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Ancient Cities Grew and Developed Like Modern Cities

Ancient Cities Grew and Developed Like Modern Cities, New Study Suggests

In studying the construction of ancient cities, like the one Hernán Cortés conquered for Spain in 1521, a team of researchers found several similarities with the modern day.

According to Live Science
, Cortés wrote in a letter after taking the capital city that it resembled what he was used to in Spain. However, the Aztecs had no known European influence when they would have built their city.

The researchers’ work is published in the journal Science Advances.

“As the population of a community or settlement grows, the total production of that group grows even faster,” study lead author Scott Ortman, an assistant professor in CU-Boulder‘s Department of Anthropology, said in a press release. “Urban scaling theory makes the argument that the increase in productivity emerges from the increased rate of social interactions that occur. It’s cheaper for people to interact with each other because they are physically closer.”

The researchers examined sites of ancient cities, like Mexico‘s Mexico City before the nation’s population began expanding rapidly.

“Our results suggest that the general ingredients of productivity and population density in human societies run much deeper and have everything to do with the challenges and opportunities of organizing human social networks,” study co-author Luis Bettencourt, of the Santa Fe Institute, said in the release.

After estimating populations of ancient cities, the researchers determined that the cities more densely populated tended to be more productive.

“It was amazing and unbelievable,” Ortman said. “We’ve been raised on a steady diet telling us that, thanks to capitalism, industrialization, and democracy, the modern world is radically different from worlds of the past. What we found here is that the fundamental drivers of robust socioeconomic patterns in modern cities precede all that.”

Bigger Is Better For Cities, Just Like In Ancient Times

Urban Scaling: Bigger Is Better For Cities, Just Like In Ancient Times

Cities may not look like they once looked, but those of ancient times and today had a lot in common when it came to intangibles.Despite notable differences in appearance and governance, ancient human settlements function in much the same way as modern cities, according to new findings by researchers at the Santa Fe Institute and the University of Colorado Boulder. planning says that as modern cities grow in population, so do their efficiencies and productivity. A city’s population outpaces its development of urban infrastructure, for example, and its production of goods and services outpaces its population. What’s more, these patterns exhibit mathematical regularity and predictability, a phenomenon called “urban scaling.”

A new paper finds this may have been the case throughout the existence of big cities.
The underlying organizational ingredients of modern cities were present in ancient settlements in the Basin of Mexico. Credit: Gabriel Garcia for the

Santa Fe Institute Professor Luis Bettencourt gave a talk in 2013 on urban scaling theory, and Scott Ortman, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at University of Colorado Boulder noted that the trends Bettencourt described were not particular to modern times. Their discussion prompted a research project on the effects of city size through history.

To test their ideas, the team examined archaeological data from the Basin of Mexico (what is now Mexico City and nearby regions). In the 1960s — before ‘s population exploded — surveyors examined all its ancient settlements, spanning 2000 years and four cultural eras in pre-contact Mesoamerica.

Using this data, the research team analyzed the dimensions of hundreds of ancient temples and thousands of ancient houses to estimate populations and densities, size and construction rates of monuments and buildings, and intensity of site use. Their results indicate that the bigger the ancient settlement, the more productive it was.

“It was shocking and unbelievable,” says Ortman. “We were raised on a steady diet telling us that, thanks to capitalism, industrialization, and democracy, the modern world is radically different from worlds of the past. What we found here is that the fundamental drivers of robust socioeconomic patterns in modern cities precede all that.”

Bettencourt adds, “Our results suggest that the general ingredients of productivity and population density in human societies run much deeper and have everything to do with the challenges and opportunities of organizing human social networks.”

Though excited by the results, the researchers see the discovery as just one step in a long process. The team plans to examine settlement patterns from ancient sites in Peru, China, and Europe and study the factors that lead urban systems to emerge, grow, or collapse.

Published in Science Advances.

Ancient Settlements Grew Bigger And Denser Much Like Our Modern Cities

Ancient Settlements Grew Bigger And Denser Much Like Our Modern Cities

Modern cities with large populations and dense areas tend to be productive. Remarkably, these characteristics also appear to have been exhibited by ancient settlements. Findings of a new study revealed that ancient cities with bigger and denser settlements allowed their inhabitants to become more efficient.

For the study published in the journal PLOS ONE on Feb. 20, a group of researchers from the Santa Fe Institute and the University of Colorado Boulder sought to find out whether or not ancient settlements and the cities of today function in similar ways.

Scott Ortman from the Department of Anthropology at the University of and colleagues looked at the surveyed data of ancient settlements, houses and temples in the pre-Hispanic Basin of Mexico analyzing the dimensions of the structures to estimate household productivity, rates of the monuments’ construction, and also the ancient settlements’ populations and densities.

The results showed that ancient settlements that were more populous tended to be more productive. The researchers likewise found that the rate at which this productivity increased was the same as in present-day cities.

“It was amazing and unbelievable,” Ortman said. “We’ve been raised on a steady diet telling us that, thanks to capitalism, industrialization, and democracy, the modern world is radically different from worlds of the past. What we found here is that the fundamental drivers of robust socioeconomic patterns in modern cities precede all that.”

The researchers found that as the population in ancient cities grew, the rate at which they could produce monuments also increases. The same pattern was observed in private wealth. The surface areas of houses tend to become larger as the size of the settlement grew. Interestingly the distribution of house areas was comparable to the distribution of income currently observed in modern cities.

Ortman and colleagues said that the findings show that some of the most robust patterns observed in modern urban system were derived from processes that have long been part of human societies. They have found that the set of rules known as urban scaling that cities abide with as they grow do not just apply to modern cities but also to ancient ones.

“Our results suggest the fundamental processes behind the emergence of scaling in modern cities have structured human settlement organization throughout human history, and that contemporary urban systems are best-conceived as lying on a continuum with the smaller-scale settlement systems known from historical and archaeological research,” the researchers wrote

The Law of Life


OLD KOSKOOSH listened greedily. Though his sight had long since faded, his hearing was still acute, and the slightest sound penetrated to the glimmering intelligence which yet abode behind the withered forehead, but which no longer gazed forth upon the things of the world. Ah! that was Sit-cum-to-ha, shrilly anathematizing the dogs as she cuffed and beat them into the harnesses. Sit-cum-to-ha was his daughter’s daughter, but she was too busy to waste a thought upon her broken grandfather, sitting alone there in the snow, forlorn and helpless. Camp must be broken. The long trail waited while the short day refused to linger. Life called her, and the duties of life, not death. And he was very close to death now.

The thought made the old man panicky for the moment, and he stretched forth a palsied hand which wandered tremblingly over the small heap of dry wood beside him. Reassured that it was indeed there, his hand returned to the shelter of his mangy furs, and he again fell to listening. The sulky crackling of half-frozen hides told him that the chief’s moose-skin lodge had been struck, and even then was being rammed and jammed into portable compass. The chief was his son, stalwart and strong, head man of the tribesmen, and a mighty hunter. As the women toiled with the camp luggage, his voice rose, chiding them for their slowness. Old Koskoosh strained his ears. It was the last time he would hear that voice. There went Geehow’s lodge! And Tusken’s! Seven, eight, nine; only the shaman’s could be still standing. There! They were at work upon it now. He could hear the shaman grunt as he piled it on the sled. A child whimpered, and a woman soothed it with soft, crooning gutturals. Little Koo-tee, the old man thought, a fretful child, and not overstrong. It would die soon, perhaps, and they would burn a hole through the frozen tundra and pile rocks above to keep the wolverines away. Well, what did it matter? A few years at best, and as many an empty belly as a full one. And in the end, Death waited, ever-hungry and hungriest of them all.

What was that? Oh, the men lashing the sleds and drawing tight the thongs. He listened, who would listen no more. The whip-lashes snarled and bit among the dogs. Hear them whine! How they hated the work and the trail! They were off! Sled after sled churned slowly away into the silence. They were gone. They had passed out of his life, and he faced the last bitter hour alone. No. The snow crunched beneath a moccasin; a man stood beside him; upon his head a hand rested gently. His son was good to do this thing. He remembered other old men whose sons had not waited after the tribe. But his son had. He wandered away into the past, till the young man’s voice brought him back.

“Is it well with you?” he asked.

And the old man answered, “It is well.”

“There be wood beside you,” the younger man continued, “and the fire burns bright. The morning is gray, and the cold has broken. It will snow presently. Even now is it snowing.”

“My voice is become like an old woman’s.”

“Ay, even now is it snowing.”

“The tribesmen hurry. Their bales are heavy, and their bellies flat with lack of feasting. The trail is long and they travel fast. go now. It is well?”

“It is well. I am as a last year’s leaf, clinging lightly to the stem. The first breath that blows, and I fall. My voice is become like an old woman’s. My eyes no longer show me the way of my feet, and my feet are heavy, and I am tired. It is well.”

He bowed his head in content till the last noise of the complaining snow had died away, and he knew his son was beyond recall. Then his hand crept out in haste to the wood. It alone stood between him and the eternity that yawned in upon him. At last the measure of his life was a handful of fagots. One by one they would go to feed the fire, and just so, step by step, death would creep upon him. When the last stick had surrendered up its heat, the frost would begin to gather strength. First his feet would yield, then his hands; and the numbness would travel, slowly, from the extremities to the body. His head would fall forward upon his knees, and he would rest. It was easy. All men must die.

He did not complain. It was the way of life, and it was just. He had been born close to the earth, close to the earth had he lived, and the law thereof was not new to him. It was the law of all flesh. Nature was not kindly to the flesh. She had no concern for that concrete thing called the individual. Her interest lay in the species, the race. This was the deepest abstraction old Koskoosh’s barbaric mind was capable of, but he grasped it firmly. He saw it exemplified in all life. The rise of the sap, the bursting greenness of the willow bud, the fall of the yellow leaf — in this alone was told the whole history. But one task did Nature set the individual. Did he not perform it, he died. Did he perform it, it was all the same, he died. Nature did not care; there were plenty who were obedient, and it was only the obedience in this matter, not the obedient, which lived and lived always. The tribe of Koskoosh was very old. The old men he had known when a boy, had known old men before them. Therefore it was true that the tribe lived, that it stood for the obedience of all its members, way down into the forgotten past, whose very resting-places were unremembered. They did not count; they were episodes. They had passed away like clouds from a summer sky. He also was an episode, and would pass away. Nature did not care. To life she set one task, gave one law. To perpetuate was the task of life, its law was death. A maiden was a good creature to look upon, full-breasted and strong, with spring to her step and light in her eyes. But her task was yet before her. The light in her eyes brightened, her step quickened, she was now bold with the young men, now timid, and she gave them of her own unrest. And ever she grew fairer and yet fairer to look upon, till some hunter, able no longer to withhold himself, took her to his lodge to cook and toil for him and to become the mother of his children. And with the coming of her offspring her looks left her. Her limbs dragged and shuffled, her eyes dimmed and bleared, and only the little children found joy against the withered cheek of the old squaw by the fire. Her task was done. But a little while, on the first pinch of famine or the first long trail, and she would be left, even as he had been left, in the snow, with a little pile of wood. Such was the law. He placed a stick carefully upon the fire and resumed his meditations. It was the same everywhere, with all things. The mosquitoes vanished with the first frost. The little tree-squirrel crawled away to die. When age settled upon the rabbit it became slow and heavy, and could no longer outfoot its enemies. Even the big bald-face grew clumsy and blind and quarrelsome, in the end to be dragged down by a handful of yelping huskies. He remembered how he had abandoned his own father on an upper reach of the Klondike one winter, the winter before the missionary came with his talk-books and his box of medicines. Many a time had Koskoosh smacked his lips over the recollection of that box, though now his mouth refused to moisten. The “painkiller” had been especially good. But the missionary was a bother after all, for he brought no meat into the camp, and he ate heartily, and the hunters grumbled. But he chilled his lungs on the divide by the Mayo, and the dogs afterwards nosed the stones away and fought over his bones.

“through the long darkness the children wailed and died.”

Koskoosh placed another stick on the fire and harked back deeper into the past. There was the time of the Great Famine, when the old men crouched empty-bellied to the fire, and let fall from their lips dim traditions of the ancient day when the Yukon ran wide open for three winters, and then lay frozen for three summers. He had lost his mother in that famine. In the summer the salmon run had failed, and the tribe looked forward to the winter and the coming of the caribou. Then the winter came, but with it there were no caribou. Never had the like been known, not even in the lives of the old men. But the caribou did not come, and it was the seventh year, and the rabbits had not replenished, and the dogs were naught but bundles of bones. And through the long darkness the children wailed and died, and the women, and the old men; and not one in ten of the tribe lived to meet the sun when it came back in the spring. That was a famine!

But he had seen times of plenty, too, when the meat spoiled on their hands, and the dogs were fat and worthless with overeating — times when they let the game go unkilled, and the women were fertile, and the lodges were cluttered with sprawling men-children and women-children. Then it was the men became high-stomached, and revived ancient quarrels, and crossed the divides to the south to kill the Pellys, and to the west that they might sit by the dead fires of the Tananas. He remembered, when a boy, during a time of plenty, when he saw a moose pulled down by the wolves. Zing-ha lay with him in the snow and watched –Zing-ha, who later became the craftiest of hunters, and who, in the end, fell through an air-hole on the Yukon. They found him, a month afterward, just as he had crawled halfway out and frozen stiff to the ice.

But the moose. Zing-ha and he had gone out that day to play at hunting after the manner of their fathers. On the bed of the creek they struck the fresh track of a moose, and with it the tracks of many wolves. “An old one,” Zing-ha, who was quicker at reading the sign, said — “an old one who cannot keep up with the herd. The wolves have cut him out from his brothers, and they will never leave him.” And it was so. It was their way. By day and by night, never resting, snarling on his heels, snapping at his nose, they would stay by him to the end. How Zing-ha and he felt the blood-lust quicken! The finish would be a sight to see!

Eager-footed, they took the trail, and even he, Koskoosh, slow of sight and an unversed tracker, could have followed it blind, it was so wide. Hot were they on the heels of the chase, reading the grim tragedy, fresh-written, at every step. Now they came to where the moose had made a stand. Thrice the length of a grown man’s body, in every direction, had the snow been stamped about and uptossed. In the midst were the deep impressions of the splay-hoofed game, and all about, everywhere, were the lighter footmarks of the wolves. Some, while their brothers harried the kill, had lain to one side and rested. The full-stretched impress of their bodies in the snow was as perfect as though made the moment before. One wolf had been caught in a wild lunge of the maddened victim and trampled to death. A few bones, well picked, bore witness.

Again, they ceased the uplift of their snowshoes at a second stand. Here the great animal had fought desperately. Twice had he been dragged down, as the snow attested, and twice had he shaken his assailants clear and gained footing once more. He had done his task long since, but none the less was life dear to him. Zing-ha said it was a strange thing, a moose once down to get free again; but this one certainly had. The shaman would see signs and wonders in this when they told him.

And yet again, they come to where the moose had made to mount the bank and gain the timber. But his foes had laid on from behind, till he reared and fell back upon them, crushing two deep into the snow. It was plain the kill was at hand, for their brothers had left them untouched. Two more stands were hurried past, brief in time-length and very close together. The trail was red now, and the clean stride of the great beast had grown short and slovenly. Then they heard the first sounds of the battle — not the full-throated chorus of the chase, but the short, snappy bark which spoke of close quarters and teeth to flesh. Crawling up the wind, Zing-ha bellied it through the snow, and with him crept he, Koskoosh, who was to be chief of the tribesmen in the years to come. Together they shoved aside the under branches of a young spruce and peered forth. It was the end they saw.

The picture, like all of youth’s impressions, was still strong with him, and his dim eyes watched the end played out as vividly as in that far-off time. Koskoosh marvelled at this, for in the days which followed, when he was a leader of men and a head of councillors, he had done great deeds and made his name a curse in the mouths of the Pellys, to say naught of the strange white man he had killed, knife to knife, in open fight.

For long he pondered on the days of his youth, till the fire died down and the frost bit deeper. He replenished it with two sticks this time, and gauged his grip on life by what remained. If Sit-cum-to-ha had only remembered her grandfather, and gathered a larger armful, his hours would have been longer. It would have been easy. But she was ever a careless child, and honored not her ancestors from the time the Beaver, son of the son of Zing-ha, first cast eyes upon her. Well, what mattered it? Had he not done likewise in his own quick youth? For a while he listened to the silence. Perhaps the heart of his son might soften, and he would come back with the dogs to take his old father on with the tribe to where the caribou ran thick and the fat hung heavy upon them.

He strained his ears, his restless brain for the moment stilled. Not a stir, nothing. He alone took breath in the midst of the great silence. It was very lonely. Hark! What was that? A chill passed over his body. The familiar, long-drawn howl broke the void, and it was close at hand. Then on his darkened eyes was projected the vision of the moose — the old bull moose — the torn flanks and bloody sides, the riddled mane, and the great branching horns, down low and tossing to the last. He saw the flashing forms of gray, the gleaming eyes, the lolling tongues, the slavered fangs. And he saw the inexorable circle close in till it became a dark point in the midst of the stamped snow.

A cold muzzle thrust against his cheek, and at its touch his soul leaped back to the present. His hand shot into the fire and dragged out a burning faggot. Overcome for the nonce by his hereditary fear of man, the brute retreated, raising a prolonged call to his brothers; and greedily they answered, till a ring of crouching, jaw-slobbered gray was stretched round about. The old man listened to the drawing in of this circle. He waved his brand wildly, and sniffs turned to snarls; but the panting brutes refused to scatter. Now one wormed his chest forward, dragging his haunches after, now a second, now a third; but never a one drew back. Why should he cling to life? he asked, and dropped the blazing stick into the snow. It sizzled and went out. The circle grunted uneasily, but held its own. Again he saw the last stand of the old bull moose, and Koskoosh dropped his head wearily upon his knees. What did it matter after all? Was it not the law of life?

Thousands Of People Are Willing To Die On Mars



Editor’s note: Mars One recently narrowed its pool of candidates to 100 people–many of whom we featured in the November 2014 issue (part of which exists here). We’ve reposted this story for your convenience.


Early on a Saturday morning, about 60 planetary malcontents gathered in a narrow auditorium on the campus of George Washington University. They’d come to hear about a plan to build a self-sustaining colony in space, and they hoped to be among its first settlers, leaving the rest of us to live and die on .

“How many of you would like to take a one-way mission to Mars?” asked the balding engineer on stage. His face was a peachy monochrome, with sharp, craggy features set like a mini moonscape, and he had slightly pointed ears. On his lapel, a sticker read: “GREETINGS! MY NAME IS: Bas.”

When nearly everybody raised their hands, Bas Lansdorp’s lips curled into a grin. These were his constituents, the folks who had pledged to serve as guinea pigs for a bold and strange experiment. Just the day before, he had been on CBS This Morning, patiently explaining his idea. “I just want to make sure I understand that correctly,” the dumbfounded host had said. “If you go on this mission, you are going and not coming back.” But here at the first-ever Million Martian Meeting, in August 2013, Lansdorp saw only believers. “Wow, this is a really easy crowd!” he beamed.

Most of the armchair aliens shared a demographic, the young-man Marsophile: guys with tattoos across their necks and arms, goatees and mustaches, variations on the Weird Al look. But there were also older women in the room, and kids too young to drive. What brought them together was an abiding belief in Lansdorp’s central message, that humans should be expanding onto other planets, and they should do so now. A few years ago, President Obama announced that the U.S. would put astronauts in orbit around Mars by the mid-2030s, but budget cuts and sequestration have slowed the project down, if not killed it outright. Even if NASA gets the mission back on track, the agency has said it will only send humans to Mars if it can also bring them back—a maddening bit of bureaucratic circumspection for the crowd assembled in Washington, D.C. “The technology to get you back from Mars simply doesn’t exist,” Lansdorp said, stirring up his audience, and it may not exist even 20 years from now. “We need to do this with the stuff that we have today, and the only way we can do that is by going there to stay.”

“The technology to get you back from Mars simply doesn’t exist. We need to do this with the stuff that we have today, and the only way we can do that is by going there to stay.”

Until three years ago, Lansdorp had little to do with Mars. Trained as a mechanical engineer, he co-owned a wind-energy startup that aims to generate power using tethered gliders. But in 2011, the Dutch entrepreneur sold some of his stake in the business and started working on a grand idea: If governments are too stingy for a trip to Mars, or too risk-averse, then private business should take over. “I realized that if it’s going to happen, I’d have to do it myself,” he said to the crowd. Along with his Mars One co-founder, Arno Wielders, Lansdorp devised a plan to fund the trip primarily by selling it as entertainment. In studying the Olympics, Lansdorp found that the broadcast rights yield upward of a billion dollars. A reality television show about the first extraplanetary town in history, he figures, could be worth much more—at least the $6 or 7 billion necessary to build and launch the payloads.

The show would need a cast, of course, and that’s where the meeting’s would-be Martians sought to do their part. Since April 2013, Lansdorp’s team has been screening résumés sent in from around the world by anyone who cares to pay a modest application fee (the amount varied by country). The first phase of this stunt ended last December, when they narrowed down the pool to 1,058. These hopefuls will be interviewed and the group further whittled down this year. In the end, just four will be selected for the first mission—two men and two women, each from a different continent on Earth. Their trip to Mars is scheduled to land in 2025.

The people in the auditorium knew they faced long odds of being chosen, and that even if they were selected, the project might not make it off the ground. Still, Mars One has given hope to hordes of folks who have so far harbored their peculiar dreams in private. During the casting process, some 200,000 people checked in at the Mars One website, and a related interest group on Facebook accumulated 10,000 members. One tattooed young man in D.C. wore a T-shirt with a message that summed up the spirit of those assembled: “Bas is sending me to Mars,” it said across the front; on the back it read, “Thanks, Bas, you’re a good dude.”

For someone who doesn’t share the dream—an Earth-bound journalist, perhaps—that spirit seems quixotic at best and suicidal at worst. If Lansdorp sends four people to their living ends on a harsh and empty world, what will have been the point? Is Bas a good dude, or a dangerous megalomaniac? Lansdorp has a ready answer for any doubters: “People can’t imagine that there are people who would like to do this,” he said, as he wrapped up his presentation. “They say we’re going to Mars to die. But of course we’re not going to Mars to die. We’re going to Mars to live.”


In January, NASA scientists announced they’d found a jelly doughnut on Mars. Or at least, a rock that looked a little like a pastry, with white around its edges and a strawberry-colored center. That such a find should have been the subject of global news reports says less about its own significance—it was just a rock, after all—than it does about the barren world on which it settled.

It’s been 10 years since Spirit and Opportunity, the twin rovers, landed on the Red Planet. In that time they’ve rolled around for almost 30 miles, taking stock of a terrain that reaches out in all directions as a pock-marked plain of dusty, murky brown. They’ve weathered temperatures that range from 70° in the summertime to -225° in Martian winter, frequent and ferocious dust storms, an unbreathable atmosphere consisting mainly of carbon dioxide, and enough radiation from cosmic rays and solar flares to riddle a person’s DNA with cancerous mutations. Who would choose to spend a life in such a nasty, brutish place?

At the conference lunch, I put this question to a young man named Max Fagin. Forget your likely death on the mission, I said. Pretend that there will be no computer glitch or landing failure, and that your ship won’t end up inside a giant fireball. Imagine that you won’t get sick or break a limb and have no doctor to help you. Let’s say that technically it all goes right. What, then, about the stuff that you’ll have left behind forever? What about the feel of falling snow, the gentle breeze, or swimming on a scorching day?

“I would feel incredibly sad about missing all those things,” said Fagin, a master’s student in aerospace engineering at Purdue University. “But the whole point of going to Mars is that you’d have better substitutes. Any human being can visit the ocean. Anyone can visit the forest. These are beautiful things, but they are commonplace. I will get the chance to experience a sunrise on Mars. I will get the chance to stand at the foot of Olympus Mons, one of the tallest mountains in the solar system. I will get the chance to see two moons in the sky. I just can’t imagine being nostalgic for a life that 6 or 7 billion people are experiencing right now.”

“Any human being can visit the ocean. Anyone can visit the forest. These are beautiful things, but they are commonplace. I will get the chance to experience a sunrise on Mars. I will get the chance to stand at the foot of Olympus Mons.”

There were a few more Martians at the table with us; we were eating sandwiches and sushi, foods an astronaut could only dream of. I asked Fagin, Won’t the novelty wear thin? What happens when you’ve seen that sun rise and set a hundred times, and when you’ve walked around Olympus Mons? What happens when you’re in your cramped habitat with nothing much to do except the grim work of staving off an early death? And what about the food? I jabbed my chopstick at a Whole Foods tuna maki. What happens when you’re forced to live on undressed mini lettuce from your agri-pod?

Fagin waited for me to finish my speech, his face a quiet picture of condescension. “You’re seeing things from a narrow point of view,” he said. “It only seems weird to you because of when and where you live. I mean, would you ask an Inuit how he can stand the boredom of all the snow and rock?”

I stuttered for a second and fell silent. Why indeed should I take my pampered life on Earth as a baseline? Maybe life on Mars wouldn’t be so different from the lives that humans led for thousands of generations. Later on I’ll find rebuttals to his argument: The Arctic teems with wild animals and plants, hardly like the lifeless wasteland one would find on Mars. And, as it happens, the Inuit do suffer dire rates of suicide and depression. But I’m sure these facts wouldn’t matter much to Fagin. In 2010, he spent two weeks crammed into a tiny research station in the empty Utah desert, where students tried to simulate a stay on Mars and put on space suits every time they went out for a walk. “I didn’t have as much time there as I wanted,” he told me.

But what about your family? I sounded desperate now, as if I needed to make him see that Mars One would only lead to misery and death. Yet Max Fagin would not be swayed. The colonists will be more in touch with home than soldiers were in Vietnam, he said, and certainly more so than the migrants who came to America before the first transatlantic cable. The first settlers on Mars will trade video-mail with their families. “My parents have been comfortable with the notion for quite a while now,” Fagin said. “They know that they’re going to lose me eventually, because the planet is going to lose me.”


Late in the afternoon, once the presentations had wrapped up and the Martians were gathering for a postconference trip to the National Air and Space Museum, I found Lansdorp near the stage. He had just finished an interview and the camera crew was packing up. He seemed wearied by his publicity tour; his grins appeared forced when replying to questions that he had been asked again and again since the project was announced. “Saving humanity is not anywhere on my list of reasons to do this,” he told a small ring of reporters. “I started this because I wanted to go myself.”

Though he calls himself a lifelong Mars enthusiast, Lansdorp didn’t have the expertise to plan the mission alone. As a graduate student at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, he designed systems for a hypothetical space station, and that’s how he connected with Wielders, a payload study manager at the European Space Agency. “He knows about space, and I don’t,” Lansdorp said. Wielders told him that a one-way mission would be feasible, if they could raise a lot of money. That’s when the pair devised their plan to sell the broadcast rights and show the journey on TV.

Their concept has some flaws. Big-event programs make a lot of money, but they’re often brief and action-packed. (Lansdorp’s model, the Olympics, is a good example.) Mars One wants to run a show for decades, with most of the airtime in the next 10 years dedicated to the arduous process of crew training. What happens if networks aren’t interested in a multiyear commitment? What if no one likes the show? Or what if everything is going well, and then the colonists decide they want some privacy, and turn off the cameras?

“Saving humanity is not anywhere on my list of reasons to do this. I started this because I wanted to go myself.”

To work out the details, Lansdorp recruited the help of one of the biggest names in European reality TV: Paul Römer, the co-creator of the Netherlands’Big Brother. He emailed the producer blind, and heard back right away. (“What are the odds?” Lansdorp says. “You contact some media expert and he turns out to be a science-fiction fan!”) In June, Mars One signed a contract with Darlow Smithson Productions, a subsidiary to a company where Römer once served as chief creative officer. The show will document the candidate-selection process and could potentially air in early 2015.

As for the space technology, Mars One says nothing will be built in-house; Lansdorp wants to purchase all equipment off the shelf or develop it with private vendors. He expects to use an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 rocketproduced by SpaceX, and a landing capsule from SpaceX or Lockheed Martin. He’ll need a pair of rovers, too, not built for science like the NASA bots, but for moving Martian soil and laying sheets of thin-film solar panels, in preparation for the settlers’ arrival.

The Mars One timeline is ambitious—perhaps too ambitious. It’s not clear that Lansdorp’s contractors will be able to tweak their technologies (for rovers, life-support units, space suits, and so on) to fit the needs of the mission at the necessary pace. And given the expense of recent, much more modest missions to the Red Planet—Mars Science Laboratory, which involved landing only the Curiosity rover, cost $2.5 billion—Lansdorp’s projected price tag seems rather low. While Mars One won’t say how much money it has in the bank, the company does not appear to have raised more than a tiny fraction of what it needs. “At this moment, the weakest link is really the fund-raising,” Lansdorp said at the meeting. “If we had the $6 billion in the bank right now, I’m very convinced that we could pull this off. But to convince the people who have to give the money upfront to finance the hardware—that’s our biggest challenge.”

Even the attendees in D.C. had some doubts about Mars One. “We know this could fail. We know it’s a long shot,” one told me. But that’s not really the point. Lansdorp has shown that their path to Mars need not be blocked by budget-cutting bureaucrats. They don’t need to wait for guys like Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, or Dennis Tito, the millionaire who plans to mount a Mars flyby in 2021. Earlier this year, more than 8,000 people pledged $300,000 to Mars One on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. A few years ago, all these dreamers would have been alone in their frustration. Now they’re meeting up online and organizing conferences. The Martians have a movement, and it’s growing.


When I describe Mars One to friends, many seem to take it personally; they call the Martians lunatics or worse. They’re not unusual. On the Aspiring Martians Facebook group, knee-jerk hostility has been the subject of many long discussions. As one user wrote in January, “I’m sure I’m not the first one to have noticed that anywhere anything Mars One–related is posted, we’re told (in the comments) that we are crazy, wannabes, psychologically deviant, on a suicide mission, in for a rude awakening, the mission is a hoax, technology needed doesn’t exist, and, in some cases, that we deserve to die for participating.”

Lansdorp sees this too. There are some people who want to go to Mars, he said during the conference, and lots who don’t. “These people will never really understand each other.” But a simple lack of understanding does not explain the anger that emerges when the Martians share their dream in public. It’s not just that their trip seems difficult or crazy. It’s that they seem to be running from Earth. What’s wrong with our planet?, we want to ask. Life here isn’t good enough for you? Or perhaps it’s something personal: I’m not good enough for you?

“It has nothing to do with anything rational,” Lansdorp told me, when explaining why anyone would want to go to Mars. “It’s almost the same as love. You want it for some reason you cannot really explain, and sometimes one love is more powerful than other loves that you have.” Lansdorp began his project because he wanted to go to Mars himself, but now that he and his girlfriend are expecting a child, he says he has given up the idea of going first. He doesn’t want to miss seeing his child grow up. “But I do understand there are people who would do that,” he said.

The desire to go to Mars is “almost the same as love. You want it for some reason you cannot really explain.”

I wouldn’t leave my girlfriend, either. When I look into the sky, I feel only wonder—a movement of the mind, not of the heart. But as we spoke, I thought back to a Q&A I’d once attended with the astronaut Michael J. Massimino. Someone asked him what it’s like to take a spacewalk and see the Earth from far away. He said it was the most amazing sight he’d ever seen, but that it also made him deeply sad. Why? Because he knew that he’d never have the chance to share the vision with the people he loved the most.

In that light, a one-way trip to Mars made a peculiar sort of sense. An astronaut doesn’t abandon his family, and choose another, greater love to take its place. Instead he ventures into outer space on their behalf, on behalf of everyone he leaves behind, no matter the physical or emotional cost. The would-be Martians talk of sleeping under double-moon-lit skies, but they also know that they’ll be as alone as any human beings in the history of time. And that’s precisely why their journey matters, for us as well as them: They’ll live on Mars, so the rest of us don’t have to.

Just before I left the conference, I met another Martian, Leila Zucker. She’s a physician in her 40s, happily married, yet inclined to set it all aside. “I can work to make things better on Earth while I’m here,” she told me, “but I could work to make things better on Earth while I’m on Mars. The idea that I’m running away or something . . . no, I’m not. People who think that are small-minded and scared. The whole idea is to expand the human race.”

Earlier she’d spoken on a panel, taking questions from the crowd. “None of us are planning to die, but all of us recognize that we could,” she said at one point. “You don’t get my life for nothing, but I will give it up because this is my dream.” Then, as the session drew to a close, she abruptly began to sing: “I wanted to go to the Red Planet Mars/but I didn’t get picked by Bas/I wanted to go to the Red Planet Mars/now I gaze longingly at the stars/But I don’t care I wasn’t picked for space/I’m cheering for the future of the human race/Someday we’ll all go to the Red Planet Mars/’Cause Mars One leads the way to the stars!”

When she sang the last two lines a second time, all the other Martians joined in.

This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Popular Science under the title “Bas Lansdorp Has A Posse.”

what age are children ready for school?

When are children “ready” for school? There is much debate about when the transition between play-based pre-school and the start of “formal” schooling should begin. The trend in the UK primary school curriculum over recent decades has been towards an earlier start to formal instruction, and an erosion of learning through play.

But the evidence from international comparisons and psychological research of young children’s development all points to the advantages of a later start to formal instruction, particularly in relation to literacy.

Among the earliest in Europe

Children in England are admitted into reception classes in primary schools at age four; in many cases, if their birthdays are in the summer months, when they have only just turned four. This is in stark contrast to the vast majority of other European countries, many of which currently enjoy higher levels of educational achievement. In Europe, the most common school starting age is six, and even seven in some cases such as Finland.

From the moment children in England enter the reception class, the pressure is on for them to learn to read, write and do formal written maths. In many schools, children are identified as “behind” with reading before they would even have started school in many other countries. Now the government is introducing tests for four-year-olds soon after starting school.

There is no research evidence to support claims from government that “earlier is better”. By contrast, a considerable body of evidence clearly indicates the crucial importance of play in young children’s development, the value of an extended period of playful learning before the start of formal schooling, and the damaging consequences of starting the formal learning of literacy and numeracy too young.

Importance of play

A range of anthropological studies of children’s play in hunter-gatherer societies and other evolutionary psychology studiesof play in the young of mammals have identified play as an adaptation which evolved in early human social groups, enabling humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers.

Some neuroscientists’ research has supported this view of play as a central mechanism in learning. One book by Sergio and Vivien Pellis reviewed many other studies to show that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human, higher mental functions.

A range of experimental psychology studies, including my own work, have consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful as opposed to instructional approaches to learning in children.

There are two crucial processes which underpin this relationship. First, playful activity has been shown to support children’s early development of representational skills, which is fundamental to language use. One 2006 study by US academics James Christie and Kathleen Roskos, reviewed evidence that a playful approach to language learning offers the most powerful support for the early development of phonological and literacy skills.

Second, through all kinds of physical, social and constructional play, such as building with blocks or making models with household junk, children develop their skills of intellectual and emotional “self-regulation”. This helps them develop awareness of their own mental processes – skills that have been clearly demonstrated to be the key predictors of educational achievement and a range of other positive life outcomes.

Longer-term impacts

Within educational research, a number of longitudinal studies have provided evidence of long-term outcomes of play-based learning. A 2002 US study by Rebecca Marcon, for example, demonstrated that by the end of their sixth year in school, children whose pre-school model had been academically-directed achieved significantly lower marks in comparison to children who had attended child-initiated, play-based pre-school programmes.

A number of other studies have specifically addressed the issue of the length of pre-school play-based experience and the age at which children begin to be formally taught the skills of literacy and numeracy. In a 2004 longitudinal study of 3,000 childrenfunded by the department of education itself, Oxford’s Kathy Sylva and colleagues showed that an extended period of high-quality, play-based pre-school education made a significant difference to academic learning and well-being through the years. They found a particular advantage for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Studies in New Zealand comparing children who began formal literacy instruction at age five or age seven have shown that by the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups. But the children who started at five developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.

This evidence, directly addressing the consequences of the introduction of early formal schooling, combined with the evidence on the positive impact of extended playful experiences, raises important questions about the current direction of travel of early childhood education policy in England.

There is an equally substantial body of evidence concerning the worrying increase in stress and mental health problems among children in England and other countries where early childhood education is being increasingly formalised. It suggests there are strong links between these problems and a loss of playful experiences and increased achievement pressures. In the interests of children’s educational achievements and their emotional well-being, the UK government should take this evidence seriously.

Two-year-olds should be playing, not in school

Two-year-olds should be playing, not in school


In order to make young children “school ready”, the English government is now encouragingparents to place their children in school nurseries shortly after their second birthday. But there is evidence to suggest that this policy might be poorly aligned to the developmental needs of such young children and that it contravenes their underlying human nature.

In the broader history of humanity, state-funded schooling is a very recent public strategy and is only about two centuries old in England. It arose from the industrial revolution as a process to instill the population with basic literacy and numeracy skills. Until even more recently, there was never any suggestion that a school environment was the right place in which to nurture children under five years of age.

So let’s take a step back and consider whether our hunter-gatherer heritage has really attuned infants towards such an environment during this very early stage of their development. Human beings are, at base, linguistic primates, born with brains that are highly “plastic”, which subsequently undergo a huge amount of development in interaction with the environment and, most importantly, other people.

Start up the jazz

The core human skills are rooted in communication. This requires a child to learn how to independently translate highly abstract thoughts into a complex combination of symbols which coalesce in spoken language. The psychologist Suzanne Zeedyk proposes that what happens between infants and carers in one-to-one interactions is a type of improvised symbolic “dance”, which she refers to as a “jazz duet”.

To be truly what psychologists call “intersubjective” — able to communicate our meanings to other people and to grasp their meanings in return — such interactions must be completely spontaneous. Each party — the child and the carer — must freely respond to the communications of the other. To give an analogy, as every jazz musician knows, in order to “jam”, you have to learn how to tune into the rhythms of others.

The way in which human beings naturally “boot” this system in early childhood is through spontaneous, play-based interaction

The way in which human beings naturally “boot” this system in early childhood is through spontaneous, play-based interaction with both peers and adults. From simple beginnings, the infant then becomes increasingly adept at effectively responding to the communications of others. The process of environmentally “booting” such an evolved system is not peculiar to human beings — it is also observed in other animals. For example, researchers have found that in young rats, free play activity builds neuronal connections in the amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the brain, which deal with emotion regulation and social skills.

Results factories

If modern zoos rightly go to great lengths to create environments that are as natural as possible for the animals they house, why do we care so little about extending this care and consideration to our own species? Politicians in would appear to be focused on a futile mission to eradicate millions of years of evolution in order to subjugate to the demands of international capitalist markets.

At the genesis of this process, which resulted in the imposition of a national curriculum for schools steeped in concepts of “employability”, Margaret Thatcher bluntly stated that: “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.” The steady march of this philosophy is now poised at the threshold of the nursery, with the coalition’s recent requirement for a progress report on two-year-olds, and New Labour’s previous imposition of a formal assessment for five-year-olds.

For the past 35 years, successive governments have doggedly pursued the mission of “education as production of economic capital” through a state education system that has been increasingly monitored and directed by the government watchdog Ofsted, with its focus on data generated from standard assessments such as GCSEs. While each successive government argues that it has raised achievement, this is a spurious premise.

What they have in fact done is drive teachers into programming children towards specific test responses, in order to artificially raise achievement data. The current government now wishes to extend this process into the very earliest stages of childhood.

At the same time, 

other nations have made far greater recent gains in literacy performance in the mid-teenage years.

other nations have made far greater recent gains in literacy performance in the mid-teenage years. The 2009 results for the ‘s program for international student assessments found that China, Korea and Finland were the best performing nations in terms of literacy. There are vast cultural differences between these nations, but they do have one feature in common — a school entry age of seven. The nations directly below them, but above the UK, have a school entry age of six.

Kids in a cage?

Internationally renowned psychologist Alison Gopnik’s research shows that direct teaching at an early stage in a child’s development:

Leads children to narrow in, and to consider just the specific information a teacher provides. Without a teacher present, children look for a much wider range of information and consider a greater range of options.

Schooling infants is therefore commensurate with placing a young animal in a cage. Human beings evolved in a niche in which the requirement to learn how to engage in complex spontaneous interaction is paramount. Taking short cuts in early childhood in pursuit of processing human beings into units of human capital as quickly as possible risks the production of “damaged goods”.

The question for the English government should not be how to find funds to build more schools and put more teachers into more classrooms to deal with an increasing number of ever-younger pupils. Instead, it should be about supporting families and local communities to care for and educate young children within environments that are most appropriate to their biologically evolved needs.

Medeniyet Ötesi. Ezel zaman once

Medeniyet Ötesi

Evsizler ve genç topluluk, bu kitapdaki bahsedilenler medeniyet ötesine sürükleniyorlar. Evsiz insanlar, istem dışı bi manada bu sürece müdahiller fakat; genç toplum, dünya tüketilirken sadece gübre ile besin edinmekten daha fazla mana arayan kimseler gibi, bilinçsiz bi şekilde bunu arzu ediyor, bu kitap hem onlara hem umutların hatrina yazılmıştır.

Soruna odak

Bunu, doğal olarak, dedemden duydum, ve o kendi dedesinden, ve o da kendi dedesinden, yüzlerce seneye denk. Demektir ki; bu çok kadim bi hikayedir. Fakat yok olmayacak. Çünkü ben kendi çocuklarıma sunacağım, ve onlarda kendi çocuklarına.
Çingene Masalcı, Lazaros Harisiadis. Diana Tong’un Çingene Folkor Masalları’ndan alıntı.

Başlangıç masal

Ezel zaman önce bir gezegende hayat evire girmiş. Bu evrimde, bir çok farklı soysal düzenler ortaya getirmiş; sürüler, örgütler, topluluklar vb. bu düzenlerin arasında, düzenbozan bi zekaya sahip bi varlıkta kabile diye adlanan farklı bi sosyal düzenkurmuş. Kabilelik bir çok milyon sene boyunca çok başarılı bi şekilde devam etmiş, ta ki kabileci olmaksızın, hiyerarşik yapıya sahip olan, medeniyet diye yeni bi sosyal düzenle deneyimler yapmaya başlayana kadar. Çok uzun süre asılmadan, yapının üst kademesi çok lük bir hayatta yaşıyorlardı, mükkemmel keyfi bir yaşam içindelerdi. Onların bi altında, yine de sayıhi gayet geniş olan mensuplarda, şikayet ettirecek pek konu olmaksızın, çok mutlu ve değerli bir yaşam sürdüyordu. Fakat bunların altında kalan ve en geniş kitle, bu hiyerarşiyi hiç benimsiyememişdir. Sırf hayatta kalabilmek için, etraflarındaki çeteleşmiş hayvanların hayatlarına dönmüştür.

ya bu iş bize yaramadı demister en büyük, alt kitle.Kabile olayı çok daha iyidir, ona geri dönelim diye devam etmişlerdi, fakat hiyerarşinin reisi, demiştir ki;

‘O ilkel hayatı geride bıraktırk artık ve öyle bir hayata geri dönüş yapamayız.’

‘O zaman geri gidemeyeceksek ilerliyelim, başka bi düzen bulalım farklı bişey’ demiştir alt kitle.

“Öyle bişey yapılamaz” demiştir Reis. “Bundan başka hiçbir düzen mümkün değildir artık. Medeniyetin ötesi yoktur ki ilerliyelim. Medeniye tabii ve sonsuzdur. Ötesi diye bişey yoktur”

“Ama hiç bir icat ötesizdir. Buharlı motor benzinle geliştirilmiştir. Radio ise televizyon ile. Hesap makineleri bilgisayarlarla. Medeniyet bunlardan nasıl farklıdır ki??” diye sormuşlar

“bilmiyorum” demiştir Reis. “Öyle işte.”

Ne o altdaki geniş mazlum kitle buna inamistir,

ne de ben.

Hunter-Gatherer vs. Farmer hypothesis – The Prize (Part 2)

The hunter vs. farmer hypothesis states that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and its counterpart in adults, the adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, have their origins in a tendency in those individuals for behaviors characteristic of hunter-gatherer societies over those of farming societies. The hypothesis was proposed by Thom Hartmann and suggest that these conditions may be a result of a form of adaptive behavior.

Hartmann developed the Hunter-Gatherer vs. farmer idea as a mental model after his own son was disheartened following a diagnosis of ADHD, stating, “It’s not hard science, and was never intended to be.” However, more recent molecular and clinical research has given support to the hunter vs. farmer hypothesis, and some researchers use the hunter vs. farmer idea as a working hypothesis of the origin of ADHD.

Hartmann notes that most or all humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, but that this standard gradually changed as agriculture developed in most societies, and more people worldwide became farmers. Over many years, most humans adapted to farming cultures, but Hartmann speculates that people with ADHD retained some of the older hunter characteristics.

A key component of the hypothesis is that the proposed “hyperfocus” aspect of ADHD is a gift or benefit under appropriate circumstances. The hypothesis also explains the distractibility factor in ADHD individuals and their short attention span for subject matter that does not trigger hyperfocus, along with various other characteristics such as apathy towards social norms, poor planning and organizing ability, distorted sense of time, impatience, attraction to variety or novelty or excitement, and impulsiveness. It is argued that in the hunter-gatherer cultures that preceded farmingsocieties, hunters needed hyperfocus more than gatherers.