From Alice To The Mad Hatter: The Road To A PhD

If you spend just a few minutes on Twitter’s #PhD you will see a range of emotions displayed by those on the path to earning a PhD.

These brave individuals all seem to start out as shining little newbies, fresh out of the newbie bag – with wonder and star-struck innocence in their eyes, eager to start on their journey to increase human knowledge and be known as Doctor.

As they chase the white rabbit of their academic dreams, they soon realize they are spiraling down – not down a rabbit hole, but a deep, festering abyssal where dreams, happiness and wonder are exchanged for stress, tears, fear and abject frustration.

They battle multiple complications and obstacles, all coming at them at once, from all directions. Supervisors seem to produce the most anxiety and dread. Errant supervisors, abusive supervisors, absent supervisors, the handsy supervisor with a furry fetish – they all are problematic and add to the toil of getting a PhD.

Once you FINALLY make your saving throw against the bad supervisor, you get to read. Well, kinda read. Maybe read. You get to read all you want if you have access to Elsevier, if not you either have to get real lucky and find all your relevant research on open servers, find them available on the piratey Sci-Hub or sell a kidney. How science became so closed it has become a real disservice to humanity and modern civilization.

Then the clock gets involved. Days turn to weeks, months to years – and years turn into chapters. You see the end of the tunnel. Light harkens through the darkness, crawling its way to you – showing you a new future… no, fuck that, “major revisions required.”

And just as the funding begins to run out and your Xanax prescription has seen its last refill, you submit FinalFinalFinalThesis-Revision9-Version4-WithChangeNotesSierra.pdf to your supervisor – the second one. The first one took a job at Google. Well, they tell you he went to Google, you can’t exactly recall. You spent a few months in a black out drunk when you heard the news that you would need to reroll the saving throw.




You hear nothing back for a few days.

Panic attacks.

You are now in full Mad Hatter mode. At this point, you are sitting naked, in a room only illuminated by your laptop, tapping violently on the keyboard as you try to explain the scientific method to the QAnon trolls on Facebook.

You wake up on a random Wednesday, fending off a Redbull-induced stroke, to hear that your dissertation defense has been scheduled.

Can this be true? A smell of disbelief fills the room, reminding you you haven’t showered since you submitted.

The door to a conference room opens and you step through to see your second supervisor and other members of the dissertation committee. As the door closes shut you try to recall how you got there.

Time passes.

As the door reopens, the pressure seems to leave the room and the others congratulate you on a job well down. You are now a Doctor Of Philosophy.

This story may not be reality but it seems to be when I read the horror stories of others who have successfully, and sometimes unsuccessfully, traveled this path.

So now, it is my turn. PhD here I come! I have always wanted to earn a PhD ever since I met Carl Sagan. I love science, all aspects of it, all subjects – I cannot get enough. Even as I approach that time where cashiers will give me the “Senior Discount” I continue to be in awe at the things we have discovered. But I could never narrow down what topic to pursue. You can’t just get a PhD in “General Studies,” you have to be startlingly specific. Decades passed and I could never pick something; biology to chemistry, then on to astrophysics, then back to biology… maybe archaeology. I would read a new article or get triggered by advances in understanding of mycelium networks. Who wouldn’t want to do a deep dive on that? It wasn’t until I read the XKCD cartoon titled Purity that I got it.

With all of these subjects that I have an intense interest in, looking at this cartoon made the secluded seem obvious. Mathematics is the base code of the universe and a PhD in math would allow me to peek into the underpinnings of the classic sciences; biology, chemistry and physics. I should have known, but I didn’t. I was too busy in my autism loop process to take the accretion disk point of view.

I have decided that PhD by Previous Publication (PPP) is the best for me. The idea of it doesn’t trigger my autistic predispositions to testing or intellectual judgement. I kinda go at my own pace. I think about my project, write the papers that will take the reader through the story. Rinse and repeat until the body of work is sufficient for defense.

So here I go, one step in front of another, into the future – I mean, Costco to buy a pallet of Red Bull.

Violent Universe with Carl Sagan Part Two (Restored) | SciWorx Lost Lecture Series

This is part 2 of a restored version of The Violent Universe (1969) featuring a very young Carl Sagan, just 9 years after he earned his PhD. This is a comprehensive report of astronomical theories, research, and discoveries. Visits thirty astronomers at their observatories throughout the world as they discuss pulsars, infrared galaxies, red giants, white dwarfs, cosmic rays, and redshift. Includes a motion picture view of a quasar.

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June 1, 1969 KCET USA/CA Richard Burton reads poems celebrating the wonders of the cosmos in “The Violent Universe .” Discoveries that are revolutionizing astronomy and changing men’s notions of the cosmos are examined in this broadcast of “The Violent Universe.” a two-and-a-half hour program presented by Public Broadcast Laboratory.

The broadcast ranges from observatories in Europe to observatories in Australia, and from an observatory orbiting in space to one sunk a mile underground at the bottom of a gold mine in the South Dakota Badlands. Some 30 distinguished astronomers are seen at work in their observatories. Among them are Sir Bernard Lovell at Jodrell Bank, England; Thomas Gold at the giant Arecibo radiotelescope, high in the hills of Puerto Rico; Bernard Mills hunting pulsars at Mount Stromlo in Australia; Jan Cort at Dwingeloo in Holland; Maarten Schmidt at Palomar; Sir Martin Ryle at Cambridge, England; Tom Kinman at Lick, California; Frank Low in his Lear Jet “observatory” flying his telescope above cloud cover; and Donald Kniffen sending up a gamma-ray tracking chamber in a balloon.

The birth and death of stars, the possibilities of hitherto unknown sources of energy out in the stars, and quasars that act in ways nothing known in physics can explain, are examined by Robert Dicke of Princeton, Jesse Greenstein of Palomar and Mount Wilson, Allan Sandage and Bernard Pagel of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, physicist Philip Morrison of M.I.T., and Richard Henry’, rocket researcher at the United States Naval Research Laboratory.

Did the universe begin in a week’s time, with one explosion, as proponents of the “Big Bang” theory argue, or is it continually expanding in a relatively orderly way through all time, as defenders of the “Steady State” theory maintain? The controversy, which has implications for theology as well as for the movement of man out into space, is described in the broadcast.

The broadcast goes to Japan to visit the home of Tsutomu Seki, the amateur astronomer who teaches classical guitar for a livelihood and who in 1965, with Kaoru Keya, discovered the Ikeya- Seki comet. Featured in the broadcast is a studio reconstruction of a section of the universe, with 100 stars hung in their proper perspective in space.

The astronomical proportions involved in the scale replica are so vast that one foot of studio floor equals three light years—or 18,000,000,000,000 (18 trillion) —miles. The script of “The Violent Universe” was written by Nigel Calder. Narrator is Carl Sagan, professor of astronomy at Cornell, with Robert MacNeil, PBL special correspondent in London who is also a reporter for the BBC.

This 5-part series from has been restored for your viewing pleasure by SciWorx. You are welcome!

The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO) satellites were a series of four American space observatories launched by NASA between 1966 and 1972, managed by NASA Chief of Astronomy Nancy Grace Roman. These observatories, including the first successful space telescope, provided the first high-quality observations of many objects in ultraviolet light. Although two OAO missions were failures, the success of the other two increased awareness within the astronomical community of the benefits of space-based observations, and led to the instigation of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Lick Observatory is an astronomical observatory owned and operated by the University of California. It is on the summit of Mount Hamilton, in the Diablo Range just east of San Jose, California, United States. The observatory is managed by the University of California Observatories, with headquarters on the University of California, Santa Cruz campus, where its scientific staff moved in the mid-1960s. It is named after James Lick.

We are three inventions away from the collapse of capitalism.

Some of the works of Leonardo Da Vinci.

If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run – and often in the short one – the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.

Arthur C. Clark, The Exploration of Space, 1951


This started out as an extra credit essay I wrote for ECN-150 in the fall of 1987 while studying economics at Wake Forest University. The original title of this essay was “We are four inventions away from the collapse of capitalism.” Since then, one has already come about.

The fourth invention was “a low or nil cost method of communicating to anyone on Earth in any medium.” Well, that ship sailed and it hugely disrupted the world economy. When I was 13 (1976), I was already neck deep in HAM radio and by 1980, I was already programming APPLE IIs. By 1984, I had already built an email “service” out of a bank of Commodore 64s. I had a front row seat to the evolution of digital communication. I knew it was a matter of time before things would get really out of hand.

These last three inventions will have even more of a disruptive influence.

What I termed as “auto-abundance” is now called “post-scarcity” and it is a more descriptive term but I left the original language out. 3D printing and additive manufacturing are terms I edited into this version in place for “replicators.” Other items were rewritten to reflect events from the last 30+ years.


“The hard work of the future will be pushing buttons”

Nikola Tesla

Humanity’s quest for energy has been around since we came out of the trees. It began with the catching of fire from the Gods and when fire alone wasn’t enough, we came up with new ways to make our work life easier. Some through clever inventions like nuclear energy and others were horrific blights on humanity like slavery.

Energy touches every single aspect of our lives. Every product we buy has the cost of petrodollars baked into it. The cost of materials, manufacturing, marketing and distribution all have the price of oil built in.

Oil is the biggest economic sector on the planet. For every percent knocked off of their market dominance, the more effort would be put into preventing new technologies from coming to the market. When Ronald Reagan ripped the solar panels off of the White House, it was a song to the oil industry that their market dominance would continue to be secure.

But that dominance cannot last forever. There is too much money on the table to replace oil as our primary energy source for this to continue forever. Despite Reagan’s 1982 FY budget, purposefully stunting the progress of fusion energy research, the research will proceed but at an inefficient pace that doesn’t threaten the oil industry. This may lead to other technologies to arise to augment the lack of fusion research. As I said, there is too much money on the table. Also, if Dr. Carl Sagan’s doctoral thesis on “greenhouse gases” on Venus is correct, Reagan’s lack of vision may lead us on a troubling path of ecological disaster.

My overarching point here is that regardless of the level of political meddling and the opposing forces of free market capitalism, will eventually lead us to many revolutions in energy (both on the supply side and the demand side) where energy will be “too cheap to meter,” meaning the costing of reading the meter will be higher than the cost of the energy to create, transport and deliver.

When that day comes, the third leg of capitalism will be destroyed, only leaving the last two. Democratizing energy, like democratizing media will accelerate the advancement of capitalism’s own demise. The capitalists will not be able to help themselves as that is the nature of the beast.


A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.

Frederik Pohl

Contrary to Karl Marx, labor will not always be the force for manufacturing. Robotics, AI and additive manufacturing (3D printing) will kill off most labor intensive jobs.

Roger Smith, the 1980s era CEO of General Motors declared the closing of American automotive plants “essential for survival.” Whose survival? America’s? The company’s? Mexico’s? Looking back, the move was not an effort to reduce cost but to put off automation. Slave wages in Mexico at the time was about 90% of what average wages were in the United States. But again, workers never mattered, production did and automation was embraced.

Those mythical auto jobs that politicians swear they will bring back to the United States no longer exist. As soon as those jobs left the country, those human jobs were quickly supplanted by automation. Packing up a robotic auto plant in Mexico will have nil economic impact to the working class of America.

In the future, there will be a shift from centralized automated manufacturing to decentralized, or “in home” manufacturing. As 3D printers advance, so will the complexity of the things they can make. Already we make clothing, food, complex alloys and other vital items from our current crop of 3D printers. As their abilities become more vast and consolidate into fewer and fewer types of printers, we will arrive at the Star Trek foreseen technology called the “replicator.” The magic little gizmo that can replicate pan-fried catfish, a trombone or a “cup of Earl Grey – hot” will be everywhere and just another appliance in your 3D printed home.

Once manufacturing is truly localized, technology will be the death knell of the idea of products having “labor hours” associated with their creation. When that point becomes zero or nil, the second leg of capitalism will be gone.

Planetary Colonization

“Any planet is ‘Earth’ to those that live on it.”

Isaac Asimov, Pebble in the Sky, 1950

The single last thing that will keep capitalism alive, albeit on life-support if it survives the energy and replication revolution, will be land. As of this writing, accessible land is finite. There isn’t any more usable land being made. What is slowing creeping out and being added to total land mass due to vulcanism is being negated by land loss due to global warming. As sea levels rise, land disappears under the waves.

When jobs disappear, there will be fewer and fewer people that will be able to invest in land or building which makes the available customer base smaller and smaller. It is a spiral of death that the excesses of capitalism will never be able to tackle. There will still be profit to be made until faster than light travel is a reality thus allowing for mass colonization of other planets. This will dramatically increase the number of available acres on the market for development. But since jobs will not increase, nor will incomes, there is nothing to save capitalism from this final strike to the heart. And for every new “earth friendly” planet is colonized, the glut of available land will grow. The size of the newly accessible land will be so enormous that no market will be able to withstand it. A recent example of this was homesteading in the first century of the United States. All you had to do to own land was go there and claim it. The only difference in this new scenario would be that you would not need to “work” the land. The work has been reduced out of the equation by technology. The land is free to the occupant.

When land is given away for free or at nil cost, capitalism has no where else left to go in this scenario. No more lifeboats. No more bailouts. Citizenship and customers will no longer be a bonding element for society or government.


“Don’t panic.”

Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, 1979

I know people in Silicon Valley and all around the world that are working on all three of these inventions. There are many sub-inventions that also need to be tackled, but the quest for free energy, replication technology and FTL travel continue, in multiple locations – some secret and some not-so-secret.

There are plenty of human-induced items that can block, slow or prevent these technologies from coming to light. But if the United States blocks it, you know China or Germany or maybe some kid in a garage in India will have a flash of creativity and solve one of the world’s problems. I guess my point is even if one country bans this technology then another country can pick up the ball and run with it. Eventually, one day, everyone will have access to all of this.

If Congress had the mental capacity and scientific education to understand what exactly was going on in Silicon Valley, they would have ordered a nuclear strike years ago.

But they can’t… because it would be bad for business.