Arthur C. Clarke

NEWS | Gregory Benford in Reason Magazine on Science Fiction in Light of Humanity’s Future in Space Thumbnail

Wernher von Braun's Vision

There’s an article by science fiction author Gregory Benford in the February issue of Reason Magazine (also available online at Reason.com). I hadn’t realized it, but Benford has written three other articles for Reason (see below for a list of the others).

In the article, Benford briefly discusses the role of Nazi SS officer and rocket scientist Wernher von Braun ((Benford doesn’t call Von Braun a facilitator of mass murder, but does mention that he ran “Adolf Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 programs, which sent more than 10,000 rockets into England in 1944 and 1945.”)) in the American government’s space program, from his popular promotion of his vision of man conquering space (interesting choice of war metaphor) to his running the Apollo program.

Benford discusses Von Braun’s vision for how man will conquer space, a vision that strikes me as impractical and expensive and that still lingers in NASA today. He also highlights the decline of NASA and its “ruinously expensive” nature of the American government’s space shuttle program, which suffered catastrophic failures and kept going long past its planned obsolescence.

Though Benford says that Von Braun’s vision lives on, I’m not so sure of that. If he means Von Braun’s  general vision of man “conquering” space, then yes, that vision is not dead. If he means Von Braun’s more specific vision of how this is to be accomplished, then no, I do not think that vision will live on.

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A few years ago in honor of Arthur C. Clarke’s then-recent birthday, I wrote on my own blog that he must never have read Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard,

because according to this quote cited by Gregory Benford in his happy-birthday letter in Locus Magazine (January 2008), he claims that “there are some general laws governing scientific extrapolation, as there are not (pace Marx) in the case of politics and economics.” Well, far be it from me to disagree that Marx was wrong about a lot of things, but Clarke is wrong here. Sir Clarke, you may be 90 years old now, and happy birthday by the way, but it’s never too late to acquire a firm grasp of sound economic theory.

As disappointing as it is, it’s not surprising that he had a natural-scientistic bias against economics. Sadly, he died only a few months after my post.

In a more recent article in the Sri Lanka Guardian, more of Clarke’s economic ignorance is on display:

While researching for this article I came across a searing indictment by Clarke on the American capitalist system. After observing that the structure of American society may be unfitted for the effort that the conquest of space demands he continued, “No nation can afford to divert its ablest men into essentially non-creative and occasionally parasitic occupations such as law, insurance and banking”. He also referred to a photograph in Life Magazine showing 7,000 engineers massed behind a new model car they had produced as ‘a horrifying social document’. He was appalled by the squandering of technical manpower it represented. All this indeed makes one wonder whether he really was a closet socialist.

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A few notable things I ran across recently:

  1. Will Thomas of The Atlas Society (formerly known as The Objectivist Center) argues that transhumanism is compatible with Objectivism.
  2. Kylie Sturgess, in her Curiouser and Curiouser column for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, interviewed Scott Sigler. I hadn’t heard of him before, but apparently he’s known as a podcaster and now also as an author of techno-thrillers.

    Sigler describes skeptics as people
     

    who were spreading the other side of the information instead of misinformation. They are out actively encouraging people to think for themselves, and what’s been interesting is that they’re not necessarily telling people “this is bunk.” They are encouraging people to think critically about things and learn how to address things when you run into them.

    He goes on to mention how, among other things, evolution is being challenged in America. But there’s a flipside to long-accepted, fairly well-established science being attacked in knee-jerk fashion by those faith-based types leery of science in general and of science that challenges their religious beliefs in particular. Sometimes science can become corrupted in politically-charged fields, and scientists lose their objectivity. I’m reminded of an old post I wrote about scientific skepticism in relation to global warming alarmism. I riffed off of Clarke’s First Law of Prediction and Asimov’s Corollary.

    But to get back to Scott Sigler, has anyone read any of his work? If so, what do you think? Do you recommend it?

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