, a fabric of disbelief enclosing the academic establishment. My colleagues do their best to be open, fair-minded, and tolerant. They practise the wonderful virtues of free inquiry and free expression. But their core beliefs do not allow them to accept religion as the intellectual equal of a well-informed atheistic materialism.

185: Biologist David Hull: Whatever the God implied by evolutionary theory and the data of natural history may be like, He is not the Protestant God of waste not, want not. He is also not a loving God who cares about His productions. He is not even the awful God portrayed in the book of Job. the God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.

186: Harvard geneticist, Richard Lewontin: the primary problem is not to provide the public with the knowledge of how far it is to the nearest star and what genes are made of, for that vast project is, in its entirety, hopeless. Rather, the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth.

187: Rather, it is the chilling prospect that evolution might succeed in convincing humanity of the fundamental purposeless of life. Without purpose to the universe, there is no meaning, there is no absolutes, and there is no reason for existence. [PN: But why is that so horrible?]

188: That may be fine for members of the intellectual elite, but if ordinary people were to discover that the ethical and moral principles derived from religion were nothing more than a convenient social fiction, all hell might break loose. They might behave as if anything were permitted, and society would come apart in a flash. [PN: Oh, right. People are morons.]

189: If evolution is capable of breaking the legal and moral ties between criminal behaviour and the individual, then the very foundations of our society are at risk. To Johnson and other opponents of evolution, the real risk is that evolution tells people that God is dead. And if people were to believe that, they might indeed behave as if all is permitted. Social chaos would result—or has resulted, depending upon the degree of pessimism with which one views the present state of American society. [PN: This is what laws are for.]

191: Richard Lewontin: ‘To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.’ Exactly true. Orderly science requires the regularity of nature, a willingness to exclude the supernatural from it ordinary affairs, I do not explain experimental results in my lab as the product of divine intervention, so why should we allow for the Deity’s work in nature outside the laboratory walls? Makes sense.

208: One friend has even imagine Mephistopheles laying out the terms of the deal: “You will achieve complete understanding of man and nature. You will possess this understanding for the rest of your life. And at the end of your life, you will repay me with…your soul.” My friend scratches his head, looks at old Mephistopheles, and asks, “So, what’s the catch?”

215: The anti-evolutionists have, in essence, treated the origins of species as a kind of unexplained solar fire in which the inability of science to provide immediate explanation becomes proof of the existence of God. God, therefore, becomes the default explanation, their refuge of choice, for any event in natural history we cannot yet explain.

226-7: Here we sit, having once thought ourselves the centre of the universe, only to learn that we occupy a tiny planet swinging around a star of below-average intensity, at the periphery of a nondescript galaxy dwarfed by thousands of other larger and more magnificent than our own. If there is a God, and if He created this universe just for us, He seems to have waited billions of years to get around to us, and when He did, He stuck us off in an insignificant cosmic backwater.

228: It almost seems, not to put too fine an edge on it, that the details of the physical universe have been chosen in such a way as to make life possible. Recognition of this has led to the formulation of what is known as the “anthropic principle.” The physical constants of the universe in which we live have to be favourable to human life, because if they were not, nobody would be around to observe them. In other words, the very fact that we are here to make a fuss means that the physical constants of the universe were set up in a way that made our existence possible. [PN: Well, it had to happen somewhere in all the galaxies. That's like the guy who wins thanking God. Someone had to win.]

231: [Daniel] Dennett knows that we will never be able to find, even in principle, evidence for any of those parallel universes. If they existed, we could neither communicate with them nor observe them. Nonetheless, he is willing to postulate their existence because it relieves us of the need to find another reason for the elegant “anthropic coincidences” of our universe. To those who doubt this solution, he writes that a multiplying swarm of universes is at least as good an explanation “as any traditional alternative.” [PN: Precisely. How is that different from religion?]

236-7: A Christian, specifically, sees his life, his family, and his small place in history as parts of God’s plan. He has faith that God expects him to use his talents and ambitions in God’s name. He accepts the adversity that comes into his life as a challenge from God, and he sees his apparent misfortune as an opportunity to do good in the service of both God and man. These non-controversial elements of Christian teaching are so ordinary that we sometimes forget what they imply about the interplay of history, free will and chance. To put it simply, they mean that God, if he exists, surpasses our ordinary understanding of chance and causality. Christians know that chance plays an undeniable role in history, and nonetheless accept the events that affect them in their daily lives as part of God’s plan for each of them. This means that Christians already agree that the details of historical process can be driven by chance, that to allow for individual free will the outcome of such a process need not be preordained, and that the final result of the process may nonetheless be seen as part of God’s will. These ordinary elements of religious teaching merge smoothly into everything we know about evolution.

237-8: History, like evolution, seems to occur without divine guidance. No one seems to think that a religious person engaged in the study of history must find a way that God rigged human events in order to cause the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, or the Holocaust. Yet curiously, that is exactly what many expect of a religious person engaged in the study of natural history—they want to know how God could have ensured the success of mammals, the rise of flowering plants, and most especially, the ascent of man.
My answer, in every case, is that God need not have. Evolution is not rigged, and religious belief does not require one to postulate a God who fixes the game, bribes the referees, or tricks natural selection.

239: As we saw in Chapter 7, the adherents of this viewpoint always feel constrained to find events in the past for which the direct action of a designer is invoked, even though they steadfastly maintain that God acts in the present. That’s exactly how He acted in the past—should not God’s will and His means of executing it be consistent through the ages?

239: But that is the point. Miracles, by definition, do not have to make scientific sense.
242: …any traditional believer must agree that God is able to influence the thoughts and actions of individual human beings. We pray for strength, we pray for patience, and we pray for understanding. Prayer is an element of faith, and bound within it is the conviction that God can affect us and those for whom we pray in positive ways. [PN: God gives me a kick you don't have.]

242: The common experience of religious people is that God provides assistance, inspiration, and strength—but to accept those gifts still requires an act of human will, a free choice to do what is right despite the burden and even the suffering that may result. [PN: What about people without a god? Where do they get their strength?]

244-5: We might just as well ask why so many human civilizations preceded our own. We could ask why God, if He was interested in all the peoples of the world, first revealed Himself only to a few desert tribes in the Middle East. And if He was interested in redeeming all people from their sins, why did He allow scores of generations to pass unsaved before He sent His divine son?
If we are sure enough of the Creator’s thoughts to know that He would have made our species be a more direct route, then what are we to make of the highly indirect routes that led to our modern civilizations, our languages, and even our personal lives? What was God’s purpose in allowing evolution to produce the great dinosaurs of the Jurassic? Beats me. But I am equally clueless with respect to God’s purpose in the Mayas, the Toltecs and the other great civilizations of the Americas that rose and fell without ever being exposed to His word. To demand that a person of faith account for each and every event in human history or natural history is to demand the impossible—that they know every detail of God’s actions.

255: St Augustine: ‘Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.’
He goes on to scold those who put forward interpretations of Genesis that any scientifically knowledgeable non-Christian would recognize as nonsense:
‘Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught on one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books.’
How might a Christian approach those who claim that the Genesis narrative teaches a natural history that must contradict the evolutionary account? Perhaps by reminding them, as Augustine did, that great damage is done to Christian belief by asserting in the face of scientific fact that their contradictory readings of Scripture must be true.

258: By recognizing the continuing force of evolution, a religious person acknowledges that God is every bit as creative in the present as He was in the past.

262: Our pastor had made a mistake. Knowing all too well that there was much in nature that science had not mastered, he sought proof for the existence of God in one of those unsolved mysteries. “Explain this!” was the challenge he might have seen himself throwing at the feet of science. Hearing silence, he could turn back to his eight-year-old charges and say, “See. There’s your proof.”

262: God is best found in territory unknown, in the corners of darkness that have not yet seen the light of understanding.

263: Science, given enough time, has explained things that seemed baffling to the best minds of the past. That leads to the conclusion that natural phenomena will have naturalistic explanations, and suggests that creationists would be well-advised as a matter of strategy to avoid telling scientists what they will never be able to figure out. History is against them.

266: If a lack of scientific explanation is proof of God’s existence, the counterlogic is unimpeachable: a successful scientific explanation is an argument against God. That’s why this reasoning, ultimately, is much more dangerous to religion than it is to science. Eliot Meyerowitz’s fine work on floral induction suddenly becomes a threat to the divine, even though common sense tells us it should be nothing of the sort.

268: If the Creator uses physics and chemistry to run the universe of life, why wouldn’t He have used physics and chemistry to produce it, too?

269: To some, the murderous reality of human nature is proof that God is absent or dead. The same reasoning would find God missing from the unpredictable fits and turns of an evolutionary tree. But the truth is deeper. In each case, a Diety determined to establish a world that was truly independent of His whims, a world in which intelligent creatures would face authentic choices between good and evil, would have to fashion a distinct, material reality and then let His creation run. [PN: So he doesn't interact in daily life—why pray?]
269: As heartfelt as such bleak pronouncements may be, they occupy curious position on the landscape of scientific logic. The strength of science, we are told, is the impartial objectivity it applies to nature, even to human nature. Questions about good and evil, about the meaning and purpose existence, the sorts of things that have busied philosophers since ancient times, have no plave in science, because they cannot by addressed by the scientific method. [PN: Why is it bleak? Why can't it just be?]

284: If group cohesion is strengthened by common belief in the supernatural, then natural selection will produce, in the most successful human groups, an unreasoning tendency to commit to the supernatural. Having made this link, Wilson think he knows why people believe in God, and he also knows what he wants to do with that knowledge:
If religion, including the dogmatic secular idealogies, can be systematically analyzed and explained as a product of the brain’s evolution, its power an an external source of morality will be gone forever.

284: Genes for curiosity and skepticism, valuable as survival tools in the recent past, may well provide the behavioural platform upon which science s built. Wilson’s purported scientific views of life and nature could then be explained away as illusory artifacts of primate evolution, constructed to fit the demands of survival, not the objective reality of existence.

285: The existence of this module explains, according to the MIT psychologist, ‘why a mind would evolve to find comfort in beliefs it can plainly see are false.’ Pinker does not believe (a subtle difference from Wilson) that this is a distinct adaptation, but a byproduct of the activities of other modules, including ‘intuitive psychology, the desire for prestige, and acquiescence to experts.’ Nonetheless, Pinker likewise explains away religion as an unwelcome holdover from out primitive evolutionary past.

285: By what feat of logic does Pinker declare that his brain has risen far enough above its evolutionary influences that he can step outside the bounds of cognitive biology to find a cause for religion, whereas the brains of believers are still mired in their mystical, evolution-induced fogs? [PN: Because that's how evolution
works—a few break off.]

287: It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of the attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz, ‘as subversive of natural and inferentially revealed, religion.’

288: As Stephen Jay Gould puts it, with obvious delight: Now the conclusions of science must be accepted a priori, and religious interpretations must be finessed and adjusted to match unimpeachable results from the magisterium of natural knowledge!

288: Even the most fervent atheists will stipulate that one can apologize a theistic vision, with due retrospective care, onto almost any scientific reality. This makes God a pesky and elusive target, hard to pin down and impossible to exclude. Nonetheless, to absolute materialists it also means that the aftermath of Darwin is a diminished, roundabout, apologetic version of belief in which religion must constantly be modified to the demands of the scientific moment.

289: I believe this is why Darwin in his later years tried and failed to find God…

291: Those who ask from science a final argument, an ultimate proof, an unassailable position from which the issue of God may be decided, will always be disappointed. As a scientist I claim n new proofs, no revolutionary data, no stunning insight into nature that can tip the balance in one direction or another. But I do claim that to a believer, even in the most traditional sense, evolutionary biology is not at all the obstacle we often believe it to be.

May
10
2012

Spooooky

by V. L. Craven

Spooooky

Last night I finished reading Spook by Mary Roach and it was a good time, particularly for the cynics out there. She, the perpetual skeptic, goes in search of scientific proof of past lives, ghosts and life after death, amongst other things. Her journey covers several continents and meetings with some of the most learned people in their respective fields, but rather than giving the reader answers she gives us the facts and lets us figure out what we believe on our own. Roach had me laughing out loud several times with her wry observations and self-depreciation and in the end I’m with her in thinking that the human mind has an enormous capacity to convince itself of whatever it wants to believe.

[This is a post from a previous blog. Original date: 29 July, 06]

Feb
14
2012

Gliese 581c (a.k.a. the Goth Homeworld)

by V. L. Craven

Gliese 581c (a.k.a. the Goth Homeworld)

Thanks to Cracked, I’ve recently learned about Gliese 581c .

From this article.

Of the limited number of planets where humanity might actually be able to live, Gliese 581 c is the closest. But don’t think that means it looks like Earth. Assuming it could sustain life, here’s exactly what you could expect:

The planet orbits a red dwarf, so the sky would always be a bloody crimson. The red light wouldn’t just make you feel strange; it would affect all vegetation, forcing every plant to attain photosynthetic energy from the infrared spectrum. The tangible consequence of that is that every plant would look pitch black.

You would also wake up each day to a perpetual state of twilight. That’s because Gliese 581 c is so close to its star that it doesn’t revolve anymore; one side of the planet always faces the star, and one side stays in darkness forever. The only place where you or anything else could survive is on the narrow strip between the two where the temperature is just right.

And with one side of the planet always hot and one always cold, you can expect some strange weather patterns, with gale winds perpetually surging from the hot to the cold side every day, along with permanent torrential rain, because there are no seasons.

So to summarize: red skies, black plants, gale winds, never-ending twilight and a step too far in one direction could lead to either freezing to death or incineration.

And yet, rather than tiptoeing around that planet and looking for life somewhere a little less terrifying, we’re doing our best to wake up whatever nightmare might be living there already. In October 2008, we sent a message from Earth directly at Gliese 581 c, and it should reach the devil planet around 2029. Then, presumably, misfortune will infest our souls for eternity, but think of how much it will teach us about space!

I had to look up information about the message that was sent: (Bolded bit mine.)

More than half a million Bebo users had got involved in the competition for selecting the messages, and had uploaded their messages onto the social networking site. Several celebrities were also involved in the project, including Sir Patrick Moore, Deborah Meaden, Gillian Anderson and pop band McFly.
…The message also included images of notable landmarks, such as the London Eye and Edinburgh Castle, and of famous people, such as Hillary Clinton, Cheryl Cole and Richard and Judy.
… A senior astronomer from the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence Institute in California, Seth Shostak, had observed that it is unimportant whether the aliens who might receive the messages would understand them.

If anybody’s out there and they find that signal, they at least know that… there must be a planet with some pretty clever things on it.
—Seth Shostak

If I were an intelligent lifeform twenty light years away and I received a message including Richard and Judy, the chief thing I would learn from it was that I needed to head twenty light years in the opposite  direction.

[While I was caught in the gravitational pull of Wikipedia I also learned about the types of planets:

  • "rock giants" mostly of silicate.
  • "cannonball" planets of solid iron.
  • "gas dwarfs" mostly of helium and hydrogen.
  • carbon-rich "diamond worlds"
  • purely hot "ice VII worlds".
  • purely "carbon monoxide worlds".]

 

 

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