The Human Safari

As children, we often assume different roles while re-enacting grand fantasies. All hail to Cesar, riding atop a palanquin, or to the Astronaut floating above the world looking down at it.  The doctor saving lives, or the war photographer documenting the rawness of the human condition and the horrors of society as it fails. Then, we grow up.  We settle into our role within our socio-cultural strata and send subtle ripples across the fabric of the society that surrounds us.

As tourists, we recapture some of that wonder.  We gain the opportunity to stand in the midst of the Coliseum, to stride casually down the halls of grand empires and to snap photos of exotic peoples, destinations, and in some instances candid moments.  These rich experiences add to the substance of who we are and let us get back in touch with the beautiful sense of exploration which defined our youth. They are, for many, what make travel wondrous, expansive and oh-so addictive.

But, what happens when that sense of exploration leads us to moments and experiences which carry with them a taint of exploitation or dehumanization?  What happens when we suddenly become a modern incarnation of the aloof Roman dictator, well fed, wealthy, and separated by an invisible but nearly impenetrable wall from the people we’re visiting?  It’s something that happens easily, innocently and far more often than we’d like to admit.

The Stirrings of Realization

For me, two instances stand out. The first tickled my awareness with a mild sense of intangible discomfort. The second brought clarity slamming into place combined, strangely, with a sense of helplessness.

Faces of Zambia

The first was during my time in Zambia.  We’d elected to do a Safari with a fantastic company in the South Luangwa region. They invest heavily in protecting the animals, a light footprint on the land, and in the local community.  Yet, as we sat in the back of a large safari Landcruiser rolling along the pockmarked blacktop I looked out at the hundreds of locals that could readily be seen along the side of the road working their yards, walking the road, or going about their business.

Faces of Zambia

Often they’d look up at the four of us, often smiling, and in the case of the children, waving…then bursting into laughter when we’d smile and wave back.  We stuck out like sore thumbs, and not just because of the color of our skin. It was nearly everything about us – from our clothing, to our glasses, camera, and the way we were traveling. Just as often as I waved back, I’d sit, camera raised to my eye, set in sports mode snapping away while watching the landscape race by through my extended zoom lens.  Each shot allowed me to capture a candid photo of daily life. And, if I’m to be honest, each shot was much more comfortable than had I been on the ground, walking from house to house, snapping photos.  Just as fast as I snapped the photo or they looked up, the Landscruiser had spirited me away, erasing any possibility of a confrontation or interaction.

Faces of Zambia

It was only as I sat in that same vehicle the following days, snapping photos in the same fashion of wildlife that I started to register the stark and uncomfortable similarities between the two situations. Somehow, without intending it, I had gone from great explorer on a grand exploration to Dictator atop my palanquin utterly separated and detached from the local people who I was there to meet. True, I was there, but in this instance it would be far more accurate to say I was in actuality just seeing them, not truly meeting them.

Dark Matter Theory and the Rate of Technological Evolution

Today’s post is a change of pace from my usual travel material.  While on the road and commuting I often enjoy musing and listening to various podcasts. I’m also voraciously curious which leads to soaking up a wealth of different science news. There have been two ideas that hit me while out and about a few months back and which have been nagging at me ever since. Today during dinner I found myself listening to Priyamvada Natarajan‘s talk about “The Exquisite Role of Dark Matter” which reminded me of my hair-brained Dark Matter theory (see below) and which in turn re-surfaced thoughts surrounding my musings on the role population growth has played in changing our rate of technological innovation as a species.

To be clear, these are just very general “theories” based on my musings and a random assortment of connections I’ve drawn between different material I’ve been consuming.  I’m presenting them here, as briefly and simply as I can, because I’d love your discussion, input, and help in finding existing theories that they align with, research that disproves them, or input on what aspects are genuinely of interest to help me progress the mental exercise which both represent. So, I want to reiterate – I am not a scientist. I am not an astrophysicist. I am just a curious Communication Major with a few years of post-degree dust between my ears and a wild imagination.  The “research” and “science” these theories are based on, is only minimally investigated (by me), very possibly utterly misunderstood (by me), and/or my conclusions could be entirely based on causation not correlation.  So, with that heavy disclaimer in mind, my challenge to those of you who are interested is to A) educate me OR B) put on your research caps and see what supporting data you can find for one or both of these ideas.

Galileo Jovilabe

Theory 1 – Dark Matter Black Hole Conversion Theory

Recently Stephen Hawking proposed that matter can escape the event horizon of a black hole. Simultaneously we have Dark Matter which is an invisible form of matter that has a significant gravitational impact on the universe, seems to be increasing, and potentially shapes the expansion of the universe.

The theory, in a nutshell, is that once a black hole is formed, the gravitational pull swallows up matter from the surrounding universe. However, if we stick with the assumption that matter cannot be destroyed, it can only change states, then we re-visit two of the most common explanations for what happens to matter that enters a black hole: explanation 1 has been that it is infinitely compressed as time slows infinitely. Explanation 2, which I’ve always liked, is that it tears a hole in space-time and generates a White Hole in a parallel universe. This essentially creates a Big-Bang like event which is fed by matter coming through the black-white bridge.

Both of these presume that matter cannot escape the event horizon of a black hole.  But, what if it’s not that simple. What if matter CAN escape the event horizon, just not in the state it enters in. Extreme pressure creates all sorts of changes in the state of matter. Take extreme pressure, and combine it with gravity based time-distortion. What if this is actually how Dark Matter is formed – a form of matter that changes states and becomes a new form of matter that then escapes (or is ejected) from the event-horizon of the black hole.

This escaping Dark Matter retains its metamorphosed state after exiting the black hole, but still has sufficient mass to interact with other/existing dark matter and visible matter simultaneously. Only the impact of the dark matter’s gravity is partially cloaked by the pull of the black hole which counteracts whatever ripple or circular dispersion effect you’d otherwise expect to see.

The Dark Matter is not being ejected into a void, but rather into an existing sea of Dark Matter. Similar to the air inside the earth’s atmosphere, or water in the oceans, natural currents and eddies form. These are influenced by the mass and composition of Dark Matter, but also – same as the impact of weather and existing landmasses on the sea’s currents, are impacted by visible matter and black holes with their own gravitational pulls.

In this way, the origin, dispersion and coalescence of Dark Matter is explained while accounting for what happens to matter that has been consumed by a black hole.

Related: Visualizations of Dark Matter “pools”.

Istiklal Avenue - Istanbul, Turkey

Theory 2 – Population Growth’s Impact on Human Innovation

I’ve always been fascinated by Moore’s Law and just how much my paternal grandfather saw over the course of his lifetime (1900-1987).  Why? Moore’s Law, which turned 50 this year, predicts that generally speaking computing power will double every two years. My Grandfather, who was born in 1900, lived during one of the fastest periods of innovation in the history of humanity and saw and adapted to a lot of amazing things. I find the thought of what he lived through to be captivating. Especially when compared to my own life and what I have already witnessed and can expect to witness over the next 60 or so years.

I’ve seen quite a bit of research that focuses on individual efficiency and effectiveness when it comes to innovation. After all, a computer most definitely increases what a lone individual can accomplish. As does a University education. But, at the end of the day, there is no greater or more efficient engine for innovation than the human mind.

The theory I’ve been toying with revolves around population growth:

Population Growth

(Source data)

Throughout the majority of human history population growth has been relatively limited and fairly stable. However, around 1800 we passed the 1 billion population mark.  Not too long after 1900 we doubled that and have seen meteoric growth ever since.  My curiosity and hypothesis is that this growth should also translate directly into human innovation. If in 1800 we had 1 billion people living, working and innovating, and in 2013 we have 7 billion people living, working and innovating even if the base technology and level education remained the same (which it hasn’t) we should in theory see a similarly expansive uptake in innovation across our society. Right?  In effect, meaning that at the very least, we should be experiencing and seeing innovations at a pace 7x faster than we saw in 1800.  Innovative growth which in turn will further be supplemented by each newly invented technology (books, internet, computers, etc.).

Now, I fully realize that you have to take into account various secondary factors – a starving child (or adult) in the Central African Republic may be somewhat less likely to be in a situation where they can take equal advantage of the education and tools that a well-fed child born into a College educated family in the US can. But, that more people currently live in more widely disparate conditions than during previous generations, also means radically more opportunities for innovation. There may be barriers to the dispersion of those ideas (eg: war / poverty) but those are still less likely to be barriers than what humanity faced historically. More voices also does make it more likely that a lone voice gets ignored, but it also provides more ears and opportunities for that voice to find sympathetic ears. Again, another trade-off with as much upside potential as downside potential.

I find it strange that this approach to looking at societal innovation has not been more widely discussed or codified in existing theory or that if it has, it hasn’t made it into our cultural discourse. Particularly around technological and scientific innovation.  This is where I’d love your input and guidance on what theories currently exist that may have expressed, explored, and more scientifically investigated the overlap between population growth and species-level innovation and knowledge creation.

Remember, this is just a bit of fun. So, let’s have it. What do you think?