August 21st, 2007


This Day in the Future -- August 21, 2017: Total Solar Eclipse

On this day exactly ten years from now, a total solar eclipse will be visible over much of the continental United States. The eclipse's path will start in the Pacific ocean, and will pass through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, the northeast corner of Kansas, Missouri, southern Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, northeast Georgia, and the Carolinas. Millions of people will be able to see the eclipse, assuming the weather holds out.

The duration of the eclipse will be about two and a half minutes at maximum, at the center line. The width of visibility will be about 115 km.

This will be the first total eclipse to pass over any part of the United States since 1991, when a total eclipse passed over Hawaii. Plan your trip now! (Ten years into the future is not as far out as you think...)

USA Total Solar Eclipse 2017, everything you need to know to plan to see the eclipse, including links to details maps, courtesy of Dan McGlaun
Hermit Eclipse: Total Solar Eclipse: August 21 2017 (with some excellent maps)
Path of Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 Aug 21 (a NASA website with coordinates, which links to a map of the globe with the eclipse's path)
Wikipedia: Solar eclipse of August 21, 2017


I finally tracked down the short story I remembered from "The Mind's I" edited by Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett. Part of the reason I had trouble locating the story when first skimming through the book was that the details were not quite as I remembered them.

The story is "Non Serviam" by Stanislaw Lem, which can be found in his collection "A Perfect Vacuum." The conceit of "A Perfect Vacuum" is that it is a collection of reviews of imaginary books, so "Non Serviam" serves as both the title of the review and the title of the imaginary book, supposedly written by a Professor Dobb, in which Dobb outlines the science of personetics. Personetics is the science of creating artificial personoids inside a computer. Dobb's personoids do come to argue theology, and in the end of the story, Lem quotes Dobb as saying the following:

Imagine for a moment that I attach to my [computer] an enormous auxiliary unit, which will be a "hereafter." One by one I let pass through the connecting channel and into the unit the "souls" of my personoids, and there I reward those who believed in me...while all the others...I punish....

That idea gripped my mind, but even more so did this one, just a few sentences later in the same paragraph:

The bills for the electricity consumed have to be paid quarterly, and the moment is going to come when my university superiors demand the "wrapping up" of the experiment – that is, the disconnecting of the machine, or, in other words, the end of the world....

For some reason, I had remembered the voice of the narrator slightly differently, which, as I noted above, is why I didn't find the story right away. I know that the idea that we live in a simulated world is an old one that has been explored time and time again. But Lem's story, which I must have read when I was eleven or twelve years old, was my first exposure to the idea, and it kept me thinking for a long time.

Time Travel Paper

For those who have heard the latest news about the physics of time travel and are interested in reading more about it, the original paper by Amos Ori can be found here.

I'll have to read through it to get a better idea of what Ori is proposing, but the gist of it seems to be that he's found a way to create closed timelike curves within our universe that does not require the use or existence of so-called exotic matter. But it does seem to require intensely strong gravitational fields, such as those found near superdense matter or black holes, so don't expect to be jaunting into the past anytime soon...