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Crib Sheet: Neptune's Brood

One of the problems with writing novels for the trade publishing business is that you're not just writing for your readers; you have to keep one eye on the internal structure of your publisher's business. Prior to the 1980s, trade publishing ran on much the same lines it had in the 1880s; small family-owned or run businesses where editors acquired and edited books, then sent them down to the production department to be typeset and then printed and bound and warehoused. But a wave of corporate take-overs up-ended the entire game board in the 1970s and 1980s, and these days the internal logic of publishing bears little resemblance to the business in days of yore. Any part of the pipeline that can be outsourced has been outsourced for decades: and while editors still edit, their job is now tightly integrated with marketing, and they can't (usually) buy books that they can't convince the marketing department are commercial propositions.

So when you've written a successful novel, the first thing any editor says to you is, "that was great! Can you write me another book just like the last one, only different?" By which they mean something that is easy to explain to the marketing folks without requiring them to read the entire manuscript (because marketing are responsible for selling maybe 2-3 new titles a week, and they just don't have time).

Back in 2007 I wrote "Saturn's Children", thinking that it was a one-shot: a late-period Heinlein tribute novel. And indeed, there was no way I intended to go back and write about Freya ever again. (She's one of the most annoying protagonists I ever came up with. Alternately chatty and whining, a vacuous underachiever, traumatic origins or not: it was a pleasure to push her out of my head when I finished that book.) But some folks seemed to like it, and when Jonathan Strahan came along and asked me to write a story for his new hard-SF anthology, Engineering Infinity I came up with an idea that only made sense in the context of Freya's universe and it's rather primitive starships. Hence Bit Rot.

Having written "Bit Rot" it seemed to me that there was some scope for exploring what happened to the Freyaverse some thousands of years after the events of "Saturn's Children". But there things rested until 2010.

Now, in 2010 I signed a new three-book contract with Ace and Orbit (Ace for North American rights, Orbit for UK/Commonwealth rights). The original contract was for a Laundry Files novel (The Apocalypse Codex), an unspecified space opera (as light relief between Big Jobs), and a third near-future Scottish SF police procedural to follow "Rule 34" and "Halting State". That novel, "The Lambda Functionary", failed to take off: firstly because I got too ambitious, and then because I ran into the Scottish political singularity. (It may yet get written, in drastically different form, after the fallout from this month's referendum settles. But it can't be published for at least three years due to other books that are already locked into the production pipeline.) Instead, I hastily wrote a quick Laundry Files knock-off that turned out slightly better than expected: The Rhesus Chart.

What about the book in the middle?

The book in the middle was meant to be a light-hearted space operatic caper. I'd established a much-slower-than-light universe in "Saturn's Children", and posthumans who could survive the harsh environments and protracted time scales implied by it. How about sending a protagonist on a tour of known space?

Well, at the first step, my suspension of disbelief broke. Because space travel is so hard in the Freyaverse that nobody in their right mind would do it, unless the stakes were unbelievably high—and they had a very low estimate of their own self-worth. In fact, come to think of it, space colonization was itself a ludicrous idea; how on earth could it pay for itself?

Nevertheless, I persisted. I realized that I needed an economic framework, otherwise the whole idea collapsed at the first hurdle, leaving me with only religious fanaticism as a plausible motive for space colonization. And while religious fanaticism features in "Neptune's Brood" (the Church of the Fragile are what you get after 5000 years of uncritical acceptance of the nonsensical "we can't keep all our eggs in one basket"/"what if life on Earth is wiped out?" arguments advanced by would-be space colonists today: our robot offspring are going to ensure that humanity spreads to the stars, kicking and screaming and dying in large numbers), religious fanatics aren't terribly engaging characters in a work of fiction.

And that's when the idea of different speeds of money hit me.

In the late-period Freyaverse, money comes in three kinds: fast, medium, and slow. We are all used to fast money; it's what we use today. It's a medium of exchange of value and it correlates with economic velocity: the hotter/faster an economy is moving, the more money circulates. You can't meaningfully transfer fast money between star systems (or even sub-systems in orbit around a common star, such as the separate moon systems of different distant gas giants) because the economies are not directly coupled: no physical goods are actually worth shipping across such distances. (I'm putting a lower threshold on the cost of a single starship mission in the Freyaverse of roughly one year of GDP for an entire solar system; in today's terms, if we had the tech to build one, that would be around $50Tn, or 5-6 times the annual GDP of the United States.)

In addition to fast money, there are long term instruments that act as reservoirs of value. Real estate is not terribly liquid—you can't take a thousandth of your house to the supermarket and use it to buy provisions—but it's still recognizably valuable. And it persists; real estate investments may hold value for decades or centuries. And because they're interchangeable with fast money, at what is effectively a wildly skewed exchange rate, these properties can act as buffers against fluctuations in the fast money economy.

The Freyaverse recognizes this by denominating investments of this type (not just houses but pyramids and space elevators and planetary terraforming projects) in a currency of their own: medium money.

But starships in the Freyaverse are slow—typically cruising at 1% of lightspeed. At this speed, Alpha Centauri is nearly 500 years away; stars with known planetary systems may take millennia to reach. Communication is a lot faster: colonized star systems use modulated laser transmissions to beam data back and forth, including the uploaded, serialized minds of people who want to travel. But what kind of currency (even for a species as long-lived as our posthuman mechanocyte-based successors) can possibly be used to intermediate exchanges of value across interstellar distances? Or to settle debts amounting to the cost of building a new colony, when that kind of sum is equal to entire years of economic productivity?

Slow money is a digital currency backed by debt—the debt incurred by constructing a new interstellar colony. To exchange slow money tokens requires something like (but not identical to) David Chaum's Digicash; all transactions need to by cryptographically signed by a trusted third party. With slow money, rather than relying on a "banker", each party can operate as a banker—but bank A can't sent cash to bank B without getting the transaction irrevocably notarized by bank C. By putting the third party in another star system, both participants in the exchange can verify that they're not being scammed, because to get your digicash packet countersigned by your banker you need to literally aim your laser communicator at their home star system. And wait. And wait a bit longer, because this whole process takes ages—slow money (thanks to requiring notarization/acknowledgement) travels no faster than a third the speed of light.

So, setup: I generated a character (subtype: girl with a mission; sub-subtype: as utterly unlike Freya as I could make her, which is why she's a middle-aged accountant), put her in jeopardy (trying to get from a highly dubious space colony to a water world, she signs on board a damaged vessel crewed by religious fanatics for a working passage), and sent her off to have adventures.

Then, midway through the first draft, this book fell on me.

The book in question was Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber, and it was to 2011 pretty much what Piketty on Capital is to 2014. Short version: Graeber is an anthropologist, not an economist. His thesis is that to the extent that economics is the study of how we allocate resources, this is essentially within the domain of anthropology: and some of the central narratives of economics are inconsistent with our understanding of how human societies operate. (If you read no other part of the book, look for his demolition of Adam Smith's account of the emergence of barter among primitive peoples. Barter, Graeber points out, isn't something that emerges, and that acts as a precursor to the development of money: rather, barter is what we get in atomized societies when fiscal systems collapse and nobody trusts their neighbours. True primitive tribal societies run on interpersonal debt and/or honour systems: everybody knows what their neighbours owe them, so there's no need to provide an immediate exchange for items of value received.)

But anyway: "Debt" gave me a critical tool to look at the economics of interstellar colonization in the Freyaverse. And a tool for thinking about why colonies might be founded. Colonization is expensive, so to create a colony mission incurs a huge amount of debt, denominated in slow money (because this is the only currency that can survive the gulfs of time and space involed). The easiest way to obtain the slow money with which to pay off your star system's debt of instantiation (and interest) is to grow rapidly and send out your own colonies, in turn, which allows you to issue cash instruments redeemable against their debt, much as banks today use lending as collateral for generating new money.

Voila! Just add banking fraud, murderous matriarchs, alien space bats, talking squids in space, a water-world and the worldbuilding thereof (see also part 2), and you have a parable for our times about the banking crisis and the spiralling growth of debt that is rapidly enslaving us to a floating pool of transnational financial instruments that nobody really understands or owns.

"Neptune's Brood" was simple, really: just a light-hearted space opera that accidentally turned into an exegesis on how to design an economic system to answer one of my earlier core criticisms of the proponents of space colonisation: who's going to pay for it?.

Two final notes.

Firstly, the ending isn't up to snuff. I'm sorry. I tried to do it justice, but I ran out of time. I had twelve months of wall-clock time to write the book, but throwing half of the first half out and re-doing from scratch after bouncing off "Debt" cost me a couple of months, and then I realized that I just didn't have time to spend an extra year or two polishing it. So I gave it the best ending I could, but to this day I have the nagging feeling that somewhere out there in memespace the real ending to "Neptune's Brood" is floating around, waiting for me to have the time to haul it back in for a Director's Cut re-release with extra found footage.

Secondly, "Neptune's Brood" was shortlisted for the Hugo award in 2014 ... and lost, by a wide margin to Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, which made an extraordinary clean sweep of the SF field awards in a manner that probably hasn't happened since William Gibson's "Neuromancer" swept the boards in 1985. Ah well: congratulations to Ann, who seems to have somehow single-handedly relegitimized space opera (it needs that to happen every decade or it stops being "new", or something like that)!

... And a third and final thought: this universe isn't dead. I drove it into a lamppost with that ending, the bumper's crumpled, the radiator's leaking and the transmission is making an ominous whining noise, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to take it out for another spin one of these years, unlike the Eschaton universe. Unfortunately it may be a long while; I seem to be writing only near future SF and urban fantasy these days ...

103 Comments

1:

We know that a nobel prize winner in economics is a big fan of your work. I know he said when reading an advance copy that it it was the best thing written on interstellar finance ;-).

Did you chat with him about it at any point during the book's development - or was the first he saw of it the copy he mentioned in the NYT blog post he did on it?

2:

Did you chat with him about it at any point during the book's development - or was the first he saw of it the copy he mentioned in the NYT blog post he did on it?

The latter. I'm really flattered that you might think this, but I don't have Nobel laureates on tap as beta readers ;-)

3:

I'm pretty sure I'm going to take it out for another spin one of these years, unlike the Eschaton universe. Unfortunately it may be a long while; I seem to be writing only near future SF and urban fantasy these days ...

Ah, never despair! Maybe we'll end up soon in Interesting Times with lots of singularities and turmoil, which makes near future SF even harder and provides a nice climate for lighthearted, escapist space operas...

4:

Ta for this! I really enjoyed Neptune's Brood. Every time it comes on everyone is like like TUNE BRO!

Loved that drift to the seabed especially.

But listen, one thing which strikes me about its connection to Debt, & particularly the bits where he talks about debt as something broader and deeper than a financial configuration, in fact more like one of the raw ingredients from which morality itself gets spun, is that -- at least, it felt to me, on one reading -- that Neptune's Brood really take up his critique of the ideology of debt, or signal boost the complicated relationship between debt and slavery, in any big way.

For instance, the bad guys are more-or-less people who borrow a lot of money & run off with it, right? And while there were unjust debts, I guess, the instantiation debts, it didn't feel like the novel was trying to upset received wisdom about how we recognise justice or injustice vis-a-vis debt in the first place -- something which Graeber's Debt did do (among 1,000 other things, obv.). Neptune's gives us debt on a mega scale, with an unsavoury taint to it, but it doesn't struggle against that deeply engrained norm of the righteousness of one who pays their debts.

Is that fair? Maybe I'm forgetting / missing something.

Glad to hear that universe isn't dead :)

5:

It may be flattering--but it would not have surprised some of us if you DID. :)

The development of Neptune's Brood, from the outside of writing (but not outside of genre) looks like the book that turned out in the creation to be very different than the inception.

I had not realized you don't intend to ever revisit the Eschatonverse. I can see why, from a large scale perspective, and I do prefer writers to try new stuff along with "more in the line".

6:

Understanding economics has never been one of my strong suits, probably because I don't apply the same amount of effort that I do to understanding other subjects. But for me Neptune's Brood was the applesauce that made taking down the mixed-in economics bearable and worthwhile. I put a lot of effort into rereading the parts involving the economics of deep space colonization and found the concepts of different speeds of money really interesting.

Have you come across other novels where the author tries to get real about the economical logistics and feasibility of these long, long space voyages? From books I've read in the past, yours was a completely novel treatment of the issue. I don't know if I've even read a book that's simply RAISED this as an issue. After finishing your book, I felt my mind had been broadened. That's gotta be a good thing.

Finally, it's always interesting (yet often saddening) to hear how real world pressures impact the writing of my favorite books. Now I wonder about the "what might have been" for the ending of Neptune's Brood.

7:

*ahem* Sorry, in haste, changes the meaning a bit: DOESN'T really take up his critique ... etc.

8:

So, next time you write a novel about economics, are you going to use the contact you've made now?

9:

No, that critique is fair: it's why I said that the ending sucks. I couldn't quite get one to gel that repudiated the entire framework of inherited debt without simultaneously getting all preachy on a soapbox. Which is not the right way to persuade people or tell a story.

10:

It's also kind of unfortunate that you used the word "bitcoin" before "Bitcoin™" exploded all over the place, and too many people assuming you were talking about the latter.

11:

Damn, forgot to mention that: yes.

I wrote Neptune's Brood in 2011. Bitcoin was obscure back then, and I figured had just enough name recognition to be a useful term for an interstellar currency: it'd clue people in that it was a networked digital currency.

Publication rolls round to 2013 and Bitcoin is everywhere. So readers assume I'm writing about the Bitcoin in their wallet.

Sort of like writing a near future SF novel in 2004-5 in which everyone carries a futurist smartphone called an iPhone, only it's not by Apple and it has a QWERTY keyboard, because that's what smartphones had in those days. Then being surprised by how people read it in 2007.

12:

I'm a bit confused about the idea of currency backed by the debt of extremely distant people who will never pay it back. It seems to me that this currency should be valueless, in the same way that a bond issued by a bankrupt corporation is valueless. Or, at least, it should need anchoring to some source or sink of value (e.g. gold or taxes) closer to home.

13:

I'm a bit confused about the idea of currency backed by the debt of extremely distant people who will never pay it back

They do pay it back: that's the whole point.

One of the weird things about debt as a social structure is the way it persists across generations. (And it's also deeply intertwingled with the social institution of slavery, although for a full explanation of why you'll need to go and read Graeber.)

14:

They do pay it back: that's the whole point.

How? Do they physically ship economic goods?

Paying in digital currency doesn't help; we have plenty of numbers right here. How can they actually transfer useful, valuable resources to their lenders?

15:

For what it's worth, I actually enjoyed the ending of Neptune's Brood. It took me by surprise, but it reminded me of the "smash cut to credits" endings that some TV shows use. And I liked that the consequences of the slow economy's sudden obsolescence were implied rather than explained.

From what I've gathered through online discussions of the book, I'm probably in the minority there. And it's interesting that I apparently have a higher opinion of the ending than the person who wrote it. :)

But it seemed worth mentioning that I did like it. At the very least, "high-stakes climax leading to a sudden stop" is a structure I don't see often in novels outside of contrived cliffhangers. But maybe there's a reason, and I just have unusual tastes in literature.

16:

They don't. The entire economic edifice our Host built is not actually possible. They can't trade physical goods and there is no point in creating physical Colonies to trade in virtual goods.

(Not to mention that there is no way to transmit information between stars without the laser beam being so wide when it arrives, the entire star system can read it. And 120 star systems BEHIND it.)

It would be more plausible for the robots to continue colonizing the galaxy out of a non-economic motive. They are based on humans, after all, and so are not rational anyway...

17:

The part of Debt: The First 5,000 Years that I was most reminded of was Graeber's discussion of societies that had special kinds of money that were so valuable that they could only be used for especially important or ritualistic purposes, like arranging marriages. This kind of money just wasn't used in day-to-day life. Depending on how you distinguish between a society's "economy" and the other aspects of a society, you might say this was a kind of money that wasn't used for the functioning of an economy. You might say that this money had no value, or you might say that it had such extraordinarily high value that it was on an incommensurable scale from things with ordinary use value.

Slow money seemed very much part of that framework: a special kind of money that's used only for a single extraordinary purpose, a purpose that doesn't seem very far from religion. And again, you might wonder whether you should think of that special kind of money as valueless, or extraordinarily valuable, or possessing an incommensurable value. I wasn't sure it made sense to have special ritual money like that in a society that also uses day-to-day money, and to have the two interconvertible, but I also wasn't sure it didn't. Definitely thought-provoking, and definitely plausible that, if there ever are such things as starships, there will have to be radically new notions of money and debt and value to go along with them.

18:

Despite Vanzetti's later comment , I think they do pay it back. But the payback is only valid if you buy into the delusion (because it requires FTL travel) that "Asset Realisation", such as in Peter Hamilton's Fallen Dragon will be possible someday.

It doesn't matter when or even if it really ever becomes possible, it's just an axiom of the system. If you question the axioms - you get a banking crisis.

Ideally each new colony pays their debt back to the progenitor colony by passing the debt obligation they own of there child colonies back. So only the most recent colonies are possible target's for Asset Realisation.

In more concrete terms though- this is sort of assured mechanic for Paying Forward. Not paying forward, means you have to default on your debt.

What happens then is anyone's guess.

19:

I had guessed, when reading, that the main value of slow money was that it was how you paid your passage to a new solar system.

A new colony would issue a whole bunch of slow dollars (immigration credits) in the hope that the colony would be successful, its standard of living would end up tremendously high, and everyone in the galaxy would want to move there.

Presumably the value of a slow dollar issued by a system would rise and fall in proportion to the apparent prospects of the colony, and there would be a slow speculative market in the things.

20:

>>But the payback is only valid if you buy into the delusion (because it requires FTL travel) that "Asset Realisation", such as in Peter Hamilton's Fallen Dragon will be possible someday.

No, of course the system will work if the users are irrational. :-)

Maybe it's a virus that infects robot brains and makes them start new colonies...

21:

I also enjoyed Neptune's Brood, so tying this in with 'give me more of the same, but different'... my requests are for you to explore more fully:

Death knell of competition: teams are here to stay, there's too much info in any endeavor to process by one person. The biggest/costliest screw-ups on massive projects will likely be traced to the wrong person heading up HR. (Economic cost of hiring jerks. What type of person might make for a good HR director: chef, engineer, mathematician? pro's and con's.)

Arts (performance, lit, fine arts) appreciate in value indefinitely. So do progeny. What if people sold their right to procreate - a new twist to the expression 'birthright' - for x, y number of years. What if they sold parts of their genome?

Haven't read either of the two books you mentioned - waiting for Piketty's book to come out in soft cover -- but have been wondering about whether the notion of money was to address/avoid owing a favor. In small fairly closed groups (families, friends), one of the hassles is unsolicited favors, usually something that you would really prefer to do without entirely. However, you don't always have something kicking around that you can/want to give in return - yet that obligation is there. So instead of skulking around trying to avoid the persons you now owe favors to, you come up with the idea of money. After some comparing notes at the first Neanderthal/CroMagnon focus group - you discover that all of your best buds have this same complaint. So you try a few different approaches -- rocks (too heavy), food (goes bad), and you end up with flints and beads. (The focus group was split on who their primary target market for this exchange medium would.) So, my thesis is that money came into being, not because we wanted something from someone else, but because we didn't want to owe something to someone else.

22:

I started giggling at the Crimson Permanent Assurance. Mainly because (having bought the "songs of" album) I'd put the Accountancy Shanty near the top of my iPod playlist for the car - my beloved is a CA.

I'd also just shown that scene from the film as part of my ongoing plot to subvert firstborn. That, Jasper fforde's YA stuff, and "Space Captain Smith"...

23:

(Not to mention that there is no way to transmit information between stars without the laser beam being so wide when it arrives, the entire star system can read it. And 120 star systems BEHIND it.)

For anyone who saw this and didn't understand it, it falls out from the uncertainty principle. The uncertainty in a photon's radial position and radial momentum has a minimum value. The uncertainty in its radial position is set by the aperture of the laser; the radial momentum is the photon's mass (tiny) and its radial velocity. For any semiplausible laser aperture size, there's enough uncertainty in the radial velocity to spread the beam rather severely over interstellar distances (and years of travel).

24:

First of all, when I saw 'crib sheet neptunes brood' in my feed reader I thought "Now'S the time to ask! Did you run into a deadline, or what was up with the ending?"

Second, back when Neptunes Brood was published ther was a glowing review in the Arranca!, a german anarchist/communist publication. They hardly review novels.

Last, about the whole 'just debts' angel - you could take a situation that happened often in post colonialist countries and plug it into the freyaverse: Colony gets founded. Colony founders import (at debt) lots of mercenaries and related know how to ruthlessly exploit the other colonists. Colonists oust founders. Colony now faces debt for decisions that none of the now-inhabitants made or supported.

Another question: As I understood, people in the freyaverse mostly start out as an edited copy of someone and have to repay some debt to them. How do you arrive at a 'fair' value for this? Obviously, if you only have to repay the actual cost of your fist body + memory editing + interest, chances are no one would procreate and instead invest somewhere else. So it will be more. But even at the lowest possible value for the incurred creation debt, the newborn can say:"Hey, I never asked to born in the first place! Now leave me alone dad, I'm hanging out with other angry youth."

25:
I seem to be writing only near future SF and urban fantasy these days ...

If you do want that best novel Hugo (and congrats on the latest), I can't imagine a likelier candidate among your announced/possible future works than the Palimpsest novelisation (hint, hint).

26:

[ DELETED BY MODERATORS ]

Reason: off-topic and abusive. Red card. Poster banned.

27:

How? Do they physically ship economic goods?

Read the book.

28:

The slow, medium, fast money thing had me wondering about our own economy. We use one universal currency in most countries to denominate everything from wages to automobiles and houses and futures contracts, even derivatives. But it seems like the money bears no relation to reality.

A stock bubble company can have a higher valuation than a proper manufacturing concern with plant, equipment, and oodles of patents, not to mention a workforce that can put all those things to work making items with real value. What is the value of a painting? Whatever someone will pay for it. But $50 million for oils on canvas just doesn't even seem like real money anymore. You could buy a private jet for that kind of scratch.

It's one thing, though, if an industrialist who makes things pays that much for a painting because it's basically conspicuous consumption, a status display. His money came from real things. But when something like Instagram is valued at a billion bucks... Reality seems to have departed the conversation.

Some of these internet companies did deals in the hundreds of millions that were a mix of cash and stock swaps. If I say my stock is worth $100 million and give it to you in exchange for stock you value at $100 million, it may balance out on the books but it seems unreal. And when valuations are pushed beyond the means to reasonably extract that wealth, how much is even real?

Let's say I have a hundred thousand shares of some thinly-traded stock. Mark to market, I sell one share and get a value. Multiply by 999,999, is that the true value? If I liquidated the entire position, the price might drop to pennies. So the asset is valued at more than I could possibly convert it to cash for in a short timeframe.

It almost seems like it would make sense to use different currencies to differentiate between the speculative and the concrete. Food is concrete. A futures contract for food is the next best thing because it's about a concrete thing people are making. Derivatives feel like fairy dust. The fictionalization of the economy seems like we are managing to increase the dollar value of all these financial assets and transactions without increasing a real value. David Tepper of Appaloosa Management made $4 billion in one year. His janitor is probably making 30 to 40% inflation-adjusted than he did 30 years ago.

Our current economy feels like playing a video game on a hacked server. The guys you're playing against say hate the game, not the gamer and they're playing by the rules but they're not the same rules you're playing under, not when they have the cheat codes.

I'd like the idea of slow money for the things that are vital to the safe operation of society, money that's anti-speculative, that's hard to flip and game for a quick buck. Enron was an energy utility, it never should have operated like an internet startup. And why do we even allow casino gimmicks in investing in the first place? Caveat emptor is a bad joke when even the regulators have no idea what they're looking at.

29:

Vanzetti is basically blowing smoke out of his ass. (And Jay hasn't read the book at all.)

ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTE: This blog entry is titled "Crib sheet" for a reason. It is intended to make sense of some issues that are present in the book, not to regurgitate (in over-simplified form) the entire raft of world-building that went into a dense, 110,000 word hard-SF novel.

30:

Wow. You know what I do when I post online? I always ask "How am I coming across? Am I being that guy?" This is going into my "that guy" filter. Any time I start coming across like this, time to step away from the keyboard and take a nice walk.

31:

Greg: troll has been nuked. And it is trolling. (I'm in no way a denier when it comes to HPL's racism, but this isn't the discussion forum for raking it over, and the drive-by poster is a flaming asshole. Zero to lifetime ban in one comment. Oh, and a really good way to convince me you're not being disingenuous is to pick an alias like "NerdsAreTheScumOfTheEarth". NOT.)

32:

I never said I had. I was just asking a question. And explaining a physics point about lasers, for what that's worth.

These sorts of questions are why I prefer fantasy; the author makes up the rules to serve the story, which gives the fantasy author a lot more freedom.

33:

It seems to me that debt was disconnected from slavery, in the United States at least, by the passage of bankruptcy laws, under which you can do the best you can to discharge your debts, and then walk away, not even naked but with a certain minimum of working assets.

And then, of course, it was reconnected when Congress decided that student college loans could not be gotten rid of through bankruptcy, but could linger throughout your life (and according to some news stories, apparently even come back to improverish your parents if you predecease them).

34:

Jay, I did some reading around the optical SETI field before I went with lasers. Your answer to beam spreading and eavesdropping is to encrypt everything using public key cryptography, public keys being distributed on the initial colony starship. (Quantum crypto won't work at interstellar distances, as I understand it.)

There is interstellar commerce in the book; the main traded items are human minds. And suffice to say, colonies that cut themselves off from the mainstream of commerce suffer adverse consequences thereby. But for an in-depth explanation, you could do worse than go read the book (I'm not going to spoon-feed it to you here: I'm in the process of redrafting another novel.)

35:

William H. Stoddard, the "student loans are for life" law has inspired one of two newish crimes I've learned of recently: reporting your death, to get out from under student loan debt.

The other: using computers to cheat in chess tournaments.

36:

It seems to me that debt was disconnected from slavery, in the United States at least, by the passage of bankruptcy laws

True now, but keep in mind that when the American colonies were being established it wasn't that unusual for someone to be an indentured servant, essentially selling themselves into slavery to pay off their debt. Whether that still happens elsewhere I don't know, I would hope not. Could it be done again, with future colonization?

37:

Don't forget the title of Graeber's book: Debt: The First 5000 Years. He takes the long view. When Graeber is talking about the historical connections between debt and money economies and religion and slavery, he's not thinking of anything so recent as the 18th century.

38:

A "long view" that doesn't recognize that things changed in the past quarter millennium or so is too long to be useful for certain purposes. Even if you focus simply on materialistic historical variables, the demographic transition, the change of population doubling time from 1000 years to 50, the massive enhancement in energy controlled per capita, and the shift in occupational structures from 50-90% on the land down to under 5% (some of these worldwide, some mostly in the West) are rather remarkable.

There's a criticism of the "paleo diet" movement that makes sense to me: That on one hand the plants and animals we eat are radically different from those of the Paleolithic, on account of millennia of selective breeding; and on the other human beings who have lived in agrarian societies have also undergone natural selection (for example, the Europeans who can tolerate lactose as adults). The time since the Royal Society was founded, or the first steam engine was put to work, is too short for much genetic change, but it has at least radically altered the conditions under which phenotypes emerge from genotypes. Psychologists are starting to talk about the impropriety of describing human beings generally on the basis of WEIRD people (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic)—but if that's valid at all it entails that you can't assume that things that were true of people over the past 5000 or 50,000 years apply now, either.

39:

The beam spread is big enough that, even if you used an impractically large laser, a send rate of an hour or so per bit, and a big array of photon counting detectors on the other end, you'd probably drop bits at an unacceptable rate. One bit of every million? (thousand?) would simply not get enough photons across interstellar space to the distant detector to be distinguished from noise.

If you're mostly sending minds, that could be a real problem. It depends on how good an imperfect copy of a mind turns out to be. We might transmit Steven Hawking and receive Perez Hilton.

It's probably for the best that you handwaved this. Nobody wants to read a book called Uranus's Retards.

40:

Of course it could always be "Herschel's X." But I suppose "Jove's X" would be a better choice.

41:

re: dropping bits at an unacceptable rate

This feels like it's a non-serious objection. Surely anybody who knows enough to raise it also knows that it's trivially solved by proper communications protocols. Divide your data into sufficiently small packets, use checksums to verify proper transmission, and then send the packets with sufficient redundancy to have a high probability of overcoming the known quantum of noise and dropped bits in the system. Worst case scenario is that the random number gods hate you and you're missing a packet at the end of the transmission despite redundancy; at which point there's a long wait while you request resend at light speed. But presumably you *don't* run the mind program with missing packets; that would be foolish and stupid and (if the mind software is well-designed) likely impossible.

42:

If you're that worried about getting enough photons to Next Star Over so that it can read your messages, just orbit a ring of shadow squares around your own star, in the plane containing both stars. Make the shadow squares themselves out of venetian blinds or similar. Install appropriate control software, and there you are, instant high-bandwidth data source with a range somewhere between dozens and thousands of lightyears. With minimal cleverness you can use the same ring to hit *two* stars.

43:

The solution (mentioned in passing in the novel) is relay routers on long or high-data-rate routes at much tighter intervals -- typically every 0.1 ly. Long range is 10 ly, typically for very new colonies that haven't installed the infrastructure yet.

44:

Aha! I read Neptune's Brood a few months ago and did wonder about the ending. It had seemed to be going somewhere but stopped before it got there. I'd be delighted to see the ending that eventually falls out of the back of your head, assuming you're not gaga by the time that happens. Or that I'm not. Or something.

I read Saturn's Children later, one of the funniest things I read all year.

45:

Graeber's book actually does address the ways in which the use of debt and money and its social effects have changed. The book is broken into several sections corresponding to time periods, and the last section ends with his projections into the near future. But, the association between debt and slavery (or at least institutions very similar to slavery) is one of the near constants, persisting to this day in many cases. In terms of books to base a far-future speculative economy off of, Debt seems like a good one: it's in-depth enough and looks closely enough at the deep history of the situation that it finds some non-obvious patterns, and I think that a similar book based on the analyses in Das Kapital or The Wealth of Nations (or for that matter, Capital in the 21st Century) would be lacking (although I'd be interested in reading a book based on Capital set in the much nearer term, so long as it wasn't just someone selling me a second copy of Altered Carbon with the serial numbers filed off and a new paint job).

Debt also fits in nicely with the Freyaverse thematically. Nearly everything that happens at scale in the Freyaverse is a slightly warped version of the most terrible moral failings of humanity, as you might expect of a society formed entirely by systematically abused and broken minds whose formative experiences were from an era highly dependent upon large-scale slavery. Graeber's book doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the horrors of every economic system it addresses, and so as interesting as it is, it doesn't really come off as positive and it doesn't really provide answers about how to produce a more just or equitable society; as a result, his analysis (even were it not nearly as accurate as it seems to be) is a good fit for a study in fiction of a warped and broken society that continues to live on long after it has ceased to provide a minimum of satisfaction to most of those subjected to it.

46:

The solution (mentioned in passing in the novel) is relay routers on long or high-data-rate routes at much tighter intervals -- typically every 0.1 ly.

Servicing those sounds like fun.

Power would be a challenging problem over that much time and distance; it's not as if they can hang solar arrays. Maybe some kind of reprocessing breeder reactor technology, or fusion, or magical gerbils on treadmills. Even after electricity is a solved problem, a relay station that far out can't be cheap.

47:

>Servicing those sounds like fun.

At this point I think Freyaverse has a serious problem with masochism...

48:

Again: read the book and ask yourself what the main export product of Shin-Tethys is useful for ...

49:

Divide your data into sufficiently small packets, use checksums to verify proper transmission, and then send the packets with sufficient redundancy....

And it's not as if you would be sending a single data stream at a time (that would be silly). You're going to have lasers with multiple wavelengths transmitting simultaneously, like in fiber-optics.
So...what is the minimum number of streams for reliable redundancy? And is there an upper limit to the number of wavelengths that can be used? (Now I'm thinking that first question is brought up in the book, and I'm just not remembering it. Or maybe not.)

50:

While I quite enjoy the Freyaverse, I do have a soft spot in my heart (head?) for the Eschaton universe. Iron Sunrise was the first Stross book I read that I really, really liked. (And, to be fair, it was only the second Stross book I had ever read, and the first was Singularity Sky.

51:

This really helped in understanding why Neptune's Brood was a bit of a disappointment, especially the ending. When I write a review, I always worry about my biases, but in this case, if even the author admits it was rushed, that assuages my concerns.

I do hope that this universe is further explored. I liked Saturn's Children and Bit Rot (Strachan is making a very good name for himself as an editor IMO). While I didn't like Neptune's Brood as much, I liked the world building which I think could evolve further in interesting ways. While I agree that machines are likely the most likely post-human forms to colonize space, it isn't entirely clear to me that they need to physically travel in the way that they do. High density downloads, and subsequent uploads into a new body makes more sense energetically.

And another thumbs up for a Palimpsest novel sometime in the future. I am aware of the irony that both requests are asking for "more of the same, but different", when you have questioned your not writing about something completely different (and taking a risk).

52:

I think you're seriously underestimating the spread of the beam and the power necessary for the lasers. Remember, the recipients won't be able to spatially resolve the signal from the nearest star, so the sun is providing broad-spectrum background radiation. Add in beam spreads over radii of hundreds of millions of miles, and it's a significant challenge.

The signal boosting relays would be a good approach, if you could solve the twin problems of generating enough energy to run them in interstellar space while somehow eliminating the considerable waste heat.

Oh well. Very little science fiction survives contact with engineers.

53:

You're presuming early 21st century engineering capabilities in space on the transmitting and receiving end of things.

The receiving systems in the Freyaverse can easily have a few km-wide telescopes pointed at the target systems whose laser transmitting arrays are positioned several light-hours out from their own star giving lots of room for the receivers to resolve the signal without it being swamped by the mush from the central illuminator.

Yes it's expensive to build and operate but like bank vaults it's part of the cost of transacting business at interstellar distances.

54:

If you can do that then you may as well go all in and use gravitational lensing. Why settle for a few km of aperture when you can pop something out in the oort cloud and use the entire width of the solar system?

55:

This is so obvious.

Your relay station for a link, and it may as well be the main interstellar transmitter, can be far enough from the star to be distinguished, on the same sort of scale as the components of the Alpha Centauri system. Pick the orbit to suit the link direction, and it never vanishes. We're talking about something like the orbit of Saturn.

And note that Krina Alizond-114 doesn't arrive direct at Shin-Tethys. She's in the system, but not there yet.

56:

I had similar feelings to yours, now I believe that the 'finance totally disconnected from reality' may be there, but only on the fringe. Still, valuation is more of an art than science, even with all the reasonably-well founded methodologies at our disposal. There are a lot of ways to look at value, as it's inherently intangible thing that we can only 'agree on', and that agreement is itself ephemeral.

The Instagram deal you've mentioned is a good example. At first sight it makes little sense. But then you realise Instagram was a brand posed to 'directly steal eyeballs from Facebook', and you can put value on that. Then you realise that Instagram would also play very well with the (subtle-)ad-pushing and 'consumer data collection' that Facebook's all about ('synergy' comes to mind, oh dear). And then apply the art of figuring out a number to capture all future income, top it of with some goodwill aka 'beauty is in they eye of the beholder', and the sum doesn't seem totally ass-pulled.

That being said, I strongly believe that the valuation models we currently have are poor at capturing true value of any of the modern, well-known 'internet business'. Guess that's why people like Buffet don't come near Silicone Valley.

57:

regarding the whole question of 'real' value etc - A few years back, I stumbled over the article "Once again, on fictios capital" by Loren Goldner (freely available) that went to great lengths to explain value that's seemingly disconnected from reality. I could not summarize it now but found it imensly helpful back then.

58:

I thought of using gravitational lensing to keep your beam focussed, but I think were mostly talking about communicating between systems with no other stars between. I don't know if Brown Dwarfs have enough mass to cause any lensing effect.

Anyhow here's an article I came across by way of a quick googling: Project Icarus: The Interstellar Communication Problem
And the first paragraph of the section on lasers:
"The size of antenna required in order to keep the dispersion of the beam to the required angle (the 'beamwidth') is related to the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation used. The shorter the wavelength (and hence the higher the frequency), the smaller the antenna required for a given beamwidth. If we could use light for the communications system rather than radio, then we ought to be able to get away with smaller antennas."

Make of it what you will.

59:

I was thinking of using it strictly for receiving.

The idea is that lensing object would be our sun, and that we would put a telescope some distance in the opposite direction so that the target star is lensed into an imageable ring.

Believe it or not, there are plans for such a space telescope mission and it seems to be just about on the edge of what is feasible with early 21st century technology. The main drawback seems to be that it is absurdly expensive and you get one target per mission. This is less of an issue if you have a target that you know to be inhabited and it is just part of your colinisation effort.

The way I would design a system would be to put a transmitting laser somewhere far enough from the sun that a solar focus scope could resolve and detect it, and a receiver out in the middle of nowhere near the focal point.

http://www.tsgc.utexas.edu/archive/design/foci/ is a horribly designed website that covers the idea.

60:

Of course, without some very handwavy signal processing you might find you can only get a bit every few weeks due to variable times of flight of photons.

61:

Wow, could they make that site harder to read? But interesting. Obviously I wasn't thinking of that.

62:

Michio Kaku has an answer to this. See: What Travels Faster Than the Speed of Light? ... basically instead of moving/pushing the signal, you move/pull space.

Dr. Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist at C.U.N.Y.- he blogs and has written a couple of (non-technical) best-sellers on physics.

63:

That sort of thing requires, as Kaku notes, large quantities of "negative matter". We don't have any negative matter, or even know what it might be.

It is conceivable, but highly controversial, that "negative matter" might be antimatter. In which case, if we could somehow make enough antimatter, our astronauts would get to spend a long trip in deep space, utterly reliant on complex equipment that can't practically be repaired or replaced, in close proximity to zettaJoules of primordial annihilation.

The Valium budget alone would be staggering.

64:

No, antimatter is matter with its electric charges reversed. Both act the same to gravity AFAIK.

Negative matter would bend space the other way than ordinary matter does.

65:

Gravitational lensing is indeed used (and referred to in the novel). Creates interesting economic chokepoints around the beacon transceiver stations ...

66:

So the really fascinating thing I found with anthropology was the perspective on the observer's cultural norms. An interpretation that might seem like a reasonable candidate for the null hypothesis in a certain social context may no longer seem so in a broader context. It means that to start from first principles you have to start further back, take less for granted and explain more. And it means that the onus of proof might be reversed, something that you've always assumed true might actually not just be hard to prove but actually a bit factually dicey anyway.

This perspective comes from distance, which requires making the familiar strange, and this is the area where SF operates. Anthropologists spent decades going into the field and learning about other cultures, in which time some important lessons were learned about taking one's own cultural assumptions along for the ride and letting them colour the data. Midlands methodists famously saw the holy trinity in all sorts of places where this was a pretty forced interpretation, for example. It maybe got a little weird in the mid 20th century, but the literature around perspective is an important resource, the ever-honed tool of the discipline.

[apols for woolly metaphors and vague writing, it's late here]

67:

antimatter is matter with its electric charges reversed. Both act the same to gravity AFAIK.

That's the leading hypothesis, but it hasn't been experimentally validated because we've never actually made enough antimatter to weigh. The last time I checked, the gravitational polarity of antimatter was still an open question.

68:

...read the book and ask yourself what the main export product of Shin-Tethys is useful for ..

Indeed.

The more I think about the relay stations, the more 'ordinary' starships look cheap and straightforward. Accelerate toward another star, coast a thousand years or so, brake, find gigatonnes of raw material, start building a civilization. Not so bad compared to the mission of going light-years into nowhere, stopping, and maintaining position for thousands of years - with no supply runs.

It's apparently a solved problem in the setting, however. I may be over-thinking this.

69:

The link below is to a paper by Claudio Maccone on the power requirements for a double gravitational lens set up: transmission from one stars gravitational lens point to a receiver at the target stars gravitational lens point.

http://www.snolab.ca/public/JournalClub/alex1.pdf

As you can see from the paper the magnification effects are so powerful that between nearby stars you could communicate with a pair of cell phones (presumably in walky-talky mode).

For broadcasting minds, a similar arrangement with x-ray lasers might do the job.

70:

Jay, just where are you getting your information? Because so far everything you've had to say about anything related to physics is anywhere from questionable to outright wrong. No, photons do not have mass, not even, as you said, a 'tiny' amount. No, particles with negative mass don't fall up in a gravitational field. No, reliable data transmission is somewhere north of a bit/sec by several orders of magnitude.

BTW, it appears I can no longer sign in with Livejournal. Is it just me or is this change global and permanent?

71:

Photons do, in fact, have mass. E=mc2. Take the energy of a photon, divide it by c2, and you get its mass. It's not a big number per photon. Because photons have mass, they carry momentum, which makes lightsails possible. What photons do not have is rest mass (mass while not moving).

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_pressure#Radiation_pressure_by_particle_model:_photons

The antimatter thing is, admittedly, a fringe hypothesis. Here's Wikipedia on the subject:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitational_interaction_of_antimatter

When discussing data transmission, I was considering the situation where transmitter and receiver are separated by multi-light-year distances, with resulting (enormous) beam spread and the resulting (nearly total) loss of signal strength in the presence of substantial background radiation (literally a nearby star). Using powerful lasers with slow transmission times is an obvious method for trying to overcome signal loss.

72:

I repeat, you're simply wrong, and misreading (admittedly badly written) articles to boot. Photons don't have mass (since you accept wiki references). Full stop. If they did, the inverse square law would be something else. They have momentum, admittedly, but no mass. That's quantum mechanics for you.

It's also clear that you think that something that has negative mass would fall up in Earth's gravitational field. No, it still falls down -- as Dirac himself pointed out. Something that has positive mass would fall up in the gravitational field generated by a negative-mass planet, but that's a different story.

And finally, there's a tremendous amount of literature on interstellar communication by EM waves of various frequencies. I don't know of any that put such a low upper bound on bit-rates such as you suggest.

All of this says to me that you're getting your information from some rather dicey sources.

73:

We agree that photons have energy and momentum, and don't exist at rest. We disagree on whether it's valid to divide that momentum by c to get a mass, but that's a distinction so subtle as to be essentially philosophical. The mass value is useful is calculating the momentum components of a photon that isn't precisely aligned with your coordinate system, though.

The antimatter thing has been the subject of substantial conjecture, but has not been experimentally settled as far as a quick Google will take me. We can argue all we want; it's an open question until somebody does the measurement. I actually agree that that conjecture isn't likely to be true. It's also pretty much the only lead on negative matter we have at this point, AFAIK.

As for the beam spread, feel free to do the math yourself. The uncertainty principle is well known. If I use a laser wavelength of 200 nm (ultraviolet, to minimize the beam spread) and a circular laser aperture of 10 cm (a pretty big laser), I get an uncertainty in the non-axial velocities of about 47.4 m/s. Over the course of, say, a 20.3 light year trip to Gilese 581, that works out to a beam radius of about 30 billion meters (~4700 times the Earth's radius) and a beam area of about 2.9 times 10 to the 21st square meters. Feel free to check my math.

74:

Sigh. Why do I bother. One last time:

We disagree on whether it's valid to divide that momentum by c to get a mass, but that's a distinction so subtle as to be essentially philosophical. The mass value is useful is calculating the momentum components of a photon that isn't precisely aligned with your coordinate system, though.

This. Is. Wrong. If you had actually read the link I gave you, you'd have seen the relativistic relation E^2=p^2c^2+m^2c^4. Since E=pc for photons -- by the link you gave and which I assume you stand by -- it follows that their mass has to be zero. There's also the general relativity thing about how energy and not mass couples to the gravitational field which also says photons have zero mass, but I figure that's a little over your head.

Look, it's obvious that you haven't had any training in physics; I've had four years and more myself, so it's easy to spot who's zooming and who's not. Please, stop digging.

Finally, do me the courtesy of reading what I write; if you did that much you'd know I said that both positive and negative masses fall down in Earth's gravitational field and you've made it clear you think they fall in opposite directions. Google is not your friend if you don't have an adequate base, nor is it a substitute for an education. BTW, don't think of this as me talking down to you or saying you're not intelligent; quite the contrary. I heartily approve of your enthusiasm for the subject.

75:

Please stop it, both of you.


76:

Interstallar communication was a topic on this blog a while back:
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2011/12/tanenbaums-law-v-the-fermi-par.html

Short version: sending a chunk of storage media may be a higher bandwidth communication than a laser.
So for a different Freyaverse (the Leyaverse?) we could have three relevant speeds:
~10%c uploaded minds and other large information dumps
c/3 slow money
c letters, individual parts of financial transactions, the checksums of the physical storage media, uploaded minds of the insanely rich

77:

I have a feeling that all this talk about negative mass is getting messed up by the use of Newton's theory of gravity.

Which describes well enough most of what we see with ordinary matter, though it falls down over the precession of the orbit of Mercury. But the formula is simple.

First:

F=ma

Negative mass would give an acceleration in the opposite direction. So put an electric field across a cloud chamber, and watch the positrons. The opposite charge inverts the force, and two negatives give a positive. The end result would be the same acceleration as an electron. We wouldn't see a difference between particle and antiparticle, but we do, so anti-particles cannot have negative mass.

OK, that's making an assumption about the charge, but conservation laws. I'll explain later. Or not.

Second:

F = G * (m1 * m2) / (r2)

Let's make one of the two masses negative. Obviously a negative force, but a negative force on a negative mass would give a positive acceleration, so no difference. But the same force would apply to the positive mass and it would be pushed away. Is that perpetual motion?

Trouble is that the gravitational force between particle and anti-particle is what we old-fashioned types call bugger-all. When you're combining G with the mass of a particle we're talking about around 10-70 for the force between two particles with an r2 of maybe 10-4 in that cloud chamber. Check Planck's Constant.

Of course, if you make a whole planet of negative mass, things get interesting, but with a negative gravity force it would just fly apart.

Anyway, that's Newtonian physics, not quantum mechanics. Newton didn't need conservation laws. If a positron has negative mass, it must have the same charge as an electron, and that screws up conservation of charge. And since there's also conservation of mass-energy there's no net change in mass, and so energy changes we see are coming from nowhere.

If antimatter has negative mass, quantum mechanics breaks.

We don't need to weigh an antiparticle.

None of this makes negative mass impossible, except maybe that image of two planets accelerating endlessly across the cosmos, but remember that an orbit is continuous acceleration. But it's a pretty solid consequence of all the physics that antimatter does not involve negative mass.

Unless E=mc2 has an equivalent for electrical charge, which would have its own ways of screwing up over a century of particle physics experiments.

Maybe we should ask Randall Munroe.

79:

The conjecture isn't quite that primitive. It's more along the lines that a positron is essentially a hole in the quantum field where an electron ought to be. As other potential-electrons in the quantum field get attracted to the gravitational field, the positron would fall upward like a bubble rising in water. Its inertial and gravitational masses would have opposite sign.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiparticle#Feynman.E2.80.93Stueckelberg_interpretation

Interested parties are welcome to do further research on their own.

80:

"... religious fanatics aren't terribly engaging characters in a work of fiction."

I suspect that is because authors, being authors rather than religious fanatics, have little insight into the minds of such people and probably even less sympathy. Personally, I find religious fanatics to be fascinating characters in real life.

81:

Let's make one of the two masses negative. Obviously a negative force, but a negative force on a negative mass would give a positive acceleration, so no difference. But the same force would apply to the positive mass and it would be pushed away. Is that perpetual motion?

This is exactly right, and as I've already pointed out goes back to Dirac himself. There's even an old Analog column that hashes this out at a rather elementary level. Notice that neither conservation of momentum nor conservation of energy are violated since the signs of the kinetic energy and momentum associated with the negative mass for are equal and opposite.

This is, BTW, a rather well-known fact. And an easily researched one at that. As the famous dead guy osaid, everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. People would do well to remember that before posting.

82:

Sure. Now consider the hypothesis that antimatter has a negative mass for gravitational purposes and a positive mass for inertial purposes. Normal matter doesn't work that way, but antimatter might for all we know.

Negative gravitational force on positive inertial mass gives rise to repulsive force on the antimatter. The normal matter is also repelled from the antimatter, as Antonia explained. Bob's your uncle.

83:

Sure. Now consider the hypothesis that antimatter has a negative mass for gravitational purposes and a positive mass for inertial purposes. Normal matter doesn't work that way, but antimatter might for all we know.

Except that we know it doesn't. Cern has been playing with anti-hydrogen, trapped by magnetic confinement inside a vacuum chamber, for over a decade.

While I don't have access to the paper in PRL right now, the press release notably fails to mention any exotic effects such as gravitational repulsion

84:

The last I heard, CERN was trying to measure the gravitational polarity of antihydrogen, but hadn't nailed it. It isn't easy weighing a few hydrogen atoms; electromagnetic effects are many orders of magnitude stronger. If you have more up-to-date information, links would be appreciated.

85:

Just what flavor is mathematical fudge?

I had to see if "Negative Mass" is anything other than theoretical.
Anyway, there's this from the wikipedia article on Negative Mass:

Gravitational interaction of antimatter[edit]
Main article: Gravitational interaction of antimatter
The overwhelming consensus among physicists is that antimatter has positive mass and should be affected by gravity just like normal matter. Direct experiments on neutral antihydrogen have not detected any difference between the gravitational interaction of antimatter, compared to normal matter.[7]

Bubble chamber experiments provide further evidence that antiparticles have the same inertial mass as their normal counterparts. In these experiments, the chamber is subjected to a constant magnetic field that causes charged particles to travel in helical paths, the radius and direction of which correspond to the ratio of electric charge to inertial mass. Particle–antiparticle pairs are seen to travel in helices with opposite directions but identical radii, implying that the ratios differ only in sign; but this does not indicate whether it is the charge or the inertial mass that is inverted. However, particle–antiparticle pairs are observed to electrically attract one another. This behavior implies that both have positive inertial mass and opposite charges; if the reverse were true, then the particle with positive inertial mass would be repelled from its antiparticle partner.

86:

Summing up, nobody knows for sure but most scientists expect antimatter to behave like matter. Meantime we can wait for the definitive experiments to be done in future. Anything I've missed?

87:

A question for the real/serious physics types reading this blog ...


How about this scenario:

If a brane existed within a millimetre (or any set distance) of our universe, then all you'd need do is tap into it to send your message or even travel between universes, or different portions of our universe*. The problem is the engineering, that is, figuring out what would be stable on either side of the brane to permit a signal to apparently flow/move between. The cause-effect link doesn't have to be direct -- just reliable. So prodding a brane on one side, consistently influences something on the other side of that brane in such a manner that a reliable communication channel can be set up. This scenario allows for two completely different and otherwise unrelated end points that are stable within their own realms. And since there are no speed limits on what happens between or behind branes, FTL is possible. (* Would depend on brane shape behavior - most of what I've read suggests that branes just are - they are a type of dimension unto themselves- they do not move around.)

Michio Kaku and Lisa Randall are pretty much my ceiling in trying to understand physics, so a non-tech/non-math response would be appreciated.

88:

And all that was, BTW, a demonstration that there's no need for fancy math or sophisticated experiments to show that the idea that antimatter has negative mass is a load of bollocks. Getting a hard number might be tricky, but the idea is so wrong that it barely needs schoolboy physics to blow it out of the water.

Are you trying to make this stuff complicated before you hit us with a pet theory that we are obviously able to understand?

89:

Only that, if antimatter did have this unlikely set of properties, it might move faster-than-light drives from the "impossible according to current physics" bin to the "ludicrously impractical, but not literally impossible" bin.

90:

This should satisfy most readers' criteria with respect to reliable source:

CERN experiment takes us one step closer to discovering where all the antimatter went

Scientists have for the first time measured the electric charge of an anti-atom to high precision.

By CERN, Geneva, Switzerland | Published: Friday, June 06, 2014

Excerpt:

... Antiparticles should be identical to matter particles except for the sign of their electric charge. So while the hydrogen atom is made up of a proton with charge +1 and an electron with charge –1, the antihydrogen atom consists of a charge –1 antiproton and a charge +1 positron. Scientists know, however, that matter and antimatter are not exact opposites — nature seems to have a one part in 10 billion preference for matter over antimatter. However, they don’t know why, so it is important to measure the properties of antimatter to great precision — the principal goal of CERN's AD experiments.

....
ALPHA achieves this by using a complex system of particle traps that allow antihydrogen atoms to be produced and stored for long enough periods to make detailed studies. Understanding the matter-antimatter asymmetry is one of the greatest challenges in physics today. Any detectable difference between matter and antimatter could help solve the mystery and open a window to new physics.

To measure the charge of antihydrogen, the ALPHA experiment studied the trajectories of antihydrogen atoms released from the trap in the presence of an electric field. If the antihydrogen atoms had an electric charge, the field would deflect them, whereas neutral atoms would be undeflected. The result, based on 386 recorded events, gives a value of the antihydrogen electric charge as (–1.3±1.1±0.4) × 10–8, the plus or minus numbers representing statistical and systematic uncertainties on the measurement.

With the restart of CERN's accelerator chain getting underway, the laboratory's antimatter research program is set to resume soon. Experiments, including ALPHA-2, an upgraded version of the ALPHA experiment, will be taking data along with the ATRAP and ASACUSA experiments and newcomer AEGIS, which will be studying the influence of gravity on antihydrogen.

91:

There is a need for sophisticated experiments. Gravity is one of the less understood parts of physics.

First, there is nothing that currently mandates that inertial mass and gravitational mass are identical[1]. And it's not an easy question, why would the amount of interaction mediated by a postulated but not detected graviton would have anything to do with the amount of interaction with the postulated Higgs field? And what is the kinetic energy doing in there? That's part of what makes quantum physics and relativity so hard to reconcile.

Second, if the absolute values are identical, like everybody currently thinks, there nothing that currently mandates they have the same sign. Inertial mass is positive pretty much by definition. Gravitational mass, on the other hand, nothing is sure. There is no experiment yet capable of saying in particular whether gravity is attractive or repulsive between matter and antimatter (but the antihydrogen experiments are promising). We'll see.

OG.

[1] Ok, it's a postulate of relativity. But not of QP.

92:

At the risk of starting a physics flamewar, the depressingly mundane answer to the brane question is that there is currently no good reason to believe in branes, or any of the rest of the string theory zoo for that matter.

A field that has sucked up a vast number of theoretical physicists and not one single successful prediction.

The smart money is on boring old fashioned 4D space time and Quantum Field Theory.

93:

I should have said that the spacetime/gravity bit is likely, though not certain to be quantised itself but we are almost certainly never going to be able to measure this well enough to say exactly how.

94:

I had similar feelings to yours, now I believe that the 'finance totally disconnected from reality' may be there, but only on the fringe.

What changed your mind?

The Instagram deal you've mentioned is a good example. At first sight it makes little sense. But then you realise Instagram was a brand posed to 'directly steal eyeballs from Facebook',

If I am thinking within the assumptions and realities of the dot.com people, this makes sense. Eyeballs are valuable, my market cap confirms this assumption, anyone who steals my eyeballs is a threat, buy them out now. Same theory works if I am a rich man at the end of my life and worrying about the state of my immortal soul. I'd been threatened with excommunication before and cynically bought my way out of it with some money slipped into priestly palms and saw it as simply being good business sense; nobody would do a deal with an excommunicant. But now I'm taking spiritual affairs more seriously and am bequeathing half my fortune to the church to get in good with God. I can't take it with me, my children can't do anything for me in the afterlife, maybe the priests can.

Stepping back, we can all voice our skepticism of the church's claims and think the old, rich man is making some bad choices. Should we do the same with facebook? Sure, everyone tells the old man the church's position is correct, lots of people believe in it, but that doesn't make it right. He is correct in thinking he needs to put up the appearance of being in good faith with the church because the majority of the populace believes. It's the difference between a presidential candidate putting on a show of being pious and religious in public vs. actually praying to God about an important problem and expecting an answer; the former is simply good politics while the latter is completely ineffectual.

In a simple bubble, canny sharps can rely on the greater fool theory. I'll buy something I know is dumb and worthless and know some greater fool will buy it off of me. I'm getting out of this market as soon as the bubble looks like it's popping. But if the bubble is big enough, it could be understandably mistaken for a proper economic system.

That being said, I strongly believe that the valuation models we currently have are poor at capturing true value of any of the modern, well-known 'internet business'. Guess that's why people like Buffet don't come near Silicone Valley.

In talking with the girlfriend about fashion, I call it the nonsense tax. She explains why jeans whose labor and material should cost me $40 at most go for $500 because some person's name is stitched across the butt. This purse should only cost $100 but because it's a Kors it's not worth $500. I'm like "Coors? The name known for cheap swillwater beer is now in the purse business?" No, silly.

If people lose their affluence, these designer brands become nothing. People will buy for survival, not fashion. What's a pair of jeans worth then? A pair of shoes? You no longer buy for name, you buy for durability.

How much of our economy is inflated beyond reason with nonsense taxes? Houses that went for $120k are now $350k. What changed? The amount of money available for mortgages and the interest rate. It makes no sense.

95:

That's the leading hypothesis, but it hasn't been experimentally validated because we've never actually made enough antimatter to weigh. The last time I checked, the gravitational polarity of antimatter was still an open question.

We have, however, built particle accelerators which collide packets of matter and anti-matter. The configuration of these colliders is famously delicate; CERN's old accelerator, LEP, for example, was sensitive to such influences as the moon's gravity and the TGV's acceleration. If antimatter didn't behave the same way as matter under gravity, we would have noticed it when the beams failed to align properly at the collision points.

96:

I really enjoyed this book. I tell my friends that Neptune's Blood is accountancy spec fiction. They look at me strange, but it's the truth.

There was a lot of economics in Accelerando, so your skills are obvious.

Neptune's Blood reminded me of Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought novels, which also deal with slower-than-light commerce. FTL is one of the "failed technologies".

Space opera over long time scales seems to be okay now, such as Alastiar Reynolds House of Suns. I love it. Once we evolve to silicon based life, much is possible.

97:

If antimatter didn't behave the same way as matter under gravity, we would have noticed it when the beams failed to align properly at the collision points.

No, actually we wouldn't have (trust me, I worked on LEP). The tides distorted the shape of the ring enough to affect its focusing, and the passage of the TGV affected the electricity supply by minute but significant amounts. The effect of gravity on the e+ and e- in the beam is completely negligible. Most of what Jay says is complete and utter rubbish, especially the bit about photons having mass (photons travel at the speed of light, independent of their energies - well and thoroughly tested experimentally, see Goldhaber and Nieto, http://arxiv.org/abs/0809.1003 ), but he is right that the gravitational mass of antimatter, though confidently expected to be positive, has not been experimentally tested, see http://cern.ch/aegis/Prive/Docintern/Why.pdf for a brief discussion. The AEGIS experiment at CERN, http://aegis.web.cern.ch/aegis/, aims to do this.

98:

Summing up, nobody knows for sure but most scientists expect antimatter to behave like matter. Meantime we can wait for the definitive experiments to be done in future. Anything I've missed?

Well, except for the fact that 'nobody knows for sure' is taking a beating on a par with 'evolution is just a theory', no.

Nobody knows for sure if gouda cheese subjected to an intense neutrino flux will cause it to be repelled by Earth's gravity, but most scientists expect it to still behave like ordinary cheese.

Nobody knows for sure if there's a Houyhnhnmetic civilization of unicorns on the far side of the Moon powered by helium-3, but most scientists don't think so.

Nobody knows for sure that if they jump off the cliff they'll float in the air rather than fall to their death, but most scientists think the latter. Hey, 'gravity is just a theory' amiright?

IOW -- and this I loathe -- arguing like this is the mark of a crank. They want well-accepted, well-verified theories to be wrong for their own personal reasons, but they are well aware that the burden of proof is on them to do so. saying 'nobody knows for sure' is just a rhetorical attempt to shift the burden of proof. Nothing that anyone need take remotely seriously.

99:

There is a need for sophisticated experiments. Gravity is one of the less understood parts of physics.

First, there is nothing that currently mandates that inertial mass and gravitational mass are identical[1]. And it's not an easy question, why would the amount of interaction mediated by a postulated but not detected graviton would have anything to do with the amount of interaction with the postulated Higgs field?

To take these more-or-less in order, no, gravity is very well understood over a wide range of energies and length scales. The relationship of gravitational to inertial mass is not a postulate, but follows immediately from the equivalence principle; to say that physicists believe that antimatter almost certainly falls down is just a restatement of the notion they would be very surprised if antimatter fell up in the reference frame of an accelerating rocket.

And so on and so forth. This is all very well understood stuff. Your last point, for example follows from quantizing all known fields under certain constraints -- Lorentz invariance, unitarity, etc.

This is a huge thread-drift, I know, but it's important to realize that, while "nobody knew about the anti-gravity cheese until they did the experiment" is a great plot-point when writing an sf story, it's not a good peg to hang your hat on in the real world.

100:

Well, I found Neptune's Brood internally consistent and enjoyable. And unique. It may not be the first accounting detective story, but I believe it is the first one set in interstellar space.

I read Graeber's book, but I don't think my powers of memory are quite up to Mr. Stross's. Nevertheless, the one thing I remember is Graeber's contention that gold and silver are used only in primitive times of chaos, paranoia and distrust. His example of medieval Muslim trade, where reputation gained currency, and name and word were as good as bond, was an unusual arrangement. (Unusual in the sense that such a network of trust was broadly encompassing of a larger society outside a system of privilege).

I have yet to see a period of human history that was not like that, and non-Fragile acorns not falling far from the Fragile tree, certainly would expect the same. Mr. Stross did not disappoint. The future is fraught with savages.

So, my impressions? Slow money, like Soylent Green, is people. More importantly, trust is the new slow money. Fraud is poison, as always. But curatorial keepers of memory and provenance are now the new currency (more on this in a minute).

Question is (and I wonder if this is the car crash), what is to be done with the lightspeed drive? Certainly the method of slow money transfers is wrecked, but in many ways, this system is (like gold, and silver... and probably bitcoins) a system of fiat currency that has its flaws (yes, gold bugs, ALL currency is fiat currency). The real money (as Graeber said, is debt, the future ingenuity and labor of these wonderful universally programmable and self-replicating robots (now modified into something a little bit more immorbid).

So, given that slow money transfer can occur three times as fast as the old method, the greatest most catastrophic arbitrage trade in the known history of the universe takes place, with pillars of heaven shook, devil taking the hindmost of saints, crooks, and pirates alike. (The biggest piece of arbitrage is the lightspeed drive itself, but why not take advantage of all that loose coin traveling via laser?).

Given that non-Fragiles can now cheaply transport immense, self-contained colonial pieces of infrastructure basically anywhere in the universe, the reproductive strategy shifts from r-selected to K-selected. In which case, memory and provenance - keeping track of what has gone where and from whom) achieves an importance beyond what it previously did. Anyway that's my thought.

And also, I suspect, Fragile become a fetish commodity.

(Sorry if this make little sense. My brain is scattershot. A linear narrative has never been my strong point).

101:

A perfect opportunity this, as I've just read Neptune's Brood while on holiday and I loved it - preferring it to Saturn's Children (which was fine).

One query here - should I take the names of Gould and Dennet as significant (the latter in particular considering the state of one of the characters and what ultimately happens to them?).

102:

I'm sorry to belabor this, but...

Its funny how people object to various handwavings, like whether it's possible to colonize space with travelling manufactories and fricking lasers beams, or if anti-matter is upsidaisium.

Or whether the ending of the book was a car crash. I don't think it was. When it comes to objections, I'd say a lightspeed drive, one that "is cheap, compared to the cost of the propulsion systems currently in use for starships and in-system vehicles", pretty much wreaks havoc with a Freyaverse.

Because it comes down to this. It's not a car crash, but a condensing of the universe of commerce which itself opens up new avenues of exploration. If you can move entire colony habitats from one location to another at the speed of light, hell, if you can *entangle* entire colony habitats to teleport them, that opens up a whole new can of worms.

First, you've collapsed your monetary systems. Medium money - real estate, facilities, etc. - is now fast money. Intrasystem lightspeed transport makes the transport of large volumes of physical goods not only possible, but profitable.

This is turn reintroduces the question of interstellar transport: "Why bother?" You've got billions of years of resources and money making opportunities available in-system. Why bother going elsewhere until you run out? Oh, you can reintroduce the altruistic aspect of species survival, but the whole Ponzi scheme of eternal debt is pretty much finished. I have to assume post-humanity is motive and habit driven like their Fragile ancestors, and so the galaxy continues to be colonized. But the lightspeed drive opens up areas of instrasystem exploitation, and, more importantly, extragalactic colonization. Which is where provenance comes in. Say I decide to send a colony to the Andromeda galaxy, and four million years later, given that I'm relatively immorbid, I've got lineage that just might want a royalty check or something equivalent. How to verify my claim, if it is found acceptable and valid to my extragalactic lineage? I've put a lot of K-selected reproductive time and effort into my extragalactic colony. Aren't me and mine owed something? Or do they tell me to piss off?

Although, honestly, the handwaving that really bothers me is this whole serialized consciousness thing. Oh, I can accept reverse-engineered brains, and more efficient cells in the form of mechanocytes. I can accept that (per John Quiggin) the best you can hope for in intelligence enhancement is convergent, and that no Singularity occurs and no vast post-human society exists whose story and plot-line I can't fathom. (Or rather, you end up with a story version of the late and great Mr. Banks's Culture). But serializing conscious minds means to me serializing experience, which in turn means serializing skills. And if I have soul chip with all the skills required for a civilization, so that I am pretty much independent, what do I need a society for? For that matter, since I can modify my body plan, why not just hermitize myself and become a plant, or a world-spanning cryo-refractory slime-mold on Mercury? Or a giant deep sea meat montser? And that the avenue of exploration there is: force and fraud.

I'd say it's an almost Godelian theorem that any system complicated enough to be interesting, any society with sufficient feedbacks to be worth a story, necessarily encompasses force and fraud as a foundational principle.

Which gets us back to debt, which, by it's very nature, if is not to be a Ponzi scheme or a system of chattel slavery, requires that people (since people are the source of future labor and ingenuity) be treated with respect and honor, an some form of transactional equity that is opposed or complementary to force and fraud, must be set up. If that isn't dramatic tension asking for a clever resolution, I don't know what else to do.

103:

Barter, Graeber points out, isn't something that emerges, and that acts as a precursor to the development of money: rather, barter is what we get in atomized societies when fiscal systems collapse and nobody trusts their neighbours. True primitive tribal societies run on interpersonal debt and/or honour systems: everybody knows what their neighbours owe them, so there's no need to provide an immediate exchange for items of value received.

Did Adam Smith, or anyone else, ever claim otherwise? AFAIK, primitive tribal societies use barter to trade with outsiders, not within the tribe -- and that's what is usually considered "precursor of money".

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