Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

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set of alien planet isolated on black background, nearby exoplanets (3d science illustration)

Among 5000 Known Exoplanets, There Are Some Really Strange Ones

Planets so strange that they prompt a rethink of the “planetary rulebook.”

PBS tells us that Hoth, the frozen planet in Star Wars, is not just imagination. It has a real-life counterpart among the exoplanets. Granted, astronomers call it OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb but even they think of it as “Hoth.” Here’s the video. Such strange planets are prompting a rethink of the “planetary rulebook.” Another strange one: Narrator: 51 Pegasi b is a gas giant, around half the mass of Jupiter, but so close to its star that part of its atmosphere may have been ripped away… Hannah Wakeford: These planets are baked by their stars’ radiation, the temperatures are in the thousands. David Charbonneau: Many astronomers didn’t believe it, because the planet was in the wrong place. It was enormous. It was massive,…

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Abstract scientific background - planets in space, nebula and stars. Elements of this image furnished by NASA nasa.gov

Firefly Episode 14: Ending on a High Note

River proves to be a telepath but highly unstable, as she mistakes a gun for a stick and Mal must get it away from her

It’s been a wild ride as we’ve reviewed the first and only season of Firefly. During the last half of the season, we had three incredible episodes back to back, then two that were awful. But thankfully, the last episode is said to be one of the greatest. In fact, whenever the series comes up in discussion, this episode seems to be the one people point to as a favorite. It opens from River’s perspective. We see that she can indeed read people’s minds. The way this is done is very interesting. As she is watching the crew talk about various issues, their words and thoughts are spoken side by side as if they are all a part of one…

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A Frankenstein's Monster Lurks in the Dead of Night

Of Woman and Machine: Are Women and Technology at Odds?

A DailyWire host turns to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for some insights

That’s what author and DailyWire host Andrew Klavan argues in his book The Truth and Beauty (2022). In perhaps the best chapter in a book analyzing the Romantic poets, Klavan turns to Mary Shelley (1797–1851), the teenage author of Frankenstein. Shelley was not a Romantic poet, Klavan admits, but she was married to a Romantic poet (Percy Shelley, ) and was greatly influenced by the Romantics of her era. The common conclusion is that Frankenstein is about man’s attempt to usurp God. Even Shelley herself stated that about her book. “But I don’t think this is what the novel is about at all,” Klavan posits. To me, the greatness of the story, the horror of the story, and the threat…

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Canadian Mounties Circling

Canadians Forbidden To Murder in Space and Other ET Stories

Some astronomers are blasting out messages to aliens; others say it would take too long for them to respond

Alien watch: Canadians forbidden to murder in space and other stories The Canadian government buried it in other news re the federal budget: Buried deep within the legislation implementing Canada’s 2022 federal budget is a Criminal Code amendment that would explicitly extend Canadian criminal jurisdiction to the cosmos… “A Canadian crew member who, during a space flight, commits an act or omission outside Canada that if committed in Canada would constitute an indictable offence is deemed to have committed that act or omission in Canada,” reads the measure included in Bill C-19, the 443-page document implementing the provisions of the 2022 federal budget. Basically, the amendment means that if a Canadian commits a criminal offence while in space, they’ll be…

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Window Rain Water Drops Stormy Weather

Firefly Episode 13: If You Are Stuck at Home in a Rainstorm…

Otherwise, you may just want to skip this one. But let me explain why

You may remember the classic Western, Unforgiven (1992) directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. It’s the sad tale of a lonely farmer who had recently lost his wife. He was, at one point, a cold-hearted gunman. He decides to take one final job, adopting his dark earlier persona for the last time so he can provide a better life for his kids. His job is to kill a local sheriff who has been harassing prostitutes in a small Western town. It’s a story with no real good guys that leaves us with the infamous line, “We all have it coming.” I think this episode of Firefly tried to emulate the Western. But it does a terrible job. Before discussing the…

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Deep space. High definition star field background . Starry outer space background texture . Colorful Starry Night Sky Outer Space background

Firefly Episode 12: Kaylee Falls For a Recently Undead Man

Further thoughts on the strange developments regarding the organ harvester

Last time, we reflected on the fact that the crew of the Firefly was given a body in the mail. It turned out the man in the coffin had faked his own death. When he woke up, Kaylee, who was having another spat with Simon, decided to fall in love with the recently undead man. This was infuriating and confusing but the show doesn’t give us much time to dwell the implications. While the organ smuggler is telling his tale, the writers suddenly remember that the bad guys have been shooting at the ship this entire time. So, after some superficial shaking on the part of Serenity, the plot trudges on before the viewer can ask any questions. Meanwhile, Serenity…

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Human internal organs on metal plate ready for organ transplant.

Firefly 12: The Amazing Mail Order Human Body

The episode, while still interesting, returned to a pattern of puzzling plot developments

I was disappointed with Episode 12. After a run of three great episodes in a row, we experience yet another drop in quality. This drop is marked by the classic telltale sign of a bad episode: Simon says something stupid, and Kaylee storms off in a huff. The context of this conversation is not important; the bottom line is, Kaylee is mad, so all the other women are mad because nobody loves poor Simon. While Kaylee is being consoled, Captain Mal and Zoë are actually doing something important, retrieving the crew’s mail. Now, this plot development was not irksome at first, because Jayne gets a letter from his mother and a funny hat. This made sense. If the crew is…

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Backgrounds 3D illustration Alien planet Sci-fi Game

Would Advanced Aliens Be Fully Mechanical? Or Like Octopuses?

Astrobiologist Dirk Schultze-Makuch muses on the possibilities

Musing on a recent open-access study at PNAS, astrophysicist Dirk Schulze-Makuch notes at BigThink a couple of things that separate really smart life forms from the others. One of them, he guesses, is bilateral symmetry (life forms whose left and right sides are mirror images): “symmetry requires less information for DNA to encode and allows more flexibility to develop future traits that may be advantageous.” He also notes that smart life forms tend to be mobile rather than stationary: “We don’t know of any intelligent plants or fungi, for the simple reason that stationary things don’t have to be smart.” Well, wait. It’s not so much that stationary life forms don’t have to be smart as… what good would it…

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View on desert

Sci Fi Saturday: The Vixen! She’s Back! Firefly TV Heats Up

So why is Captain Mal sitting naked in a desert? We get to hear the story leading up to that

The opening scene features Captain Mal sitting naked in a desert. A caption advises us that we must go back to seventy-two hours earlier to understand how that happened. Mal, you see, meets an old buddy and shares hugs and swapS banter until the buddy informs him that he is married. Mal is excited to hear this wonderful news until he sees a familiar face — Saffron, the vixen who’d tricked him into believing she was his bride in a previous episode. She is now hitched to Mal’s pal; so imagine the poor sap’s shock when the Saffron and Mal draw guns on one another. After a brief squabble, the swindled husband leaves Saffron in Mal’s angry hands. To save…

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Light teleport with business panels

Can We Teleport? Find a Wormhole? Survive the Universe’s Death?

Many ideas, once thought science fiction, have become science fact. How will these ones fare?

If anyone thinks that, by definition, none of this stuff could possibly happen, it’s worth remembering that many people would have said that decades ago about invisibility or the bionic hand. But here we are. Some things are impossible in principle, some in practice. In other cases, all we can do is see where we are in relation to the problem. Could humans be teleported to Mars? With teleportation, as in Star Trek, geologists could get from Houston to Mars to pick up some rocks injust minutes. Science writer Marcus Chown tells us that one reason the feat was considered impossible in the recent past was the inability to be certain of every atom in a human body, due to…

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炎に包まれた壊れかけのハート

Firefly Episode 10: Jealousy Divides the Firefly Crew in Space

And yet jealousy plays a key role in saving Mal and Wash from a villain’s sadistic torture

Episode 9 marks a turning point for the series. The previous episodes have been somewhat hit and miss but so far, there’s only been one outright bad episode (Episode 5, which broke all the “rules” of consistent character). However, at best thus far, the series has been very… episodic. That is, a handful of the characters recurs but the events from the preceding episodes seem to have no effect on the upcoming ones. But with Episode 9, that changes. The transition from Episode 9 to 10 starts off on a promising note. We see the events of Episode 9 actually affecting the events of Episode 10. This is a trend that continues as the story builds to a crescendo. That…

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Family with laptop, tablet and smartphone, everyone using digital devices

Escaping the “Truman Show” of Our Times

Effective methods intentionally hook us in, keep us engaged, and encourage behaviors that benefit them — and are often damaging for us

This story originally appeared at Newsmax. (April 5, 2022) as “Time to Write Our Own Stories, Not Big Tech” and is reprinted with permission. It’s one of the best movies of the late 1990s. In The Truman Show, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) has no idea his life is actually a popular TV show. Everything has been fabricated — his parents, his friends, his marriage, his job. But things start happening — a studio light falls from the sky, a fake elevator reveals a hidden backstage room. Suddenly, Truman is determined to discover the truth of his existence. Rebelling against the script being played out all around him, he begins a journey to seek the truth and discover the life he was…

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dramatic lit image of a bloody crime scene with a knife on the floor

Firefly Episode 9: A Medical Heist — the Best So Far

Simon, with access to medical equipment, diagnoses his erratic sister’s neurological issues — after she has unaccountably stabbed Jayne

This is my favorite episode so far. It’s a classic heist with all the traditional beats! The crew is sitting around the table talking and eating while Jayne cleans his gun. He keeps spitting on the various parts for some reason, and Simon asks him to stop. He doesn’t. Jayne keeps spitting on the parts, glaring at Simon all the while River, Simon’s sister, gets up, grabs a butcher knife, and slashes Jayne across the chest. Jayne hits her, but she looks up, stares at the big man, and says, “He looks better in red.” With the stakes suddenly raised, the mystery of what happened to River surges to the forefront again. It’s time to get some answers. It so…

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Blaze fire flame background and textured

Firefly Episode 8: The Ship Breaks Down in Space. What Next?

Mal, expecting to suffocate alone on the ship while the other crew members escape, relives the life that brought him there

This episode starts out strong, but gradually breaks down. We open with Mal collapsing onto the metal grating of the ship’s hull. He’s bleeding and the lights are off. We don’t know what happened but we witness a series of flashblacks consisting of three separate timelines: events in the present, how Mal found himself in his current predicament, and the deep past where Mal is first gathering his crew. The episode is essentially an abbreviated version of how the crew got together, sandwiched between a doomsday scenario for Mal. The trouble starts when the crew is celebrating Simon’s birthday. Suddenly, something blows up inside the ship. A couple of hallways are engulfed in flame and Mal and the others just…

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Sculptor artist creating a bust sculpture with clay

Firefly Episode 7: Jayne Can’t Live With Himself As a Hero

Jayne Cobb, otherwise dumb muscle, once helped many people — inadvertently — and is stuck with deadly consequences when the truth emerges

After the strong “Stagecoach” rebound of Episode 6, Episode 7 focuses on Jayne Cobb. Up to now, the dumb muscle has mainly been comic relief. But when Mal and his crew stop by a planet to retrieve some smuggled cargo — under the pretense of ordering a shipment of mud used to make ceramic parts — we learn a little more about the big man’s past. As the crew exits the Serenity to pick up the goods, they come across a giant mud statue… of Jayne. He has no idea why the statue is there but, come to think of it, he’s been acting nervous throughout the mission. Years ago, we learn, things went south at a job he was…

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Stagecoach - Shepherd Boy. Date: circa 1840

Firefly Episode 6: We Meet a Stagecoach — and a Vixen!

In this enjoyable episode, there is only one plot hole and it isn’t really significant

Episode 6 is much better than Episode 5. First of all, the “guns problem” is fixed. We’re back to shooting bullets instead of lasers (?) out of the guns. Some of the rifles do sound a bit different from what we might expect but at least the weaponry is consistent with the ammunition used. The story opens with a stagecoach driving down the riverbank. A group of robbers attempt to take the coach, but the drivers turn out to be Captain Mal and mercenary crew member Jayne Cobb in disguise. After a brief firefight, the bad guys are apprehended, and all is well. The next scene is a congratulatory party for the crew put on by the settlers. The next…

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Clocks in sky. Time flies

Even If a Time Machine Didn’t Kill You, It Wouldn’t Change Much

Here are some interesting reflections by science buffs on time machines, as seen in movie clips. Are they even possible?

Cartoonist and science fan David B. Clear explains why it’s not as simple as in the sci-fi films: Let’s assume you’d travel back 1,000 years into the past. Where exactly in the universe was our Earth so long ago? You would have to know and you would have to know very precisely. The smallest error and you’d end up in space again or, which is not much better, you’d transport yourself into the Earth’s crust, into the middle of a mountain, or somewhere in the middle of the atmosphere… And even if you could make sure that there’s nothing standing at your destination, you still have another problem — you need to match the Earth’s speed and direction. In other…

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Still life with old-fashioned lamp, magic witch books, tarot cards and old papers. Mystic background with ritual esoteric objects, occult, fortune telling and halloween concept

Firefly Episode 5: So River Is Now a Witch? Part 2

Simon and River are captured because a town on the planet lacks a doctor. But then things take an occult turn…

As I mentioned in the first part of this review of Episode 5, we stumble through a series of contrivances to get Simon and River kidnapped. Mal and his crew continue to make baffling choices. They decide to leave Simon and River behind. Mal essentially says that they were stupid enough to get themselves caught, so they are on their own. This is baffling because Mal’s driving force is worry about his crew, and he’s long since made it clear that he considers Simon and River to be part of his crew. Because he was the one who had told them to take a hike, one would think that he’d feel some sort of responsibility for their predicament. But he…

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Old Burned Church

Religion Journalism After God Is Declared Dead

Writer and editor Ed Simon examines and makes a case for the New Religion Journalism, offering us help with praying to a dead god

Ed Simon is one of the editors of a recent anthology, The God Beat: What Journalism Says about Faith and Why It Matters (2021). According to the publisher, Broadleaf Books (an imprint of 1517 Media, formerly Augsburg Fortress), the book highlights “personal, subjective, voice-driven New Religion Journalism” by young writers “characterized by their brash, innovative, daring, and stylistically sophisticated writing and an unprecedented willingness to detail their own interaction with faith (or their lack thereof).” Simon offers his own thoughts on religion, sympathetic to that perspective, in a recent article at Aeon: He starts with reflections on the view that mid-nineteenth-century British poet Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) expressed in his poem “Dover Beach,” that religious faith was receding in his world:…

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Abstract planets and space background

Future Technologies — Zoom! … or Doom?

Astrophysicist Adam Frank sees a new role for us as galaxy gods as exhilarating but others aren’t so sure

Astrophysicist Adam Frank asks us to consider where we are on the Kardashev Scale for evaluating civilizations in the galaxy — or, at least, evaluating our own progress: Originally proposed in 1964 by Nikolai Kardashev (1932–2019) and later modified in 1973 by Carl Sagan (1934–1996), the scale measures a civilization’s technological advances from 1 to 3 (or maybe 5) by how much energy it can call upon to do things. Currently, we are not even a Type 1 on that scale and Frank offers some thoughts on that, asking, in particular, whether such advances are universal in the galaxy anyway: The classification scheme Kardashev used was not based on social systems of ethics because these are things that we can…