Plastic, new planets and Raptors
Hi, I’m Gavin. This is my experimental newsletter that explores thinking - how we might think better and learn together as we do so.
I explore several key topics through the lens of several core themes: systems thinking, scenario planning, trends, and cross-disciplinary innovation. These often relate to key issues: climate change, pandemics, astronomy, physics, health, history, philosophy, culture, rocketry, conflict, the impact of technology on society and more (lol!). With a larger question behind it all: how do we progress and how do we progress better?
I hope you like where we go. (943 - nope - 945 of us now! - welcome new arrivals)
PS: if you like the newsletter please share it! (And I always appreciate tweets about it too!) 🙏
If you support this newsletter and really like it you can also become a paid subscriber - you get nothing different except the satisfaction of knowing that you’re supporting this current weekly missive!
Reading list - the best stuff to read
(The best reads I’ve come across, with excerpts, links, authors and how long it will take to read. Climate change, COVID and China are consistently the stories at the top so are semi-permanent)
🌏 Climate change & biodiversity destruction
Dr. Doherty listened quietly. Then he told her, choosing his words carefully, that the rate of climate change suggested by the data was not as swift as what she was envisioning.
“In the future, even with worst-case scenarios, there will be good days,” he told her, according to his notes. “Disasters will happen in certain places. But, around the world, there will be good days. Your children will also have good days.”
At this, Ms. Black began to cry.
She is a contained person — she tends to deflect frightening thoughts with dark humor — so this was unusual. She recalled the exchange later as a threshold moment, the point when the knot in her chest began to loosen.
“I really trust that when I hear information from him, it’s coming from a deep well of knowledge,” she said. “And that gives me a lot of peace.”
A startup that came out of stealth last month has another idea: Parallel Systems wants to move freight using self-driving, battery-powered, autonomous rail vehicles. The trains would assemble automatically and travel with no conductor, no locomotive, and no train whistle. Should Parallel Systems succeed, fully autonomous self-driving could come to rails before roads.
Parallel Systems was founded in January 2020 by a group of ex-SpaceX executives and is largely still a concept. Parallel Systems CEO Matt Soule envisions platoons of rail vehicles that resemble giant Roombas carrying 10 to 50 shipping containers, but that’s based on modeling and simulations, since the company has so far built only two rail vehicles. A second-generation rail vehicle is due later this year.
"We care so much about low levels of pesticides in our drinking water. But when we pour water into a container to drink from, we unflinchingly add hundreds or thousands of substances to the water ourselves. Although we cannot yet say whether the substances in the reusable bottles affect our health, I'll be using a glass or quality stainless steel bottle in the future," says Jan H. Christensen.
China’s approval of gene-edited crops energises researchers
There was good news in fusion research. (2 mins)
Fusion researchers are far from having all the answers. A remaining challenge, for example, is dealing with the heat created in the exhaust region of the ITER reactor. ITER’s exhaust will have a bigger area than JET’s, but the increase will not be in proportion to the surge in power it will have to deal with. Research is under way to work out which design should best withstand the heat, but researchers are not there yet, says Proll.
JET’s record-breaking run happened on the last day of a five-month campaign from which Rimini says scientists gleaned a wealth of information that they will analyse over the next few years. The final experiment pushed the device to its “absolute maximum”, adds Rimini, who witnessed the landmark test in real time. “We didn’t jump up and down and hug each other — we were at 2 metres distance — but it was very exciting.”
“Some people’s immune systems go haywire after Covid. We’re trying to look at the similarities between chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and long Covid,” he said, echoing Blitshteyn, Bhadelia, and others in the field. “We’ve seen post-viral illnesses cause chronic fatigue, small fiber neuropathy, autonomic dysfunction. I think there’s something probably specific to Covid, but we’ve never seen a virus on this scale in the modern era.”
Where does that leave patients now?
“I think we’re getting more confident that even just some of the basic health strategies of self-care, rest, physical therapy, and some symptomatic medication are really effective,” Brode said. “Symptomatic treatment is good, not great.”
“I am actually surprised by these findings that cardiovascular complications of COVID can last so long,” Hossein Ardehali, a cardiologist at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, wrote in an e-mail to Nature. Because severe disease increased the risk of complications much more than mild disease, Ardehali wrote, “it is important that those who are not vaccinated get their vaccine immediately”.
This all leads to one question: Should Covid patients who are having trouble with exercise continue to ramp up their physical activity? Nobody knows — and opinions differ. “There are both patients and doctors who are vehemently against any exercise” because of these issues, Dr. Systrom said. But he also said that exercise can be possible, and even beneficial, after long Covid patients receive proper treatment. “If you can get the patient in a better place with medications, then you can embark on a graded exercise program without precipitating crashes,” he said.
Michael Jacobs, a consultant in infectious diseases at the Royal Free London hospital, where the trial was carried out, said in a statement: “The trial has already provided some fascinating new insights into SARS-CoV-2 infection, but perhaps its greatest contribution is to open up a new way to study the infection and the immune responses to it in great detail and help test new vaccines and treatments.”
🇨🇳 China / Taiwan
The American officials said they believe Xi’s government is studying the cohesion of the NATO alliance as it seeks to push back on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s massing of forces near Ukraine’s border. Although Putin has said he has no intention of invading Ukraine, the standoff has emerged as the biggest crisis to face the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since the Balkans conflict in the 1990s.
There have been some cracks in U.S.-European unity, largely over the scope of sanctions that should be imposed on Russia if it invades, or undertakes something short of war to destabilize or otherwise undermine Ukraine. But broadly, the trans-Atlantic alliance has rallied to show a united front.
🏛 Society - at the fringes
Fringe theories aren’t fringe, in the sense of being marginal to their culture, including ours. They are marginal only from the point of view of intellectual (or scientific) orthodoxy. Whether the scepticism is about mandatory vaccinations against COVID-19 (associated with the political Right) or the MMR vaccine’s much-debunked link to autism (associated with the Left), or climate change denialism, or QAnon, or the gonzo futurism of one electric-car entrepreneur, there is an awful lot of ‘fringe’ occupying the centre of our conceptual – and increasingly political – space. For example, given the prevalent tendency for people to get their information from specific, often partisan or at least fellow-travelling social networks, publications, cable television (national or local public access) and radio shows, theories emerge in one of them and can quickly migrate across platforms, stacking fellows on the way. Fringe theories are worth paying attention to and trying to understand. This essay is one attempt to expand that conversation.
Fundamentally, we need to recognise that fringe theories aren’t just theories. Like science, the fringes come with complex, interconnected social substructures. The theories serve as sources of identity and as social magnets. They provide meaning to how adherents think about the world, much as the mainstream scientific consensus does. The people interested in fringe theories may recognise that they are heterodox, but they also think that they are, in an important sense, correct or likely to become so. (You probably think the same about the unconventional ideas you happen to espouse.) These individuals, quite understandably, are interested in discussing their ideas with like-minded folks. The gathering of the like-minded, indeed, is how consensuses are built. That’s how we built ours.
🇷🇺 🇺🇦 Russia / Ukraine
A well argued analysis of the situation on the ground. We will have to wait and see however. (8 mins by Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Alina Frolova, Oleksiy Pavliuchyk, and Viktor Kevlyuk)
Russia is constantly adjusting and adapting its plans based on the changing situation, the reaction of Ukraine and the international community.
Let us not forget that we are in a state of hybrid warfare, in which information narratives are part of an attack or defense. Obviously, our Western partners see the disclosure of information about the intentions of the Russian leadership as an opportunity for pressure and restraint: we know about your plans and are preparing for them.
Intercepting the Kremlin’s initiative for the next steps and the absolute and unshakable rejection of the idea of starting a large-scale war, and Western readiness to enforce punitive consequences – this is what’s holding Putin back.
Anne Applebaum @anneapplebaumFrom an independent Ukrainian think-tank: "At present, the accumulated forces on the border are insufficient for a large-scale operation aimed at capturing all or a significant part of Ukraine." https://t.co/E7xFYNbvBg
The NYT on training civilians: (4 mins)
Tragically, the Western leaders and diplomats who are right now trying to stave off a Russian invasion of Ukraine still think they live in a world where rules matter, where diplomatic protocol is useful, where polite speech is valued. All of them think that when they go to Russia, they are talking to people whose minds can be changed by argument or debate. They think the Russian elite cares about things like its “reputation.” It does not.
🇺🇸 United States - isolationism
Finally, losing our isolationism fixation would reward a cardinal virtue: it would accredit diplomacy and other forms of engagement. These methods seem empty so long as anyone championing them is tarred as a sinful isolationist; peaceful interaction looks like negligent inactivity unless backed by overwhelming force. Often, however, diplomacy should be not only the first resort but also the last. If negotiations with Iran break down, say, will it truly serve US interests to launch a war with the Islamic Republic to keep it from acquiring a nuclear weapon whose use could be deterred instead?
In an era of climate change and pandemic disease, many of the foreign policies that will determine the safety and well-being of the American people will be non-military in nature: setting standards on emissions, providing developing countries with renewables, establishing mechanisms to distribute vaccines. For such actions to look less like a sideshow to national security concerns and more like the main event, American leaders and US citizens must no longer perversely conflate international engagement with the use or threat of force. It is time to rescue internationalism from its corrupting affiliation with one nation’s power.
🚀 Rockets - Starship
Scott Manley had a good summary of the Elon Musk presentation. (18 mins)
🌌 Astronomy - new planet
A third planet discovered - and quite a small one too. That the technique used was successful also means the ELT will be able to detect many more planets when it’s completed. (2 mins)
The newly discovered planet, named Proxima d, orbits Proxima Centauri at a distance of about four million kilometers, less than a tenth of Mercury's distance from the sun. It orbits between the star and the habitable zone—the area around a star where liquid water can exist at the surface of a planet—and takes just five days to complete one orbit around Proxima Centauri.
The star is already known to host two other planets: Proxima b, a planet with a mass comparable to that of Earth that orbits the star every 11 days and is within the habitable zone, and candidate Proxima c, which is on a longer five-year orbit around the star.
🇳🇱 Cycling and The Netherlands
A good summary here. (13 mins)
Philosophy Corner (a journey through thinking about thinking every week)
(A serialised section that started with Greek Tragedy and moved to philosophy. Something to spark ideas. Feel free to go backwards!).
Bentham on pleasure (48 mins)
(A good thing to watch - also serialised - so feel free to go back through past editions!)
The fourth and final episode of Ways of Seeing. (28 mins)
(The best stuff I’ve listened to, or been recommended by subscribers)
Mick Clifford interviews Peter Sweetman. (40 mins) It’s a good interview - the most important take away is make sure you read the Aarhus Convention. He also identifies the main issue - Ireland is consistently breaking EU law. (Recommended by subscriber Ella McSweeney)
The Daily Sunday read looks at Covid spillback. (42 mins)
Still in my tabs
(Or stuff I haven’t read yet, but looks promising)