Sunday, December 28, 2014

MIT professor thinks life in the universe might be thermo-dynamically inevitable

Elsewhere in the universe...
Life in the universe may not arise out of sheer luck if Mr. England is correct. As energy naturally dissipates overtime, life becomes unavoidable as organic matter is better at dissipating energy. Whether life happens at this or that exact point in space and time is random. But it has to happen somewhere, probably in tons of places at the same time, given the size of the universe.

"It has often been said that one of the reasons we are yet to find life elsewhere in the universe is that it is rare; most think the development of life on Earth was a fluke.

But one of the most prominent young physicists in the world has claimed otherwise, saying that he thinks life is as inevitable as inorganic matter... The theory has been presented by 31-year-old physicist Dr Jeremy England from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr England’s idea is based around entropy; namely, energy spreads out or dissipates over time. For example, a cup of coffee left in a room will eventually reach the same temperature as the room itself.

Energy will always seek the path of least resistance if left to its own devices, which is why things in the universe - including the universe itself - tend to ‘spread out',  also known as an increase in entropy.
the underlying aspect of his theory, is that while all matter - from rocks to plants - absorbs and dissipates energy, life is much better at redistributing it.

This means that, taking the coffee cup example but this time using molecules swimming in an ocean, the atoms will reorganise themselves into life because it is better at dissipating the energy in the water.
If true, the implications of Dr England’s theories are vast. Perhaps most importantly, it may suggest life elsewhere in the universe is not as rare as once thought, but rather is as common as planets and stars themselves.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

India to reach replacement fertility by 2020, Africa next in line?

Those were the days...
It looks like another bastion of high fertility is falling fast. Indian fertility used to be 5.5 births per woman in 1970. What will happen after 2020? What if Africa is to follow India in the decades ahead? What if humans are the same everywhere, they will act the same when put in similar conditions?

Fertility is falling faster than expected in India, and the country is on track to reach replacement levels of fertility as soon as 2020, new official data shows.

The 2013 data for the Sample Registration Survey (SRS), conducted by the Registrar General of India, the country’s official source of birth and death data, was released on Monday.

The SRS shows that the Total Fertility Rate – the average number of children that will be born to a woman during her lifetime – in eight States has fallen below two children per woman, new official data shows.

Just nine States – all of them in the north and east, except for Gujarat – haven’t yet reached replacements levels of 2.1, below which populations begin to decline. West Bengal now has India’s lowest fertility, with the southern States, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Among backward States, Odisha too has reduced its fertility to 2.1.

“At 2.3, India is now just 0.2 points away from reaching replacement levels. Fertility is declining rapidly, including among the poor and illiterate. At these rates, India will achieve its demographic transition and reach replacement levels as early as 2020 or 2022,” Dr. P. Arokiasamy, a demographer and Professor at the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai, explained to The Hindu.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Older world, greener world

I could be here forever
Environmentally, an aging human species will be a greener one. Median-age-46-and-rising Germany may, at the end of this century, see its CO2 emission quantity returning to pre-1950 level. This will be quite an achievement as so far emission-cutting efforts only dare to have timid-but-realistic targets of slowing down emission growth, not a returning to lower levels of the past. The coming older world should deliver a better living environment: less pollution (elders consume less), fewer crimes (older humans are less violent), more housing space (Japan's house price has been trending down for 24 years now while purchasing power remains stable)... It's not all gloom and doom at a closer look.

Amid fears of rising healthcare costs, soaring pension bills and a declining workforce, it seems that ageing could return Germany to carbon dioxide emission levels not seen since before the 1950s.

The average age is rising in most nations, as people live longer and birth rates fall. This process is most advanced in industrialized nations. Germany has a fertility rate of 1.4 children per woman and a life expectancy of 80. Half the population is aged 46 or older, a world record shared with Japan.
Fanny Kluge of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, and colleagues found that per-capita CO2 emissions in Western countries rise steadily as children become adults and as adults become more affluent. But after the age of 60, emissions decline by roughly 20 per cent when individuals retire and travel less.

As a country's population as a whole ages, it will follow the same pattern, says Kluge. As baby boomers grow into middle age, the country's emissions soar, but when the proportion of pensioners becomes greater, emissions fall. The dip will be accentuated by any drop in population, if death rates exceed birth rates.

Kluge calculates that since 1950, ageing has caused a 30 per cent increase in German CO2 emissions. But, after 2020, "as the proportion of people older than 80 continues to increase and the population size shrinks, emissions will decrease and reach pre-1950 levels by 2100"

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pope's astronomer believes in alien life, will welcome extra-terrestrials to church

Church? Mine is rasta.
Pope Francis himself said on May 9 this year that should aliens visit Earth and want to join the church, they would be welcome. Now the new boss at the Vatican Observatory Foundation says something similar. He states his belief in life beyond Earth and how he doesn't see any conflict between extraterrestrial life and God.

The big question, in my view, is not whether aliens exist. Within our cosmological horizon there may be up to stars and many times that number of planets, and you think we are alone? The question we should ask ourselves is rather why alien civilizations would want to meet us? Those aged species may be like many of our 70-year-old blasé humans who prefer wild life TV shows to a picnic. A general awareness of our existence somewhere out there may be enough for those mellow oldsters. See our own aging society and you may get some ideas of their much older civilizations.

"Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, the new president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, has no doubt that life exists elsewhere in the universe. And when humanity discovers it, the news will come as no big surprise.

He suggested that the likely discovery — whether next month or a millennium from now — will be received much the way that news of planets orbiting far-off stars has filtered in since the 1990s."

“The general public is going to be, ‘Oh, I knew that. I knew it was going to be there,’” Brother Consolmagno told Catholic News Service prior to a presentation at a NASA/Library of Congress symposium on preparing for the discovery of life in the universe Sept. 18-19.
"A planetary scientist who has studied meteorites and asteroids as an astronomer with the Vatican Observatory since 1993, Brother Consolmagno said he hopes the questions about life on other planets will focus more on how humanity sees itself.

“When we say human, human as compared to what?” he asked.

While the discovery of life elsewhere will not prove nor disprove the existence of God, Brother Consolmagno expects that it will open the door to ponder what form salvation history may take in other intelligent societies."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How would a much older society look like?

Simple, I'll still be a glamorous gal
From the Atlantic Monthly, "What happens when we all live to 100?"

A long article with many interesting nuggets, covering many aspects of an aging society:

- How life expectancy has risen so much over the last century and how that may continue into the near future:

"The typical person was fortunate to reach 40...Beginning in the 19th century, that slowly changed. Since 1840, life expectancy at birth has risen about three months with each passing year. In 1840, life expectancy at birth in Sweden, a much-studied nation owing to its record-keeping, was 45 years for women; today it’s 83 years. The United States displays roughly the same trend. When the 20th century began, life expectancy at birth in America was 47 years; now newborns are expected to live 79 years. If about three months continue to be added with each passing year, by the middle of this century, American life expectancy at birth will be 88 years. By the end of the century, it will be 100 years."
"This isn’t a prediction about the future of the United States, but rather a description of Japan right now. The Land of the Rising Sun is the world’s grayest nation. Already the median age is 45 (in the U.S., by comparison, it is 37), and it will jump to 55 by 2040. As Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, has noted, median age in the retirement haven of Palm Springs, California, is currently 52 years. Japan is on its way to becoming an entire nation of Palm Springs residents."
"In a 2009 study, Olshansky projected future demographics under the “hit a wall” scenario. The number of Americans 65 or older, 43 million today, could reach 108 million in 2050—that would be like adding three more Floridas, inhabited entirely by seniors."

- The science of longevity:

"Felipe Sierra, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging, says, “Evolution doesn’t care about you past your reproductive age. It doesn’t want you either to live longer or to die, it just doesn’t care. From the standpoint of natural selection, an animal that has finished reproducing and performed the initial stage of raising young might as well be eaten by something, since any favorable genetic quality that expresses later in life cannot be passed along.” Because a mutation that favors long life cannot make an animal more likely to succeed at reproducing, selection pressure works only on the young."
“Constant interaction with other people can be annoying, but overall seems to keep us engaged with life"...For years, the American social trend has been away from “constant interaction with other people”—fewer two-parent homes, fewer children per home, declining participation in religious and community activities, grandparents living on their own, electronic interaction replacing the face-to-face in everything from work to dating. Prosperity is associated with smaller households, yet the large multigeneration home may be best for long life. There are some indications that the Great Recession increased multigeneration living. This may turn out to boost longevity, at least for a time."

- How big changes are coming as society's median age rises:

"In the wild, young animals outnumber the old; humanity is moving toward a society where the elderly outnumber the recently arrived. Such a world will differ from today’s in many outward aspects."
"Today, Medicare and Medicaid spend about $150 billion annually on Alzheimer’s patients. Absent progress against aging, the number of people with Alzheimer’s could treble by 2050, with society paying as much for Alzheimer’s care as for the current defense budget."
"With Japan at the leading edge of lengthening life expectancy, its interest in robotics can be eerie. Foxconn, the Asian electronics giant, is manufacturing for the Japanese market a creepy mechanized thing named Pepper that is intended to provide company for the elderly. More-sophisticated devices may be in store. A future in which large numbers of very old, incapacitated people stare into the distance as robot attendants click and hum would be a bad science-fiction movie if it didn’t stand a serious chance of happening."

- How the future could be better, not worse, as societies age:

"People in their late teens to late 20s are far more likely to commit crimes than people of other ages; as society grays, the decline of crime should continue. Violence in all guises should continue downward, too. Horrible headlines from Afghanistan or Syria are exceptions to an overall trend toward less warfare and less low-intensity conflict. As Steven Pinker showed in the 2011 book Better Angels of Our Nature, total casualties of combat, including indirect casualties from the economic harm associated with fighting, have been declining, even as the global population has risen. In 1950, one person in 5,000 worldwide died owing to combat; by 2010, this measure was down to one person in 300,000."
"Older people also report, to pollsters and psychologists, a greater sense of well-being than the young and middle-aged do. By the latter phases of life, material and romantic desires have been attained or given up on; passions have cooled; and for most, a rich store of memories has been compiled. Among the core contentions of the well-being research of the Princeton University psychologist Daniel Kahneman is that “in the end, memories are all you keep”—what’s in the mind matters more than what you own. Regardless of net worth, the old are well off in this sense....Should large numbers of people enjoy longer lives in decent health, the overall well-being of the human family may rise substantially."

A bit time-consuming, but well worth the read!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

So it's all Bismarck's fault!

White Europeans reproduced as much as today's sub-Saharans before the industrial age. Then came modernization and the introduction of old-age insurance. Look at them now and you may see Africans of the future. What will happen to mankind then, demographic-wise?

Should I drop my hat to
score some chicks?
A European Central Bank paper has identified the culprit behind Europe’s grim population trends, although he happens to have died over a century ago: Otto von Bismarck.

In the paper published late last week, authors Beatrice Scheubel from the ECB and Robert Fenge from the University of Rostock examine the effects that Bismarck’s creation of the German social security system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had on fertility.
Their finding: the effect of the introduction of old-age insurance in Germany “amounts to a total reduction of approximately 1.7 marital births per 1000 between 1895 and 1907.”

“Considering that the impact of social security on people’s lives has increased rather than decreased since the early nineteenth century, the impact of social security on current levels of fertility is likely to be even larger,” they wrote.

Having lots of kids is one way to prepare for old age, by raising the odds that they will eventually be able to provide for their parents in retirement. But the existence of social security reduces this need, because the government provides income in old age.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

UN projects 11 billion humans in 2100 if African poverty continues

Due to sub-Saharan demographic momentum, the UN now projects world population growth to continue well into the 22nd century, crossing 11 billion in 2100. As African fertility doesn't fall as much as expected since the last projection, UN demographers decide to input a higher sub-Saharan birthrate for the rest of this century, leading to a bigger projected number down the road.
"I'll be my parents' welfare state"
The unsaid assumption behind this projection is that sub-Sahara Africans will not escape their current wretched conditions. Under the same conditions (no Social Security/Medicare/... nothing), Americans/Swedes... of yesterday or today's sub-Saharans all do the same: have lots of kids.

Is keeping Africans in poverty the way to save humanity from a demographic collapse? 80+ years is a long time to project anything seriously. My bet is that life will gradually improve in Africa and when it does, Africans will reproduce just like the German/Japanese do now.

From "A World With 11 Billion People?"

Demographers from several universities and the United Nations Population Division conclude that instead of leveling off in the second half of the 21st century, as the UN predicted less than a decade ago, the world's population will continue to grow beyond 2100.
In a paper in press at Global Environmental Change and in a forthcoming book, Wolfgang Lutz and his colleagues at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, Austria, use a very different method—one that involves canvassing a large group of experts—to argue that population is likely to peak at 9.4 billion in 2075 and fall to just under 9 billion by 2100.
Where they differ most is in their estimates of the coming population decline in China and of the coming population explosion in Africa south of the Sahara—where most of the world's growth is going to occur.

According to the UN, the population in that region could quadruple, from less than one billion to nearly four billion. Africa in 2100 would be as densely populated as China is today.

"These are not predictions," says Wilmoth. "These are projections of what will happen if current trends continue. There is still an opportunity to intervene."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

We're not mature enough to meet aliens, or are they too mature to want to see us?

Meeting some Earthlings? Nah, thanks, I'll pass
Isn't it a young and stupid thing to assume that ETs want to meet us?

Just look around: lots of elderly humans here on Earth are no longer interested in meeting new people or seeing new things. They've seen enough, now all they want is to sit on their couch watching TV.

Millions-of-years-old alien civilizations might have become like those old-at-heart Earthlings. Meeting a dumb 200,000-years-young humanity is perhaps just a waste of time for them.

‘If we have a more global consciousness about our situation on the planet, how fragile the planet is, maybe that’s a step in the evolution of our consciousness as a species.

‘There could be other intelligent life out there and it could be really different from us physically, mentally, socially and even morally.

‘They could maybe not even be biological, they could be robots.

‘Right now I don’t think as a species we are ready. 

‘Of course some people are ready, but as a species I think it would be a big shock.'

My wild guess is that when we become mature enough to meet ETs, we won't be interested anymore.

The robots will serve us well, but first we have to reorganize our society to accommodate them

Girl, you don't know what you're missing!
A high-median-age society will need lots of automatic machines to help its old and frail members. However, under current social arrangements, if robots are to take over most of our jobs, there will be very few salaried humans left. Which means no more consumers who buy what the robots produce? Which means an epic economic collapse? A robotic capitalism thus logically calls for more, not less, social welfare. Does that mean a Scandinavian-style guaranteed minimum income for the rest of the world?

From the Globe and Mail, an interview with MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson: "Products without people: will robots make us all redundant?"

What are some common misconceptions about robotics and other forms of automation?

EB: Too many people fall into one or the other kind of technological determinism. There are those who point to some of the problems we have with inequality and employment, and they become very pessimistic. They say that we just have to get used to it, that the future’s going to be one where average people don’t have anything they can contribute. And then there are others who try to counter that by saying, “No, no, no, technology always creates more wealth and abundance, and everything’s going to be fine because technology is so powerful.”

Ironically, both of those groups make the same mistake: They assume that there’s this predetermined future we have to sit back and let unfold. The last line of our book is, “Technology is not destiny. We shape our destiny.”

When we had relative success with the economic effects of the first machine age, that was in large part because of some enormous structural changes we’d made in the economy – things like universal mass education and a complete reinvention of the tax code, and of course the creation of entirely new industries and ways of organizing work. Without those complementary changes, the technology would not necessarily have been beneficial for the mass of people.

It’s very important to be active in thinking about how to adapt to the technology. Otherwise there’s not a preset positive outcome.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scared by sub-replacement birthrate, Iran's supreme leader wants Iranians to reproduce more

Of course, I beat the boys at math!
In the Western mind, Iranians are often viewed as conservative, archaic, traditional... Yet they have one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. At 1.6 births per woman, Iran's birthrate is now lower than that of Britain or France... Bigger surprise still, the dramatic drop happened during the reign of the religious Ayatollahs: it was 6.5 back in 1970, under the highly westernized Shah.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sounded the alarm in a speech last winter, saying he was “shaking with fear” over the “dangerous issue” of population decline and warning officials to begin grappling with it now.

“After a few years, when the current young generation becomes old,” he said, “there will be no cure for that.”

Mr. Khamenei followed that up with a 14-point program, announced late last month, that health officials hope will lead to a doubling of Iran’s population, to 150 million, by 2050. Hospital delivery stays are now free, and women are allowed longer maternity leave. Reversing past policies to control population growth, the government has canceled subsidies for condoms and birth control pills and eliminated free vasectomies.

Billboards in the capital show a laughing father with five children riding a single tandem bicycle up a hill, leaving far behind an unhappy looking father with only one child. Those parents who actually produce five children are now eligible for a $1,500 bonus, not that many here are likely to be tempted.

“When I see those, I wonder, how can that father even smile?” said Hadi Najafi, 25, an unemployed professional soccer player. He said he did not have the money to marry, let alone keep up with rents increasing by 25 percent a year.

“Anybody with a lot of children is either very rich or very irresponsible,” Mr. Najafi said. “There is no other way.”

It looks like a few thousands dollars or some restrictions won't push Iranian fertility up much. The phenomenon, in Iran or elsewhere, is more deeply rooted than what the bureaucrats think. The root cause is modernity itself. As people opt for other worthwhile activities than having babies, they won't be swayed much by abstractions like country, nation, race...

Friday, August 29, 2014

UK immigrants' birthrate falls to lowest on record, converging with local women's rate.

Without immigrants from poorer lands, many European countries would have seen their population falling for decades now. Immigration is what makes the UK, France, Germany... different from Japan, where a very ethnically homogeneous population is shrinking by around 200,000 heads a year.

Even the Queen's family was from Germany
Yet, foreign-born citizens are also not the magic fix. After a while, they, or more likely their children, will become locals, with local reproductive pattern. 

"It could be a case of “no sex please we’re British now”- births to foreign-born mothers have fallen for the first time in a decade suggesting an end to the UK’s migrant baby boom.
New official figures also show that the fertility rate among foreign-born women in England and Wales fell to its lowest level on record last year.
But after a decade of mass migration the proportion of newborn babies with a mother originally from overseas also reached its highest level, the figures from the Office for National Statistics show."
"The Total Fertility Rate – which estimates how many children a typical woman would have in their lifetime if they replicated current patterns – fell to 2.19 children per woman among immigrants, down from 2.29 a year earlier.
It was the lowest rate since annual records began in 2004 and the ONS said it was also below rates indicated in the 2001 and 1991 censuses.
While immigrants have traditionally had more children than people born in the UK, the drop suggests that birth rates among immigrants are converging with those seen in British families."
"The ONS explained in a commentary that the falling fertility rates among migrant women represents a “change in trend” and said that falling fertility was effectively outweighing the effects of continued immigration in birth figures.
The figures also suggest that the rate could fall further the longer immigrants remain in the UK."

What will happen when the poor countries become rich, with rich world's fertility rate? And few have to migrate for economic reasons? Already, Iran's birthrate is now lower then the UK's (see part 2/7)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Polled women want more kids than they actually have. But wouldn't they say the same about salary or vacation?

What funny questions they are asking us!
When surveyed by pollsters, European and U.S. women nearing the end of their fertile years still state an ideal family size that is bigger than the real family they actually have. But if we replaced "family size" by "salary level" or "paid leave days", wouldn't we get the same answer?

"Fully 87% of women in 27 European Union (EU) member states reported that the ideal family size for them personally is two or more children, according to a 2011 Eurobarometer survey. Some 57% said that two is the ideal, and an additional 30% said three or more is ideal."..."Some 87% of EU men who had a preference also reported that their own ideal family would include two or more children."
"But when it comes to fertility, reality often doesn’t comport with the ideal. Among EU women ages 40 to 54, one-third reported that the number of children they actually have is lower than their personal ideal. This gap in ideal versus actual fertility varies markedly by country. In Denmark, fully 45% of women ages 40 to 54 reported that their actual fertility is lower than their ideal fertility, while at the other end of the spectrum, in Bulgaria just 18% of women near the end of their childbearing years reported that the number of children that they have is lower than their ideal."
"While the U.S. has been somewhat immune to the low fertility rates that have raised concerns in Europe, actual U.S. fertility also tends to fall below the ideal. Some 52% of American women (who gave numerical responses) said their ideal is two children, and an additional 44% said that three or more children is their ideal. (While 86% of women gave numerical responses to this question, 14% reported that the ideal family size was “as many as [someone] wants.”) But 40% of U.S. women nearing the end of their childbearing years have fewer children than their ideal."

In child-bearing as in so many other activities, life often doesn't turn out the way we dream it to be. That's why dreams are beautiful. What's new about that?