11 January 2021

Truly excellent presentation by physicist Sean Carroll on the predicament of American Democracy at the present moment • HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Farflung correspondents, 

I'm not particularly shy about recommending podcasts and other media presentations, but this one is truly special. It is one of the episodes of the excellent Mindscape podcast presented by the theoretical physicist Sean Carroll. But it is not in any way about physics.
 

 We've all heard a ton of commentary on the events of 1/6/21 and the threat to our democracy, etc., but this one, which is incredibly thoughtful and explicitly takes the point of view of discussing our predicament as if explaining it to people in the distant future, is just excellent and not to be missed. Carroll is a physicist, but he's also a philosopher and polymath, and what he says, and the people he interviews, are almost always incredibly interesting and well-informed. In this case, he does all the talking himself, but what he has to say should be given some thought by literally everyone living through this moment in time in the history of the world. 

Thanks for considering giving it your attention.

David 




07 January 2021

Fwd: January 6, 2021


Even if you've been following the horrific events of yesterday's insurrection and coup attempt, this "first draft of history" by America's historian, Heather Cox Richardson, is worth reading, and I commend it to all my farflung correspondents. We are in an inflection point. If we get through the next two weeks, we may well be in a position to break away from Trump and Trumpism once and for all. But this is not yet over. Hang on.

From: Heather Cox Richardson from Letters from an American <heathercoxrichardson@substack.com>
Date: Thu, Jan 7, 2021 at 12:55 AM
Subject: January 6, 2021
 


Today the Confederate flag flew in the United States Capitol. This morning, results from the Georgia Senatorial runoff elections showed that Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff had beaten their Republican opponents—both incumbents—by more than the threshold that would require a recount. The Senate is now split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, so the position of majority leader goes to a Democrat. Mitch McConnell, who has bent the government to his will since he took over the position of majority leader in 2007, will be replaced. ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Today the Confederate flag flew in the United States Capitol.

This morning, results from the Georgia Senatorial runoff elections showed that Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff had beaten their Republican opponents—both incumbents—by more than the threshold that would require a recount. The Senate is now split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, so the position of majority leader goes to a Democrat. Mitch McConnell, who has bent the government to his will since he took over the position of majority leader in 2007, will be replaced.

With the Democrats in control of both Congress and the Executive Branch, it is reasonable to expect we will see voting rights legislation, which will doom the current-day Republican Party, depending as it has on voter suppression to stay in power.

Trump Republicans and McConnell Republicans had just begun to blame each other for the debacle when Congress began to count the certified electoral votes from the states to establish that Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. The election was not close—Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million votes and the Electoral College by 306 to 232—but Trump contends that he won the election in a landslide and "fraud" made Biden the winner.

Trump has never had a case. His campaign filed and either lost or had dismissed 62 out of 63 lawsuits because it could produce no evidence for any of its wild accusations. Nonetheless, radical lawmakers courted Trump's base by echoing Trump's charges, then tried to argue that the fact voters no longer trusted the vote was reason to contest the certified votes.

More than 100 members of the House announced they would object to counting the votes of certain states. About 13 senators, led by Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), agreed to join them. The move would slow down the count as each chamber would have to debate and take a separate vote on whether to accept the state votes, but the objectors never had anywhere near the votes they needed to make their objections stick.

So Trump turned to pressuring Vice President Mike Pence, who would preside over the counting, to throw out the Biden votes. On Monday, Trump tweeted that "the Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors." This would throw the blame for the loss onto Pence, but the vice president has no constitutional power to do any such thing, and this morning he made that clear in a statement. Trump then tweeted that Pence "didn't have the courage to do what should have been done."

It seemed clear that the voting would be heated, but it was also clear that most of the lawmakers opposing the count were posturing to court Trump's base for future elections. Congress would count Biden's win.

But Trump had urged his supporters for weeks to descend on Washington, D.C., to stop what he insisted was the stealing of the election. They did so and, this morning, began to congregate near the Capitol, where the counting would take place. As he passed them on the east side of the Capitol, Hawley raised a power fist.

In the middle of the day, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani spoke to the crowd, telling them: "Let's have trial by combat." Trump followed, lying that he had won the election and saying "we are going to have to fight much harder." He warned that Pence had better "come through for us, and if he doesn't, that will be a sad day for our country." He warned that Chinese-driven socialists are taking over the country. And he told them to march on Congress to "save our democracy."

As rioters took Trump at his word, Congress was counting the votes alphabetically by state. When they got to Arizona, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) stood up to echo the rhetoric radicals had been using to discredit the certified votes, saying that public distrust in the election—created out of thin air by Republicans—justified an investigation. 

Within an hour, a violent mob stormed the Capitol and Cruz, along with the rest of the lawmakers, was rushed to safety (four quick-thinking staffers brought along the electoral ballots, in their ceremonial boxes). As the rioters broke in, police shot and killed one of them: Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran from San Diego, QAnon believer, and staunch Trump supporter. The insurrectionists broke into the Senate chamber, where one was photographed on the dais of the Senate, shirtless and wearing a bull costume that revealed a Ku Klux Klan tattoo on his abdomen. They roamed the Capitol looking for Pence and other lawmakers they considered enemies. Not finding them, they ransacked offices. One rioter photographed himself sitting at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk with his feet on it.

They carried with them the Confederate flag.

Capitol police provided little obstruction, apparently eager to avoid confrontations that could be used as propaganda on social media. The intruders seemed a little surprised at their success, taking selfies and wandering around like tourists. One stole a lectern.

As the White House, the FBI, the Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security all remained silent, President-Elect Joe Biden spoke to cameras urging calm and calling on Trump to tell his supporters to go home. But CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins later reported that she spoke to White House officials who were "genuinely freaked… out" that Trump was "borderline enthusiastic" about the storming of the Capitol because "it meant the certification was being derailed."

At 4:17, Trump issued his own video, reiterating his false claims that he had been cheated of victory. Only then did he conclude with: "Go home, we love you, you're very special." Twitter immediately took the video down. By nighttime Trump's Twitter feed seemed to blame his enemies for the violence the president had incited (although the rhythm of the words did not sound to me like Trump's own usual cadence): "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!"

Twitter took down the tweet and banned the president for at least twelve hours for inciting violence; Facebook and Instagram followed suit.

As the afternoon wore on, police found two pipe bombs near the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C., as well as a truck full of weapons and ammunition, and mobs gathered at statehouses across the country, including in Kansas, Ohio, Minnesota, California, and Georgia.

By 5:00, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller issued a statement saying he had conferred with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Vice President Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and had fully activated the D.C. National Guard.

He did not mention the president.

By late evening, Washington, D.C., police chief Robert J. Contee III announced that at least 52 people had been arrested and 14 law enforcement officers injured. A total of four people died, including one who died of a heart attack and one who tased themself.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone urged people to stay away from Trump to limit their chances of being prosecuted for treason under the Sedition Act. By midnight, four staffers had resigned, as well as Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, with other, higher level officials also talking about leaving. Even Trump adviser Stephen Miller admitted it was a bad day. Quickly, pro-Trump media began to insist that the attack was a false-flag operation of "Antifa," despite the selfies and videos posted by known right-wing agitators, and the fact that Trump had invited, incited, and praised them.

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis laid the blame for today's attack squarely at the feet of Trump himself: "Today's violent assault on our Capitol, and effort to subjugate American democracy by mob rule, was fomented by Mr. Trump. His use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice."

The attempted coup drew condemnation from all but the radical Trump supporters in government. Former President George W. Bush issued a statement "on insurrection at the Capitol," saying "it is a sickening and heartbreaking sight." "I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election," he said, and accused such leaders of enflaming the rioters with lies and false hopes. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) was more direct: "What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the President of the United States."

Across the country tonight are calls for Trump's removal through the 25th amendment, impeachment, or resignation. The Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have joined the chorus, writing to Pence urging him to invoke the 25th. Angry at Trump's sabotaging of the Georgia elections in addition to the attack on our democracy, prominent Republicans are rumored to be doing the same.

At 8:00, heavily armed guards escorted the lawmakers back to the Capitol, thoroughly scrubbed by janitors, where the senators and representatives resumed their counting of the certified votes. The events of the afternoon had broken some of the Republicans away from their determination to challenge the votes. Fourteen Republican senators had announced they would object to counting the certified votes from Arizona; in the evening count the number dropped to six: Cruz (R-TX), Hawley (R-MO), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Kennedy (R-LA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).

In the House, 121 Republicans, more than half the Republican caucus, voted to throw out Biden's electors from Arizona. As in the Senate, they lost when 303 Representatives voted in favor.

Six senators and more than half of the House Republicans backed an attempt to overthrow our government, in favor of a man caught on tape just four days ago trying to strong-arm a state election official into falsifying the election results.

Today the Confederate flag flew in the United States Capitol.

—-

Notes:

Statehouses: https://twitter.com/i/events/1346928968365064194

Hawley, power fist:

Mattis:

Babbitt:

https://www.kusi.com/kusi-news-confirms-identity-of-woman-shot-and-killed-inside-us-capitol/

https://www.thedailybeast.com/one-woman-shot-six-hospitalized-as-trump-loving-mob-swarms-capitol?ref=author

House vote:

Ransacked office:

Freaked out:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/04/congress-presidential-election-january-6/

Pence:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/06/trump-capitol-american-carnage-washington

Miller statement:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trump-supporters-storm-capitol-dc/2021/01/06/58afc0b8-504b-11eb-83e3-322644d82356_story.html

House judiciary:

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/01/after-a-day-of-violence-and-25th-amendment-chatter-trumps-allies-jumping-ship

https://www.axios.com/republicans-trump-removal-25th-amendment-a91c9dc4-b01f-4a50-ae41-aea971388d57.html

https://thehill.com/homenews/533057-dc-police-arrest-dozens-during-rioting-at-capitol-building

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/06/opinion/impeach-trump.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-werent-officials-at-the-capitol-more-prepared-for-this-insurrection/2021/01/06/d1c45788-5079-11eb-bda4-615aaefd0555_story.html

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06 January 2021

An Open Letter to Vice President Elect Kamala Harris and President Elect Joe Biden


On an ignominious day for our democracy, the good news that the Democratic Party has regained control of the U.S. Senate going forward was almost completely eclipsed. But, of course, it is of paramount importance.

I will be brief. As an engaged citizen, I want to urge you to recognize that after four years of the most destructive administration in recent history, there is very considerable urgency facing your incoming administration. We need a bold legislative agenda, and as well as a bold regulatory and executive agenda.

The pandemic requires a response that is the near-equivalent of a full-scale war. Not to carp on the matter, but 100 million vaccinations in 100 days is not enough. We need an all-out war on the virus, on all fronts, with the goal victory and the timeline just as soon as humanly possible. A commission to create detailed plans and put them into effect, including invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, needs to be created.

Bold action on reversing Trump's tax cuts for the very rich, climate change, global alliances and security, environmental protection, jobs and mitigation of the economic impact of the pandemic, and 21stcentury infrastructure will pose tremendous and urgent challenges that call for the most activist and energetic administration at least since 1933. You are capable of this. This is your challenge. The American people are counting on you.

Vice President Harris should come to the Senate and announce that given the 50/50 split, she will sit and preside over the Senate just as the Constitution provides for. The filibuster must be immediately done away with, and the rules of both bodies need to be modified to make efficient and practical legislation possible, without unnecessary and counterproductive obstruction from any faction or party.
As president, Mr. Biden must call for the elimination of the Electoral College by amendment or interstate compact as an interim solution. A recommitment to democracy and service to all the people will go a long way to disabusing followers of the former president of the delusions the deliberate false propaganda which was his stock in trade. When Democrats achieve real results which benefit the great majority of Americans, support for our policies will grow and our ability to further our policy agenda will be well established for years to come.

Thank you.


02 January 2021

War on the Virus


Don't want to start carping on Biden already, but the goal of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days isn't adequate or good policy. He should be lobbying Astra Zeneca, J&J, and especially Moderna and Pfizer to prepare themselves for a major Defense Production Act push to ramp up production. Even if it means building whole new plants with government funding... it's worth it. We can use them for aggressive public health projects in the future. Meantime plans to roll out the most aggressive vaccination outreach project in human history should be honed and in place on Day 1. The goal should not be a certain number of vaccinations but ALL OUT WAR on the virus, the goal VICTORY and the timeline ASAP.


19 December 2020

The Biological Universe

I'm finishing up the new book The Biological Universe, by emeritus evolutionary biologist Wallace Arthur. I made some critical comments on my sometime blog The Gyromantic Informicon [q.v.] about this, but what follows is my specific take on what he calls his Huge Hypothesis, summing up his view of the entire subject. If the general subject of life in the universe doesn't really capture your imagination, you might want to skip the rest of this. 

He proposes that the evidence and reasonable inference supports the following "Huge Hypothesis." I paraphrase a good deal and add in some explanatory comments. These are, to use Thomas Huxley's phrase, "in the indicative," rather than the "potential," even though strictly speaking some of this has to be considered speculative. Most of it is pretty widely accepted in the scientific community today; the additional points I add at the end less so, but I believe they follow logically and are of the same order of certainty; namely, not certain but probable. 
  • Life first evolved somewhere in the universe not much later than 10 billion years ago.   [Arthur restricts himself to the observable universe, a space about 93 billion light years across in all directions with us at the center and containing approximately 2 trillion galaxies; the entire universe is much, much larger and, applying the principles of isotropy and homogeneity on large scales, is presumably all much the same]. 
  • The oldest instance of the origin of life was overwhelmingly likely to have been on a planet in a galaxy at great distance from the Milky Way, just because there are literally something like a trillion candidate galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of planets, in the observable universe ("OU" for short). 
  • Since that time, there has been a steady increase in the number of locales where life has originated and thrived for a time, and at least a good proportion of them continue to have life at the present epoch, such that some form of life is now relatively common in the universe. 
  • QED, the number of planets in the OU with some form of life, mostly limited to microbial life, is many trillions. (Note: every spiral galaxy, and probably many other types of galaxies, as well, have billions to more than a trillion planets, and a typical spiral galaxy like the Milky Way has hundreds of billions of rocky planets situated in the "habitable zone" of their stars where liquid water is possible. The same should be true of most galaxies).

    [Arthur includes an additional bullet point, that some systems have more than one inhabited planet; but I regard that as superfluous to the argument].

  • Most or all of the life in the universe is chemically based on carbon compounds. (There are many reasons for including this inference, which I consider to be quite ironclad, but I won't go into it here. My own surmise is that you could correctly say "Essentially all". Fortunately, nucleosynthesis in stars results in the production of a good deal of carbon). 
  • Add-in, not included by Arthur:  All, or nearly all, life in the OU has evolved a genetic information recording system that functions analogously to the nucleic acid system that evolved on Earth, although specific details vary considerably.   
  • Far and away most life in the OU is constructed of cells, although, again, the exact architecture varies considerably. 
  • Most life-bearing planets in the OU host only microbial life (single cell or small-aggregates of cells).
  • A large number (but proportionally fewer) of the life-bearing planets in the OU also host multicellular life.
  • At least some proportion of the biospheres that have evolved multicellular life have evolved "complex" multicellular organisms that conduct photosynthesis to utilize light energy directly (similar to Plants and other photosynthesizer macrobiota on Earth, such as "brown algae"); or that assume roles comparable to those of the Fungi and Animal kingdoms in the Earth biosphere (symbionts and parasites). 
  • On at least some of the biospheres that have evolved such "complex" multicellular "animals," some of them have evolved advanced motility, including analogs to skeletal (including exoskeletal) structure, musculature, nervous systems, and the beginnings of intelligence, in the sense of directed control by a "brain." 
  • With all intermediate levels occurring in numbers, some portion of the biospheres that have evolved such complex animal life have proceeded to the evolution of human-level intelligence, although exactly how that manifests varies considerably. 
This is where Arthur's Huge Hypothesis ends, but therein lies my principal criticism of his thesis. I think he overestimates the numbers somewhat, especially of the last phase, but I don't disagree with any of the above. I suspect there may be some side roads that lead to unanticipated variants of the types of life we are familiar with, but the main ideas here I believe are sound. But I think they really miss the mark when it comes to a reasonable anticipation of our possible future, which, necessarily, means something analogous to what is already the state of being elsewhere, where human-level intelligence already evolved, in some cases no doubt, a very long time ago indeed. So I would add the following additional levels of development, further along in the sequence. 
  • Some portion of human-level intelligent life develops external symbolic manipulation analogous to language, and eventually culture, and then advanced science and technology. This gives organisms the ability to direct their own evolution from this point, at least to an extent. 
  • Some portion of the technological species develop artificial biohabitats and are no longer confined to the surfaces of their planets of origin. [I would adventure that we are on the cusp of this development, and that there is no guarantee we will proceed to it; presumably frequently in the past and future, beings at this level do not make this transition successfully or never even try, for whatever reason]. 
  • Once at the level of "space-dwelling," most of the technological species proceed to colonize their star systems and later other stars, and to spread the form of life that originated on their planet to vast numbers of other locations in space, including but not limited to planets that did not and might never evolve life on their own, such that over time most of the life in the universe exists elsewhere than the planetary surfaces where it originated. 
  • There is virtually no natural limit to the expansion of life under the direction and impetus of intelligence; the future of the OU is for life to encompass a greater and greater proportion of the available locations where sustaining life is possible until some saturation level is reached in the distant future. [Comment: even if this development is relatively rare, it is a threshold; once it occurs, it tends to lead to a permanent change in the course of the development life over a very wide region of space, potentially including multiple galaxies before bumping into others similarly situated, because plausible rates of expansion of such extended biospheres entail small fractions of the age of the planets and galaxies in which they originate. So, ultimately, if this phase occurs at all, it will tend to fill all the available space everywhere].
We are directed by current modes of scientific thought to shun all teleology, but I think it's fair to assess that the "function" of advanced human-level intelligence (and beyond) is to make something like the final three stages of my "even huger hypothesis" possible. I envision an "Age of Life" that is just getting underway in a universe that will eventually be quite literally filled with life. 

I hasten to emphasize the obvious: most of the last two phases mentioned above lie in the future, in most locales. If some regions of the OU have advanced to the level of galaxy-spanning civilizations already, this would likely be apparent in some way were it already common, at least in the relatively nearby regions, say out to 500 million light years. Because, of course, if such developments were to have occurred at that distance, say, 450 million years ago, we would not see any evidence, because the light from that time would not have reached us yet. There could well be the first instances of extremely advanced civilization in parts of space that we just can't see yet. (This assumes, as I think is reasonable, that engineering on a literally galactic scale would change the quality of enough of the light coming from natural luminous sources that the presence of artificial technology would be inferrable). 


17 December 2020

Wallace Arthur's «The Biological Universe» and the role of human-level intelligence in the future of life in the universe

This is not really a review of the new book The Biological Universe, by Wallace Arthur; just a few critical points. 

First, Arthur hardly mentions the Fermi conundrum, which, in its fully evolved form, is one of the principal pieces of evidence for the inference that intelligent life, and, probably, what he doesn't like to call "complex" life, are, respectively somewhere between veryvery to extremely rare; and at least quite rare. Fermi isn't even circumstantial evidence for the the rarity of complex life per se, except insofar as the presumption is that if life elsewhere reaches the level of say the Cambrian era on Earth (highly complex, long-term stable biosphere with high degree of penetration of all habitats on the planet), it is probably something on the order of at least 1 to 3% likely to evolve to human level intelligence. And if you assume such intelligence is even 1% likely to survive to the level where it is a spacefaring and spacedwelling species, capable of spreading its particular architecture of life far and wide in at least one galaxy, then if you assume that life of this kind is relatively common (as Arthur does), the numbers still don't add up if intelligent life arising even on these life bearing worlds isn't also exceedingly rare. Note that the number of planets with microbial life at any given time is assumed by Arthur, plausibly, to be something like 10 million planets in a galaxy the size of Milky Way  (which is still something like 0.0001% of all planets in the galaxy). 
 
Bottom line, you have to acknowledge that the evidence best supports not a rare life or even extremely rare "complex" life but certainly a very rare human-level intelligence condition. Arthur doesn't really disagree with this but he doesn't address it well at all. The inferential evidence of rare intelligence as an implication that extremely robust and complex life biospheres may be more unlikely than he seems to believe is ignored. 

His main thesis is that the "rare Earth" view is wrong,* and he disputes the very concept of "complex" life, but ultimately his main evidence for this is the same old Earth-centric view of the probability of various "filters" in the evolution of life. Having said that, he did convince me that both eukaryotism (if that's a word)**, or some analogue of it, and photosynthesis are probably closer to inevitable than they are to being filters, in the sense of potential stumbling blocks to the evolution of more "complex" life. As is, apparently, the abiogenic origin of life itself. My best guess is that microbial life is at least as common as Arthur thinks it is, and that the principal reason that very robust biospheres like Earth's remain quite rare, and climax human-level intelligent-life conditions even moreso, is that these or other critical developments for the evolution of macrobiota and subsequently intelligence actually are relatively unlikely, and the universe just isn't quite old enough yet for them to manifest widely. Surely, we can surmise that as vast as the universe is known to be, as here on Earth, complex biospheres, including ones which have given rise to human-level intelligent beings, exist elsewhere in large numbers. But, and this is key from the human perspective, they are apparently very widely scattered. 

My last, and perhaps actually chief, criticism, is as follows. Arthur all but totally ignores the possibility that human-level intelligence itself, when it does evolve, is absolutely critical to the future history of biospheres from which it evolves. He blithely assumes that humans and their descendants will simply become extinct before advancing to a stage where they are spreading terriform*** life elsewhere in the Galaxy, and that we will never exceed the bounds of our own Solar system. My belief, which I think is reasonable inference not just gut feeling, is that if and only if the human species survives the current era, the spread of terriform life far beyond the confines of one star system will be extremely likely. I base this on two assumptions:  if we survive a few centuries, we will likely succeed in building self sustaining space habitats that contain more terriform biomass than the surface of the Earth, eventually. Further, we will likely figure out how to construct some kind of practical interstellar transportation (which could be generation ships or suspended animation, or, just possibly, quite fast in terms of fraction of light speed, drives). I take both of these developments to be generally more or less inevitable if technological societies evolve to the level where they can easily travel in and dwell in space near their home stars. The question then becomes how likely those developments actually are to occur, which translates to how prevalent technological societies are in the universe. And on that point, I hold forth two maxims. 1. Humans are very ingenious; our minds have evolved to the point that there really are no limits on what possible technology we can figure out and build in time; and 2. there is absolutely nothing in this scenario that is impossible. The same maxims should apply with respect to other human-level intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe. 

Arthur mentions virtually nothing discussed in this last paragraph. But they are crucial to his subject, which does purport to discuss the future of life. And if you generalize to other comparably situated intelligent species in a wider universe, the inference that even if we fail others will succeed is hard to avoid. 

---
*Reference is to the influential but widely critiqued book, Rare Earth, Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee (2000, 2003).
** Referring to the evolution of nucleated cells, widely believed to be necessary for the evolution of so-called "macrobiota."
***As far as I know this is an original coinage. The term is meant to refer to life originating on, or descended from life originating on, Earth.