Help Me Pick Topics for Dragon*Con 2011

I’m starting to mull topics to talk about at Dragon*Con this year, so now’s your chance to help me decide!

How do we know where we are? Do you remember the route you took to get to your desk earlier? If so, how? In the last five years scientists have found all kinds of crazy neurons in brains. There are border cells that respond specifically to borders and edges, grid cells that divide the space around us into equilateral triangles, place cells that form a sense of place like dropping a pin in a Google map, and head position cells that keep track of where you’re pointing your head. The current theory is that our brains take all of these bits of information to build up a sense of space around us.

Let’s destroy the Earth! If we wanted to destroy the Earth, how would we go about it? And when I say “destroy the Earth”, I mean turn it into dispersed chunks of floating matter, not merely scraping the humans off of the crust like mold off of cheese.

Hunting down exoplanets. Before 1992, we’d never detected a planet outside of our solar system. We’re up to 519 now, but to date we’ve only found one likely rocky planet in a star’s habitable zone: Gliese 581 g. How are we finding these things in the first place?

Other suggestions?

15 thoughts on “Help Me Pick Topics for Dragon*Con 2011

  1. For destroying the Earth, I totally vote for an anti-matter bomb released into the core. Huge explosion, followed by a void where all the matter got turned into energy, which causes a collapse from all the external pressure.

    As for other topics, personally, I’d like to know how magnets work.

    Alternately, how about feasibility of permanent lunar/mars settlements. You’ve previously destroyed everybody’s hopes for a cloaking device. I’m sure you could present the cold, hard facts on just how difficult it’d be to survive independently off-Earth (after we destroy it with the anti-matter bomb).

  2. But their tears are so sweet. I must have more!

    Another Earth-killer: Use the moon.
    Mine He-3 from the moon for use in fusion reactors. Build giant (or multiple, or both) reactors for powering mass drivers. Use the moon rock itself as reaction mass. Fling rocks out the back to release the moon from Earth’s orbit. Sling-shot the moon around the sun for a head-on collision with the Earth.

    Other talking topics: Transhumanism.
    Mind downloading/copying. Machine bodies. Alternate body structures. Interaction between “modified” humans and regular ones. The mind as software. Etc. … and how none of this is even barely within our current reach.

  3. Yeah, it seems like the destruction of the Earth is the sort of thing that most of us will want to attempt eventually some day, so it would be best to start learning the techniques now.

  4. Tombstone is full of good ideas. I vote for the lunar/mars settlements and the transhumanism.

  5. Well, the main thing you have to have for long-term moonbases is in situ oxygen generation. With that, you can grow your own food, and water can be recycled. It’s oxygen that’s the real bitch.

  6. I like the neuroscience topics you suggested and Earth-as-Alderaan. Other thoughts: the effects of magnets on brains. How nutmeg produces hallucinogenic effects. Dark matter — what’s up with the cold, warm, hot business — is this laundry settings or physics? Targeted monoclonal antibodies.

  7. The “Earth-as-Alderaan” comment brings up an interesting question.

    Just how strong a laser (mounted to a space station at a reasonably “safe” distance from Earth) would you need in order to blow up a planet?

    Is it even possible to “blow up” a planet with a laser of *any* strength? Or would it just cook the surface or something similar?

  8. I’m now wondering what a powerful laser would do pointed at a major tectonic fault, and then another, and then another. Could you cause a cascade of quakes that would wreak havoc on the planet? I don’t think it’s necessary to blow the thing up to really foul things for everyone.

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