Tuesday, January 14, 2014

If money were no object

I'm not sure how exactly I got on Quora.  One day I started receiving newsletters from them.  What is Quora?  It's basicly like Yahoo Answers, except for geeks.  Or at least there seem to be an awful lot of them frequenting the place.

In any case, recently the following question popped up in my feed:

"If you had unlimited wealth, what scientific experiments and programs would you fund?"

Since this is very much in the spirit of what we're trying to do here, I thought I would re-post the response to this blog.

1. Artificial life and the origins of life.  What conditions are necessary for the existence and creation of life?  What kind of life and life-like sub-systems can arise in different systems? What is the overarching definition of life and how does this relate to the laws of physics?

2. Practical super-efficient vehicles.  The internal combustion engine has improved in efficiency by leaps and bounds.  Sadly, this has not translated into more efficient vehicles.  Instead, modern cars are simply more powerful.  On the other hand, it is now possible to exceed 70 mph on land using human power alone.  Imagine what you could do with a five or ten horsepower engine, for instance that you might find in a model airplane.

3. The "empirical" metaphysics.  What can introspection and altered states of consciousness tell us about the ultimate nature of reality and the universe we live in? 

4. Cheaper and more efficient orbital and escape space-craft:
  a. Use a rail gun so the vehicle doesn't need to carry it's own fuel
  b. Fly like a conventional jet to the top of the stratosphere, then launch directly into low-earth orbit.

5. Probing the nearest stars.  First step: build a small, unmanned probe sent by rail gun to the nearest star.  Also experiment with solar sails and ion drive (or the two in combination: capture the solar wind then redirect it into a solar-powered particle accelerator)

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