Posts tagged with superpowers

Science does not have a moral dimension. It is like a knife. If you give it to a surgeon or a murderer, each will use it differently.

Werner von Braun, the greatest rocket scientist ever

cf, this

  • WP on WvB:

…von Braun was the central figure in the Nazis’ rocket development program, responsible for the design and realization of the V-2 combat rocket…. After the war, … taken to the United States…. Von Braun worked on the ... intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) program… … direct[ed] the …Marshall Space Flight Center … chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon.


UPDATE: I guess my own (ironic) interpretation of this statement is not as obvious as I’d hoped. Subtlety is maybe not the best for quick-glance-react-reblog medium such as tumblr. My reactions are:

  1. Of course someone who used science for evil would say that science has no moral dimension. Rockets are a great example of science with primarily military applications, although perhaps (argues the casuist) someday Amazon will deliver goods to our houses with rocket-based technology!
  2. Pretending you aren’t responsible for how your research is used is immature.

    We can of course differentiate {a} people who couldn’t have known their research would be used for violent purposes, {b} people whose research is “for” peaceful purposes (such as communications) but can be used by military, {c} only when combined with other research, can the products of your work be put to violent ends, and {d} somehow there’s no way military could possibly do violence with this (such as social-psychology research perhaps).

    I wouldn’t suggest either that researching something completely useless, so useless it can’t help the military or civilians, is blameless either. In fact as adults we can critically assess and debate the culpability of various individuals. I would argue that everyone is covered in sin insofar as no-one continually does the most ethical thing at all times through all points of their life (nor do we know what that is).
  3. There are plenty of historical examples of mathematics and science being funded by war. Cryptonomicon, trigonometry in catapults, the canard of Archimedes and the parabolic mirrors, and of course the Manhattan Project. (Famously among mathematicians, Grothendieck saw physics as evil because it had produced the Atom Bomb.) Look at rich zip codes in the eastern USA you’ll notice Skaneatles Lake in upstate New York.
    This is the country with by far the largest military spending in the world and one of their biggest defence contractors—Lockheed-Martin—has a big facility in, you guessed it, Skaneatles Lake. If I take the time later I’ll fish some photos showing how nice it probably is and how not-nice is Gary Indiana
    , birthplace of world-class entertainer Michael Jackson whose hometown does not produce missiles.
  4. I’m not suggesting you need to be a limp dovey peacenik. If you are the appropriate sort of engineer with the appropriate permits and you hate the Iraqis, the Japanese, the Afghanis, the North Koreans, whoever—then design that bomb and don’t lie about what it’s going to be used for. However it’s disingenuous in the extreme to sell dynamite to a terrorist and deny you had any clue what he was going to do with it.

Here are the tweets of a scientist confronting the real dilemma he faces:

Anyway: no, sticking your head in the sand does not constitute an ethical position.  Maybe you’re doing wrong. Maybe you’re not doing very wrong. Maybe you’re doing something that is both good and evil. Maybe you’re doing something that’s evil only under some perspectives. At least consider it, from time to time. Don’t pretend “Science is always neutral”—that’s a wishful dream. Invent the Atom Bomb in wartime and pretend you’re not part of the war effort? Please. I don’t think scientists owe the world both their work and a fully fleshed out, consistent ethical system. But, no, science does not get to be “neutral” by fiat.

(((Nor do I get to be “neutral” simply by never having studied to be a weapons engineer. Since I don’t actively spend time working to right the wrongs of the world I’m also culpable, not just on the issue of violence or war but on many things. I don’t even spend enough time doing good that I could say I’m too busy solving one problem to work on the others. I’m simply a bad person. One can derive from economics 101 —from the ideas behind opportunity cost—that culpability extends far and wide—and I intend to write a separate article about that.)))


Apparently the “extra” dimensions of string theory are only supposed to be a few millimetres thick.

If that’s the case, could you dodge a bullet by moving a millimetre in the 10th dimension?

I guess it would depend on how wide the bullet and your liver are in the 10th dimension. Could lead to an interesting superpower: move in hidden dimensions.

  • The hero wouldn’t be invulnerable but would be less vulnerable. Still get an exit wound but maybe she’d only be grazed through the interior rather than completely ripped to shreds.
  • Still worth dodging/blocking a fist in the normal-sized 3 dimensions, but even a “direct” uppercut or body blow could become more of a “glancing blow” if she dodged in the thin directions. (NB: If ∃ 7 extra thin dimensions, each 1mm wide, and she dodged at once to “the other side” of all 7 at once—assuming, as well, that we’re “all the way to one side” of each of the extra dimensions—then she’d have made a total distance of √7mm between her and us.)
  • Joint locks—could she put someone in a joint lock they couldn’t get out of? Couldn’t she also get out of joint locks that no-one else could?
  • Couldn’t become invisible but become less visible.
  • Couldn’t pass through walls but could reach into crevices easier.
  • Could swim faster (twist her torso in the 10th dimension so the hands & feet still pull water, but less resistance on the mass of the body).

Am I thinking about this right?