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 can an asteroid tell us about our own Planet. #023 with Lindy Elkins-Tanton
This week, Alien Crash Site invites Lindy Elkins-Tanton into the Zone. Lindy is a Foundation and Regents Professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. She is the Vice-president of ASU’s InterPlanetary Initiative. And, she is the principal investigator of NASA’s Psyche Mission: an attempt to understand a metal rich asteroid located between Mars and Jupiter which may provide us with some clues about planetary formation.
#022 - Crossover episode with Complexity Pod: Gary Bengier
After a career in Silicon Valley, Gary Bengier pursued passion projects, studying astrophysics and philosophy. He’s spent the last two decades thinking about how to live a balanced, meaningful life in a rapidly evolving technological world. This self-reflective journey infuses his novel, Unfettered Journey, with insights about our future and the challenges we will face in finding purpose.
Before turning to writing speculative fiction, Gary worked in a variety of Silicon Valley tech companies. He was eBay’s Chief Financial Officer, and led the company’s initial and secondary public offerings. Gary has an MBA from Harvard Business School, and an MA in philosophy from San Francisco State University.
In this special crossover interview, Complexity Podcast host Michael Garfield and Alien Crash Site hostess Caitlin McShea plumb the thematic depths at the foundation of this Gary's fictional exploration of humanity's here after.
Co-Ordination: On Time Between Worlds - an InterPlanetary panel on Complex Time
SFI's InterPlanetary Project teamed up with New School Policy and Design for Outer Space to present this conversation on Complex Time, as part of the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale.
When imagining InterPlanetary life and human civilization in space, it's always a matter of time. Philosophers and physicists from Aristotle to Carlo Rovelli have deeply considered the nature of time. Given the scale of the social-technical systems required for any off-Earth endeavor, however, this age-old discussion requires broader input.
Complex systems emerge from a multitude of time-scales, clocks, arrows of time, and therefore a multitude of rates at which things come together and fall apart. But our experience of time seems to vary with the perspective we take on a subject: the lifespan of an organism seems to be the result of constraints of mass and energy; a firm, the flows and stocks of capital and labor; a state, the developments of its people and their political economy.
How do these different time-scales interrelate and inform one another on Earth today? What might a reconsideration of the complexity of time add to our collective effort to sustain life on and with other planets? And how can we create scalable yet adaptable social-technical systems that work together to achieve our interplanetary futures?
This panel will bring together researchers, scientists and theorists to attempt an answer to these questions. They will explore the possible methods and tools for complex collaboration, and consider what it will take to support and grow life beyond Earth while keeping, at the center of it all, the beating heart of time.
Participants Include Sean Carroll, Jeli's Laura Maguire, NASA's Zara Mirmalek, and Geoffrey West. The discussion will be moderated David Krakauer.
What are the best strategies for finding life in space? #021 with Natalie Grefenstette?
Astrobiology is a paradoxically established and yet still burgeoning field that is reconsidering the fundamental boundaries of what we mean by "life," while simultaneously searching for that life beyond Earth. Past guests have outlined how difficult the search for life is; they've contributed new detection methods and measures, they've proposed new tools, and they're working to establish new standards of evidence in support of such a discovery.
This week we ask SFI post-doctoral fellow, Natalie Grefenstette, how we can best equip ourselves to recognize life in space, given how little we know about life, at all. Natalie is working on the Agnostic Biosignature Project, a multi-institutional endeavor funded by NASA.
Special Announcement - InterPlanetary Panel on Complex Time
Alien Crash Site is taking a small break, to return the week of October 24th. Why? Because SFI, in partnership with New School Policy and Design for Outer Space, are hosting an InterPlanetary panel discussion on Complex Time. October 21st, 10 am MDT. Free to attend.
How does size shape our understanding of and search for life? #020 with Chris Kempes
Chris Kempes is a professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He is a mathematical biologist, who works on scaling laws, and is ultimately interested in where those scaling laws break down. What are their limits? What is the physiological constraint for life on earth? How small can life be? How big? How might that constraint change in other environments?
He recently published a paper, along with David Krakauer, titled “The Multiple paths to Multiple Life” that attempts to reconfigure how we think about life forms, and life origins events. We discuss this provocative proposal at length, along with the scaling research I just described, before we shift to our venture into the Zone to pursue a totally disgusting but revelatory artifact, if we can even call it that.
For more context on themes described in this episode, you might revisit past interviews with Nina Lanza who is seeking signs of life on Mars, Michael Lachmann who talks origins of life in general, Cole Mathis and his work on Assembly Theory, and our last interview with Heather Graham who worked on assembly theory as well as a stoichiometric approach to life detection in a paper she co-authored with Chris.
Oodles of Fun
I’m going through the podcast and companion website thrilled at this intersection of science and science fiction. What a trove of joy. I hope SFI continues the project, because this is my favorite podcast I have found yet. Caitlin McShea has a fun personality and always asks coherent and poignant questions.
A Unique Concept!
The lineup of guests for this podcast is impressive - authors, artists, astronauts, athletes and scientists of all flavors. Caitlin McShea, the host, explores their backgrounds and the triggers for their passion. She has clearly done her homework. Given her background in the arts and sciences, she is conversant with their research/work and is able to express in layperson’s terms why their endeavors may have relevance to us. She is an adept interviewer, able to move the conversation apace to maintain the interest of the listener.
While the concept of the series is based on a work of science fiction, one need not be a fan of SciFi to enjoy the show. And is fun to imagine what one might risk limb or life to discover in The Zone, as Caitlin asked her guests to do near the end of each episode. What would you want to find? Listen and discover.
An uncommon and beautiful show
Alien Crash Site is unlike other podcasts out there. The premise and the conversations are spacious and wonderful.
The guests are inspiring and Caitlin McShea leads each conversation brilliantly. Few podcast interviewers out there possess a wider knowledge base and none access theirs with as much skill. Every episode is challenging, expansive, and enjoyable.
One of the best kept secrets in the podcasting scene, if you aren’t listening yet, it’s time to start.