Thursday, October 31, 2013

Insight and Scientific Method

From a titanic tour-de-force I've just read, 'Insight and Scientific Method' by Willard Waller (1934). Naturally there are multiple contexts to all of this...Still;

"If cause is an elementary datum of experience, then the thing to do is experience it. The essence of scientific method, quite simply, is to see how data arrange themselves into causal configurations. Scientific problems are solved by collecting data and by 'thinking about them all the time' [cogitation]. We need to look at strange things until, by the appearance of known configurations, they seem familiar, and to look at familiar things until we see novel configurations which makes them appear strange. We must look at events until they become luminous. That is scientific method. Quantification is not the touchstone of scientific method. Insight is the touchstone."

"Herbert Blumer seems to be very close to this point of view...[writing]...'What is needed is observation freely reflective and flexible in perspective. Scientific just this. It places emphasis on exploration, turning over and around, looking intently here and there, now focusing attention on this, now on that. It is flexible scrutiny guided by sensitized imagination. One sees it clearlu in the work of Darwin, who, incidentally, used neither instruments nor mathematics.'"

And on p.290 Waller writes:

"No virtuosity of technique can compensate for want of understanding."



Waller, W. 1934. Insight and Scientific Method. American Journal of Sociology XL(3):285-297.

He quotes:

Blumer, H. 1930. Review of Lundberg's Social Research. American Journal of Sociology XXXV(6):1102.

Waller's article goes on to define scientific insight and methods of attaining it. He also takes to task Pearson's (of 'Pearson's r') statistical approach to experience and what it means for scientific understanding. I agree with about 2/3rd's of Waller's points and love 3/3rd's of his writing.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pacific Spaceflight on Twitter

The organization we're building as an umbrella for several space projects is @Pacific_Space. Here's the link.

Friday, October 25, 2013

DIY Pressure Suit Testing Feature Parts II and III

Parts II and III (the conclusion) are now up at, the premiere website for global exploration; air, space, polar, mountain and ocean. Thanks to Tina Sjogren for covering the story!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Feature at

Online now, part 1, and parts 2 and 3 in the next few days: click here for the story.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Smashing the ‘Right Stuff' Fallacy: Building a Pressure Suit for DIY Space Flight

An upcoming talk and pressure suit demo for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. These are always fun!

Science Pub Hillsboro

Smashing the ‘Right Stuff' Fallacy: Building a Pressure Suit for DIY Space Flight with Dr. Cameron M. Smith

Space suits are simple in principle and are mostly used for launch to orbit and return to Earth. Still, building such a garment has taken Dr. Cameron M. Smith five years, but it’s kept him alive during several tests (underwater, altitude chamber, hours-sitting pressurized) and is now ready for a rebuild so that he can fly it to above the 63,000-foot ‘Armstrong Line’ in Summer 2015 in the first manned flight of Copenhagen Suborbitals' DIY manned space program. In this talk, Dr. Smith will cover the history of the Copenhagen project, why an anthropologist became involved with space exploration, and introduce a new partnership with Copenhagen Suborbitals.

Dr. Cameron M. Smith of Portland State University's Department of Anthropology began his career excavating million-year-old stone tools in Africa and today combines his archaeological interests with a consideration of human evolution and space colonization. He is applying his interests in his collaboration with the scientists at Icarus Interstellar's Project Hyperion, a reference study for an interstellar craft capable of voyaging to a distant star by the end of this century.

Recently Dr. Smith presented a paper at the NASA/DARPA '100 Year Starship Study.' His recent publications include "Starship Humanity" (Scientific American, Jan. 2013) and the book "Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization (Springer-Praxis, 2013).

A recent interview with Dr. Smith, about interstellar human evolution, can be found at Scientific American podcasts.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Goodbye, Gondola!

Goodbye Gondola! The entire gondola mockup has been entirely dismantled after occupying my place since New Year's day 2012. You can bet we cannibalized every useful valve and millimeter of wire from the old girl! This is because we will now build a metal replica of the entire 1.6m-diameter Tycho capsule, built in Denmark, here in my apartment. And that's because to integrate the suit with the capsule we have to get very specific now, as the pilot, for example, will ride on the back, not seated upright as Ben Wilson is here, in one of many thrilling tests in the past couple of years. And in 15 I'll fly in a capsule under a balloon to test the life support system above the Armstrong Limit (63k feet). Time to start training -- simulated flights complete with comms, expendables (coolant ice, battery power, breathing gas) and so on. It was great living with the gondola, but that's all over!

Friday, October 18, 2013

New Publications

Two new publications out, one on models of cultural evolution in Physics of Life Reviews, the other a popular science feature on evolution in Skeptical Inquirer. PDF's can be found under links ('Papers', and 'Popular Science', respectively) at my page.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

While I am working on organizational issues regarding the pressure suit, I am also working on my Fall 2014 book, "Atlas of Human Prehistory". This diagram sketches out the origins of anatomically- and behaviorally-modern humans in Africa. Each such diagram will be on one large page, the facing page will be a dense essay covering all sites mentioned and summarizing the issue. Lotta work to do, 100 diagrams, 100 dense pages, each heavily referenced! Yahoo!

Link to PDF diagram.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Move Forward!

Occasionally I like to post here a piece of music that seems to move me forward in my thoughts and actions. I imagine this will do something, for someone, somewhere :)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

New Team Member

A good photo of the newest team member here at Project ALPHA (name to be changed soon), engineer Bruce Mataya. He's worked on Mars rover systems, the Air Force 1 coffee system (do you think that is low-priority? think again!), micropumps for several satellite systems and Formula 1 vehicles.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Great Talk by Peter Madsen of Copenhagen Suborbitals

Great talk by Peter Madsen, cofounder of Copenhagen Suborbitals, which we have joined since August 2013.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pressure Suit Altitude Chamber Test - Copenhagen 2013

If you missed it first time 'round, here is the altitude chamber test of the pressure suit I built over the last four years, five if you include a year of just reading It was one heck of a great day in Copenhagen! Narrated by Kristian Benge, lead capsule designer at Copenhagen Suborbitals. CS were recently awared the FAI Breitling Award for years of working on putting a person into space by a private, DIY approach. Congratulations guys! Here in Portland our organization is now coming together as the US arm of CS (website etc on the way), working on the space suit and life-support systems, which I'll test in a 2015 balloon flight to above the Armstrong Line (c.65k feet) where a pressure suit is absolutely mandatory for survival. Cheers, Cameron M. Smith

Monday, October 7, 2013


I am awfully lucky to have made our connection with Copenhagen Suborbitals this year. I'm heading back there ASAP; certainly next summer, hopefully as soon as this Winter. Above, photo from the home page of the Danish Ministry of Science Facebook page; for a promo of their upcoming Science Night (Kulturnat Uddannelsesministeriet) they've used a photo of the pressure suit! I'm in good company.

It Can't Be Done!

I have very little time or patience with people who say that "you can't possibly do space missions privately!" These are voices of the sadly wrong, the least imaginative people around. Precisely the same statements were made about such crude things as aeroplanes!In the 1920's, aeroplanes were just playthings of the rich...a decade later they transported the wealthy...and today we scrabble around to save a $20 here or there to make a flight to Nevada! The same trajectory will of course be duplicated with space access.

In 2015 I am flying my suit, life-support system and balloon to a great height, and, wow, that will happen despite many detractors who like to sit at their computers, telling me why I will fail!

Some time in the next few weeks will run an article of mine RE our recent pressure suit tests in Copenhagen. Here is a part in which I expand on larger issues:

"It's taken a generation for the truth to sink in: we really did kill the Apollo missions, the human exploration of space. We really did quit. So at Copenhagen Suborbitals and Project ALPHA (and many other private enterprises worldwide) we are taking the first steps ourselves, retracing exactly, and slowly, and hazardously, the steps that first put humans into space just over a generation ago...Forget 'space' as the domain only of NASA or the Russian space program; both of those structures are now sad husks, each wildly out of touch with significantly reduced global economy. Forget exploring Mars on a NASA expedition; we’re going to spend the next two generations just getting our crumpled country functioning again. So we must now rebuild human space activity, from the ground up, privately. OK…let’s draw up a plan. Let’s start building." -- ((c) 2013) Cameron M. Smith

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A JRR Tolkien Quotation

From "The Lord of the Rings":

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach...Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Where there is life, JRRT also wrote, there is also hope!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lucretius on the Passage of Time

Every time I look into my battered old copy of Lucretius' 'On the Nature of the Universe' I unearth yet more treasure!

"Look all about you and you will see the very stones mastered by age; tall towers in ruin and their masonry crumbling; temples and images of gods defaced, their destined span not lengthened by any sanctity that avails against the laws of nature...the collapsed monuments of men ask whether you believe that they in their turn grow old..." -- Lucretius, c.80BC. The translation I own is (c) 1951 by R.E. Latham, published in 1994 by Penguin; it's a good and readable work.