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TED(Space)x : planet reliance

TEDx ÉcoleCentraleLyon2019 transcript

(« Indiana Jones » video as an Introduction 00:00 – 00 :49)

00:49

Hello everyone! You may be wondering, what do "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the “Error404” Ark" and the prospect of connecting to another planet have to do with each other?

00:56

During the summer when I was 20 years old, I remember very clearly the "Pathfinder" lander mission on Mars...Wow! Looking for paths, finding paths...this has a little bit to do with, funnily enough, what I am going to tell you. So, in the summer of 1997 I happened upon an article discussing the first manned missions to Mars, projected for 2020, at the time. You see, ever since the end of the 1950's, this 30 year projection horizon has been sliding forward...and with very good reason, of course, this horizon has been moved up another 30 years as of quite recently. The giddiness of my 20's...

I became aware that a technological window was opening and that, for the first time in human history, in no less than 200-300 thousand years of the history of Sapiens (!), we have the means to reach another planet in just one generation. Therefore, this makes me think a lot...

01:58

So we can ask ourselves this question: yes, well, but why are we in such hurry to reach another planet, specially within a cosmological scale ?

So, of course, certain visionaries or enlightened catastrophists such as Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk could tell you that this technological window that is opening before us could close back up a lot earlier than we think during an Anthropocene epoch, related to the impact that we are having on our environment. Others such as Saint-Exupéry would refer to this moral of action "Each is alone responsible for all": the next generations will, in fact, have enough challenges to face that we must try to address ours and work on right now. Definitely, it must be done!

02:38

Then, why should we go to Mars? Why do we need Human exploration? This is highly complementary to robotic exploration on Mars... Actually, it was defined as critical as of the very beginning of astronautic exploration...

There is that technological potential that we just talked about, but learning to live in space, let alone on another planet, means solving a whole range of very earthly problems. You know that space exploration is one of the best investments humanity can make, it is one of the best cooperation vectors with multiple spin-offs. These repercussions are omnipresent in our daily lives, down into our smart phones included as we are talking of "connection" today. And the medicine applications would make a very long list…

Right, a shower of expected spin-offs when it comes to living, not just surviving, on another planet: the management of resources, recycling and energy, obviously, are just a few of the environmental challenges that have to be solved or overcome. But, what is also interesting is all of the unexpected consequences: serendipity, this has always been a very decisive element at the core of all of the leaps that have occurred in our history. Evolutionary leaps. Because, when we find something that we weren't looking for, because we are open to what we observe, there is definitely an added value, a transformative one.

03:56

Therefore, once again, we can think of technology. But, there is also Science: there is an essential question in our epistemology, the question of "Life in the Universe". The big question whose answer can at least be partially found on the next planet that our generation would have physically access to...You know that Proxima B is 4.2 light years away, it will take 80 thousand years using current propulsion technology to reach the next closest exoplanet...out of the 4,000 exoplanets that we are discovering almost every day since the late 1995. Definitely, the next accessible planet in a habitable zone is clearly Mars. Moreover, think of all the ingredients needed so that life can emerge: life as we know it depends on carbon chemistry, liquid water in a habitable zone around a star, sources of energy… Nothing is missing on Mars! Thus, if we find evidence of past or current life on Mars today, this would be an incredible discovery...this means that the Universe is indeed bio-friendly! And if we consider all of the exoplanets, it’s mind boggling...And then, if we don't find evidence of past or current life, that's interesting as well: in any case, science is really about asking questions then refine its understanding model over the course of discovering answers and new questions. And this is very scientifically interesting in and of itself.

05:10

Also, there's comparative planetology as well: understanding the evolution of Mars to better understand the Earth. The planet Mars is like an open book on the beginnings of the Solar system that has been erased on Earth. Indeed Mars, we think, was after all more conducive to life than Earth at the time that life began here about 4 billion years ago. But that time period was almost completely erased on Earth because of tectonics and geological activity that has occurred on our planet. Yet, all of that stopped at that decisive moment on Mars, so it’s still today that open book telling the story of a pretty crucial period and that is obviously very scientifically exciting.

05:41

There are also deeper questions and motivations, philosophically speaking: who are we, where do we come from and where are we going? Existential questions…The very nature of humankind is questioned, and all of these larger questions come to the surface when we think of the stakes involved in Human missions to Mars. Why would we leave the cradle? How, why does human nature inspire us to explore? From time immemorial, "Indiana Jones" have always existed among humankind, explorers have left the comfort of their lives and have taken risks, sometimes considerable ones, to discover the powerful unknown...They investigate and give us a different perspective...

06:19

Because, all in all, it is not about sending a few men and women into space: It is about shifting all of humanity into a different perspective, different and decentered. I hope there are a few "decentraliens" (play on words from this TedX event taking place at the school of “centraliens”) among the audience, because when we decenter we experience and measure the importance of life protection, biodiversity, on our wonderful planet. This is what all astronauts actually describe when they come back to Earth. They have all already seen the photos from Apollo 8 and the "Earth rise" beforehand, but when they see it with their own eyes a "cognitive shift" occurs. This is the "overview effect", the famous widening of our field of consciousness that makes us embody and truly experience the importance of protecting our planet and our interconnection.

07:01

Being interested in Mars is being interested in the Earth: it's not just saying "come on, we are going to restart everything that we messed up on Earth on a plan-B planet"... It's actually the inclusive opposite!

Yes, OK, but how do we get to this planet Mars? We already discussed the 30 years moving horizon and we couldn't even consider until very recently that entities other than governmental space agencies with international cooperation could lead such an ambitious and complex project as a Human mission to Mars with complications coming at them from every direction.

07:31

But the times are changing: for sure you’ve heard that SpaceX dawned a new era, that of commercial space travel, just a few days ago with its mission 1 demo! Moreover, if you are an engineer and you want to work for Space X, you are just signing on to contribute to making the human species a multi-planetary species, nothing less…

Human is not the physiological champion of space adaptation...where multi-cellular tardigrades can support the void of space, huge levels of radiation, crazy amounts of pressure and all extreme spatial conditions.

On the other hand, our incredible “immaturity” in adulthood as a species, the persistence of juvenile-like characteristics, called neoteny, is actually a wonderful opportunity, because it is what pushes us to develop a Culture, Fiction - which enables us to perch on the shoulders of giants, to move up our knowledge - and, of course, Art in general, Science and technology...while in certain remote places on Earth, or not even that remote actually, sometimes just in the winter time in Paris, we can't survive without technology, even when it comes to clothes and shelter, to start with.

08:47

This is the vision of Elon Musk, the big picture. It is his greater "purpose". He is an engineer-entrepreneur and his vision is of a multi-planetary human kind centered around ingenuity –we find ourselves in a place here where we encounter ingenious minds by the way! -minds like this, with a huge interplanetary shuttle, Starship as it is called right now, that is capable of transporting a hundred people from Earth to Mars and back again. There you go! But this seemed unimaginable in 2002... when we see what the little SpaceX start-up looked like at the time...

09:33

The world at the time was tempted not to take him seriously. The world smirked at him, but he wasn't completely lacking in credibility, because he already had some successes under his belt - and failures of course, as that is the best way to learn through! He is an engineer-entrepreneur, and his space adventure started that way... And it came down to the wire, by the way. In 2008 he was saved by NASA - and what is really interesting about Elon Musk's approach is the combination of two things: the first is a renewed vision, out of the box thinking, deconstruction, something that is sorely lacking in experts. We are all experts in a field after a certain amount of practical experience, but we become formatted, we are not necessarily aware of this formatting that comes from both cultural and professional training. Therefore, we do not see some out of the meta solutions any more, or solutions that we had already addressed using other tools and rejected in other configurations. When we are novices, we see solutions that others haven't thought of, or had already eliminated, and this is the interest of trans-disciplinary work: for example, the ability to reuse the launcher. He could have said to himself: "It’s quite a waste to throw away the air plane every time we go from Bordeaux to Lyon!" The solution: the complete re-usability of the whole launcher to increase frequency and economies of scale. The experts smirked again: “we already tried that on the space shuttle, it was already a goal, and from that standpoint it was a partial failure”...The same space shuttle program that was shut down in 2011, back to an old-school but efficient multistage rocket engineering still...

And to say to himself: yes yes, that's what we need to do, among other tricks! By the way, this is the current approach being used by Blue Origin with Jeff Bezos as well.

That being said, if we are only naive and we don't give ourselves the means, if we don't raise standards by surrounding ourselves with great minds, and at the right time, we won't succeed. So, Elon then devoured about 600 books on "Rocket Science" and brought himself up to the level of an aerospace engineer while also surrounding himself with great minds.

11:14

He then succeeded in not only complete re-usability, but also added lots of tricks to his approach, versatile ones for the entire Solar system, in order to increase frequency and lower the cost for space access in this effort to democratize it. In fact, today those that "could afford" go to Mars - considering the cost for a ticket...are in a circle that does not necessarily overlap with those who are motivated and "want" or have “what it takes” to go to Mars: he probably said to himself again, "if we really want to start a multi-planetary civilization, these two circles have to overlap." Therefore, economies of scale needed to be created, the possible frequency needed to be increased, and SpaceX was able to achieve the intermediary of this goal.

11:50

Today, this emergence of private space travel capabilities that has spurred the development of know-how, is clearly the attraction, that is the force creating traction for this New Space. This isn't the Cold War of the 1960's anymore during the Apollo program, rather it is the advent of some private space companies that now could be seen as supercountry-level in the space sector...Thanks, in particular, to this exponential progression curve...

This is the curve that underlies the exponential trend of technology - while we think "linearly" - it is the accelerative basis upon which the "Moonshot" was conceived.

The famous "Moonshots": you take on a massive transformative problem, you imagine a radical solution - that could incite a smirk, or worse, because good ideas that actually look like good ideas do not open up the wide blue oceans, they are such through good ideas that resemble bad ideas at the start...That being said, many bad ideas really are bad ideas...And then you use very innovative and exponential technologies.

Finally, the art of a visionary is to be there, surrounded with great minds, at the very right moment. It is pretty much a question of timing. If you have a great idea way too early on the curve, it will amount to nothing. If you are too late - and that is the problem experienced by large organizations who have inertia - you will miss the bus. And it is for these inertial reasons, among others, that the 30 year horizon, doubled by essentially budgetary and political reasons, slides forward, which is no longer the kinetics at all of SpaceX today when it comes to the prospect of a Human mission to Mars.

13:11

However, this curve also creates some drift because the idea of exponentiality quickly raises the concept of the singularity in artificial intelligence, which is actually philosophically "materialist". Indeed we think that, when we are following this train of thought, from all complexity emerges a new property among all those that we observe or imagine. For example, within the brain: "consciousness" would just be the product of a complex enough brain. This is materialist in the philosophical sense. It is sometimes forgetting that the curves can look a lot more like "sigmoids", which doctors are familiar with. A saturation occurs. For example, if the brain is an excellent machine for information retrieval outside of space-time, we could imagine that never we would witness any artificial intelligence aware of itself nor implementable consciousness and that the curve would saturate before the inflection threshold. But that is definitely another subject...

14:28

In fact, the future is unpredictable and unlikely. Mostly. One cannot plan the future…

Foresight does not come from a linear continuum starting at the present linking point A to point B, this is always false...

Paradigm revolutions always draw curves in waves, with rupture points and stair steps. Including, as described in the work of Kegan on developmental psychology, the evolution of our own cognition, which follows the complexification of our brain.

Two thirds of adults find themselves in a “socialized mind”: “we are looking for a direction, to conform with the norm, with the thinking of our social group or our culture, without necessarily having any perspective on or being aware of it”.

Then the self-authoring mind comes in, that a third of us attain, according to this process of individuation: “I learn to make my own path, even if it deviates a bit from traditional thought, and I have enough distance to be able to see my own formatting. This process of individuation makes it possible to know myself better and to recognize this is my own vision of the world, even if it is a bit divergent”.

Finally, very few achieve the level of the auto-transformative mind as described by Kegan: these minds are so individuated that they can shed their ego and truly consecrate themselves to the vision of a meaningful world -visions of the world that can actually be very diverse and controversial- to navigate fluidly between such different visions of the world, sometimes even through those that seem to hold contradictory. There are several characteristics common to this cognitive maturity, people who pilot to learn and no longer learn to pilot their ship, characteristics that have been shown in meta-leaders such as Gandhi and Mandela.

16:17

Finally, the paradoxes of a Human mission to Mars are everywhere... To cite only two examples: we want "Indiana Jones" types, those who love to explore, yes, maybe, but they would be very constrained, they would experience a significant lack of freedom because they would be imprisoned in a habitat or a vehicle upon which they would be completely dependent; they would be completely dependent on life-support, which appears as a paradox for an explorer...And then they would perform extraordinary things daily, of course, but in a very dull and monotone environment...Therefore: Paradoxes! And to overcome paradoxes: decentration ("meta-centraliens!") In other words, we have to integrate things that seem to be opposed on first glance into something greater that integrates and resolves the paradox...

16 :56

This is actually what has always interested me.

So this is how talking about the evolution of cognition and the 1981 film "Indiana Jones", that I showed you a clip of at the very beginning, brings me to my 4 years, already passionate about space travel.

Well, it is not reasonable at all...indeed only 571 people have gone to space so far...It is changing, but still...and there is no school to become an astronaut...

So, how could we go? It has been already suggested that the plans, the check-boxes, those don't work...Yes, the future is still pretty hard to predict.

But that doesn't mean that, at an adult age, he doesn't keep sending me positive vibes, it makes me shiver each time we start talking about space travel. So yes that means something, that makes me ponder on...

That inner child, he is the best "captain" of our ship: that part of ourselves that is pluripotent, open to the world, curious, that tells us things that we shouldn’t turn off at the age of reason. Ok, maybe it would go nowhere, however, the ship, if not a top notch copilot, "the wise man". Remember Kegan: if there is something that still matures at an adult age, its wisdom, and we should probably create a dialogue with that other part of ourselves, our future-self, that we should let blossom and grow, with the inner child, our past-self. It is this wisdom that allows us to overcome paradox, our best chance at adapting to a complex world, a world that is both complex and paradoxical.

In order to adapt to it, there is nothing better than the auto-transformative mind and the inner dialogue with the "mini me" and the "venerable self". They will guide the ship in a rather pertinent way...

18:18

Which brings me to the theme of the evening and of the whole day, to talk to you about “Connection”... The theory of general “Reliance" could I say. This concept was reworked by Edgar Morin in his "Complex thinking" and developed as an amazing tool for understanding the world in which we live. First, we understand that we all are inter-connected and interdependent.

I don't have to tell you how much the crew on Mars will be dependent on their team mates to survive...That being said, an astronaut in space is dependent on the entire team on the ground who has been working for years on their mission: clearly, an astronaut is but an epiphenomenon from a space ship Earth traveling through the Solar system...

This is in parallel with the creation of an active link and to actually connect concepts in a complex world, the world of ideas and the world that crystallizes and actualizes, the connection between each of us, to turn information into knowledge, to create meaning through connection.

19:22

But how do we know if we are on the right track?

I would like to introduce another concept to you here, the concept of "Ikigaï" from Japanese culture this time. Because there will be unavoidable detours, the road will not be straight forward like the Indiana Jones bridge unveiled before - byways, synchronizations, failures, falling down so you can get back up...

This is what's interesting: we know that we are on the right track when we did find our "Ikigaï", which is translated as "reason of being", “purpose”, but it is actually more, this congruence, this reliance between "where we find pleasure" - the reason why I always get good vibes when it comes to space? - "what I think I am competent in", "where I can employ myself" and "how, at my scale (this is an important dimension) I can contribute to changing the world." So well, at the core of all that is the "Ikigaï", aligned between your inner child and the wise-self that you must let grow a bit, which allows you, each time, to adjust yourself or to surf, in the sense of Joël de Rosnay, in a complex and indeterminist world: this is again a question of timing and alignment, of the succession of equilibrium and disequilibrium, much like when we walk...

20:19

Voila! To conclude, and why not, I would suggest to maybe meditate with you on the idea that, if we really want to live in a Future that brings meaning to all of our lives, instead of following paths that have been predetermined for us, perhaps our best chance at anticipating, to live in such a world, is to create the Future together, to co-create the path...Because, in the end, if it brings together meaning and worlds worth spreading, then we ARE the path...

Thank you very much!

20:47

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