Alien Crash Site
Alien Crash Site
Caitlin McShea
A new InterPlanetary interview series from the Santa Fe Institute takes a page from the Strugatsky brothers' classic Soviet sci-fi novel, Roadside Picnic, to discuss a variety of transformative alien artifacts. Thirteen years ago, an alien civilization visited our planet, and left behind myriad, mysterious materials in their crash sites. These areas, Zones, behave very strangely, but the interplanetary items they contain could change the trajectory of our technological advancement. What appears as a hoop might actually be a perpetual-motion machine. What appears as a slime might alter space-time. Spend too much time in the Zone and your genes might mutate, your bones might dissolve, your body might be ground into meat. If you’re lucky enough to make it out alive, you’ll likely be imprisoned. But a successful trip in and out of the Zone could alter human history. Do you dare? And for what? Hosted by Caitlin McShea.
What to look for, when we don't know what we're looking for? #019 with Heather Graham
What do we look for, when we don’t know what we’re looking for? As we announce more missions seeking life in the universe, and as we build new technologies to assist in that pursuit, how do we ensure we don’t miss it when we come across it? How can we best prepare ourselves to recognize life unlike our own? This week, Heather Graham fills us in on exactly how she is seeking out these “agnostic” Biosignatures. Heather is a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. She’s an organic geochemist and she’s also an astrobiologist. Earlier this summer she published two papers proposing two very cool and very different methods for life detection. We discuss both in this conversation, as well as how easily fooled we might be in our pursuit of past life by the clues we have today. We talk about the rigorous ways space missions are managing contamination, the intersection of art and science, the difference between information and meaning, and we end with a discussion of heather’s ideal alien object, which could definitely change our understanding of the universe, so long as we handle it properly.
Sep 3
54 min
What Governance Structure Best Suits an InterPlanetary Humanity?" #018 with Timiebi Aganaba
As we stand on the precipice of becoming an InterPlanetary Species, we need to think carefully about what an InterPlanetary governance structure looks like, and how it ensures that space is explored and protected for the benefit of all humanity. Dr. Timiebi Aganaba is the perfect person to walk us through all that's at stake in such a huge consideration. Timiebi Aganaba is an Assistant Professor at Arizona State’s school for the Future of Innovation in Society, with a courtesy appointment at the Sandra Day O’ Connor school of Law. She has worked at the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency. She has also worked as a space industry consultant for the Canadian Space agency. She holds a Masters of Science from the International Space University, and a Masters of Law and a PhD from the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University, and she was recently appointed to the Science Advisory Board at the SETI Institute. A true "space-governance" repository, coming at this not-so-distant future very thoughtfully and inclusively. In this episode, we discuss everything from current international law and it’s applications to future space law, space law that already exists, the trade-offs between optimization and speed of implementation, how to ensure diversity and representation of perspectives when creating new international and/or interplanetary law, the intersection of federal space agencies and the private sector, and how much money actually matters in the space game. Then we talk through a powerful piece of extraterrestrial technology that might allow us to address and correct a looming planetary problem.
Aug 23
1 hr
What lies in the space between? #017 with Aerospace Engineer Ryan McGranaghan
This week Alien Crash Site brings aerospace engineer Ryan McGranaghan into the Zone. Ryan currently works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab as a Jack Eddy Post-doctoral research fellow. His work focuses on the application of data assimilation, complex systems analyses and data science to space science research…specifically work within the realm of the “space environment.” We spend this conversation talking about what lies in the “space between.” The space between planetary bodies, the space between research disciplines, the space between intention and expression, the space between interlocutors attempting to communicate, the “space between” that’s all around us. 0:00 intro 2:45 interview 40:28 Alien Crash Site Question
Aug 6
55 min
How Do Artifacts Inform Cultural Evolution? #016 with Vanessa Ferdinand
This week, Computational Cognitive Scientist Vanessa Ferdinand provides us with her skeptical take on the very premise of Roadside Picnic. Given her research on cultural evolution, and how cultural artifacts are changed by the cognitive systems that perceive them, she had quite a few problems with the idea of finding and using an object created by an alien lifeform. She explains her reasoning, but she eventually suspends her disbelief, settles comfortably into the fiction, and describes an alien artifact that she believes will alter our understanding of ourselves, each other, these aliens, and the universe itself.
Jul 9
49 min
#015 with Cole Mathis
This week, Cole Mathis, a computational and statistical physicist who is trying to figure out the origins of life, ventures into the Zone. His work includes an effort to find life elsewhere in the universe. We were curious to see what Cole would pick if he stopped seeking alien life, and instead sought out an artifact made by alien life. The timing could not have been better, given the recent publication of a paper on evaluating artifacts of potentially living systems in the universe, that he co-authored with Leroy Cronin, Sara Walker, Heather Graham and many others. We spend much of our conversation unpacking, or "breaking down", what's at stake in this new proposed method for detecting life: Assembly Theory. We shift into an evaluation of the "artifact" in science, in art, and in fiction. And then we hear what he would risk his life to unearth from the dangers of an Alien Crash Site, and what impact it would have on human civilization.
Jun 24
1 hr 8 min
#014 with Natalie Elliot
This week we bring Natalie Elliot into the Zone to discuss how art relates to science in the wake of a truly significant paradigm shift, and how Shakespeare grappled with such shifts throughout his career, and across many if not most of his plays. We speak a bit about Stalker, detecting lifeforms out in the universe, and speculate on how life emerged from lifelessness here on Earth, and elsewhere. Perhaps a clue lies in Natalie’s Alien artifact. Natalie is a tutor at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, where she teaches cross-disciplinary courses in classics, history of science, mathematics, literature, philosophy, and music. She is a story teller, a science writer, a frequent contributor to SFI’s parallax newsletter, short-story fiction writer and novelist. She is specifically interested in the intersection of literature and science, as we in the InterPlanetary project are, and she co-authors the Atlantis Dispatch series with me.
Jun 10
50 min
#013 with Linda Sheehan
This week, we enter the strange, somewhat seemingly autonomous Zone with Linda Sheehan, Executive Director of Environment Now. Prior to her work at Environment Now, she was the co-founder and Executive Director of Earth Law Center, Senior Council for the Leonardo Dicaprio Foundation, and an independent consultant to California State agencies and national non-profits. She’s worked over 20 years in the arena of “Rights of Nature,” so we discuss that work and its impact on Earth, Earthlings and future space-farers before we hear about Linda’s perspective-altering alien object.
May 28
50 min
#012 with Katherine Collins
This week, our guest Stalker is Katherine Collins. Katherine is the Head of Sustainable Investing for Putnam Investments, She’s the founder of Honeybee Capital, and she serves on the Santa Fe Institute's board of Trustees. Well, actually, she was just elected Chair of our Board of Trustees, which we’re all thrilled about! We spend some time talking about sustainable investments, how to approach decisions around sustainability, expanding time scales, wisdom versus intelligence, and of course her chosen object.
May 13
45 min
#011 with Van Savage
Van Savage is a professor in the UCLA Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, as well as Computational Medicine. He is also External Faculty of the Santa Fe Institute, and he serves on our science steering committee. His work covers a broad range of interests. He researches metabolic scaling, consumer-resource interactions, rates of evolution, effects of global warming on diverse ecosystems, tumor growth, and sleep. He heads up the sleep topical track for the James S. McDonnell Foundation- funded "Complex Time" research theme at SFI. This conversation focuses on that sleep work first, then pivots to the alien artifacts (plural!) that Van would hope to discover in the Zone.
Apr 29
48 min
#010 with Michael Lachmann
This week Alien Crash Site invites Evolutionary Biologist, and SFI Professor Michael Lachmann into the Zone to seek out a feeling device. We discuss the work he's done in the past year on strategic approaches to COVID, interdisciplinary science in general, his opinions on the origins of life, Roadside Picnic, Stalker, Solaris and understanding how aliens feel.
Apr 1
59 min
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