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To Infinity and Beyond…

The limitations of life on this planet are evident, or so some would have us believe. Many feel the same about the familiar 3-dimensional construct, which seems to set the boundaries of all human experience. At least one person wants to do something about both issues. Entrepreneur Elon Musk, the erstwhile creator of PayPal, founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, says he plans to send humans to colonize Mars by 2025; and he is also reported to be financing, in part, a research project to find out if our world is just a computer simulation created by some “post-human” society, like that suggested in the Matrix movies.

In the race to Mars, audacious as it is, Musk is competing with other aerospace billionaires, like Dennis Muilenburg of Boeing, as well as sovereign governments with space ambitions of their own, like Russia and China. The quest to unravel the basis of reality itself may be the more ambitious, but it is certainly not new.

The idea that our familiar material experience is but a pale reflection of some greater reality, is, after all, at the heart of all great religions, and, indeed, has inspired our most advanced thinkers, from Plato to Shakespeare, from Gautama Buddha to Jesus Christ. Discontent with the limitations of the present world has been the spur for most, if not all, of humanity’s greatest achievements; but like a pilgrim in the Himalayan snows, sooner or later one discovers the footprints of those who have preceded him or her. It is only then, perhaps, that one learns, at last, a little of the humility, which can be of great use in such a quest.

As Buzz Lightyear famously said in Toy Story, “To Infinity and beyond!”


…But Don’t Feed the Aliens

Someone who spends, literally, all of his time thinking could still be using a lot of that time for something other than positive thinking—worrying. Such is apparently the case with brilliant British physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking. Paralyzed for many years by Lou Gehrig’s Disease, he, nevertheless, is able to communicate by computer, and his views about black holes and the like usually command significant attention around the world. For some time Hawking has worried publicly about nasty aliens from light-years away, as well as out-of-control artificial intelligence (AI) from right here on Earth.

Now very enthusiastic about the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), Hawking has joined forces with Russian billionaire, Yuri Milner in “The Breakthrough Listen Project.” The plan is to search with newly accelerated intensity, using radio telescopes, for signs of alien life on the nearest million stars (See “Is Anybody Home,” by Martin Ruggles, AR #114). In September 2016, Hawking announced in a YouTube video that he is now excited about the possibility of alien life in several places—especially Gliese 832, a planet found a mere 16 light-years away.

Nevertheless, Hawking has said publicly that we should not attempt to communicate with any alien civilization that we might discover, since they might “kill us all.” Any civilization that could actually read our messages, he believes, would have to be so far ahead of us, that we would be of no more value to them than bacteria is to us. Our treatment of bacteria is well known. He also points to the unhappy fate of Native Americans after the European conquest.

As for the artificial intelligence threat, the problem, he said in 2015, “isn’t malice but competence.” If AI becomes very good at accomplishing its goals, and those goals diverge with ours, we’re in trouble.


Chinese Drug Research 80% Fraud, Says Study

The damning verdict is in. Chinese scientists, conducting clinical trials on new drugs, are “fabricating” (faking) 80% of their data. That finding comes from the Chinese government itself and deals with mandatory studies that pharmaceutical companies must conduct to get approval for new drugs.

The Chinese Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) studied data from 1,622 clinical trials for drugs awaiting approval. According to reporter Fiona MacDonald, writing for the website, there was fraudulent behavior at almost every level, with most pharmaceutical companies found to be hiding, deleting, or tampering with records of potentially adverse side effects. Outcomes were often written before trial results were in.

The applications studied were for Western-style drugs, not traditional Chinese medicine, though MacDonald indicates the situation in that industry may be even worse.

It is all about money, apparently, with Chinese manufacturers looking for profits. Almost everybody involved was deemed to be guilty of some kind of malpractice or fraud.