Cultural Preservation in an Age of Appropriation

A roundtable discussion by the Projecting Particles (I=Universe) Team about Indigenous cultural values and Western values, their intersections, their distinctions, and how cultures can be shared widely without loss.

This roundtable discussion will be followed by story-telling sessions in the tipi, between Steven Tamayo and Steven Goldfarb, while Marcus Dominger live projects images onto the tipi.

This week’s programming is generously brought to you by Jennifer & Bryan Murphy.

What considerations should we take when writing a constitution for a newly established InterPlanetary settlement? What can we learn from the constitutions governing nations on Earth? Following on the heels of a closed meeting on the same subject, this panel will discuss what should be included in an adaptable governing document for a future settlement off-planet. Taking cues from the Constitution of the United States, constitutions of Micronations throughout the world, and the successes and failures in each, our panelists propose certain protections for the citizens of that new settlement, policies for those citizens in relation to earthlings and extraterrestrials, and the rights of the new settlement itself.

This week’s programming is generously brought to you by Jennifer & Bryan Murphy.

Panel on the topic of “Motion and Energy Technology”, co-presented by Virgin Galactic.

A panel discussion on life detection investigations deployed place today, what those technologies are seeking, what information we’re receiving, and what it all means.

This panel is partially supported by the National Science Foundation.

The uniquely cataclysmic outcomes that climate change, food shortages, and once-in-a-lifetime weather events will have on Black people is a question that recent history has already begun to answer. Hurricanes Maria and Katrina, the 2010 Haitian earthquake, among other crises have made it clear that Black people and people of color will shoulder the burden of these coming crises.

The question of what fate will befall human kind as our world struggles, and fails, to support us has sometimes been reserved for scientists. Creative Black Futures asserts that these are quandaries well suited for poets, artists, and writers as well. We will consider afrofuturism, afropessimism, the role of interracial solidarity, and the potential for intergalactic colonialism.

Creative Black Futures will feature poet and writer Cyree Jarelle Johnson; multidisciplinary artist Kiyan Williams; writer Ras Mashramani; artist Marcelline Mandeng; and poet, curator, and artist An Duplan.

In the early days of the space race, Los Alamos National Laboratory played a critical role in developing sensors for satellites to detect nuclear explosions in space—but it also paid huge scientific dividends. Those sensors ultimately led to important astronomical discoveries, including the discovery of gamma-ray bursts and insights into solar storms and their impacts on the Earth and spacecraft. In addition, Los Alamos’ expertise in all things nuclear led to the development of nuclear-powered rockets (such as Project Rover) and nuclear fuel for spacecraft (RTGs, which currently power spacecraft probing deep space), as well as today’s development of nuclear reactors for powering future space colonies (known as Kilopower).
This panel of experts from Los Alamos will talk about the discoveries—both accidental and intentional—that were made then and how they’ve influenced both our understanding of the universe and how we utilize space today, as well as the evolution of the use of nuclear power in space.

Time often feels like it’s moving at a different pace. Five minutes can feel like an eternity when you’re waiting for the heat from a habanero pepper to fade, but three hours can feel like no time at all when you’re having dinner with an old friend. Children seem to grow up at an astonishing rate, while under the same roof, our own grey hairs and wrinkles slowly appear, year after year. To a mayfly, one day is a lifetime, but to a planet, millennia are gone in a blip. Scientists have even discovered a species of jellyfish that reverts, phoenix-like, to an immature stage of life instead of dying. What does time mean to an immortal jellyfish?

Memories, traditions, and history might lend human beings a semblance of immortality, but we are constantly reckoning with the effects of time. Through technology, medicine, and even the creative arts, human beings have invented ways to slow the effects of aging, increase life expectancy, and appreciate the time we have on earth. To us, time might feel like a relentless arrow hurtling forward towards an unreachable target, but to our ever-expanding universe, time isn’t composed of a clearly delineated past, present, and future. Death comes for us all, as they say, but as our understanding of time shifts, perhaps it will no longer be considered the end.

This unscripted panel discussion with physicist Sean Carroll, chef Mark Miller, and molecular biologist Coleen Murphy will explore time from physical, experiential, and biological perspectives, using current scientific understanding as a springboard for to imagining how we might live, and die, in an interplanetary civilization.

Using our innate senses of creativity and invention, we can tell stories about all kinds of places that never were and might never be. We can talk about what life is like in a human colony on Mars or chronicle what would happen in an alternative history where World War II never took place. We can give people the ability to turn invisible or invent an Earth whose air has become unbreathable. We can describe a society that has made wealth illegal or create a world where humans don’t even exist. The limits are only as narrow as our imaginations.
World building requires consideration of the many different elements that make up complex systems. Geography, culture, government, technology, and even supernatural abilities are all in conversation with each other, connected like the threads of a spider web. Changing even one small component in an otherwise familiar construct can send ripples throughout these systems and alter the entire world in profound and unexpected ways.


The World Building panel discussion will tackle the issues and process of constructing imaginary worlds and what we can learn from them. This unscripted conversation features literature professor Michael Drout, speculative fiction writer Rebecca Roanhorse, and fantasy authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who collectively write under the pen name James S.A. Corey, and moderated by SFI Professor Cris Moore.

The origin of life on Earth remains a hotly contested question among scientists. Maybe life began in the depths of the ocean, or with an electric spark, or in a small pond that repeatedly dried. Perhaps the answer to this question will be found through our understanding of the role that RNA played in the evolution of early life, or maybe there are myriad ways for life to start.
Figuring out the source of all life on our own planet is tricky enough, but scientists are also setting their sights on the possibility of the existence of life in space. In this case, we don’t mean Laika the dog orbiting Earth or human volunteers one day colonizing Mars, but life forms that originated and organized their own way of life on other planets. While we might not yet know if life exists outside of own biosphere or solar system, in order to discover and identify other living beings in the universe, we must first understand how life itself originates.

The Building Life from Scratch panel discussion will feature biologist Chris Kempes, journalist Alexandra Witze, botanist David Baum, and chemist Kate Adamala, who will address one approach to the origins of life question: building new and different types of life from scratch.

Orangutans, octopuses, and ravens might appear to have little in common, but they are among the most intelligent species on Earth, capable of recognizing faces and using tools. For animals of lesser individual intelligence, they often make better decisions by using the collective wisdom of the entire group. Flocks of birds rely on group intel to find the best trees at dinnertime, and herds of elk improve their chances of survival by communicating with each other about the presence of dangerous predators.
But not all intelligence is biological. Advancements in AI and machine learning demonstrate a level of comprehension and problem solving that is rapidly approaching human-level brainpower. Computers are already able to win chess games against champions, make mathematical computations at warp speed, and mimic our language and conversations. Even networks like the Internet, the stock market, and the health care system are all forms of complex intelligence. And as we venture further into the universe, perhaps we will find forms of extraterrestrial intelligence that are biological, artificial, or something else altogether.


The Diverse Intelligence panel discussion will tackle the wide-ranging scope of intelligence, from the evolution of the human mind to the complex systems our technology has birthed to forms of intelligence that are yet to be invented or discovered. This unscripted panel features SFI President David Krakauer, anthropologist Erica Cartmill, sociologist Jacob Foster, and filmmaker Oscar Sharp.

As people continue to flock to cities, new developments in urban design, architecture, and technology are transforming how we live, work, commute, eat, and learn in urban environments. The rapid rise of the Digital Age has all but reinvented our day-to-day urban lives, as breakthroughs in science and technology muddy the waters between the physical world and the cyber world. There’s no doubt the New York, London, and Buenos Aires of today would shock city-dwellers from a century ago, who traveled without checking directions on an iPhone, lived in apartments insulated with asbestos, and had never heard of recycling plants.
But 21st century cities face new obstacles every day, which require bold solutions that will upend urban life once more. Population increases, housing crunches, food and water shortages, the spread of disease, and the onset of war are all problems accosting our rapidly-growing cities. Meanwhile, climate change is already starting to impact metropolises across the globe as rising temperatures and weather phenomena cause financial, infrastructural, and societal devastation. In the not too distant future, we will all be living in cities confronted with extreme environmental, social, and political challenges. We might even build cities on other planets altogether, where we will have a clean slate to plan ethical, resource-efficient, and eco-conscious urban spaces.


The Extremophile Cities panel discussion with urban designer Nicholas de Monchaux, architect and former astrophysicist Ann Pendleton-Jullian, urban soundscape designer Jake Harper, and business strategist Suparno Banerjee will address the complex issues and collective solutions of urban life in severe environments, from cites that might be underwater in a few decades to those we might create on other planets.

First Panel Discussion of the 2019 InterPlanetary Festival.
How do we prepare – physically and psychologically – for impossible, exhilarating, and terrifying feats? What goes through the mind before a solo trek across the South Pole, a free climb up a seemingly insurmountable mountain, a manned mission to Mars?


Sustained space occupation will necessarily involve putting people under prolonged stresses that will challenge physical and mental resilience. There are a vast array of tools available today to alter and improve our cognitive and metabolic well-being, efficiency, and physical performance.

Sound, vibration, and light offer a dynamic method to entrain cortical brainwaves of working teams to the timing of the environment. Similar techniques are currently used by Navy Seals and others to promote collective “flow states”, improving emotional stability and resilience under prolonged high-stressful conditions.

The IRIS “Sensorium”  engage participants in an “alter-state experience” illuminating the effect of light, vibration, and sound on the human psyche. Monitoring the EEG of participants provides baseline insight into the dynamic nature of brainwaves, which govern our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Common vernacular related to altered states of consciousness do not currently exist. The panel will explore Collaborative Interactive Evolutionary theory as a possible avenue toward new vernacular.

What is the best operating system to run a planet? Who governs? Who owns? Who rewards and punishes? How can we evolve law and regulation to reflect the larger systems within which we live? What can the regulation of terrestrial ecosystems teach us about our opportunities and limitations as a species in stewarding each other and the earth? In stewarding other planets? Can we learn/teach fundamentally new social norms? What are the rights of non-human species and ecosystems? How many rules do we really need? What are you optimizing when you think about laws? Our own behavior? Maximum benefit to the society? Minimize extreme events? Creating long term stability and order? How can we universalize legal benefits linguistically or symbolically? What responsibilities and rights exist with regard to our interactions with planetary systems? What does policy and regulation that reflects relationship rather than ownership even look like?

All life on earth is social life, what are its limits? Are our social institutional systems the best there are? Could you have one planet that was one nation? How can we optimize equality, efficiency as a function of system architecture and size? Are terrestrial institutions the best that the universe has to offer? Do we expect aliens to have discovered capitalism or Marxism?Are there alternatives to money? What is the family unit like (if there is a family unit) in space? What social system would be the most effective colonizing strategy for other planets?

Image: Baer Tierkel via flickr

Biophysicist Shawn Douglas and designer Chaim Gingold discuss their inspirations and strategies for building computational tools that introduce new ways to play and think. Recently, they have been collaborating on Gelbox, a simulation and visualization tool for teaching Gel Electrophoresis—a notoriously hard to learn yet foundational tool in biology. This project grew directly out Shawn’s earlier work in making computational tools to transform laboratory practices (e.g. Cadnano, a CAD tool for DNA nanostructures), and Chaim’s work in designing interactive simulations and games (e.g. Earth: A Primer, a science book you play with).

How do we get there? How do we get there without using the earth as our fuel? What is the ideal fuel source? Will InterPlanetary travel require fundamentally new motion and energy technologies? Is nuclear tech a realistic solution? Why? Should space crafts be autonomous vehicles? Will space cities be planetary establishments or will we live our lives in the confines of a space ship?Where is the interplanetary dump? Dyson spheres? How can we mitigate energy increases with our growing population?

When considering the origins (and possibilities) of life in space, there are many complex and interweaving questions to find the answers for. How likely is it that we will find life in space? How to we even calculate that likelihood? Where do we look, and what are the best methods to use in our search? And in the end, whether we find life in space or not, what does that mean to us as a species and a planet? Columbia University’s Director of Astrobiology Caleb Scharf, and biologist and complexity scientist Chris Kempes discuss these thought provoking questions, and offer specific insight into what we can expect as this search for extraterrestrial life continues.

How different will our day to day be on another planet? Will it be on another planet or in a spaceship? What will we endure physically to live in space? Who says it will be any different than life on earth? Where can we live? What will we eat? Will it be comfortable or uncomfortable? What will the family unit look like in space? Will technology allow for easy communication? Will distance make communication difficult? What is the optimum number of humans for a colony? What architecture would provide optimal city performance? What’s the smallest functional human society in space? Pets? What becomes most important to bring along?

What is intelligence? If we as humans consider ourselves to be the pinnacle of intelligence, at least in terms of tangible accomplishments as a species, do we expect to find this same level and occurence of intelligence mirrored in any extraterrestrial life we come across? Do we expect that intelligent life to be organic, or artificial? If we find life on other planets, do we expect it to be intelligent?

Watch Michael Garfield‘s generative notes for this panel, too.

Do we have the intelligence, socially and technologically to save the earth? Is it too late? Do climate scientists have to become climate engineers? Do we have to radically change the way we live and consume to allow for continued life on earth, or will technology save us? Is talking about interplanetary travel irresponsible? Is not talking about interplanetary travel irresponsible? How can we change the incentives to live sustainably on earth? Human long term thinking is a newer and newer thing, what would change as humans think of humanity in terms of a 10,000 year plan? How will knowledge of climate and atmosphere on Mars help us understand the atmosphere of earth? What can we learn about inhospitable planets from inhospitable biomes? To survive a trip to Mars, you’d have to be super sustainable, so why are we sustainable tourists but bad locals? Does our treatment of the earth now indicate our readiness to leave it?

What is the nature of time? Is time real? Is time an invention? Can we control time? Is the universe aging? Will it die? Could we live forever organically? In simulation? How could/will the Singularity affect human time? Is consciousness infinite? What’s the half-life of a civilization? What’s the half life of planet? How can we cope with Einstein’s law, now that society has managed to become near light-speed? How do you deal with the fact that your daughter might actually be the age of your grandmother? How will our conception of time be changed after years in a tube, in darkness? What is human? How do we decide when we become people? How can we tell when an organism makes things? Thinks about things? Becomes things? How do cultures change? How quickly? Why?

Is art the best means to communicate with others? Is art the most effective means of communication in general? Visually? Musically? Linguistically? Should we send an artist into space? Should we bring art with us at the risk of precious and expensive payload? Should they have brought a poet? Was Jodie Foster right? Do other species make art? If we encounter another species without art, should we be worried? Is art belonging only to intelligent species? What do the history of themes in art reveal about humans? Imagination and counterfactual realities in mind, how has the artistic representation of space forged our ideas about space? When we imagine space, are we remembering artistic representations we’ve encountered before?

What’s the minimal requirement for a self-sustaining ecosystem? Ecosystems crash all the time, closed ones included, what does a fully closed, man-made, functional ecosystem look like? What processes lead to living planets? What’s required for stable ecosystems and long-term stability? Are we capable of building an autonomous ecosystem? Are there general signs of the impact of intelligent species on ecosystems? What leads to stable planetary habitability? Can a non-living planet be turned into a living one? How can a living planet be turned into a non-living planet?

Panel on “Emergent Engineering” featuring Jonathan Blow, Jessica Flack, and Stephanie Forrest.