In search of an objective morality

I’ve had a few conversations lately on morality, and it strikes me that I haven’t written about it in quite a while.  The discussions focused on whether there is any objective morality, or any objective definition of good and evil.  This is an age old question.

It occurs to me that we can break moral notions down into certain types.

  1. Personal morality: This is what we all individually viscerally feel is right or wrong.  It appears to arise from a combination of instinctive innate intuitions and cultural indoctrinations.  While we are all human and mostly have the same instincts and intuitions, we feel them with varying levels of intensities and in various combinations of those intensities, heavily modified by our unique experiences.  In other words, conscientious people can conscientiously disagree about right and wrong.
  2. Cultural morality: This is the culture’s definitions of right and wrong.  It is, in essence, the consensus arrived at from the members of that culture, modified by the environments that the culture exists in.  (For example, the mores of desert nomads will be different from farming or fishing villages.)  2 is essentially a summation of 1, but it also influences 1 heavily, making the relationship between the two complex, with a tendency to have a life of its own, transcending and often modifying and becoming part of the environment that modifies itself.
  3. Societal laws: This are the mores from 2 that a society chooses to encode and enforce.  Most people are aware of the stark differences between 3 and 2.  There are many things that are legal but are widely considered immoral, and there are many things intuitively regarded as just, that are illegal.  Some of these differences arise from who has power in a society, but some of it also arises from a pragmatic necessity for laws to work and be enforceable across the society.
  4. Objective morals: These are morals precepts that exist “out there” in some platonic sense.  If you’re religious, these may be the commandments of a god or gods.  If you’re secular, you may try to find it in some other aspect of reality, such as evolved human instincts.

There’s no question that 1-3 exist.  They can be studied through psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, and history.  We can read studies of them in various other cultures, both in the world today or throughout history.  They themselves have an objective existence, although they are constantly changing.

The question is whether 4 exists, and if it exists, whether there is any way for us to know it.

Again, if you’re religious, you may believe that 4 definitely does exist; it is simply the will of the deity or order that you worship.  The problem is that there is no way to prove that any one religion is the right one, at least not in any manner that the adherents of other religions, or of no religion, will accept.  And even within a religion, there are often strong disagreements about what that objective morality is between different sects, denominations, and often even within the core scriptures.  If any one religion is true, it historically doesn’t seem to help us in discovering exactly what the objective moral precepts are.

Many secularists have attempted to find an objective morality in human instinct.  I have some sympathy for this approach, and I do think human instinct puts some constraints on moral rules, so that they’re not completely arbitrary, although the freedom allowed by those constraints appear to be wider than just about anyone is comfortable with.   The problem is that there is no one set of human instincts.  As I mentioned in 1 above, we’re all a little different.

The other problem with using human instinct as a guide, is that it often leads to mores most of us find problematic today.  It appears to be human nature to consider people who are like us to be the in-group, and all others the out-group, with the result that, historically, the out-group is often treated as less than human.  It’s also true that human empathy with people who are out of sight appears to be unnatural.  In these and many other cases, we feel the need to override our instincts in these areas with “the better angels of our nature.”

Of course, these “better angels” are themselves the result of other instincts.  A while back, fellow blogger, Ignostic Atheist, asked whether we were born evil.  My response was that we were born with both selfish and pro-social instincts, which are always in tension.  Different individuals and cultures declare different spots along the spectrum of that tension as “good” or “evil.”  An overbearing fascist might shift “good” all the way to the pro-social side, leaving little room for individual freedom, while an anarchist might position it far toward the selfish side.

All of which is to say that we can’t find an objective morality within human instinct, or more broadly in natural facts.  Attempting to do so is often called the naturalistic fallacy.

So, if an objective morality exists, we appear to have no way to ascertain it, or have confidence in its existence.  We’re back to David Hume’s famous (infamous?) observation that you can’t derive an ought from an is, the is-ought distinction.  No one has found a convincing solution to this distinction.  Although it hasn’t stopped many from claiming that they have, or claiming that the distinction doesn’t really exist, but those people have generally failed to convince the intellectual world.  (Although, of course, they often do have substantial followings.)

Does this mean that discussing morality is pointless?  That all viewpoints, no matter how odious we may find them, are equally valid?  That moral propositions are nothing more than emotive “yay charity” or “boo murder”?  Are we doomed to normative moral nihilism?

I think the answer depends on whether we can find shared common values.  If we can, then, on the basis of those shared values, we can apply science and logic to help resolve difficult moral conundrums.  At least some of the time.  For example, in a debate about animal rights, appealing to a shared sense of empathy and care of others, and then asking why it shouldn’t pertain to non-human animals, is a powerful argument.

Other times the logical answer may crash into another instinctive or indoctrinated intuition.  The abortion debate could be seen as a tension between the wellbeing of the mother and that of the embryo / fetus.  If so, a logical and evidence based discussion might lead us to conclude that the welfare of the mother should trump the welfare of, at least, an early stage embryo with no conceivable ability to experience suffering.  But this conclusion crashes into a sacred value held by many pro-life advocates, who consider the zygote to be an ensouled and inviolable human being, which they think should be treated like any other human.

Of course, even then the discussions are worth having.  After all, what other choice do we have, at least other than having one group impose its values on others?  (A choice resorted to far too often in history.)  I’ve noted many times before that in a society with universal suffrage, we have no choice but to do the hard work of finding a consensus that the majority of us can live with.

But I guess the question I have is, am I missing something?  Is there a way to ascertain objective definitions of good and evil?  If so, what are they?

Posted in Morality | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Sex laws over the millenia

SexAndPunishmentCoverLast week I listened to an episode of Fresh Air on NPR, where Terry Gross interviewed Eric Berkowitz on his new book, ‘The Boundaries of Desire‘, about sex laws over the last century.  But what interested me more in the interview was the brief introductory discussion of sex laws in ancient societies, which led me to read the first half of Berkowitz’s earlier book, ‘Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire‘.

Berkowitz starts off looking at laws in bronze age societies such as Egypt, Assyria, the Hittite empire, and various Mesopotamian city states.  The first thing that struck me were that early sex laws were written completely with the interests of the husband in mind.  Women, even freeborn nobility, were basically property.  The wife was the husband’s vessel to produce his heirs, and daughters were assets to be sold through dowries.

The adultery laws seem designed to help men ensure paternity of any babies born to their wives.  Wives were forbidden from having sex with anyone other than their husbands, and the penalties for doing so were severe, often involving disfigurement, death, or demotion to a household slave.

Often, even if the wife were raped, she was blamed for allowing it to happen, and endured many of the penalties.  Some of the laws did make a distinction between women raped “on the road” versus being raped in their own household.  On the road was considered more outside of the women’s control, but if it happened in her household, she was often assumed to be complicit.

Husbands had much more freedom.  Aside from the fact that they could often have multiple wives, there was nothing prohibiting them from having sex with other women, as long as the woman wasn’t some other freeborn man’s wife, daughter, or slave.  Husbands were free to have sex with any slave they owned, with prostitutes, or anyone that wasn’t already attached to another man.  Regarding men, rape or adultery was handled as a type of theft, rather than an act of violence or treachery.  The idea of a husband raping a wife, no matter how violent, would have been an incomprehensible concept.

Bronze age societies didn’t seem to care much about any type of sex that didn’t threaten paternity problems.  Homosexual sex appears to have been largely ignored.  Bestiality might be a problem, depending on the species.  (For example, relations with a goat in Egyptian society was considered divine devotion, but in Hittite society, relations with cows, dogs, and sheep incurred the death penalty.)

On the homosexual front, things started to become a bit more restricted as we get to iron age societies like classical Greece or Rome, where the role of the male became important.  There was no issue with a male that took the active role in same sex relations, but anyone taking the passive role risked losing status.  As a result, the passive role was reserved for slaves, prostitutes, and other low status individuals.  Greek societies did have the concept of pederasty, of an erotic relationship between an older and younger male, but it was controversial and the Romans rejected it.

The oddballs in the ancient world were the Hebrews.  Anyone who has read the Old Testament knows their attitudes toward sex.  If it didn’t lead to procreation, it was evil.  Penalties were harsh.  Berkowitz speculates that the Hebrew attitudes might have been formed in a context of a low population people feeling besieged by enemies on all sides, with a desire to channel sexual energy as much as possible into procreation.

Whatever the reason, the Hebrew attitude largely formed the later Christian attitude, that of all sex being dirty and disgusting.  Reading about the stark differences between early Roman permissiveness on sexual matters and the much more restricted Christian ones, I’ve wondered how Christianity managed to succeed with those restrictions.

I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Christianity started largely in the lower strata of society.  Thinking about ancient sex laws, a lot of the ancient permissiveness toward sex disproportionately benefited upper class males.  Women, slaves, and lower class individuals were probably much more often the victims in these relationships.  For them, the strictures involved in the new faith might have been more perceived as additional protection rather than curtailment of freedoms.  In any case, women’s sex lives were heavily restricted both before and after the transition.

However it happened, Christianity radically changed societal attitudes toward sex.  Sex in all forms was bad, but since it was inevitable, it needed to channeled in marriage and even then, only done for procreation.  Married couples were heavily restricted in the types of sex they could have and when they could have it.  (For example, it was forbidden on certain days of the week and on the numerous holy days.)

In the early centuries, aside from a few periods of persecution, failure to follow these strictures was a personal failing, a matter between the sinner and God, with the penalty being various religious penances as prescribed in religious penitentials.  (Although the penances could be severe, such as having to live on bread and water for 15 years.)  But after about 1000 AD, spurred by fears from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, sexual deviancy, sodomy, became a public policy issue.  Penalties for having the wrong kind of sex became severe, often involving death by fire, castration, or many other gruesome alternatives.

Paradoxically, during this period, brothels were common, often actually run by the churches or local municipalities.  The idea was that they were necessary to prevent worse sin.  Of course, women continued to be heavily restricted.  The brothels were for men.  With the Protestant Reformation, brothels came under attack.  Official brothels run by churches or towns disappeared, with Catholics and Protestants seeming to be in competition for who could be more restrictive.

I’ve written before about the importance of the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.  It probably accelerated the Renaissance and provided the mechanism for both the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.  Given the history of the internet, this makes sense, but one thing I had never thought much about, was that printing also enabled mass publication of obscenity and pornography.  What had previously only been available in isolated paintings and hand written manuscripts could now be widely published.  The churches reacted with restrictions and bans, and the long societal tension over this kind of entertainment began.

At this point, my reading of Berkowitz became a bit selective.  In this book, he covers the modern period up the beginning of the 20th century, but I had started reading to learn about ancient attitudes toward sex and wasn’t too interested in the modern period, already having a pretty good idea of what those attitudes were.

One later section I did read discussed the cultural clashes that took place as westerners colonized the world, encountering cultures whose attitudes toward sex were close to those old bronze age societies.  Of course, by this time, westerners were wholly conditioned to regard anything outside of prescribed boundaries to be not only disgusting, but dangerous, potentially bringing God’s wrath down on everyone.  The results were attempts to stamp out unapproved sexuality in native peoples, often with severe harshness.

Reading about all of this, I was reminded of two important historical facts.  The first is how much culture shapes our perceptions.  If an European from 500 BC somehow met one from 1500 AD, they would have found each other’s attitudes toward sex either disgusting or incomprehensible.

The second is how much laws reflect the interests of those with power.  Until very recently, sex laws were crafted by men, largely to the benefit of men.  Those who sometimes bemoan the state of modern society or get frustrated with the complexities of democracy and universal suffrage, should remember that the past was often far worse.

Posted in Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Shoulder update

Quite a few people have asked me about my shoulder, for which I’m grateful.  After telling this to the fifth person, I thought maybe doing a brief post on it might be worthwhile for any online friends who might ever need to deal with something similar.

If you didn’t see my previous posts, several months ago, I endured a couple of months of searing shoulder pain.  Attempts to improve the situation with physical therapy exercising only seemed to make it worse.  At one point, it was looking like I might need surgery.  But now, things appear to be looking much better.

In short, the physical therapy exercises finally did their thing, but only after I made a crucial alteration.  Just about every prescription I got from doctors and therapists insisted that the resistance exercises needed to be done three times a week, or once every two days.  But doing it that way only increased my pain over time.

I gradually discovered that doing the exercises every fourth day provided enough time for my shoulder to recover and strengthen.  If you ever read any bodybuilding books or websites, this isn’t a radical strategy.  Many modern trainers only exercise the same body part every 4-5 days, and once every week isn’t unusual.  The old guidelines of working out three times a week seem to be somewhat dated.  But it doesn’t seem to have seeped in yet to the physical therapy world.

So, if you ever find yourself doing medically prescribed physical therapy resistance exercises, and they don’t appear to be helping, consider increasing the rest time between the workouts.  Three days gave my shoulder enough time to recover, but it was only when I increased the time to four days that I seriously started healing.  Of course, you should always talk it over with your therapist, but consider finding a new one if they reflexively dismiss the idea.

So, that’s the situation.  Much better than the last time I posted on this.

Posted in Zeitgeist | 11 Comments

A machine in the likeness of a human mind

In the fictional far future of the classic science fiction novel, ‘Dune‘, computers are taboo across all human cultures, the result of an ancient jihad which resulted in the religious commandment: “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.”  The result of this commandment, is that computers, robots, or artificial intelligence of any type is completely absent from the setting.  (If you’ve never read Dune, I highly recommend it.  Although I’m about to disagree with something in it, there are many reasons for its status as a landmark classic in science fiction.)

I’ve been thinking about this fictional taboo recently, because I think it highlights a common misunderstanding of the relationship between brains and computers.  I happen to think that the computational theory of mind is sound (something I realize that some of you disagree with), but that doesn’t mean I think the brain is a general purpose computing device.

Of course, the brain is definitely not a digital computer.  It’s architecture is decidedly analog.  Transistors in computer chips are designed to be in one of two voltage states, which are interpreted as discrete 1s or 0s.  Synapses, by contrast, vary smoothly in strength.  There are many other differences, but for purposes of this post, the one I want to highlight is that brains aren’t designed to load any desired software.  They evolved to handle certain tasks, and can’t be repurposed the way a general computer can.

Brains are famously malleable and adaptable of course, but aside from the fact that this is slow, it has inherent limits.  No one has taken, say, a mouse brain, and made it run accounting or navigation applications.  Brains evolved to be the central command center of an animal, to increase that animal’s ability to find food and mates, and avoid predators.  Brains are better thought of as what are known in the information technology industry as appliances, that is, information processing systems narrowly designed for certain purposes, for running certain types of applications.  (A good example of this is the router most of us have at the center of our home’s wireless network.)

This fits with the data from evolutionary psychology and animal behavior research which shows that we are not born blank slates.  We come into the world with an enormous amount of cognitive “pre-wiring”, instinct, evolved programming, or whatever we want to call it.  Certainly brains can learn, depending on the available capacities of the specific species.  And some of that programming can be modified or resisted by learning.  But much of it can’t.  Much of it is central to what a mind does.

ComputingandmindsIn other words, if the computational theory of mind is sound, then a mind is not just a computing system, it’s a specific application (or perhaps more accurately, a set of integrated applications) of a computing system.  This is the main reason why the idea of a computer “waking up” into a conscious state at some level of computing capacity is infeasible.  It’s a bit like saying that a computer might “wake up” to be a game system, or a tax filing application.  None of these applications will come into being unless someone engineers them.

Consider that the laptop I’m typing this on has more processing power than the brains of many insects.  Yet my laptop has shown no emergent insect like behavior.  Why?  Because insect brains evolved for very specific purposes.  My laptop didn’t.  And it won’t behave like an insect unless someone painstakingly programs it to.

Why hasn’t anyone done this programming yet?  Because no one know how, yet.  We can’t program a computer to act like an ant, or a bee.  (At least not accurately.)  To do it, we’d need at least a moderately comprehensive understanding of how ant or bee minds work, and we don’t have that yet.  We certainly don’t have it for more complex animals such as mice, dogs, or humans.  And, based on statements from neuroscientists in the trenches of scientific research, we’re probably decades, if not centuries away from that understanding.

But, many will say, no one engineered humans or other animals.  They simply evolved.  If it happened with them, why couldn’t it happen with artificial intelligence, if we set up the right environment?

In answer, I think we have to be aware of two broad facts.  One is that it took billions of years of evolution to produce animal minds, and half a billion years of additional evolution to produce human minds, and it’s far from clear that they were inevitable.  People have attempted to evolve digital animals, but from what I’ve read, nothing approaching intelligence has resulted, at least not yet.  And that leads to the second broad fact: we don’t really know what led to the evolution of intelligence, either broadly in the form of animal brains, or more specifically human level intelligence, which means we don’t know how to set up the right environment.

(Note that if the evolution approach did somehow succeed in generating intelligence, then the dangers many people fear would probably be valid.  Which, in my mind, is a good reason not to do it this way.  It seems unethical and dangerous, and not likely to generate usable technology even if it worked.)

None of this is to say that computers won’t continue to increase in capacity and capabilities.  I know I’m definitely looking forward to my self driving car and more intelligent home appliances.  But I have no illusions that they will have minds, because we won’t know how to build those for a while yet.  And we’re about as likely to accidentally make one as we’re to accidentally make a game console.

(And if the doubters of the computational theory of mind are right, then that only seems to increase how far away we are from developing a technological mind.)

All of which is to say, that the Dune universe didn’t really need to be devoid of computers to meet its taboo against machines-in-the-likeness-of-a-human-mind.  They could have gotten along quite well with just mandating that no one ever develop a software mind.  Not that the distinction between computers and minds was as clear in the 1960s when Frank Herbert was writing his famous novel.  But today, when many people are decrying the dangers of artificial intelligence, it’s a distinction worth being aware of.

Posted in Mind and AI, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

How An Epilepsy Treatment Shaped Our Understanding of Consciousness

I’ve written before about split brain patients, and what they mean for consciousness. Emily Esfahani Smith has a pretty good write up on the experiments and what they showed: How An Epilepsy Treatment Shaped Our Understanding of Consciousness – The Atlantic.

The patients were there because they all struggled with violent and uncontrollable seizures. The procedure they were about to have was untested on humans, but they were desperate—none of the standard drug therapies for seizures had worked.

Between February and May of 1939, their surgeon William Van Wagenen, Rochester’s chief of neurosurgery, opened up each patient’s skull and cut through the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that connects the left hemisphere to the right and is responsible for the transfer of information between them. It was a dramatic move: By slicing through the bundle of neurons connecting the two hemispheres, Van Wagenen was cutting the left half of the brain away from the right, halting all communication between the two.

One new piece of information I got from the article was how doctors originally came up with the idea of solving epileptic procedures by, essentially, cutting the brain in half.

He had developed the idea for the surgery after observing two epilepsy patients with brain tumors located in the corpus callosum. The patients had experienced frequent convulsive seizures in the early stages of their cancer, when the tumors were still relatively small masses in the brain—but as the tumors grew, they destroyed the corpus callosum, and the seizures eased up.

“In other words, as the corpus callosum was destroyed, generalized convulsive seizures became less frequent,” Van Wagenen wrote in the 1940 paper, noting that “as a rule, consciousness is not lost when the spread of the epileptic wave is not great or when it is limited to one cerebral cortex.

If you’ve ever read a write up on the split-brain patient experiments, then much of the rest of the article won’t be new info for you, but if you haven’t, I recommend reading it in full.  The descriptions of the experiments themselves get a little awkward, with the left hemisphere of the brain controlling and receiving sensory input from the right side of the body and the right hemisphere controlling and getting input from the left side, but having attempted to describe these experiments myself, I can attest that it’s hard to avoid.

The main results of the experiments were to show that:

  1. The two hemispheres of the brain of a split brain patient could not communicate with each other, which seems to add additional evidence that the mind does not exist independent of the brain.  These people appear to have two separate minds.
  2. Despite this inability to communicate, split brain patients were, more or less, fully functional, except, as in the experiments, where sensory inputs to their two hemispheres were isolated.  This seemed to indicate that the two hemispheres could coordinate with each other by observing what the other side did through its side of bodily perceptions.

In other words, the mind is the brain.  And there is no central indivisible command center in the brain; it is a decentralized information processing cluster.  The brain itself is as centralized as things get, overall, for cognition.

The split brain patient experiments are pretty mind blowing.  As the article discussed, the procedure is rarely performed anymore, so opportunities for new studies are going to be limited, at least in humans.  But the opportunity to do those experiments, at least for a few decades, gave us insights into consciousness that every neuroscientist and philosopher of mind must now contend with.

Posted in Zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

SMBC: What if the universe is made of math?

I loved this SMBC.  It echoes something I’ve observed before, that some physicists have disdain for philosophy, while often engaging in it themselves.

Hovertext: “Philosophy is dumb, unless it comes out of the mouth of a physicist.”

Click through for full sized version and red button caption.

via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

I’ve discussed the question before on this blog on whether the universe is mathematics, mathematics is the universe, or some weird combination.  Personally, I’ve gradually become more convinced that the foundations of mathematics and logic are empirical, that they are our most fundamental theories about how the universe works.  This isn’t completely intuitive because we are born with some logic and quantity cognitive pre-wiring, giving the illusion, perhaps, that it comes from somewhere else.

One consequence of seeing math and logic as theories, is that they are subject to revision, something many will find intolerable.  Still, arguably quantum physics led to revision in logic.

Posted in Zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , | 60 Comments

‘The Martian’: Robinson Crusoe meets Apollo 13

TheMartianCoverI recently read Andy Weir’s novel: ‘The Martian‘.  Weir’s book is a self publishing success story.  An admitted life long geek, he enjoyed thoroughly researching how a mission to Mars might work and what might go wrong with it.  He originally published the book, in serialized form, on his web site.  In response to reader requests, he put it in a Kindle book on Amazon.

It was so popular he was offered a deal with a traditional publisher and a movie deal, almost simultaneously.  The version I read was a Kindle book published by Broadway Books.  The film, which is directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Matt Damon, will be coming out in October.

I could write a few paragraphs describing the basic premise of the story, but I think it will be easier to just call your attention to the movie trailer.  It does a pretty good job at getting the basic situation across.

I’m very much looking forward to the movie.

But as to the book itself, it was amazing.  If you enjoyed Castaway and Apollo 13, think of this story has a combination of those stories, but with the difficulties for the central character immeasurably higher.  Mark Watley is stranded on Mars, millions of kilometers and years away from any conceivable source of help, in an environment where the slightest misstep can kill him.  At the beginning no one even knows that he’s still alive.

The initial situation is so desperate, the circumstances do dire, that you viscerally feel Mark Watley’s isolation and loneliness.  Most of the story is about his ingenuity in jury rigging systems to survive.  It’s both a desperate tale of survival and a geek fest.

If you enjoy reading about possible Mars missions, you’ll love this book.  To say that the author has done his homework is a major understatement.  If you’re familiar with Robert Zubin’s writings, the mission format in the book is a modified form of the Mars Semi-Direct plan.  The main modification that stands out to me is having one interplanetary transport vehicle both ways that uses a low-thrust Vasimr engine to reduce the transit time between planets.

The details of the mission plan become crucial plot points.  For example, one of the goals of the story is for Watley to get the next mission’s Mars Ascent Vehicle, which is already on the Mars producing fuel for that future mission, and crucially, has the ability to communicate with NASA on Earth.

The author, Weir, has very close familiarity with, or has thoroughly thought about, the detailed workings of a lot of the mission equipment, including how spacesuit and habitat environmental systems work, how communications systems work, and the difficulty of growing crops in the Martian environment.

Most of the story is told from a first person perspective as we read Watley’s day to day journal of his ordeal.  (Well, actually the sol to sol journal, since it takes place on Mars; a “sol” is a Martian day.)  We read as he conceives plans, implements them, sometimes succeeds, and sometimes fails, occasionally with devastating consequences.  It also allows the character’s personality to come out, and Weir manages to make Watley, who has a very strong sense of humor, a character we very much care about.

Periodically, Weir backs up into third person omniscient mode.  Often this is to show us what’s going on at NASA back on Earth, or with the other astronauts on the return flight to Earth.  But occasionally it’s to describe a developing situation that will eventually turn into a deadly one for Watley, such as a seal that is about to give out on the airlock.  We then switch back to his journal, watching to see if he will realize the danger in time, or experience another catastrophe.

I found this book to be well written, using first person narrative when it was most useful, but not being afraid to shift into other viewpoints as necessary.  I also found the scientific and technological discussions accessible, although you should be warned that they are a major part of the book.  People who don’t enjoy those types of discussions may want to wait for the movie.

In sum, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys hard science fiction, or who is interested in the details of how a Mars mission might work, including the details of how the major systems might work.  I don’t expect the movie to get into the technical details nearly as much as the book did, so if you’re interested in them, reading is the way to go.  (Not that you can’t watch the movie too; I know I definitely plan to.)

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments