My ‘Mars’ class for Spring 2023

I’m teaching a new course next semester for advanced undergraduates in Mason’s Schar School. At at abstract level, it’s about how humans might go about constructing new government systems (polities) if they were freed from most of the constraints of history and contingency. At a practical level, it’s about the idea of human colonies on Mars along the lines of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy and made realistic by SpaceX’s recent accomplishments. Obviously, such colonies would be practically beyond the immediate Earth-bound geopolitical drivers at some point. How might they decide to organize themselves? How might concepts like rule of law and private property manifest when organized (de jury or de facto) de novo? The course will be completely on-line and will be pretty demanding on the reading side.

And, I’m going to ‘legalize’ the use of ChatGTP! Still working out how that might work (I have about three weeks left).

My take on ChatGTP…

I’ve been putting it through its paces in the life sciences. Overall, it’s quite good at hypothesis generation and being insightful in cell biology. In neuroscience, it’s got great verbiage, but it’s often dead wrong (factually). If it were a qualifying exam, I’d have to flunk it. In plant biology it’s at the level of a very smart undergraduate major.

Fragile Ecosystems…

A freshwater pond on Fogo Island off Newfoundland

I took this photo a while back while on a hike in one of Canada’s more remote locations. It was early in the short boreal summer and I was struck by both the high biodiversity and the enormous spurt of primary productivity that, out of necessity occupies a very narrow time window. These remote parts of Earth’s biosphere are encountering climate disruption more intensely than most of the planet. How they will fare is unknown, but it’s a good bet they will be challenged because they are inherently fragile.

Humans affect the trajectory of our home planet’s ecosystems. But we can’t accurately predict how those dynamics will feedback upon us. We are coupled complex adaptive systems.