Journal Entry #3

September 18, 2007

Maureen and I attended a celebration of the wedding of Steve Berry and Elizabeth Reinhardt in St Marys, GA, September 15. Steve is the author of several excellent novels featuring adventures in archeology. His latest is The Alexandria Link, dealing with the lost library. These aren't SF, but they are compelling.

This evening, I'll be participating in The Big Read, federally-funded program to encourage people to read. Or better yet, to develop a passion for books. We'll be discussing Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 I'll be working with a second group Saturday on St. Simons Island.

The eBook version of Breach the Hull has gone on sale. It's a military SF anthology. Release date for the hard cover/ paperback editions is November 10. The publishers are planning a launch at Philcon. Two of my stories are included: "Cryptic," in which SETI finally picks up an artificial signal and then, for mysterious reasons, keeps it quiet. And "Black To Move," which obviously incorporates chess with the action.

I've been a dedicated chessplayer all my life. Am a member of USCF, and I used to participate regularly in tournaments. That's years ago, though. Doesn't seem to be time for it anymore. But readers know that Priscilla Hutchins and Alex Benedict are both adept at the game.

On the subject of SETI, they and NASA invited me to participate in a midsummer conference at the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. Among other invitees were Marvin Minski, Paul Davies, Gregory Benford, Robert Sawyer, Seth Shostak, and Frank Drake. The topic under discussion was The Future of Intelligence in the Universe. That naturally led to the issue of why SETI has never heard anything. During my speaking time, I tried to address this issue. Following is an extract from the NASA/SETI draft report, edited and compiled by Stephanie Langhoff, Carl Pilcher, Greg Laughlin, Jill Tarter, and Seth Shostak, and reproduced by permission:

Jack McDevitt gave the second talk in this session (July 1) on technological evolution entitled "Invent a Printing Press and Hang On." The key thesis to his presentation was that there is a strong possibility that, with the rise of technology, civilization becomes increasingly vulnerable to disruption. It may be that a collapse, within a few centuries, is all but unavoidable. Technology is designed and produced by the brightest among us. But ultimately its more dangerous applications are used by politicians and criminals. There are numerous other possible roads to collapse: greenhouse effects, overpopulation caused by failure to employ birth control devices and/or by continued advances in life extension, nanotech, etc.

These possibilities become more daunting in light of the fact that humans, who might act to stave them off, are so easily programmed to function in opposition to their own best interests. Note the willingness of people under Nazi control during the Holocaust to turn in their neighbors. Most of us have ideologies imposed on us when we are quite young. These ideologies sometimes overwhelm our common sense and our innate compassion. So we are fully capable of strapping on suicide belts to kill strangers, or to impose discrimination on people of a different color, or a different political bent, or to demand that others live by our sexual rules. We can do all this and retain a sense of moral superiority. Thus, when TV commentators maintain that greenhouse warming is really a political ploy about which we need not worry, millions of us buy into it and cannot be dissuaded.

An important step forward would be to emphasize critical thinking in high schools. This of course would be difficult to implement because parents in fact are more interested in having their children programmed in acceptable ideologies than in actually creating kids who would value thinking for themselves. Nevertheless it would be helpful if that type of education could be implemented worldwide.

— Jack

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