A Strange Intersection


I was on a flight recently and happened to encounter this book and this film back-to-back. The result was really interesting, and I'm going to try to describe it here.

I've been slowly working my way through the audiobook version of Sapiens and happened to be listening to the chapter on European conquest, particularly the entwined nature of science and empire, when I casually started scrolling through the free film offerings on my Virgin America flight. Alien: Covenant was on offer, and though I'd seen it before, I was in the mood to watch it again (because it rules). So I paused Sapiens and entered the world of Alien, and was astounded by how seamlessly the film seemed to picked up where the book left off. 

Bear with me, this is probably really boring for most of you, but this blew my mind so I'm forging ahead. If you haven't seen Alien: Covenant, here's a synopsis. It's a horror film, so it's pretty gruesome, lots of aliens bursting from people's bodies. But the part that really struck me was when Walter, the protective android who accompanies the Covenant's crew to the planet, is speaking to David, the original humanoid android who arrived on the planet 10 years earlier with the Prometheus. They are identical, but programmed just a bit differently--David is "too human," with the ability to create, whereas Walter has been updated to be more service-oriented toward humans. David tells Walter that humans are a dying species and shouldn't be allowed to colonize space--it seems he has taken it into his own hands to see to it they never will. He has created the body-bursting aliens as a means to this end. 

This is where I started thinking about where I left off in Sapiens. Everywhere humans have colonized, they have replaced what was originally there: native plants and animals, and then in the age of conquest, complex indigenous societies with rich histories and cultures. All of it wiped clean in the name of exploration, knowledge, science, industry. Europeans almost exclusively are responsible for this erasure, especially in the South Pacific and the Americas. The loss is too great to fully conceptualize. With this shitty track record, do science-minded humans deserve to colonize space?

The body-bursting aliens I think are analogous to European explorers in the age of conquest: seemingly unstoppable, leveling everything in their path, ruthless. Yes, there was knowledge to be gained and beauty to be observed in exploration, but the destruction that accompanied the discovery was vast and perhaps overshadows what good may have emerged. Some have written that the aliens throughout the film series are a Satanic weapon that was created to destroy humanity because we failed to live up to our creator's expectations. I found myself thinking that these aliens might be doing the universe a favor by preventing us from spreading. A robot created by humans will save creation at large, protecting pristine moons and planets from the infection of our human desires.

I don't believe that humans have a creator, unless you count natural selection. However, most of us seem to care what our purpose is here, and where it is that we came from, but I don't think any of that has a simple answer. Nothing ever expected anything of us, except maybe future generations expected to be born. We aren't special, there's no grand scheme. We can't do everything we want to do; eventually we must hit a wall. I hope we don't trip any more dominoes (kill indigenous life on another planet by accident, for example) before we realize that we shouldn't.

Cool, so that's my thought. Thanks for letting me unravel it. 

What I read 4


An expedition of four women is sent into an unknown region called Area X, beyond the borders of humanity: a psychologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist, and our narrator, a biologist. The purpose of the mission is to collect data about Area X and report back to the government, the Southern Reach, but circumstances begin to change when the group discovers a tower (or tunnel) that was previously unmarked on the map.
— Booklist

Extremely creepy and absorbing, I listened to this book over Audible while knitting for about 5 hours straight.

How to Change Your Mind

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When Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction, and anxiety, he did not intend to write what is undoubtedly his most personal book. But upon discovering how these remarkable substances are improving the lives not only of the mentally ill but also of healthy people coming to grips with the challenges of everyday life, he decided to explore the landscape of the mind in the first person as well as the third.
— Amazon

Really really recommend this book. Hands down one of the best I've ever read.

What I read, watched, listened to, 3

Still obsessed with space, everyone.

The Habitat


From Gimlet Media: 

"On a remote mountain in Hawaii, there's a fake planet Mars. Six volunteers are secluded in an imitation Mars habitat where they will work as imitation astronauts for one very real year. The goal: to help NASA understand what life might be like on the red planet—and plan for the day when the dress rehearsals are over, and we blast off for real."


Lost in Space: 2018 Netflix Reboot


From Simon and Schuster:

"In Sweden there is a kind of decluttering called döstädning meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.” This surprising and invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner than later, before others have to do it for you."


Ultima Thule

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Ultima Thule: small Kuiper Belt Object which will be next destination of New Horizons; flyby will happen on New Year’s Day 2019.


Nathalie Cabrol Searches the Earth for the Secrets of Life on Mars

Nathalie Cabrol in Chile

Nathalie Cabrol in Chile

From the Helen McDonald of the New York Times:

"Over the next few weeks, we would visit five sites at varying altitudes. The higher we climbed, the further we went back in time — not on Earth, but on Mars. The high-altitude sites are water-rich, with a thin atmosphere and high levels of UV radiation. They resemble Mars at the beginning of the transition it underwent three and a half billion years ago, when solar winds began to strip away its atmosphere, allowing cosmic rays to reach its surface, and the water that once flowed there vanished into space or was locked deep underground or at the planet’s poles.  During this period, any life on the surface would have died or taken refuge in the same kinds of places in which life exists in inhospitable regions like the Atacama. The surface of Mars is exposed to harmful radiation; no life can survive on it today, Cabrol told me, but it might still be hiding underground. The salty, arid sites we visited first were terrestrial analogues for present-day Mars."


Next on my list:

The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality