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Property Law and Belief in Ghosts:

In my introductory Property law class, I recently taught Stambovsky v. Ackley, the famous 1991 New York appellate decision which ruled that the seller of a home had a legal duty to reveal to the buyer the fact that the house was widely believed to be haunted by ghosts. The court famously opined that the house was "haunted as a matter of law," though the more prosaic basis for the decision was the fact that a reputation for being haunted could damage the resale value of the house even if there weren't really any ghosts there.

Interestingly, a recent AP survey reveals that 34% of Americans believe in ghosts and 23% claim to have actually seen one. A 2006 poll found that 37 percent believe that a location can be haunted.

Arguably, these poll results strengthen the case for the court's ruling in Stambovsky. If belief in ghosts and hauntings is widespread, a reputation for being haunted could seriously depress a home's value, and potential buyers have a legitimate interest in knowing about it before deciding to purchase. On the other hand, the poll results probably overstate the number of people who actually take ghosts seriously, in the sense of letting their belief in ghosts dictate major life decisions (such as what house to buy). As I discuss in greater detail here, people often adopt irrational beliefs when there is little or no cost to doing so. But they are less likely to follow those beliefs when the costs rise. For example, some 50% of Americans believe that we are being visited by UFOs flown by extraterrestrials. But only a tiny minority act on that belief by seriously preparing for the possiblity of alien visitation or invasion.

GV_:
And my faith in democracy takes another blow.
10.26.2007 5:39pm
byomtov (mail):
How exactly would one prepare "for the possiblity of alien visitation or invasion?"

What sorts of foods would one stock in order to be ready to welcome friendly aliens graciously? Alternatively, what special weapons should one buy to defend against those who are hostile?
10.26.2007 5:42pm
An0n:
Why prepare? I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords. Though since I can't be very helpful in rounding up others, I suspect I'll end up toiling in an underground sugar cave.
10.26.2007 5:46pm
kiniyakki (mail):
Here's a house I would be hesitant to buy, in part b/c the house might have some type of lingering spirit ... or smell.

Deptula v. Simpson, 164 P3d 640 (Alaska 2007).
10.26.2007 5:57pm
dll111:
I thought the appellate court found the house haunted as a matter of law because it was an appeal of a motion to dismiss, and thus the court takes the appellant's facts as true. I didn't think it was because the court actually thought the reputation that the house was haunted actually devalued the house. Or am I remembering the case incorrectly?
10.26.2007 5:59pm
BT:
Is there a market for haunted houses? Was the value of the house negatively effected by its reputation? I don't know the answers to those questions; however, it seems to me that there would be a certian type of person who may be attracted to this type of property and would pay a premium for the pleaseure so to speak. I can understand the reason for the lawsuit, I would not want to live in a haunted house either. But I am not so sure that in every case that the value is diminished.
10.26.2007 6:18pm
Anderson (mail):
Lord knows, my wife would not move into a "haunted" house. Even the fact of a gruesome murder's having occurred there would deter her.
10.26.2007 6:21pm
BT:
Oh as an aside, I don't believe in ghosts or UFOs for that matter, but like Mack Davis, "I Believe In Music".
10.26.2007 6:21pm
Ilya Somin:
Is there a market for haunted houses? Was the value of the house negatively effected by its reputation? I don't know the answers to those questions; however, it seems to me that there would be a certian type of person who may be attracted to this type of property and would pay a premium for the pleaseure so to speak.

Yes, it is certainly possible that haunting could increase the value of a house (e.g. - as a tourist attraction). In fact, Ackley, the seller of the house in this case, had herself promoted the house's reputation for being haunted in previous years - perhaps for that very reason.
10.26.2007 6:22pm
James Ellis (mail):
What if the ghost had an identifiable ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation? Or, what if the ghost allegedly floated around the house making slurs against such groups? Might it be illegal to make such a disclosure?
10.26.2007 6:24pm
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
I think that there was also an issue with houses that had been occupied by people with AIDS or other diseases. Regardless of whether or not there was a danger of contracting the disease, did the fact that many people thought there was make it something you had to disclose?
10.26.2007 6:33pm
A. Person (mail):
Are you suggesting that the belief that Earth is being visited by UFOs is irrational? Given the mathematics of the universe, it seems almost certain that there's intelligent life; and from there it's not much of a step to suppose that intelligent beings have been traveling beyond their own planets (just as we have).
10.26.2007 7:05pm
Anderson (mail):
I think that there was also an issue with houses that had been occupied by people with AIDS or other diseases.

Here's a good one: do you have to disclose that the previous occupants were black, white, Hispanic, whatever?
10.26.2007 7:07pm
Bluquark:
A. Person: agreed that to assume the simple existence of aliens somewhere is not unreasonable, but given the physics of interstellar travel, it is indeed a giant leap to consider that extraterrestrials might have visited our planet. We ourselves are completely unable to travel to even our nearest star (going to the moon barely qualifies as proper space travel, it's just our backyard).
10.26.2007 8:50pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Are you suggesting that the belief that Earth is being visited by UFOs is irrational? Given the mathematics of the universe, it seems almost certain that there's intelligent life; and from there it's not much of a step to suppose that intelligent beings have been traveling beyond their own planets (just as we have).
It kind of is that much of a step, because, to quote a reference book, "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space."
10.26.2007 9:02pm
Bluquark:
Yeah -- the very hugeness of space has the effect of increasing the probability that alien life exists somewhere, but the flip side of that coin is that it greatly decreases the probability that A) they would detect that our solar system is interesting and B) they would find a way to travel here.
10.26.2007 9:11pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
It must be pointed out that 34% of people believing in ghosts is more than the 24% who believe in Bush's competency. It is horrifying that over a third of Americans believe in ghosts, however, that's still higher than Bush's current approval ratings. When more people believe in ghosts than the competency of their president, I'd say something needs to change. If people were better educated, they would believe less in ghosts, and would not elect morons like Bush. The problem is lack of education.
10.26.2007 9:24pm
Nessuno:


"By 31 percent to 18 percent, more liberals than conservatives report seeing a specter"
10.26.2007 9:25pm
eric (mail):
Anti-Bush-thread-hijacking-trolling is so annoying.
10.26.2007 9:58pm
Jeremy:
If the haunted-ness was a factual determination, how would you prove clear error on appeal? Or would it be a-booo-se of discretion . . .
10.26.2007 10:09pm
A. Person (mail):

Yeah -- the very hugeness of space has the effect of increasing the probability that alien life exists somewhere, but the flip side of that coin is that it greatly decreases the probability that A) they would detect that our solar system is interesting and B) they would find a way to travel here.


But it's reasonable to suppose that intelligent beings on other planets are likely to want to visit planets occupied by other intelligent beings. Say one in a zillion planets are occupied by intelligent beings, and say in 1 case out of 4, the planet's intelligent beings are smart enough to engage in space travel at very large distances (a conservative estimate I think, given that we've only been around a few tens of thousands of years and have accomplished quite a bit, while alien civilizatons are likely to have been around at least several hundred million years). That means that there are 1/4 zillion alien civilizations targeting 1 zillion planets. If the space-travel-capable civilizations manage to visit an average of at least 2 or 3 intelligent-life-inhabited planets, then the chance that Earth has been so visited is more likely than not.
10.26.2007 10:50pm
Eli Rabett (www):
As Fermi said about ETs, where are they? More seriously I think we should follow David Brin's idea of increasing the intelligence of species such as chimpanzees and dolphins. It's lonely here.
10.26.2007 11:38pm
SupremacyClaus (mail) (www):
Because ghosts are supernatural, the decision violates the Establishment Clause.
10.27.2007 12:16am
Nessuno:

More seriously I think we should follow David Brin's idea of increasing the intelligence of species such as chimpanzees and dolphins. It's lonely here.


Dolphins yes, chimps no. Have you learned nothing from Planet of the Apes?

I'm against those damned, dirty apes.
10.27.2007 12:19am
Albatross (mail) (www):

Say one in a zillion planets are occupied by intelligent beings, ...



OK, you lost me there. "Zillion" is the same thing as "let me make up something out of thin air".


... while alien civilizatons are likely to have been around at least several hundred million years ...


Yep, lost me there, too. That's quite an assumption to make, more along the lines of wishful thinking.

Regardless, without warp drive, jumpgates, or hyperspace (all as fantastical as vorpal swords at this point), interstellar space travel just isn't practical. To assume that intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations possess such technology is to imbue them with magical powers formed of our own ken.

Don't get me wrong; I think other beings probably do exist out there. But it's a massive leap to assume they are even able to make it to our planet.
10.27.2007 12:31am
Waldensian (mail):
Strange that not a single one of the 23 percent of Americans claiming to have seen a ghost has ever picked up the $1 million prize that's available for proof of such a sighting.

We're talking millions and millions of sightings and people here, you would think ONE of them would have a cell phone camera handy when the ghost appeared. But no.....
10.27.2007 12:36am
Waldensian (mail):

That means that there are 1/4 zillion alien civilizations targeting 1 zillion planets. If the space-travel-capable civilizations manage to visit an average of at least 2 or 3 intelligent-life-inhabited planets, then the chance that Earth has been so visited is more likely than not.

Please, please tell me you're joking.

You think logic compels the conclusion that, more likely than not, the Earth has been visited by aliens?
10.27.2007 12:38am
Ilya Somin:
Regardless, without warp drive, jumpgates, or hyperspace (all as fantastical as vorpal swords at this point), interstellar space travel just isn't practical.

Does that mean that my vorpal sword doesn't work?!!? What a bummer. I was just planning to go slay some orcs and trolls with it:).
10.27.2007 12:40am
Truth Seeker:
Anti-Bush-thread-hijacking-trolling is so annoying.

BDS is such that some people can't stop hating Bush or talking against him even for a few seconds. Everything they read, everything they do, everry minute of their lives, they just keep coming back to that deep, deep, irrational hatred that is seared, seared inside of them, to their very core. It's pitiable.
10.27.2007 12:42am
Hoosier:
James Ellis--I can't answer your questions. But I'm left wondering about the Americans with Disabilites Act in cases like this. If the ghost were disabled, would ADA preclude you from revealing its presence, or only the nature of its disability? And if it a commercial building that is haunted, are the proprietors required to make "reasonable accomodations" (for, say, a poltergeist with ADHD? I mean, it might be distracting *itself* with all that noise, right?)

On the question of "Are there LGM's (Little Green Men) out there?": The Universe really is as big as all that, and kudos to David for citing the world's most reliable reference work. (Pan-galactic Gargle Blasters anyone?) But even if we could discover that there are *precisely* one-zillion and six solar systems in the Cosmos, we still wouldn't be able to say what the likelihood is that some are inhabitted, since we don't have any idea what percentage chance any given solar system has of developing intelligent life.

I mean, if the odds are one-zillion-to-one *against*, then we are probably not going to need the song "Puberty Love" to save ourselves from the Extra-terrestial Red Menace.
10.27.2007 12:50am
Hoosier:
Truthseeker: What do mean BDS?!!!! Bush has ALREADY tried to use space aliens to KILL PEOPLE!

He sent a team into space to bring back an alien that Bush could weaponize. But then the team leader married (the very liberal) Helen Hunt and moved to a hugely expensive apartment in Midtown. So we're all safe.


For NOW!! (Dumm-dah--DUMM!)
10.27.2007 12:57am
Mark Bahner (www):

How exactly would one prepare "for the possiblity of alien visitation or invasion?"


Well, first one would get in front of a television camera and announce:


I, for one, welcome our new overlords.
10.27.2007 1:29am
Mark Bahner (www):
D-oh! I skipped over that very next comment!

Sorry, Enfield.
10.27.2007 1:31am
Mark Bahner (www):

Regardless, without warp drive, jumpgates, or hyperspace (all as fantastical as vorpal swords at this point), interstellar space travel just isn't practical.


I realize this gets even farther off-topic, but as an engineer I have to comment. (Well, I don't have to, but I have a strong urge to, and no self-control.)

Interstellar space travel isn't impractical if one takes the Rendevous With Rama (look it up!) strategy, with a twist.

Micromachines could be sent out at fractions of light speed (say 20-70 percent). They could prepare the way for humans. And then humans could be sent in embryonic form, with the machines to raise them.

Suffice it to say that a lot of science and engineering would need to be done...but such technology will probably be available within the next 100 years.
10.27.2007 1:46am
Fub:
Jeremy wrote at 10.26.2007 9:09pm:
If the haunted-ness was a factual determination, how would you prove clear error on appeal? Or would it be a-booo-se of discretion . . .
It wouldn't have a ghost of a chance if he cottoned to spectral evidence. Better not to wraith the mather at all.
10.27.2007 1:50am
Warmongering Lunatic:
FTL travel is, scientifically, indistinguishable from claims of psychic powers, ghosts, or any of that sort of thing. Actually, moreso, since we have solid theoretical reason, backed by extensive experimental evidence, to believe FTL travel is impossible, while we have no solid explanation for the phenomenon of consciousness.

So, using the first date of radio transmission as the earliest signal that could tell someone outside the solar system we exist, and the speed of light the fastest they could get here, the volume of space from which extraterrestrial visitors has a radius of about 60 light years.

There's something less than 4,000 stars in that volume of space, which is to say about 0.000004% of all the stars in the Milky Way. Even under highly optimistic versions of the Drake Equation, the number of expected civilizations in that volume of space is well short of one in a hundred million. It is significantly more rational to believe that you will win a state lottery with the purchase of a single ticket than to believe any aliens know we exist, much less have come to visit.

But, some will object, that is assuming aliens do not colonize stars systems beyond their own. And that is true. If they do, the odds all run the other way, because colony worlds become potential colonizers in a matter of thousands of years, an eyeblink on a galactic timescale. Given the known technology necessary to colonize stars at STL speeds, and assuming any reasonably high number of intelligent civilizations evolving circa a mere 25 to 10 million years ago (a very short time in terms of the age of the galaxy), then Earth should have already been occupied by aliens before humans had the chance to evolve, and accordingly none of us exist.

Any reduction in the number of aliens colonizers, whether by reducing the number of civilizations or their capability/willingness to make long trips, itself immediately reduces the chance of any alien species being close enough to know we exist or to be willing to bother to investigate us if they learn we exist. Any increase in the likelihood that aliens know we exist and have decided to investigate makes the fact of our existence increasingly improbable.

We are thus placed into a situation where explaining the existence of humanity implies that alien civilizations be extremely rare, that interstellar space travel is extremely rare, or both. Which means that our mere existence implies that the odds that aliens have visited Earth are so low that belief that it has happened is completely irrational.
10.27.2007 2:13am
Thoughtful (mail):
A. Person: "Are you suggesting that the belief that Earth is being visited by UFOs is irrational? Given the mathematics of the universe, it seems almost certain that there's intelligent life"

Gosh, I hope so. I think I'd enjoy meeting intelligent life...
10.27.2007 3:05am
Truth Seeker:
Which means that our mere existence implies that the odds that aliens have visited Earth are so low that belief that it has happened is completely irrational.

If they are so far ahead of us (1000, 10,000, 100,000 years) then they could be watching us without our knowledge. Maybe we're like an ant farm that some kid alien is using for a science project?
10.27.2007 3:07am
Gaius Marius:
Some folks believe the X-Files is really a documentary.
10.27.2007 7:40am
David Sucher (mail) (www):
"But only a tiny minority act on that belief by seriously preparing for the possiblity of alien visitation or invasion."

And that is exactly the problem: too many people in denial.

Rather than supporting such blind denialism I would have hoped that a progressive blog like Volokh would have been urging its readers to get ready and holding up that tiny minority as the sensible leadership.
10.27.2007 12:33pm
pete (mail) (www):
<blockquote>
We're talking millions and millions of sightings and people here, you would think ONE of them would have a cell phone camera handy when the ghost appeared. But no.....
</blockquote>


Waldensian, you must not have seen this definitive proof that ghosts do in fact exist:

http://www.break.com/1408/sitter-cam-catches-ghost.html

The truth is out there.
10.27.2007 2:58pm
Oren (mail):
Note to self, never hire any engineer named Bahner.
10.27.2007 3:30pm
Jay C (mail):
If the haunted-ness was a factual determination, how would you prove clear error on appeal?

Simple: just appeal to the spirit of the law.....
10.27.2007 4:01pm
Albatross (mail) (www):
Bahner said:

Suffice it to say that a lot of science and engineering would need to be done...but such technology will probably be available within the next 100 years.


And I say:

But we are talking about today.
10.27.2007 8:32pm
Roger Sweeny (mail):
Given the mathematics of the universe, it seems almost certain that there's intelligent life; and from there it's not much of a step to suppose that intelligent beings have been traveling beyond their own planets (just as we have).

We have indeed made it to the moon. The speed was approximately 12.3 km/s (about 27,500 miles per hour). At that rate, earth astronauts would get to the nearest star (not a good bet for intelligent life) in a little under 100,000 years.

Space is almost uncomprehensibly big. Without science fiction "drives," travel between stars cannot be accomplished in one lifetime--or even several lifetimes.

Interstellar travel is that much of a step.
10.27.2007 8:54pm
Guest0987654:
This is nonsense. The fact that it was "widely believed" to be inhabited by ghosts should have no bearing on the matter, and the seller should be able to withhold that information. Neighbors, for example, can use this type of rumor and negative stereotype to devalue someone else's property. Suppose it was "widely believed" that a certain property had a dormant volcano under it, or that drug dealers had planted illegal substances in the walls (in which case it might be subject to confiscation by the police) or that ancient Indian burial remains had been found on the property (in which case the property could be confiscated on other grounds)? Does an owner have an obligation to disclose the racial or ethnic makeup of the neighborhood, even though that might affect the value of a specific property? No, it is illegal to do so, even though participants in an opinion poll might think that an owner should be informed as to the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood.

I think Mr. Somin has his head up his backside if he agrees with this.
10.27.2007 9:50pm
Guest0987654:
What if a seller misrepresnts what is "widely believed"? For example, a seller could tell a prospective buyer that it is "widely believed" that a previous owner buried her collection of gold coins and diamonds in the back yard, or that it is "widely believed" that the property will be rezoned for commercial use and that its value will skyrocket. He could claim that he heard this or that rumor or thought that his own personal beliefs were widely held. Or he could claim that it was possible, but unsure if the belief was widely held. Could the seller be held accounatble for that?
10.27.2007 10:14pm
Mark Bahner (www):
"Oren" writes

Note to self, never hire any engineer named Bahner.


Heh, heh, heh! Aren't we clever! But I guess if one knows nothing about engineering, cleverness is about all one has.

I wrote:

Suffice it to say that a lot of science and engineering would need to be done...but such technology will probably be available within the next 100 years.


"Albatross" responds:

But we are talking about today.


No, we're not. We're talking about whether an intelligent species would be capable of interstellar travel. I'm saying OUR species will be capable of interstellar travel within 100 years.

So (I'm saying) Enrico Fermi was right. If there ARE other intelligent species, it's very puzzling indeed why we haven't already seen evidence of them.

As "Truth Seeker" points out, perhaps ETs don't wish to be seen. That would potentially make it essentially impossible to detect them.

P.S. Another possibility for interstellar travel that I didn't mention is essentially cryogenically freezing adults and warming/waking them up when they get to a star system that has a habitable planet. That's very close to the Rendevous with Rama scenario. That's also a technology that should be within our capability within the next 100 years.

P.P.S. Orem, perhaps you should read some Ray Kurzweil. You *might* learn something. (And if you want an absolute giant in engineering, and in technology analysis, you're a fool if you wouldn't hire a guy named Ray Kurzweil.)
10.27.2007 11:49pm
Hoosier:
pete--Perhaps I'm just too skeptical. But I couldn't see it.
10.28.2007 12:11am
Albatross (mail) (www):
I said (and was quoted by Bahner):

Regardless, without warp drive, jumpgates, or hyperspace (all as fantastical as vorpal swords at this point), interstellar space travel just isn't practical.


I don't deny that something might be developed in the future that allows us to travel through interstellar space relatively quickly, as the concept is portrayed in science fiction. However, I don't have a lot of confidence that any such technology exists now or will be developed anytime soon by humans or aliens, if ever. Which leaves us on the slow boat between stars.

So, in light of this, I should rephrase my original response to Bahner to say, "But I was talking about today."
10.28.2007 1:31am
abb3w:
One of my good friends related to me (and his mother confirmed) that a house they had lived in was evidently haunted. In his pre-K years, he related to his parents about seeing an old lady about the house, and about how she had smiled and waved as she walked through the door into the guest bedroom. His description matched the previous owner, who had died in the house after thirty-some years living there... and who had used that room as her own.

Despite a few such sightings (both by him, one or two of his playmates, and once by his mother), his parents didn't say anything about the apparent supernatural nature until he asked about her in his teen years. He was mildly freaked out when they hesitantly explained that the old lady he half remembered from his childhood was evidently a ghost. By then, however, they had moved to a new house.

And, yes, they mentioned the ghost to prospective buyers. ("Nice old lady ghost, quiet and not very intrusive, sometimes pauses to smile at small children, that's about it. We don't notice her much. No rattling or such nonsense.") The new owners saw her only once or twice, but suspected her as the cause for their cat intermittently running downstairs to hide under the living room couch in terror. She stopped showing up a few years after they bought the house, to the evident relief of the cat.

I don't believe in ghosts. On the other hand, I have absolutely no sensible explanation. On the gripping hand, I've had worse house guests.
10.28.2007 3:05am
Mark Bahner (www):
"Albatross" writes:


I don't deny that something might be developed in the future that allows us to travel through interstellar space relatively quickly, as the concept is portrayed in science fiction. However, I don't have a lot of confidence that any such technology exists now or will be developed anytime soon by humans or aliens, if ever. Which leaves us on the slow boat between stars.


As I pointed out, it may not be necessary to travel through interstellar space at a significant fraction (even 10 percent) of the speed of light. If cryogenic technology could be perfected--or not even "perfected", but merely brought to a state that was daring-but-not-whacko--then human adults could be frozen and shipped off to the stars as human popsicles. Given the relatively cool temperatures in interstellar space, it's not like they'd thaw out.

So adult humans could theoretically be shipped off into interstellar space for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. (Note: What would probably happen if this actually occurred would be what occurred in Robert Heinlein's "Time for the Stars," which is that technology only 50 or 100 years further out would be able to "catch up" to those slow-moving popsicles.)


However, I don't have a lot of confidence that any such technology exists now or will be developed anytime soon by humans or aliens, if ever.


Accelerating very small packages (e.g. <1 kg machines) to substantial fractions of light speed (e.g. 10-50 percent) isn't something in the far-distant future.

Beam-powered propulsion


So, in light of this, I should rephrase my original response to Bahner to say, "But I was talking about today."


Fair enough. But to presume that aliens would get to our level of technology, but not get to a level of technology that we will almost certainly achieve in the next 100 years (e.g., cryogenically frozen adults, or embryos assisted by machines sent forward earlier to prepare the planet for humans) seems very unlikely.

So we're left with Enrico Fermi's puzzlement: why aren't aliens already here, if they exist? It seems to me that one possibility is that they are here (or at least are aware of our existence) but don't wish to make us aware of their existence.
10.28.2007 11:13am
Roger Sweeny (mail):
But to presume that aliens would get to our level of technology, but not get to a level of technology that we will almost certainly achieve in the next 100 years (e.g., cryogenically frozen adults, or embryos assisted by machines sent forward earlier to prepare the planet for humans) seems very unlikely.

In 1400, many intelligent and learned people believed that in the next 100 years, someone would certainly be able to turn lead into gold.

But believing doesn't make it so.

(And, of course, they meant a process whose output would be worth more than its inputs, not a multi-million dollar nuclear reactor producing several dollars worth of gold.)
10.28.2007 11:50am
abb3w:
Mark Bahner: But to presume that aliens would get to our level of technology, but not get to a level of technology that we will almost certainly achieve in the next 100 years [...] seems very unlikely.

You're forgetting the "L" term of the Drake equation. At times, it seems a miracle that we got through the '60s without blowing ourselves up. Putin has declared an attack on Iran will be considered an attack on Russia; Cold War II seems well underway. Making it through the next century is starting to look like it will take another miracle or six.

While it would be nice to assume aliens less crazy than we are, I don't see any reason to do so.
10.28.2007 1:01pm
Lysenko (mail):
The fundamental flaw in Bahner's assumptions about future progress has to do with a realm that is outside his purview as an engineer, namely biology. While it is true that we have had some limited success in thawing out and implanting cryopreserved embryos in mothers and bringing them to term, this has been over a much shorter timespan than the decades (or more likely centuries) of storage that would be required for even a short interstellar flight. And that's on earth, with access to regular human regulation and inspection of the process, human repairs to the system (MTBF becomes fairly important when you're positing a centuries-long voyage with nothing but automated systems), and no external factors like radiation damage or physical damage to the system. Then there is the fact that we are still nowhere close to the sort of "artificial womb" that would be required to bring an embryo to term without a healthy adult female human. And if for the sake of argument we posit the development of that technology, we still have the psychological issue of this infant crew being born without any human role models or mentors. Developing humans require a certain amount of social interaction with adult humans in order to develop normally as individuals (even then it's not a guaranteed thing, but it is a necessary prequisite for normality). His plan ignores both this and the bare -minimum- of 12-14 years in which the putative "crew" would require supervision, protection, and education in an unknown and unforgiving environment.

Unfortunately, "human cryogenics" is basically a scam. We're still nowhere near preserving any but the most simple biological structures, and then only for a limited period of time (ask anyone who works with frozen animal tissues and embryos as part of their research and they'll tell you that the older samples and strains are always in danger of being lost to what amounts to freezer burn).

In short, there is no "almost certainly" about our achieving ANY successful cryopreservation and restoration of fully-grown animals, or even long-term preservation of embryonic tissue. This is rather like saying that we may not have cold fusion now, but we'll "almost certainly" have practical large-scale cold fusion power by 2107.
10.28.2007 1:30pm
NickM (mail) (www):
He's not a ghost; he's protoplasmically challenged.

Nick
10.28.2007 2:56pm
Albatross (mail) (www):
Bahner said:
Accelerating very small packages (e.g. <1 kg machines) to substantial fractions of light speed (e.g. 10-50 percent) isn't something in the far-distant future.


Bahner, I'm talking about warp drives, jumpgates, hyperspace, and the like — the technologies that would let us travel to distant stars relatively quickly, as in science fiction. That is what I am talking about when I say, "I don't have a lot of confidence that any such technology exists now or will be developed anytime soon by humans or aliens, if ever."
10.28.2007 9:49pm
markm (mail):
The Drake equation involves a whole lot of guesswork, but under any set of parameters I would consider reasonable, the distances between planets supporting intelligent life will average at least hundreds of light years. If our physics is anywhere near right, it's quite impossible for a living creature or a machine to reach or exceed the speed of light and arrive in working condition, and just getting one hundred pounds mass up to a few percent of light speed takes a stupendous amount of energy. Since all practical machinery wastes at least a few percent of the applied energy as heat, keeping the sp

If they somehow get past the problems of affording enough energy to get spacecraft to relativistic speeds, the second problem is that all practical machinery wastes at least a few percent of the applied energy as heat - and unless you stretch the acceleration time out to decades, that's more than enough heat generated every second to melt the entire spacecraft. But let's assume that they've got past all those issues, and can send a spacecraft out at speeds so close to the speed of light that a hundred light year trip will time-shrink to a few days for the pilot. So, the pilot has to sign on to leave his world behind and (if nothing goes wrong) return centuries later. It shouldn't be hard to see the problem with that. Also, unless this is a very, very long-lived species, the ones that spend an immense fortune to build and launch the spacecraft will not be there to see it return or receive reports...

And they can't do this just once. It will take thousands of expeditions to begin finding inhabited planets.

There is a possible way to avoid that: monitor radio waves and only launch when you have detected artificial emissions. Earth has been emitting radio and TV broadcasts at impressive power levels for less than a century. They will be extremely weak after traveling hundreds of light years, but who knows how sensitive the detectors might be. Maybe in a few more centuries, these broadcasts will be detected on other planets and spacecraft will be launched towards us, but it would be extremely unlikely that any other inhabited planet is close enough to have received these signals yet.

And that's assuming that when these aliens receive Green Acres, Mr. Ed, etc., they don't call it off on the grounds that there's no intelligent life here...
10.28.2007 9:54pm
Mark Bahner (www):
ask anyone who works with...and embryos as part of their research and they'll tell you that the older samples and strains are always in danger of being lost to what amounts to freezer burn


Ummm...no. That's not what "anyone" who works with embryos will say. That may be what some people who work with embryos will say, but others will say:

How long can embryos be stored?

No one knows what the maximum storage period might be. Procedures for human embryo freezing were developed in 1984 and only went into widespread use in the late 1980's. This means that the longest time a human embryo has been stored is 12-15 years, and typically, patients that have left embryos in storage for this long are not coming back for them. Some patients have come back after 10-12 years and the embryos have been thawed successfully. Beyond this time frame, we don't know how long an embryo will remain viable.


Maximum length of embryo storage is unknown

Further, embryos are currently stored at the temperature of liquid nitrogen...a relatively a balmy 77 K. I'm talking about storing the embryos or human bodies at the temperature of interstellar space.

The fundamental flaw in Bahner's assumptions about future progress has to do with a realm that is outside his purview as an engineer, namely biology.


No, the fundamental flaw in my discussion is that I have been humoring you hydrocarbon-centric folks that our interstellar flights would involve hydrocarbon beings at all. Humans will not be anywhere near the most intelligent species on our planet even by the year 2050. (Ray Kurzweil has estimated that a $1000 computer will have the thinking capability of the entire hydrocarbon human race by 2049.)

Further, humans are ridiculously fragile, being “ugly bags of mostly water.” To say that humans will be on the first interstellar flights in the latter half of the century is like saying that fighter jets will still be flown by human pilots 30 years from now.

Extrasolar planets won’t know us by our relatively dumb and fragile fragile hydrocarbon bodies, but by our much more intelligent and hardy inorganic descendants. That technology will definitely be implemented before the end of the century.
10.28.2007 10:42pm
Happyshooter:
Regardless, without warp drive, jumpgates, or hyperspace (all as fantastical as vorpal swords at this point), interstellar space travel just isn't practical.

I think someone has been reading John Ringo.
10.29.2007 10:35am
Marklar (mail):

Is there a market for haunted houses? Was the value of the house negatively effected by its reputation? I don't know the answers to those questions; however, it seems to me that there would be a certian type of person who may be attracted to this type of property and would pay a premium for the pleaseure so to speak. I can understand the reason for the lawsuit, I would not want to live in a haunted house either. But I am not so sure that in every case that the value is diminished.



I worked on a case where a state trial court found, and the appellate court confirmed, that a rural farmhous one of our partners bought had a reputation for being haunted.

To avoid getting caught up in the whole "Is it really haunted mess", the issue was framed in terms of being an "attractive nuisance." The house had a long running reputation for being haunted, and because of that, local high school kids were always showing up at all hours.

Because the partner had clearly explained to the seller his family's need for absolute peace and seclusion, and because the local police had an extensive file on trespass and vandalism, they were allowed to rescind the contract. Not without Their Honors getting in a few quips though.



We're talking millions and millions of sightings and people here, you would think ONE of them would have a cell phone camera handy when the ghost appeared. But no.....


From what I recollect in reading up on Randi's challenge, the problem with skeptics is that they keep moving the goalposts. So no amount of photographic, video, or eye-witness testimony is going to satisfy them.

In addition, the rules now require that you have to have an existing media profile in order to enter. The purpose is to weed out the tons of crazies apparently applying.

But that would explain why not every Joe Smith with a camera phone can collect the money.
10.29.2007 10:45am
Skipp:
I just wanted everyone to know that there is a leprechaun in my condo. There is a possibility his pot of gold is contained therein and that, as a result, you should pay me more than comparable non-leprechaun-infested units in the same development. The former owner was obviously not aware of this and hopefully will not not see this posting and bring an action against me for the sweet deal I made when I bought the place.
10.29.2007 12:21pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Humans will not be anywhere near the most intelligent species on our planet even by the year 2050. (Ray Kurzweil has estimated that a $1000 computer will have the thinking capability of the entire hydrocarbon human race by 2049.)

One problem. Computers don't think. No matter how fast the processors or how complex programs become, computers are still just glorified adding machines. No computer, let alone a $1000 one, has the "thinking capability" of the anenome in my fish tank. It is hardly going to have the thinking capability of entire human race in less than 50 years.
10.29.2007 12:47pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
One of my good friends related to me (and his mother confirmed) that a house they had lived in was evidently haunted. In his pre-K years, he related to his parents about seeing an old lady about the house, and about how she had smiled and waved as she walked through the door into the guest bedroom.

Either that or the house had a leaky furnace and your friend and his parents were suffering hallucinations caused by CO poisoning. I bet dollars to donuts that the ghost disappeared around the same time the subsequent owners replaced the furnace.
10.29.2007 12:50pm
David Drake:
If it were really "widely believed" that the house was haunted and that that was a bad thing, then the price paid by the purchaser would have been less than a comparable house sans ghosts. So except in the case that Marklar mentions--that is, fitness for a particular purpose coupled, I take it, with a demand to rescind--it would seem there would be no damage to the purchaser.
10.29.2007 1:59pm
Mark Bahner (www):

One problem. Computers don't think. No matter how fast the processors or how complex programs become, computers are still just glorified adding machines. No computer, let alone a $1000 one, has the "thinking capability" of the anenome in my fish tank. It is hardly going to have the thinking capability of entire human race in less than 50 years.


So you say. Ray Kurzweil says otherwise. (And the only difference between the two of you is that Ray Kurzweil is one of the world's foremost authorities on computer pattern recognition, artificial intelligence, and computer technology trends. Which doesn't mean he's right, but he's almost certainly spent much, much more time and effort on the question than you have.)

Give me a call when your anemone does an Internet search, ala Google. Or pilots an automobile across country ala the vehicles in the DARPA challenge.

P.S. This will be like a Model T versus a 2008 Lexus (the one with automatic parallel parking) in 20 years

Lexus automatic parking
10.29.2007 6:18pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Give me a call when your anemone does an Internet search, ala Google. Or pilots an automobile across country ala the vehicles in the DARPA challenge.

And give me a call when your computer can feed itself, defend itself from predators, find the optimum spot in the room to locate itself, or trick of all tricks, reproduce itself. As far as the DARPA challenge, you can send a ten year old on his bicycle (at least you could before parents got too damn paranoid) to the store to buy groceries. Find me a computer that can do that--without relying on GPS satellites--(and then come home and mow the lawn) and I might begin to believe that we are making progress in artificial intelligence.
10.29.2007 11:50pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Give me a call when your anemone does an Internet search, ala Google.

And of course your computer doesn't do the search at all, and has about as much use for the completed search as my anenome does.
10.29.2007 11:56pm
Hoosier:
I sometimes wonder if I am a ghost, and just don't know it. I dwell in this house, and walk around day and night thinking things are normal. But actually it's, like, 100 years later. And the family that lives here now sees me as a ghost.

If they do--I used to wonder--do I scare them? Because I'd hate to do that. Especially if there are kids. Or an elderly person with a heart condition.

But then I realized that they probably just find me annoying. So now I don't feel so bad.
10.30.2007 12:48am