The Moon Shot Shortage…

Hat tip to Tyler Cowen, here’s Jason Pontin’s somewhat poignant piece in MIT Technology Review. Money quote:

I remember sitting in my family’s living room in Berkeley, California, watching the liftoff of Apollo 17 I was five; my mother admonished me not to stare at the fiery exhaust of the Saturn 5 rocket. I vaguely knew that this was the last of the moon missions—but I was absolutely certain that there would be Mars colonies in my lifetime. What happened?

That indeed is the question. Pontin thinks that it’s a combination of political and institutional failure combined with the fact that some of our biggest problems really aren’t technological in nature (he uses Malaria as an example and asserts that it’s really a poverty problem).

For myself, I worry that it’s something deeper. Our human brains are evolved, not engineered and they are far from infinitely capable (for details see here).  It may well be that the current global challenges are just too complex for our collective human “mind” to handle–as Pontin points out, if famines are really a result of political failure, then a new Green Revolution isn’t going to solve the problem.

There are a slew of such “human brain limit” problems facing our global society right now–having just ridden out Hurricane Sandy, climate change comes immediately to mind–it may well be that truly understanding our own brains may well be the ultimate example of such a problem (I have a former graduate student working diligently on the theoretical aspects of that issue).

Taken from the standpoint of a human brain limit, a Moon Shot might be viewed as relatively…simple.