April 5th, 2008
First, here’s a cool list of inventions that should be invented, with a science fiction theme. These include interstellar travel, terraforming, space elevator, energy shield, panacea, anti-gravity, bionics, municipal global wi-fi, a transatlantic tunnel, and ocean colonization. I’m down for some of these, but don’t think all are possible or practical. I mean, I personally don’t like to swim.
This other list is cool, too, but retro. It’s about ten “impossibilities” conquered through science. I added the quotes because not all these things were impossibilities (duh, or they wouldn’t be conquered), and because it wasn’t scientists doing the evaluation. My favorite is the very first one:
In his 1842 book The Positive Philosophy, the French philosopher Auguste Comte wrote of the stars: “We can never learn their internal constitution, nor, in regard to some of them, how heat is absorbed by their atmosphere.” In a similar vein, he said of the planets: “We can never know anything of their chemical or mineralogical structure; and, much less, that of organized beings living on their surface.”
We, of course, have figured this out with a high level of confidence. Back in graduate school I wrote a 62 page midterm exam working out the structure of the sun and other stars on the main sequence for one class, and had another class devoted to stellar atmospheres. I consider this sort of work, understanding stars, to be one of the greatest triumphs of science.
The rest of the list is pretty good and interesting, too, although I have quibbles here and there, and there’s even some overlap with the other list depending on the distinction between “space flight” and “interstellar space flight,” as well as between “energy shield” and “force field.” There are some items I’ve blogged about before, like invisibility (as a superpower you can have now/soon), and quantum teleportation (which I think again is unfairly characterized here).