Archive for October, 2009

Zero Point Driving

When I was studying environmental science, a course which encouraged innovative solutions to the global crisis, the elephant in the room when discussing renewable forms of energy – and I don’t think it was a white elephant – was the Zero Point Field.  This was a subject that made people uncomfortable, not helped by the fact that conspiracy theorists tended to come out of the woodwork and write histrionic articles in capital letters with hundreds of exclamation marks about government cover-ups.  (‘SECRET!!! UNDERCOVER ORGANISATIONS LED BY BRAIN-EATING ALIEN LIZARDS SEEK NEW WORLD ORDER(!!!) BY PUTTING DNA CHIPS IN ELECTRIC CARS!!! AND DENYING ACCESS TO FREE ENERGY!!!!!!!’)  My own, hopefully more steady, contention was that the ZPF had enormous potential, as already indicated in research conducted by reputable scientists.  The trouble was that I only had three weeks to write my essay and prepare a presentation, and the one easily available book on the subject was Lynne McTaggart’s ‘The Field’.  While this is an excellent book and contains plenty of references, leading to bona fide research, it is a popular science book, which doesn’t weigh well with academia as a rule.  I had already noticed detractors of the book on the web, abandoning their veneer of scientific non-bias and angrily attacking Ms McTaggart.  Not only conspiracy theorists became irrational around this subject, it appeared.

What is the Zero Point Field though?  In short, it is the space between atoms and other particles, also known as the vacuum state in quantum field theory, as it contains no physical particles.  What it does contain is energy.  The physicist Richard Feynman has been quoted as saying the energy in one cubic metre of this space could boil all the oceans of the world. Obviously as an energy source, particularly one that is non-polluting, the ZPF is extremely enticing.

With so little time to conduct my own research though, I started to focus not on the physics of the ZPF but on the implications of introducing such a technology to the world.  The assumption by promoters of a Zero Point Drive was that life would be infinitely better, with so much free energy available to everyone.  I wasn’t so sure.  Even looking at the terrifying security threat of having a machine which could level a mountain with a teaspoon of emptiness, I began to wonder if humanity really was ready for such a device.  The use of radioactive isotopes has already proven problematic in terms of security, and nuclear power would be minimal compared to the energy theoretically available from a ZPD.   I was starting to think that even if the hysterical conspiracy theorists were right and there was a cover-up regarding Field research, there were plenty of excellent reasons to hide all this from the public.  Sympathy for the Devil!

Although security was an obvious issue, there were further, more subtle issues that interested me more, such as the social and psychological effects of new technology.  Television is one kind of technology that has affected us in some adverse ways – encouraging obesity, for example, and discouraging community activity.  Later I was to do more research on this, but for my ZPD study I focused more on the impact of the car.  I don’t have my essay and sources to hand (if anyone is interested I’ll get them) but recall that the World Health Organisation rated automobile accidents to be among the top three causes of premature deaths in the next ten years.  Heathcote Williams in his long poem ‘Autogeddon’ refers to the global carnage caused by the car as ‘the Third World War nobody could be bothered to declare’.  There are other destructive influences known, such as the deadening of high streets in towns, where people once met and mingled, and the soul-destroying long hours faced by many commuters.  There is also what is called the cue reduction factor: drivers getting more and more angry because of the inability to communicate a wide range of emotions and thoughts when enclosed in their metal boxes.  (In this way, road rage has a similar source to online rage such as when someone invariably starts to get nasty when replying to a blog.  They feel safe to do so because of anonymity, and the reduction of cues fuels their rage.  It hasn’t happened here yet, because not enough people write comments!)

Anyway, to get to my point – admittedly very similar to what I was saying in an earlier blog – one of my conclusions was that we use stories to accommodate ourselves to new technological developments.  For example, Joseph Conrad chronicled the shift from sail to steam power.  Charles Dickens showed the impact of the industrial revolution on society.  But just keeping with the example of the car, what storytellers have actually been examining and reflecting its more subtle influences on us?  I came up with a few:  the book and Orson Welles film ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’, the Wim Wenders masterpiece ‘Paris, Texas’ and the odd ‘Crash’ by J.G. Ballard, also made into a film, were a few examples.

In television I could only think of ‘Veronica Mars’, the criminally neglected series that lasted only three seasons.  The companion book to the series, ‘Neptune Noir’, actually has an essay acknowledging the special emphasis on cars that VM displays, but doesn’t really go into all  the psychological depth and complexity on offer:  the inherent isolation, the measurement of affection through how many miles one drives to see a loved one, the tentative reaching for contact through a glass window, the illusion of status, and not to forget the sense of joy and freedom, no matter how illusory and fleeting.  It’s all there, and more, in ‘Veronica Mars’, and it’s great to see that some writers have really looked with fresh vision at what was going on around them and chosen to get back to us with what they discovered.

In ‘Omni’ we have gone for flying cars, simply because we think they’re inevitable in a technologically advanced society.  They will happen sometime.  The power source?  The Zero Point Drive of course.   What we haven’t worked out is how security isn’t a major issue, but we’ll get round to that eventually.  What we have focused on – and I have Veronica to thank for her support in this area – are the social and emotional implications of having flying cars.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep watching for the effects of the cars we have on the ground.

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