Are we alone in the universe? What could a future for humans in space look like? And what would Creon's advise to Elon Musk be if he wants to make a self-sufficient mass colony there? This Hope Drop features Creon Levit, chief technologist and director of R&D at Planet Labs.
Creon Levit is chief technologist at Planet Labs, where he works to move the world toward existential hope via novel satellite technologies. He also hosts Foresight Institute's Space Group.
Creon speaks on:
The drop includes a new podcast episode on existential hope with Creon, NFT artwork and a storytelling X-Hope bounty.
About this podcast:
In the Existential Hope-podcast, we invite scientists to speak about long-termism. Each month, we drop a podcast episode where we interview a visionary scientist to discuss the science and technology that can accelerate humanity towards desirable outcomes.
Are we alone in the universe? What could a future for humans in space look like? And what would Creon's advise to Elon Musk be if he wants to make a self-sufficient mass colony there? This Hope Drop features Creon Levit, chief technologist and director of R&D at Planet Labs. Creon is chief technologist and director of R&D at Planet Labs, and a Foresight Institute senior fellow. He previously worked at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, where he was one of the founders of the NAS (NASA Advanced Supercomputing) division, co-PI on the Virtual Wind Tunnel project, co-founder of the NASA Molecular Nanotechnology Group (the first federally funded research lab devoted to molecular nanotechnology), co-PI on the hyperwall project, investigator on the Columbia accident investigation board, member of the NASA engineering and safety center, investigator on the millimeter-wave thermal rocket project, the Stardust re-entry observation campaign, PI on the LightForce project, special assistant to the center director, and chief scientist for the programs and projects directorate.
Anosh is a leading creative at BETC and a member of the Existential Hope Gallery. In this piece he is working with AI-based tools to create a dialogue between the vision of a super machine and an artist.
This special podcast series is a part of the Foresight Existential Podcast given by both Allison Duettmann and Beatrice Erkers. Special guest Creon Levit, who is heading the research at Planet Labs after a strong career at NASA, joins in to share his thoughts. A range of questions are asked and Creon shares the details of his journey and professional focus, as well as any advice he has for fellow viewers. Creon also touches upon his beliefs for space ventures and how people can think to the future for mankind in a more positive light.
Allison Duettmann: Hello everyone and welcome to Foresight’s Existential Hope group. I am really happy to see so many of you here behind the scenes and then to have such a wonderful podcast guest here today. As usual, this is a quite unusual podcast in the sense that Beatrice and I will be asking a few questions about what really drives the people that most inspire us to be working on positive futures. We also have the back room of our Existential Hope group that is collaborating with the chat. So, if we have time, we will take a few questions at the end. For now, we will kick it off. I am really happy to have Creon here today. It is very difficult to describe you Creon and to introduce you as a person. I think in a previous Foresight talk, I said that whenever I face a difficult situation, I try to channel my inner Creon and then try to do whatever comes up. So, I cannot use that line anymore and I have to find a different one!
I really want to say first and foremost, and officially, you are a super brilliant polymath. There is no other way to describe it. You are at home in space, in the sense that you are heading research at Planet Labs, after a really wonderful career at NASA as well. I should also say that as a senior Foresight fellow, you chair our Space Technology Group, which is a private guru group of researchers, entrepreneurs, and funders that are interested in driving long term progress in space, perhaps in channels, perhaps finding channels that they could otherwise talk about the types of ideas they could not otherwise talk about.
I should also say that is not the only forte you are pulling. Your talent shines through any of our technical tracks, which you join most of them, from longevity to molecular machines. You also gave a wonderful talk about immunology. For those of you that are listening to this on YouTube, or to our podcast, check out Creon’s immunology talk, it has some really wonderful slides in there and it is much loved. Finally, I should say that you have a wonderful, outspoken mind, with a big heart. I think when we listen to your ideas, and when you share, it is very difficult to not get extremely excited about the future. You truly have a great inclination of existential hope, so we are really happy to have you on for many reasons today. We will dive right into the questions, to bring people up to speed who may not already be familiar with your work.
Creon Levit: Allison, before we dive in, I wanted to say one more thing about the space group, which is encouraging anyone in the audience here who is interested in the intersection of space science technology, policy, and Foresight to get into that group because we are welcoming additional people.
Allison Duettmann: Wonderful, that is a great first plug. I think that is a good segue into our first question, which is in general, what are you currently working on? People that may not immediately be familiar with your career or space career in general, what got you started? You have such a fantastic history so I think it will be wonderful for new people in this space to learn a bit about how one gets started in such a career? What helped you get inspired?
Creon Levit: I had a lot of great luck, but I think that is available to most people if they pay attention. Or as Richard Miller said, you know, you have good luck and then you have to jump on it. When a lucky event happens, you have to just push. Anyway, I studied math and computer science in school and then I had this lucky break where NASA came interviewing for jobs at my school. I thought, I am going to finish my graduate studies, but why not have a test interview with NASA? I had this fantastic interview where I just knew all of the stuff that they were looking for, so they offered me a job. I dropped out of graduate school and came to work at NASA. I came to California, and I fell in love with Silicon Valley at that time in the 80s. I first worked on, you know, computer stuff. Later, I got into data visualization, which was also a kind of coding. Then, I got into computational physics and really learned a lot more math and physics. I started writing codes with some of the computational physicists at NASA investigating fluid dynamics. flow systems for airplanes and rockets, and aerodynamics combustion. Then that got me into molecular physics and quantum chemistry and I did a lot of quantum chemistry simulations.
Eventually, I got into classic space mission design, which is trajectories, communications, optics, and power. I worked on actual space machines at NASA and launch systems as well. Then, some friends of mine at NASA started this company called Planet Labs in their garage in Cupertino at this community house that we all lived in. Eventually, I left NASA after 32 years and joined Planet Labs about two years after its starting, where now I have this fancy title of Chief Technologist and Director of R&D. Really what it means is I kind of try to see what might help us in the future technologically and come up with new ideas for new types of instruments and missions. Hardly anybody officially reports to me, but I sort of have this attitude that the whole company reports to me if I can convince them that my ideas are good, they will work on them. They will work on them not because, you know, I am their manager, but because they actually are enthusiastic. That’s where I have been at for the last few years. It has been wonderful to work with my friends on projects that are meaningful.
Allison Duettmann: Yes, amen to working with your friends on meaningful projects. I think that is a good sign when the line between your organization and your friend group is extremely blurry. All right, wonderful. You have already tackled a few of these individual areas so far I think. You have definitely had a really rich experience through all of them. Maybe bring new people up to speed who may be entering the space realm. Could you give a bird’s eye view of what that space even looks like? What does it entail to work in the space industry?
Creon Levit: The space industry is fairly broad these days and getting bigger. I won’t say there is room for everybody, but there is room for all sorts of people with different expertise. These range from physics and math, to engineering, and all of the disciplines such as electrical, mechanical, thermal softwares. The space also includes life sciences people, economics people, and business people. In the case of our company, it even includes salespeople, because we basically sell data that our satellites produce for image data of the world, and then we try to convince various customers that it is worth their money. So one thing I will say about the space business is that a lot of people who wind up in it, possibly a significant majority, are sort of space enthusiasts.
These people direct themselves into it and they figure out a way that they can contribute. It is almost kind of like a cult where people believe that space is the answer. Then, they just go into the field because they have passion or inspiration from science fiction as young people and, you know, there are stars in their eyes. We have a lot of really devoted people. In general, it is a very good thing. In practice, I tend to now in my later years be like, okay let us calm down here and be a bit more reasonable, as opposed to fully enthusiastic about space, for its own sake. Nevertheless, I still recognize the power of the inspiration and the beat. Anyways, there are a lot of great people who are really devoted and wonderful, as well as intelligent, hard working, and interested in the business. You can work with the government, for private industry, your own startup, and so forth. There are a lot of different ways to get into that.
Allison Duettmann: Okay great. What could someone wanting to work in the space industry actually expect it to be like? I mean, you have been at NASA and now Planet Labs, which are very different roles.
Creon Levit: I mean, in everyday life, mine is kind of normal. I equally partition my time between studying and learning about relevant matters, doing calculation, design, and coding of mostly small scale stuff just to test out our ideas and see if they are any good. Then a sort of third partition of time is, you know, meetings, calls, and pitching stuff to my colleagues to see if they make sense. So, I mean, it is not that much different from any other sort of scientific or technical field in that regard.
Allison Duettmann: Is there any example of a project that is not classified that you could speak about?
Creon Levit: We do not really do anything classified at Planet Labs. We have proprietary things that we are not ready to reveal yet. Nevertheless, one example of a great project off the top of my mind is called Pelican. We just announced it. It is our next generation, very high resolution, imaging satellites which are sort of new satellite technology. Mostly, the Pelican flies very low and it has an advanced propulsion system that allows it to fly kind of down into the atmosphere and get really close to take high resolution pictures with a relatively smaller satellite. It is also much less expensive than the competition, which uses larger satellites and higher orbits. I have watched my crazy idea and a few PowerPoint slides develop into this giant project now over the years. It is a major announcement of our company and we are spending a lot of money on it. We are building these things that they are getting, the hardware is coming together, they are getting integrated with book launches for them, and so forth. I am assuming it works. This is going to be a very exciting year with the project. If you look on Planet Lab’s website, I think you could find some marketing videos as well.
Allison Duettmann: That is very exciting. Okay, wonderful. In general if you look back at not only your own career, but also more on the field in general, as well as since you’ve been in it, have there been any exciting shifts? Were there any notable developments that significantly expanded peoples’ beliefs of what is possible? How did that evolve?
Creon Levit: Very much so. Let’s say in the last 10 years, or roughly speaking maybe a bit longer, with the first few years I was at NASA, and then the last 7 or 8 years I have been at Planet Labs - There has been a huge change. Most people are aware of the space industry and we have had the rise of this whole so-called “new space industry” with new companies, building rockets and satellites, as well as using more and discarding where appropriate. For a long while, some of the ultra conservative approaches for government missions were pretty much the only game in town. Maybe they were not quite compatible with the more inner job, fast paced, risk tolerant model, like the typical Silicon Valley model. So there has been that whole new space industry, which I roughly described right there.
Of course, another thing that has really made a change, you know everywhere, but particularly in the aerospace industry, is that of computer power advancements for a given cost. For instance, computers are a million times better than they were when I started my career, for the same cost. It is insane. My laptop is better than the best supercomputers that cost 10s of millions of dollars that we used to work with at NASA. My laptop today is way better in every way. So that has definitely hugely changed what you can do in terms of managing data, doing simulations, and testing designs. Then also, of course, this was concurrent with the rise of the Internet which has just completely changed knowledge management, as well as access to information and collaboration. So these advancements are not just unique to the space industry, yet it has still had a huge affect on space.
Allison Duettmann: I think it shows how much progress has actually occurred. So yeah, it is quite inspiring. Okay, coming from those historical events, are there any specific areas that you think are the next paradigm shift? Are there any areas that you currently feel are undervalued?
Creon Levit: Well in the last few years I've been getting interested in a broader set of topics than just space remote sensing by satellite. They are somewhat related. I am kind of more excited about some of the new synthesis areas. There are plenty of people who are focused on space, launch systems, and satellites. It's all wonderful and I have been focused on it too. More recently, I am truly getting inspired by natural systems. Particularly, the sort of merging of advanced technology with natural systems is fascinating. I think that looking at biology and ecology, instead of looking for the wisdom of nature, and combining that with the technology we do have is important. So if we can follow this thought rather than sort of a technology versus nature approach or a technology replacing nature approach, which I often hear people talking about.
I mean, one of the things people are concerned about is carbon in the atmosphere, so every tech pro, or every 10th tech pro, has a giant machine they want to build and scale globally to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. I am like, hey kid you know we have the technology to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. Nature has been doing it for hundreds of millions of years. It’s called soil. It’s called life. All we need to do is look at that and nurture it. We can sequester as much carbon as we want. Also, enhancing biodiversity, which are really the natural, miraculous systems. This is a similar thing, Allison, to what we often see in the nanotechnology and molecular machines field. It is like, oh you want to get inspired about molecular machines? Look at life, because those molecular machines are so much more complex, advanced, and beautiful than anything we do with a scanning probe microscope. Not to disrespect those who are taking a more hard engineering approach to it, but I feel looking at nature, life, and ecology as the next frontier for technology is important. It is the ultimate, most advanced technology we know of.
I would say another thing that is really exciting me recently is not so much space, but the idea that our outlook determines our future. I know this is the genre of the whole X-Hope message. If you spend all of your time thinking about disasters, crises, and dystopian futures you are probably more likely to get one of those things than if you spend your time thinking about wonderful aspects of the world, and beautiful things that make you feel good about the future. I am very interested in how our frame of reference, thoughts, and feelings determine what we collectively create. I think it is time, especially for the fortunate people who will participate in these sorts of groups, to stop being afraid or pessimistic about doom and gloom. I am not saying we bury our heads in the sand and ignore our problems, I am just saying that we should focus on what we want. Those are some of the things that really excite me and they are not particularly space technologies.
Allison Duettmann: Yes. We will get to a few others in the Q & A afterwards, but I also just want to point people to a talk from Jonathan Barnes. He was a Foresight fellow and gave a wonderful talk at our Molecular Machines conference a few years back, entitled Artificial Molecular Machines. He goes through nature and then kind of highlights this is what we can do. I think it is a really inspiring movie to take a look at and bear witness to all of the nasty things nature can do and learn from. Okay, you provided a perfect segue into our existential hope segment. I am happy to hand it over to Beatrice now to dig into existential hope a bit more for this podcast.
Beatrice Erkers: Thank you Allison and thank you Creon Levit for joining us. So we have a few questions that are more like digging into the philosophical aspect of what you just talked about and how our outlook determines our future. What we are trying to do is hear from scientists like yourself and how you are working to impact the future. I know that you and Allison have been friends for a long time and I am always hearing of all the crazy things Creon has done. It is going to be interesting to hear from you and if you have any amazing plans for the future as well.
Creon Levit: There was this question shared regarding it being harder for people to envision positive scenarios than dystopian ones - What can we do to change this? So here is what I have to say about that. Again, we need to discuss what we want as individuals, on both a physical and biological level, as well as economically, socially, and cosmically. What do we really desire? What inspires us? We need to look inwards at that stuff, as well as outwards. Now, I think dystopian-ism is easier. One might say it is also easier to dramatize, as drama requires conflict. So, if you are going to make a dramatic piece, like a novel or a film, you want conflict. Human versus nature conflict is not considered a really popular theme anymore. It used to be. Now we have realized we have to partner with nature, at least intuitively. So conflict tends to be human versus human and good versus evil. It is a simple formula for drama. For me, however, I feel as though the best drama, even if it is dystopian, is that there is no good versus evil or black versus wite.
You find that characters have a mixture of each. Even heroes have their flaws, and villains have their points. I think that is really interesting. Also, I think dystopias are easier to visualize because people are programmed heavily from childhood to be afraid and fearful. So many people, even me at times, can be ruled by fear. Modern media and social media capitalize on this. If many people are grabbed by fear, they will commercialize to play on that fear. I feel as though we should move beyond this. It is arguably a very hard thing for the individual to do, and even harder for collective society. I think the American dream, if you will, of achieving what it is you want and having a society where everyone does their thing harmoniously is a societal step in the right direction. We just have to get back to our roots in that regard and stop being so angry or fearful. Instead, we should be more open, tolerant, positive, understanding, and compassionate towards people still ruled by this fear to gently encourage them to move in a better direction.
Beatrice Erkers: I love that. It is definitely as you say, not so much black and white or good and evil. Also, I was listening yesterday to podcasts where they were talking about what you said about being positive. For instance, the definition of hope is having optimism with a plan, so it is being positive with a plan and also recognizing the challenges that come along the way. If we just tried to actually start envisioning what a positive future could be like, do you have a vision in your mind of existential hope?
Creon Levit: Yes, I sort of have a rather extreme vision. Allison actually already knows about it because we have both encountered the millennial project together. That vision is that we might be the only intelligent life in the universe, and this is not a stance that is popular with a lot of my space friends. Quite frankly, we have no evidence of any other intelligent life, or even any other life at this point in the universe. However, I am willing to grant that microbial life, or even simple, non-technological, non-civilizational life might be elsewhere in our galaxy. I feel that the case is getting fairly tight right now that there is no high tech expansionist civilization in our galaxy, or even other galaxies. So if you think about this, and I am not saying it is true, but I am saying it is worth thinking about: If we are the universe’s only experiment with intelligent, conscious life that is capable of love, appreciating beauty, and searching for the truth, then what happens to us is of extreme vital importance. You cannot take the holistic view that a lot of our contemporaries do that the world is heading to hell in a handbasket. It would be like who cares? If there are a million technological civilizations and we are just a blip, who cares? I am like, well maybe we are the only game in town. It is a viable view to at least consider and say that what matters to us matters fundamentally to the universe.
That belief makes all the difference for the world and the existential future to me. So my vision of existential hope is that we should at least consider this as a serious possibility and realize that we may have an absolutely fundamental responsibility as humans to the future of the universe. We can spread all of these wonderful aspects throughout the universe, from our culture to our ecology, and expand. I believe it is a precautionary principle to take quite seriously until somehow proven true. I think it is a great vision of positivity because if we are just one little back water, third-world civilization amongst the whole intergalactic federation then we may end up faring as third world countries do on earth if we were to encounter superior technology elsewhere. Even if those more advanced cultures had good intentions, it could still cause a plethora of problems for these lesser players, so I am hoping we are not a lesser player. I am leaning more towards the evidence that we might be the only player and that allows us to not only think about a future, but also feel that we matter and are fundamental in the universe.
Beatrice Erkers: Yes, it sort of sounds like upgrading or up valuing humanity and the human experience overall. Instead of being more afraid of existential risks, as we already are for this planet.
Creon Levit: Again it is like yes, it can make you more afraid of existential risk that everything depends on us. But also, you can look at it the other way. The universe is ours, what do we want it to be?
Beatrice Erkers: Yes, I interpret you as being very optimistic and positive about the future. Would you say that you are? If so, what would you say has given you that strength or power?
Creon Levit: Well yes, I do have an optimistic, positive vision of how it can be and I think if we straighten out with our attitude, alongside other things, then it is quite possible. I am sort of wired to be optimistic. This is why I am sort of obsessed with how individuals think, how they feel, and if they are guided by will or fear because it truly has to start there on the individual level. We are not going to have this great future if everyone is depressed, pessimistic, and fearful so let’s work on that. I also feel that technological breakthroughs are probably still going to happen. I think that as long as you don’t go off the rails, we can count on these advances and even some breakthroughs. If we don’t have a breakthrough in our wisdom, thinking, and vision though then technology advancements are neutral. It is up to us, not the technology to make the difference.
Beatrice Erkers: Definitely. That is what I think the existential hope project is about in terms of envisioning this and being aware of the risks.
Creon Levit: I would like to mention one technology, and you know people hear this a lot from me. I do think that an amazing thing that we can use to make the world and earth a much better place is regenerative agriculture. Those things can really solve a whole interlocking set of problems. Ecology, pollution, climate change, nutrition, human health, biodiversity, the oceans, and so forth. It is a big topic for another day, but regenerative agriculture is the most interesting ‘new technology’ I found out about recently. A lot of it is not very new but some of it is and it is getting really hot. I have even done some projects with sports science and it is really cool.
Beatrice Erkers: It would be interesting to hear more on it. If you want to talk about it for a few minutes. Also, any potential risks you see with it would be interesting to hear as well.
Creon Levit: Well, you know, unfortunately a few minutes is really not enough time. I will say I do not think there are risks in terms of catastrophic risks that are going to get out of control or something like that. It is more so a natural process. Earth has been sort of doing it in a way, not agriculture, but again just looking at nature, finding out what works really well, and what we can use. Risks are more like it just wouldn’t happen or something. But yes, I would prefer to schedule a separate regenerative agricultural session as opposed to diving into that rabbit hole now.
Beatrice Erkers: That sounds fair enough. I will do a bit of a turn and ask you instead about what would you say to someone young and new coming into the field? Is there anything in particular that you would recommend they read? It could be sci-fi, nonfiction, movies, or anything really. What has truly inspired you onto the trajectory you are currently on?
Creon Levit: I mean there are classic sci-fi films and I do have some lists that I can post in the notes about this. I have made lists of what I think are the best sci-fi films out there, that tend to be on the more inspirational or deeper side, as opposed to just Star Wars and stuff like that. I think in terms of non fiction, if you are truly interested in space, Scott Manley’s video podcasts are really good. They are hard for space and I forget the name of the exact podcast, but his name is Scott Manley. He has done many things, like rockets and space. I think in terms of the general sort of technical and scientific X-Hope oriented stuff, I really recommend Lex Friedman’s podcast. I know that it is a time investment, but it is so good. He gets the best people in history really and then interviews them. There are some others, such as Glenn Lowry which is a bit more political. Those are some things that I would recommend. You know, from those jumping off points you can find all sorts of things.
Beatrice Erkers: I think those sound like great recommendations and I would love to maybe be able to share your list of recommendations afterwards. Perfect, the last question I wanted to ask is to imagine a young person wanting to improve the world and the future by getting into your field. Is there anything you would recommend they specialize in? Is it regenerative agriculture?
Creon Levit: Yeah, I mean that is not my field and it is more so an interest of mine. There is a very interesting overlap between regenerative agriculture, satellites, and remote sensing of the earth. I am currently trying to sort of pivot some of my work into that direction because I believe Planet Labs and other space activities, specifically remote sensing, can really be one of many technologies advancing. It would allow us to operationalize and scale in order to make this precise, beautiful blend of ancient wisdom and modern technology. Also, AI and collaborations are important for agriculture and a natural fit. In all kinds of senses as well, and not just from space, but also smart devices. It is not to replace nature but to help leverage nature.
Another thing, if you just like to code and have interesting challenges in that regard, I would go work for Twitter. I think now is the golden opportunity and there are going to be some shifts at Twitter allowing it to possibly become the worldwide collaboration platform, at least at a certain level for exchanging ideas. I think that it can be so much more than what it is and that is a really interesting possibility for a software person. If you want to go the classic space route, it is still a kind of a hard science where you study math, physics, and engineering to get a job in the space industry.
Beatrice Erkers: Yes, I am going to sneak one more question in. Since we have a space person on the podcast, is venturing out there something that you think of? Where are you on this?
Creon Levit: Well, I never felt a particular calling to be an astronaut. There are others who feel quite differently and that all stems from me probably feeling a bit afraid. I wanted to be one of those guys on the ground working on complex systems, so that is what I did. Nevertheless, I absolutely believe we should venture out. It is the hero's journey, to the extent that it exists in the modern world. It is the hero’s journey and that is a whole other rabbit hole. I feel sending people into space to do science, technology development, or military tasks is absurd when thinking about money and just looking for a return on the dollar. You can do a lot more science with robots. The military doesn’t really care for people in space, they did for a while, but it is now seen as a mission that is just not worth it. So all of these people trying to justify humans in space I think are being disingenuous. But there are humans in the space field because they are inspired by it and this exploratory drive and the hero’s journey.
On the other hand, I went to these lectures once about the Mars Rovers, which are cool, but I think they’re dead now. They were up there for close to 10 years wandering around before new ones got there. Then, this guy also gave a great talk at NASA and it was the first time ever seen like this. He was a geologist and he gave a talk about the first year of the rover activities. He made this whole hour-long discussion of this rover's journey, only a few kilometers of it, and all the different things they figured out about the geology of Mars. I was very impressed. This was all done for much less money and time than it would have taken to send humans to Mars. I did ask him at the end of the talk if he was on Mars, how long would that have taken you if you were up there, as opposed to the rover taking a year? He said, oh about 45 minutes. So I am not going to completely denigrate the idea of humans doing science. It would be wonderful, but I do not think it is a justifiable reason to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to send people to these places.
Allison Duettmann: Okay this is too much of a good opportunity for me to not chime in. We actually had someone ask, what would you advise Elon Musk to do to make a self-sufficient mass colony? Also, do you want to talk a bit about O’Neill style space colonies and whether or not we can have Dyson spheres? This is now a speculation zone out in space.
Creon Levit: So this is not really my passion. Of course, I have paid attention to it for many years, but I don’t think I can advise Elon Musk about colonizing Mars. I think he has thought about it much more deeply and made it start to happen. All I could have advised him to do would have been to talk to Robert Zubrin, because he understands what it is going to take to get started, but that is exactly what he did. He met Zubrin and I mean, he didn’t hear this from me, but I just found out later on that he had met Zubrin. That is how he got super enthusiastic about the Mars mission stuff. He saw that there were actually architectures that could design something and it is capable of achieving that goal. It comes in on budget and on schedule, you know, the right mass, all this sort of stuff.
In terms of O’Neill colonies and Dyson spheres, I am one of these people who is not really into the moon versus Mars versus space colonies. I am sort of like, you know, do it all if you can. Not necessarily just Musk. I do not think that we necessarily know which is the optimal path right now so in a way, maybe it is just that we can do the first one, or maybe we can do multiple. I mean all of these things are possible and eventually they can certainly happen. I am unsure how many people will actually like this, but you have to think about it. A colony on Mars is going to make Burning Man look like luxury accomodations. It is going to be hard, isolated, dangerous, boring, and hostile. There are still people who are drawn to that though. I am not a person who would go to Antarctica per say, but some people might. So yeah space colonies are going to be like living in a shopping mall or an indoor condo complex at best. So again, it is not for me, but I think it is great. Also, Dyson spheres, stuff like that is like far future stuff. There you are talking about mega engineering, but all things are possible.
Allison Duettmann: Right, I have high hopes. It is inspirational already. Also, for those of you in the space group now, you are currently addressing these similar topics and mass colonies. You are doing a great job of this. Especially, for those of you watching the interview, there is a fantastic interview with Creon and Adam Brown. Anyway, I am getting off track. We are trying to make this podcast one of inspiration and uplifting, while also providing them an avenue to challenge their creative energies into. So we get back to the concept of eucatastrophe. When the term resurfaced with Toby Ord, it was interesting because it is not a negative catastrophe, but the term tends to be confusing. We want a better term for this and there is a bounty for it as well for those of you listening. Creon, can you give it your best shot?
Creon Levit: I wrote a few things down for it. Okay, if the eucatastrophe is the pivotal event, then I think a pivot is almost what we are talking about here with the language I use. It is a pivot towards the world we want. For instance, is there an opposite term for “apocalypse”? I think that would be a good word to come up with. That is all I have got.
Allison Duettmann: Okay, we also have a comment from Joy here saying “fantastrophe.”
Creon Levit: I love that. That’s great.
Allison Duettmann: We have a bounty out right now, I think with many submissions already, to find a better term. Good. Second question that we always ask, which is the one that is my favorite question: What would be such a eucatastrophic event for you? Let me just set the stage for those listening. The idea is that we should imagine what a great event would look like, instead of a catastrophe. We will then use that answer as a prompt, with another bounty, where people can generate a day-in-the-life story about this. We will also create an art piece to help visualize this event and then exhibit it in our Existential Hope gallery. The stage is yours Creon, give it your best shot.
Creon Levit: I do have some ideas. I think it is an interesting thing that some of us here have experienced in the last few years, from community gatherings to collaborations, are prime examples of what everybody could have in the fantastic future. I think to some extent, things are already pivoting towards the kind of future we could all have with love, community, technology, and adventure, as well as lack of severe hardship or fear. So I feel that while it may feel less obvious that the collective world is shifting in that direction, things are still seemingly getting better for most people. For instance, look at this recent war with Ukraine. Of course, there has been suffering and danger, but it is making a very big point that it does not bode well to go invading another country anymore. I think in a way these are hopeful signs of progress. I am happy with what I am seeing overall. Maybe I see the world through rose colored glasses, but those are the glasses I want to see it through.
Allison Duettmann: I think to concretize it for people to better imagine, I am hearing a lot of emphasizing communities and types of gatherings that promote this idea moving forward. Am I comprehending right?
Creon Levit: I think that is wonderful. However, I think more of what I am thinking is that people have to fall in love with their lives, fellow humans, civilization, and the future. On the one hand, some might say, “You are proposing a change in human nature and that will never happen.” I am not so sure though. I think humans are changing, not uniformly or quickly, but in a positive direction. Things like slavery, brutal combat, and warefare used to be commonplace and they are now anomalies on the way out. So I think the pivot of humanity depends on this pivot on the individual level to make it happen.
Allison Duettmann: Yes, we have made it so far as a civilization, like you mentioned. We have made it far enough to where aggression is not the best strategy anymore. You can either have voluntary independence, or you can even choose to collaborate.
Creon Levit: Or you can compete within a lawful, orderly playing field. Even that is becoming more interdependent. We have been learning a lot the last few years. I think we will continue learning at a rapid rate. I also have this last thing on the list, regarding the question about advice.
Allison Duettmann: Yes! First of all, to the competition point: Competition is just competing or cooperating better with others. To some extent, we are competing on cooperative terms. So, if we get better at cooperating, that is a good drive. We will table that discussion, but I think that would make for some wonderful prompts. Now, what is the best advice you ever got? How can others benefit from it?
Creon Levit: I have four pieces of advice that stick out in my mind. Firstly, when I was a kid, I was fortunate enough to be tutored by the famous astronomer Mark Bach. His advice to me as a young student interested in astronomy was to first study mathematics, then physics, then astronomy. So a big thanks to him. Secondly, the spiritual teacher Abraham Hicks says to carefully look at how you feel inside when considering various plans and actions. With that insight, pursue what makes you feel good, and move towards that. If something doesn’t feel right, then you recognize that is not the direction you want to go and you try to move your mind and heart to go in a way that feels better. Then, Sadhguru said, I am not teaching you a religion or a philosophy. I am teaching you a technology for how to be the CEO of your own mind. This is basically another version of the same thing. The last piece of advice that I am really glad I got was from my friend Luke Davis a number of years ago. He told me to “Come to this event tonight and meet my friend Allison, you will love her!”
Allison Duettmann: Oh Creon! Those all sound great. Thank you everyone for joining. You will have to come back annually now. This was a really hopeful session. My eucatastrophe moment would have to be having conversations and podcasts like this. They feel insanely inspiring, so thank you so much for this eucatastrophic moment! Thank you Creon. I hope you all have a lovely rest of your day and weekend.