CONTACT 2018 TITLES AND ABSTRACTS


Titles and abstracts will be added here as they become available. The list is alphabetical by presenter last name; scroll down to the speaker's name.


Nora Bateson

"Identity in complexity"
In preparation for meeting the needs of a changing world, our two most valuable assets are sensitivity, and complexity. Transcontextual description of identity as well an exploration of the "paradox of agency" bring this work on identity into the Bateson frame and the modern world at the same time.

As individuals and within larger communities our notions of identity inform us as to who we are in relation to the systems we live within. But this era is a time of upheaval, the ecosystems and social systems around the globe are in rapid transition. While change is a constant in living systems, the rate of change now is unprecedented.

Who are we in this changing world? As families, as professionals, as cultures, how is our perception of ourselves changing . . . and what if it doesn't?

Identity often seems to depend on belonging to a particular gender, nationality, political party, religion etc. with its attendant problems at the edges where one belonging rubs up against another.

Identity is a personal matter, but it also matters in terms of society, ecosystems, and the future. Double binds of identity, and other traps of obsolete fragmentation in our thinking can be seen with greater insight through the lens of complexity and systems. As our ability to perceive the complexity of our own identity is increased, so is our ability to perceive the complexity of our world. With this perception we have much more information from which to make the important decisions, as well as much more sensitivity. Through a lens of complexity, how is the experience of pain expanded? Pain is often reduced to a singular causation and experience, and then numbed away. But right now we need to be able to feel the sadness and anxiety of our world in a larger colour spectrum . . . we cannot afford to anesthetise our interaction with the world around us.

How Systems Learn: There is much focus on complexity these days but our predominant metaphors are still linear and mechanistic. It is hardwired into us all at a deeply personal level and tends to rule the day, even when we think we are approaching things systemically, and we are clearly hitting the limitations of that mode of thinking.

All of biological evolution, and development of culture and society would seem to be a testament to the characteristics of contextual multilayered shiftings through time. Nothing stays the same, clearly. So could it be that change is a kind of learning? If a living entity transforms, even slightly, some of the contextual interrelationships it is within that shift is reveals a calibration change. The same kind of tree in the same forest does not necessarily grow to be the same shape. Some may have higher winds to contend with, or grow in a thicker density of flora around it. The trees in this contrasting contexts live into their contexts by receiving the many forms of relational information it is within, and responding to it. They grow do be different shapes, to metabolize at different levels - - learning, calibrating, and through stochastic process responding to their contextual interrelationships. And aren't we all a little bit like those trees? Becoming who we are in the contexts of our lives . . .

Symmathesy is a new term created by Nora which derives from the Greek prefix Syn/ Sym (together) and Mathesi, (to learn).

Her teaching, and her challenge to us, is about developing our capacity for taking a systemic approach of mutual learning to everyday life, from family, to groups, organisations and society.

Symmathesy is not about finding 5 step solutions, it is about deepening, expanding and exploring the sensitivity with which we interpret and interact with our complex world more creatively and positively, and less destructively. Be sure, this is not a tweaking of thinking and approach, but a profound shift.

Combining theory, art, story-telling, poetry and emerging practice, Nora will guide us to take a different look at how to approach the seemingly intractable problems that we face personally and as a society. She will take us on a journey exploring the art and science of complexity, to develop our capacity for working with and being with complexity and ambiguity. Join Nora in exploring the characteristics of Symmathesy and the study of how this shift in perception alters and eases our interaction with complexity in life.



Dr. Harry A. Butowsky

"Santa Susana Field Laboratory Apollo History Site"
More than 20 Apollo-era sites have been designated as National Historic Landmarks. However, these were only a fraction of the Apollo sites built to take Americans to the moon.

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory test stands were not included in the National Park Service's survey in the 1980s because the lab was still in use at the time and the U.S. Air Force would not provide access. Now chance, luck, and good fortune have given us an opportunity to preserve one of the largest rocket engine test facilities from the early years of the space program.

Santa Susana is intact, an unaltered time capsule of rocket technology dating from the World War II to the Space Shuttle eras. The Lab tells the story of the American space program and preserves important California history. It has the power to teach and inspire future scientists, engineers and explorers. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Nuclear Society have identified the Laboratory as historic.

Today the 2,850-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory is open and available to the public. But its future is under discussion, and the facilities are threatened with removal. I suggest we let the same vision and ability that enabled us to go to the moon to inspire us to preserve and protect Santa Susanna as classroom and catalyst of ideas for future generations.



Penelope J. Boston

"Chasing the Elusive, a Lifetime on the Hunt"
Exploration is the foundation. From that springs my science, my poetry, my visual arts, my textile arts, my dance, and in turn those reinfuse my exploration. The cycle is often ragged, unpredictable, and stretched across many years, but all of it comes to bear once again on my science. I will share a few examples of those cycles involving some of the more spectacular caves that we have studied and other curiosities.


William J. Clancey, PhD

"The Okeanos Explorer: How robotically mediated field science beneath the sea compares to roving on Mars"
Using robotic systems operated from NOAA's ship, the Okeanos Explorer, oceanographers are now able to explore the depths of Earth's oceans, without leaving their homes. Unlike missions on Mars, undersea robots can be tele-operated, communicating without noticeable delay, and an international remote science team participates as the daily investigation unfolds. I present my observations from an ethnographic study conducted onboard during the American Samoa Expedition in early 2017, comparing operations to NASA's practices during Mars rover missions. In particular, using online tools and social media, NOAA has capitalized on the real-time connection to open the exploration process to the scientific community and the public. What can NASA learn from the Okeanos expeditions about accessibility and undersea operations?


Dr. Jay Cole
"Is it Time for A National Historic Park for Radio Astronomy?"
Just as the story of atomic energy is being told at Hanover, Los Alamos, and Oak Ridge through the new Manhattan Project National Historic Park, a park focused on science and technology, the story of radio astronomy can be told at Arecibo, Green Bank, and the Plains of San Agustin. From the detection of gravitational waves to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, these radio astronomy facilities have changed, and continue to change, the way we perceive and understand the universe. A new national historic park would ensure this extraordinarily important story is shared with a wide audience.


Bruce Damer

"The Hot Spring Origin of Life Hypothesis"
For the first time in science an end-to-end hypothesis for how life could have begun on Earth over 4 billion years ago has been proposed, and is undergoing testing worldwide. Called the Hot Spring Origins Hypothesis it updates Darwin's original "warm little pond" idea to hot little pools on land subject to regular drying down and refilling in a volcanic hot spring. Proven in the laboratory and now in the field, this cycling "genesis engine" can create the polymers of life and contain them in protocells subjected to a primitive form of natural selection. This hypothesis is being used to make the case to NASA in landing site selection for the Mars2020 rover. Dr. Bruce Damer will review the chemical, computational and fossil evidence, and consider the "Copernican re-centering" implications of this new approach for many branches of science, technology, philosophy and the likelihood and search for life in the universe.


Sean S. Daugherty

"Electromagnetic Compression Drive and its Functions"
Space travel has always been fairly complex, and our reach into space is limited. Burning fuels is inefficient and would consume massive amounts just for starting and stopping the ship. The most reliable source of energy we have is our sun, and while in the solar system, we're able to harness it through solar arrays. But how does one convert electrical energy into kinetic energy in space? The Electromagnetic Compression Drive uses a series of magnets set in an airtight chamber to create kinetic energy. Within an enclosed casing lies a series of magnets, sealed to make the system air tight. Once activated, the magnets are forced to the Electromagnet, compressing the air and creating potential energy within the chamber, using it as a spring. Once deactivated, the air will relieve itself by forcing the magnet to the opposing end of the chamber, this will create the kinetic force. This newly created Kinetic force will transfer to the ship itself as the magnet impacts the engine wall. All transferred kinetic energy means movement for the ship, so more engines means faster movement through space.

This engine design is completely based on 100% renewable energy from the sun. No longer will we be limited by how far the rocket fuel can propel us. Using Solar and Voltaic arrays we can finally send ships to the outskirts of our system, and still have the capabilities to bring them back. Solar paneling in space is vastly more effective than on the planet and should have no problem supplying electricity to the engine. This will limit us to our solar system, but that's still one more step further for mankind, and an even larger leap in space exploration.



Chris Ford

"A future vision for the public astronomical experience"
It is notable that todays amateur astronomers can produce visual experiences that are often comparable aesthetically to the Hubble space telescope and at times superior to older professional observatories. This trend reflects the many advancements in imaging technology and techniques that have democratized astronomical access for the interested public. Looking forward, the convergence of new technical developments in a number of fields are pointing to potentially revolutionary advances in the way the public will access the cosmos in future. In this talk, Chris Ford examines the amazing state of the art in astronomy tools and applications that are increasingly accessible to anyone, and projects a vision of how they will develop over the next 25 years.


Gus Frederick

"Hungry Dragons: Waiting for the Moon Shadow"
As luck would have it, the Moon's shadow was slated to pass directly over my hometown of Silverton, Oregon, on my Mother's 85th birthday last summer for a rare total eclipse of the Sun. Leading up to that event involved years of planning and scouting for the "best spot." In the end, all the pieces came together, and clear skies greeted the local revelers. This talk is a personal account of preparing for this eclipse, as well as recollections from the last time the hungry dragon appeared in the skies of the Pacific Northwest in 1979. Footage of both events will be presented as well as a basic primer on the history and science as well as the local fallout from expected crowds and the disappointed businesses that were expecting them. Eye protection not required for this talk!


Thomas Gangale

"The Outer Limits of Space Law"
Beginning nearly a century ago, legal scholars began to give thought to the question of where national sovereignty ends. Eventually, the norm emerged that outer space is res communis, a thing belonging to the human community, and is not subject to national appropriation. Necessarily, this provoked controversy regarding where the former ended and the later began, and many jurists have weighed in. A far less urgent question, addressed by far fewer jurists over the past sixty years, but intriguing nevertheless, is whether res communis has an outer border. One school of thought is that since law is made by humans to regulate human action, in the legal sense, nothing exists beyond the Solar System, where either humans or the robotic agents of humankind have traveled. A second school considers that the entire universe is to be considered res communis until the need arises to define a reservation for a sentient extraterrestrial species. The author proposed a third theory which considers the inevitability of humankind making contact with a sentient extraterrestrial species. This third alternative is necessarily more complex, as it presumes a border between res communis and the rest of the universe, thus the legal character of the space beyond res communis must be defined, as well as the boundary separating them.


Joel Hagen

"Art and Science, Ghosts Nudging the Mind and Hand"
At some level, art and science are about exploration, discovery, understanding and communication. For many, they are impromptu allies in the creative process. Joel will explore ways in which this shared alliance has shaped his own creative process and is reflected in the work of others.


Jeroen Lapré

"Arthur C. Clarke's Maelstrom II: A Work in Progress & The Coral Reef Dome at the Academy of Science"
Digital Artist Jeroen Lapré realized a childhood dream by working on the Star Wars Prequels Episodes I, II, and III, while he worked at Industrial Light and Magic. Jeroen's ILM visual effects career spanned 1997-2008. During that time, Jeroen befriended NASA computer scientist Jay Trimble. Whom introduced Jeroen to the Late Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Jeroen proposed a short science-based digital drama, based on the short story Maelstrom II, written by Clarke. It was first published in Playboy, April 1962. Arthur granted the short film rights to Jeroen in the year 2001. Mr. Lapré has been chipping away at this passion project ever since. With the help of volunteers in the visual effects and digital animation industries, Jeroen and his volunteer team are slowly, but surely making progress. Jeroen looks forward to sharing that progress with you at CONTACT 2018. Jeroen will also present his work on the Coral Reef Dome show production at the Academy of Sciences.


Steve McDaniel

"CHEAP DEEP WIDE & FAST Thoroughly Canvasing The Solar System for Earth-Like Microbial Life Within a Human Generation"
If extraterrestrial civilizations are "intelligent," they probably use "machines" to do the dirty work of inter-stellar travel and life-detection. There is no a priori reason to assume that such worker-bee machines would strictly comprise inanimate materials with digital electronic memories. Even humans are learning how to use cellular machinery to do our bidding, nucleic acid circuitry to encode retrievable data, and resilience of microbes to prosper in extreme environments. We describe an integrated approach recently proposed to NASA for a solar-system-wide hunt to cheaply, quickly, and thoroughly search for such bio-based machines whether they are: those disseminated by extra-terrestrials; those equally-intriguing "second genesis" microbes arising anew on solar system neighbors like Mars, Europa, Enceladus, Ganymede, Ceres; or those that more mundanely find their way off Earth riding ejecta. Even if "it's just us so far," we will be much better armed to search for life forms throughout the galaxy.


Christopher P. McKay

"Earth As Our Training Ground For The Search For Life Elsewhere"
A key goal for astrobiology is search for a second genesis of life in the Universe. Presently we have only one example of life, that which is found on Earth, but it is clear that conditions for habitability may be widespread in the Universe. This has been highlighted by the discovery of numerous exoplanets many of which are similar in size to Earth and are within the habitable zone of their star . In our Solar System there is evidence of habitable environments that existed in the past on the surface of Mars and of conditions completely compatible with microbial life within the ocean of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. Thus there is increasing momentum to the search for evidence of a second genesis life on these worlds.

Mars is extremely dry and cold compared to the Earth. Enceladus, and the other icy moons, have liquid water but it is under thick layers of ice. Thus, the study of life in the driest and coldest places on Earth such as the Antarctic continent and extreme dry deserts such as the Atacama Desert provides the most relevant analogs for life detection missions to these worlds. Terrestrial analogies are our example of how life adapts to environments similar to other worlds, both at the physiological and at the ecological levels, and what the environmental limits of those adaptations might be. It is thus our training set despite having no method to judge how typical Earth life might be.



"Steve Miller"

Topic to be provided.


Gerald D. Nordley

"Are Dyson Spheres Illegal?"
A Dyson sphere is an artifact that collects approximately all of the radiative output of a star and does something with it. As originally envisioned, it would have been a swarm of space colonies, the energy being used to sustain a very large population. In the more sophisticated present and foreseeable future, where we understand about things like sustainability and population control, a Dyson sphere would not be needed for that. But there are other things one could do with the entire energy output of star--reduced by some efficiency factor, of course. The scariest of these would be weaponizing it. So, I'll speculate here (somewhat tongue in cheek) that the elders of the universe might prohibit such structures. But many other uses for full or partial Dyson spheres might be very attractive to an advanced civilization, and offer an opportunity to meditate on just what "advanced" might mean.


Jim Pass, Ph.D

"The Astrosociology Research Institute (ARI) Celebrates Its Tenth Anniversary"
Early challenges made the development of astrosociology as an academic field more difficult than the road to success enjoyed by those developing astrobiology. In fact, in 2004, some critics argued that "astrosociology" was merely a short-lived meme. While early critics argued that existing social science and humanities disciplines could handle what are now regarded as astrosociological topics and subfields, they have failed to do so since then. Thus, despite the early hardships, the momentum moved onward toward increasing success. In May 2008, ARI was founded. In 2018, the tenth anniversary year of ARI's existence emphasizes an increased emphasis on broadening education and research efforts regarding multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary issues that involve (1) convergence among the social sciences, humanities, and the arts, as well as that between the two branches of science with regard to space issues and (2) increasing participation in astrosociology scholarship that involves getting more people (especially students) participating and building an astrosociological literature. Additionally, the emphasis also involves reversing an ongoing irony: In Dr. Pass' personal experience, the space community is more accepting of the development of astrosociology than the social science community! This presentation will focus on these issues and matters related to celebrating ARI's anniversary before a Contact audience that has always supported the idea that the social sciences, humanities, and the arts are necessary contributors to the success of human spaceflight and exploration, especially as the twenty- first century unfolds.


Douglas Raybeck

"The Ubiquity of Reciprocity"
There has been a great deal written about the problems inherent in attempting to communicate with extraterrestrials and about some of profits and concerns of such a venture. I address a possible, perhaps probable, commonality between extra-terrestrials and us. I review the ubiquity of the principle of reciprocity among Homo sapiens and many other species, even insects. I then consider the role that this principle might play between extraterrestrials and us.


Kim Stanley Robinson

"How Science Fiction Works As An Art Form"


Michael Sims

"Ceres Robotics, and how our effort to make cheap robots for space could change the nature of exploration"
Both Musk and Bezos talk about a million people off planet. I say we'll need about as many people as robots. However, our previous rovers to planets have cost hundreds of millions to a billion dollars. That times a million is completely unrealistic. Our new company is setting about to make the cost of robots to space down many orders of magnitude.


Kelly Smith

"Exploring "Extra-Scientific" Issues Surrounding astrobiology and Space Exploration"
NASA's chief scientist recently announced what those in astrobiology have known for some time: "I think we're going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we're going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years." If she is right, we are on the brink of one of the most important discoveries in human history. Should this come to pass, we will confront a series of unprecedented and extremely complex social, ethical and conceptual challenges that cannot be resolved without strong input from outside the traditional space science community. Thus far, however, there has been little sustained study of these issues from scholars in disciplines beyond natural science and engineering.

SoCIA is an attempt to address this deficit. Our goal is to found a new academic organization dedicated to the scholarly exploration of the many "extra-scientific" issues surrounding astrobiology and space exploration more generally. We held our first conference in the Fall of 2016 and are planning our second meeting for the Spring of 2018 in Reno, Nevada. Our vision is of a truly multidisciplinary community, with researchers from a wide array of disciplines united by their desire to engage in serious and sustained investigation of issues ranging from the conceptual nature of life to the theological implications of first contact to the legal and ethical aspects of commercialization of space. My presentation will introduce the audience to SoCIA and invite them to contribute to our mission.



Melanie Swan

"Deep Learning in Space"


Robert Tyzzer

"Metalaw 2018: Current Status in Anthropology and Cultural Futures"
The author's presentation at CONTACT I in 1983 dealt with the concept of Metalaw, first described by lawyer Andrew G. Haley in 1963. At the time a handful of lawyers in the USA and Europe were pursuing the ideas, including the Austrian jurist Ernst Fasan. A small number of people in the science-fiction sphere, including Robert A. Freitas and G. Harry Stine, were also discussing the concepts. However, Metalaw was essentially ignored by anthropology, in spite of its inherently anthropological and cross-cultural nature.

This discussion reviews the basic concepts of Metalaw, which include a rejection of ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism, and the development of a system of law that is designed to mediate contacts between any and all intelligent species. Several alternative formulations exist, variously based on the Categorical Imperative of Immanuel Kant, the legal formulations of Andrew Haley, and others. At the core of most, directly or indirectly, is Haley's Rule; "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them." The past two decades have seen an increasing discussion of Metalaw, and the potential utility of Metalegal concepts continues to be a matter of debate, including whether or not they truly achieve the non-anthropocentric perspective to which they aspire. The balance of the talk reviews current thinking based on metalaw within anthropology, speculative fiction and, increasingly, SETI.



Michael Waltemathe

"Extrapolating Historical Data of Societal and Religious Change Toward Space Exploration"
The most interesting historical times in hindsight are those with vast societal changes happening. Usually those changes were not restricted to one area of society, not even to one area of our planet. Such changes also affected several aspects of society at roughly the same time. Even (or especially) Religions and their institutions, practices and beliefs though grounded in transcendental, sometimes eternal, truth(s) have usually been affected by such monumental changes.

Drawing on the history of religious splits, I will point out the connection between theological change and historical change and analyze the possibility of extrapolating from these historical incidents to future constellations like a societal shift toward a solar system civilization, the notion of colonizing or settling planets vs the extension of humanity's reach into the Cosmos and even the very idea of space exploration itself. One example among others will be the history of the Protestant Reformation and its repercussions for the scholarly and societal debate about extraterrestrial life, a multitude of habitable worlds and human space exploration, but also its effects on migration from Europe toward the Americas.

In a second step I will show and analyze examples of religious arguments from different religious traditions for and against the extension of the human sphere into the Cosmos and reread those in the light of the historical 'decisions' made during societally initiated religious splits. This can serve as a framework for a possible 'Theology for a New Space Age'.



Zac Zimmer

"Alien Remediation"
Speculative fiction is a powerful intellectual tool that can be used to think the ethical, metaphysical, biological, and political stakes of historical encounters with unknown beings. This makes first contact speculative fiction particularly suited for reimagining the sixteenth century Conquest of the Americas. By recasting historical events as alien encounters, the best "first contact" narratives remain faithful to the biopolitical stakes of the encounter and the unprecedented nature of the event. My paper analyzes several "first contact" narratives that explicitly rewrite the Latin American colonial encounter as alien contact. These narratives strive to imagine non-anthropocentric forms of perception and mediation, an effort that becomes especially pronounced in narratives which attempt to interpret alien media. The interpretation of alien media demands new perceptual tools, and such a demand is profoundly disruptive to established political and aesthetic categories. Taking examples from works like Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, Wilson Harris' The Dark Jester, Carmen Boullosa's Llanto: novelas imposibles and José B. Adolph's short stories, this paper returns to classical scenes of mediated encounters (the Inca Atahualpa's famous rejection of the book is the key referent) from an entirely alien perspective.