I like dreamers. I am also a dreamer but I also try to be a pragmatist. Does anyone still remember what pragmatism means? Very few actually because it is barried below tons of ideological and pseudo-scientific mud.
Elon Musk is a successful entrepreneur and a dreamer. Being a dreamer is a necessary condition for breaking barriers in all fields but not sufficient. Dreams about reality must conform to the rules of reality unless they involve some ambitious ways of changing them. And one of the many questions that emerges regarding Musk’s dream about Mars colonization is the following: Is Musk’s dream compatible with the rules of reality?
Before trying to answer this question, let us regress a little and recall the hyperloop project, another proposal of Elon Musk about a rapid transportation system. This idea is busted in this video.
In a nutshell, the dream of a hyperloop does not comply with the rules of reality and primarily with the fact that metals expand when temperature rises and travel in vacuum is extremely dangerous. Although the idea works in simulations, it is not practically viable. Simulation models are gross approximations of reality and are also even biased when key factors that affect performance are not taken into account.
So what is pragmatism? The pragmatism maxim asserts the following:
To ascertain the meaning of an intellectual conception one should consider what practical consequences might result from the truth of that conception—and the sum of these consequences constitute the entire meaning of the conception.
Let us forget about dreams and related ideological abstractions. What could be the practical consequences from an attempt to colonize Mars based on Musk’s plan?
To start with, humans will not change attitudes and behaviors by colonizing Mars. Humans will still remain hostile to other humans. By establishing a colony in another planet, humans will be exporting their hostility there and possibly setting the foundations for an interplanetary war.
The argument that humans should colonize Mars because of the threat of an extinction event on Earth ignores that interplanetary travel for humans amounts to an extinction event with high probability. Exchanging probability spaces does not decrease the probabilities in those spaces. For example, has a way been found to protect humans from prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation? The practical consequences are that the materials needed to achieve that may significantly increase the cost of rockets and decrease the probability of reaching their target.
Then, the argument about lower gravity on Mars and as a result humans being able to carry heavier things ignores facts. A study of the International Space Station (ISS) has shown that after about 4-6 months in space astronauts lose about 30% of muscle performance and about 15% of muscle mass.
There are many more practical consideration that contradict Musk’s dream. When added up, the dream is not pragmatic. It is possible that a small number of astronauts will make it to Mars one day but it is not entirely clear how they will get back to Earth. Even if these problems are resolved, mass colonization appears to be only a dream and not pragmatic given current state of technology.
Nevertheless, one must give credit to Elon Musk for being a successful entrepreneur and a dreamer who does not shy from expressing his ideas.