The neurotic obsession with weapons is an expression of selfishness, and reflects a splintered, delusional society teetering on the brink of collapse, increasingly unable to provide even the most basic precondition of civilized life: freedom from maiming and murder. Without this elementary right, it's impossible to secure others, such as civil rights, collective bargaining, or a hospitable climate for future generations. Civilization is fragile, and depends critically on cooperation, altruism, and goodwill. Without them, civilization evaporates rapidly, leaving behind only mob rule and banditry, as history has repeatedly shown. The forty-six percent of Americans who believe "that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years" (Gallup) are largely the same Americans who prepare for armed conflict with their own government, and childishly fantasize that they could survive its demise. The triumph of the irrational is rooted in a tragic failure of education.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
I wasn't kidding about Climate Change Stress Disorder. Climate change is ruining my life. Just look at my reading list from the last couple of years. Add to that the parade of climate science papers, government reports, and blogs, and it's a wonder I get out of bed in the morning. Every day, I try to engage everyone I meet about climate change. Here's what I tell them, if I get the chance:
Climate change is going to be much worse, much sooner than they think. Believe it or not, there's going to be serious psychological and physical impact on them personally, and especially on their children. My short list of topics includes:
Climate migration: The forecast calls for latitudes close to the equator to become increasingly uninhabitable. People are already pouring out of North Africa and Mexico, testing the limits of rich northern countries. Fortifying borders may buy a little time, but it doesn't solve internal migration. Fast-growing desert cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas won't be sustainable in the long run. Try telling that to the people who live there.
Coastal property values: It's some of the most valuable real estate, but its future value is zero. Families with vacation homes in Florida love to hear this. Try explaining to people that it was a mistake to rebuild New Orleans. North Carolina's new law that eliminates climate science from real estate assessment is classic avoidance behavior. And then there's Peter Ward's point: we don't have to worry about escaping to exoplanets, because we'll be busy moving our airports.
Suburban life: Instead of developing mass transit, America decided to build a suburban society organized around cars and highways. I work in the suburbs, and the people I meet there drive everywhere, often in SUVs and trucks. For fun they drive to the mall. For vacations they take a plane somewhere. Try explaining to them that the party's over. They don't want to hear it. That's why Obama doesn't talk about it.
China, India and other non-OECD countries plan to increase (NOT decrease) their fossil fuel consumption in order to achieve an OECD standard of living (see previous post), and we're in no position to dissuade them. We are not going to embargo or invade China to enforce carbon rules, and persuasion isn't likely to work either, particularly since 1) a significant portion of their emissions actually belong to us, 2) we owe them vast sums of money, and 3) it's hard to preach austerity convincingly while we're dying of diseases of affluence.
Even climate scientists are frightened and increasingly they're saying so publicly. If they're upset why shouldn't I be? Why isn't it okay to be upset and frightened? It should be obvious to anyone who keeps up with even a modest percentage of climate science that civilization is about to suffer a major setback, far more serious than WWII. States are going to fail, and not only in Africa. I'm traumatized, just by knowing this, and I don't even have children. I was born in Manhattan, and my whole life has revolved around the soft intellectualism of First World civilization, in all of its imperial glory. Mama didn't raise me to be an agriculturalist, or for Mad Max or the zombie apocalypse or whatever is coming. I apologize if my prose lacks the scholarly tone of cautious understatement, but I'm upset from trying to digest vast quantities of terrifying and rapidly changing information.
Regarding the alleged majority of voters who care about climate change: even if that's so and Obama is reelected, judging by Obama's performance so far it seems wildly unrealistic to expect him to do a fossil fuel about-face any time soon. But more importantly, I submit that the elusive presidential climate policy is mere distraction, because America is already a sideshow. To wit:
"China's economic growth is projected to continue and to drive increasing energy consumption for several decades (Figure 1). By 2035, China is likely to see a large increase in demand for primary energy, perhaps up by nearly 70% from the present levels (IEA, 2011a). This demand is likely to be met by increasing use of fossil fuels along with other sources, such as nuclear and renewable." [my emphasis]
IEA 2012 - Facing China's Coal Future: Prospects and Challenges for Carbon Capture and Storage, p. 7 PDF here
See also Figure 1 from the same page.
"The IEO2011 Reference case projects about 1 trillion metric tons of additional cumulative energy-related carbon dioxide emissions between 2009 and 2035 ... In the period from 2021 to 2035, cumulative emissions are 22 percent higher than those in the period from 2006 to 2020 ... Non-OECD Asia is the dominant source of cumulative emissions growth in the 30 years preceding 2035." [my emphasis]
US EIA International Energy Outlook 2011, p. 143 PDF here
See also Figures 115 & 116 from the same page.
There's further corroboration in UNEP's GEO5, and in BP's June 2012 "Statistical Review of World Energy".
Hence my claim to the relevance of Peter Calthorpe's Weapons of Mass Urban Destruction article (@68 & 71). Did anyone read it? His main source seems to be the 2009 McKinsey report "Preparing for China's urban billion" but I can supply plenty more. "China's urban population is projected to grow by 350 million people by 2020, effectively adding today's entire U.S. population to its cities in less than a decade ... the country's vehicle fleet could grow from more than 200 million today to as many as 600 million by 2030."
Since Americans own the largest share of historical emissions, we're in no position to tell the Chinese what to do, as they keep pointedly reminding us. I agree with Prof. Kevin Anderson (Tyndall Climate Center): the future looks impossible. We haven't even finished melting the Arctic and I'm already suffering from CCSD (Climate Change Stress Disorder). Help!
Friday, September 21, 2012
I think it is arguable that empiricism - which is the heart of science - is responsible for essentially all of humanity's advancements throughout all of human history and pre-history.
This is almost a dictionary definition of scientism. Please try to imagine the emotional impact this statement has on artists. Have they contributed nothing to humanity's advancement? Are the contents of museums useless rubbish? Should we empty them out and repurpose the buildings as laboratories or factories? What is advancement? Is it inherently good, or does its goodness depend on what we're advancing towards?
I'm not being rhetorical or provocative. I'm trying to understand how we got into this mess in the first place, so I can more effectively inspire myself and others to deal with it. Robert Pirsig raised similar questions in his 1974 inquiry into values, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." He described pervasive technological ugliness, and hypothesized that its source was a split between art and science, or between what he called the "classic" and "romantic" world-views. He then attempted to save reason from its own self-devouring logic, by positing pre-intellectual awareness (which he called "Quality") as the source of both subjects and objects. In my view his solution was naive and retreated into mysticism, but regardless it apparently didn't work, because forty years later we're no closer to a resolution, and the ugliness Pirsig was describing has blossomed into the greatest threat in human history.
In a famous passage Pirsig used realism to prove the existence of his central term, "by subtracting Quality from a description of the world as we know it". His description could just as easily describe a world in which "empiricism ... is responsible for essentially all of humanity's advancements."
We have been listening to scientists, maybe not about climate change, but about nearly everything else, for hundreds of years, and the results are increasingly ghastly. Even scientists are scared. If scientists are now going to tell us that there's no hope without even more drastic technological change, they would be wise to adopt some humility, and acknowledge that mistakes were made, instead of preaching science as a glorious march to advancement.
I know it seems like I'm attacking science but it's more subtle than that. I'm an engineer. I work with scientists and use math and logic all day long, and I don't doubt for a second that science "works", in the pragmatic sense that our explanations of phenomena can improve with time and effort. What I'm questioning is the notion that science is neutral, or as Pirsig would say, Quality-free. Art isn't just "whatever you like" and there's more to life than being right.
"We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane."
-Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
Thursday, September 6, 2012
James Hansen is sometimes accused of overstating his case, but I find
him controversial for an entirely different reason: he consistently
portrays climate change as an intergenerational injustice. His
argument is that climate change violates the civil rights of future
generations, including the right to a livable world. To my knowledge no
one else with comparable scientific reputation is making this argument
so forcefully and publicly. It’s clever and plays well because 1) civil
society avows egalitarianism, 2) people are justifiably proud of the
significant progress that’s been made towards that goal, and 3) climate
change threatens to wipe out that progress in short order (along with
Unfortunately, extending civil rights to future generations isn’t new: pro-lifers have been using this gambit for decades, with considerable success. Hansen hasn’t made any public statements on abortion to my knowledge, nor does it seem likely that he would, whatever his private views are, but his otherwise laudable meme is nonetheless potentially entangled with religious oppression of women. The right of future generations to a livable world needs to be distinguished from the right of women to make their own reproductive choices. I don’t find this difficult, but I suspect many Americans will have trouble getting their heads around it. It’s a PR problem that Hansen may not have considered.
A more serious criticism of Hansen’s intergenerational justice meme is that it doesn’t go far enough. I propose a more strident alternative: war on the future. The idea is that we’ve declared war against future generations, and we’re winning. Victory means no future, for our species and countless others. This may seem absurd, but in my experience paradoxes are very useful in PR, because they expose hidden assumptions. Here the assumption is that climate change is merely an injustice to future generations, when in fact it’s an existential threat, the type of threat that wars are usually fought over. Injustice implies the possibility of compensation, but in the worst-case scenario, future generations won’t even get the opportunity to bitterly resent us, because they won’t exist. War on the future is also totally asymmetric: future generations can’t defend themselves, because they’re not here yet.
WWII and the Manhattan project are commonly used as analogies for the global effort that will be needed to mitigate climate change, and this is part of my inspiration, but “winning the war on the future” is primarily inspired by Jeremy Jackson’s work. Daniel Pauly’s shifting baselines feel mild-mannered compared to Jackson’s incendiary “How we wrecked the ocean” presentation, which he starts by telling the audience that everything he ever studied disappeared during his lifetime. Jackson very effectively communicates devastation and irrevocable loss, not only with his emotional intensity and relentless examples, but also by using vivid metaphors such as “silent ocean” and “the rise of slime.” Similarly visceral memes are desperately needed in the struggle to wake people up to the reality and consequences of climate change.
There are many versions of Jackson’s presentation, but my favorite is here: Silent Ocean – Perspectives on Ocean Science
Monday, September 3, 2012
It wasn't enough to wreck the ocean, exterminate countless species, and plunge Earth's climate into chaos. Now we should declare total war on future generations by slurping up every last drop of oil, so that ingenious designers can fly to conferences and ride around in cool-looking cars. Obama-style grass-roots pretensions aside, this is just regurgitated technological utopianism and boosterism for limitless growth. Cornucopian fantasies are perennially popular, especially with robber barons. As our situation deteriorates, escapism is increasingly indistinguishable from schizophrenia. Humans may be an intelligent species. We'll soon see. If we're intelligent, we'll stop burning fossil fuels. If we listen to greenwash from corporate toadies and roast ourselves, bacteria will inherit Earth a little ahead of schedule is all. If you find naivete and narcissism abhorrent, you're not entirely alone. Check out Dan Miller's A REALLY Inconvenient Truth instead.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Of course the cessation of human activities, such as the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, that would accompany the disappearance of all that human biomass would be a boon to the biosphere.
It's like you're trying to impress everyone with your indifference to humanity, as though cultural insensitivity is somehow a corollary of scientific knowledge. The whole point of us becoming more enlightened (in both the sciences AND the humanities) over the last four centuries was to make us MORE sensitive to human culture, and more willing to make sacrifices for, and exhibit altruism towards people who aren't immediate family members, aren't from our 'tribe', or aren't even born yet. Eventually that altruism may even extend to the biosphere and your beloved algae. Obviously it's a work in progress and we're facing severe difficulties at the moment, but I don't see how it helps anyone to say that we should just buzz off and leave Earth to the ants, nor do I believe that's E.O.Wilson's view; on the contrary he expresses great fondness for humanity in his latest novel "Anthill," and apparently believes our achievements are worth fighting for.
It would be one thing if we were having this discussion on an Earth First blog, but I'm amazed to see stuff like this on RC. Your audience includes highly educated people who have devoted their lives to complex intellectual, linguistic, and symbolic activities that are beyond the capacity of most humans, never mind ants. On RC in particular people are clearly focused on the struggle to save civilization--science included--to whatever extent that's still possible. I sincerely doubt they enjoy hearing that humanity is useless rubbish and that the sooner we disappear the better. I know I sure don't.
SecularAnimist @303 said:
And social animals, including chimpanzees and wolves, clearly do have rights within the context of their social groups. ... do some reading in cognitive ethology. Yes, human beings are "special" — and so are all other species.
A mere 150 years ago, we fought a bitter and protracted war in the United States in large part over the question of whether our society should continue to permit human beings to be treated as, or worse than animals. The Union victory was an essential step forward but was by no means a final resolution of the question, which has continued to plague us, through the horrors of the Jim Crow South, well into the present era.
In Europe an even more catastrophic war was fought against an ideology that proclaimed certain groups of people to be subhuman and therefore without rights. Unlike the Civil War, this is recent history, within the living memory of my parents. There have been plenty more examples since then, including the breakup of Yugoslavia, though thankfully none at similarly global scale (yet).
Despite literally centuries of impassioned debate and conflict, humanity is still struggling to implement the most elementary ethical concepts such as equality, liberty, decency and fairness for human beings (that's you!) Many are aware that the rights of non-humans can and ultimately must be defended just as vigorously, however this is a long-term project, and we aren't likely to make much headway while simultaneously claiming that humans are equivalent to dinosaurs, wolves, algae, etc. We can grant wolves rights, and already have to some extent, but the reverse is simply not true: wolves can't grant us rights, any more than they can study cognitive ethology. This should be obvious but apparently it isn't.
Before we worry about the rights of algae, we'd better get the rights of future generations sorted out, otherwise the algae is going to have the planet all to itself.
PS: I happen to be reading David Orr's "Down to the Wire," and he has much to say on the subject of intergenerational ethics, and the need for honest and inspiring leadership during what he calls the Long Emergency. For example:
We are now engaged in a global conversation about the issues of human longevity on Earth, but no national leader has yet done what Lincoln did for slavery and placed the issue of sustainability in its larger moral context." -p. 88
Edward Greisch @ 296 said:
Science is not "fundamentally progressive"
Progressivism refers not only to the corresponding period of American history, but also to the notion that given sufficient time and effort, people can and should make incremental progress towards shared goals, scientific or otherwise. In science this view is associated with scientific realism, scientific pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce, and especially John Dewey, who held "that inquiry, whether scientific, technical, sociological, philosophical or cultural, is self-corrective over time if openly submitted for testing by a community of inquirers in order to clarify, justify, refine and/or refute proposed truths." (WP, Pragmatic theory of truth)
You should be grateful that science is progressive, because otherwise you would be busy rediscovering the foundations of mathematics, geology, astronomy, chemistry, etc. all by your lonesome self. In fact this was very much the situation at the start of the Enlightenment. On the other hand, if science weren't progressive, we wouldn't be struggling to mitigate climate change right now, because the industrial revolution wouldn't have happened.
The point of the non-existent dinosaur cultural artifacts was to illustrate that it's absurdly and dangerously reductive to simply equate humans with dinosaurs or any other species. If humans weren't special, why would they need names? Why would they need rights? In fact most of them didn't have rights until very recently, and it's been a major source of conflict. Wars have been fought over the idea that people (especially people we don't like) can be treated as things.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Responding to SecularAnimist @183 on RealClimate Unforced Variations:
"I am most concerned about 'saving' the Earth’s biosphere from utter destruction."
Responding to Edward Greisch @197 on RealClimate Unforced Variations:
"Sociobiology has nothing whatsoever to do with eugenics."
A bold statement, but if true, how do you explain this curious photograph?
There's also the inconvenient Eugenics Manifesto of 1939, signed  by more than a few founders and champions of what later became sociobiology. The manifesto interestingly lists "fellow-feeling" (in short supply at the time) as an objective of "conscious selection", for example:
... conscious selection requires, in addition, an agreed direction or directions for selection to take, and these directions cannot be social ones, that is, for the good of mankind at large, unless social motives predominate in society. This in turn implies its socialized organization. The most important genetic objectives, from a social point of view, are the improvement of those genetic characteristics which make (a) for health, (b) for the complex called intelligence, and (c) for those temperamental qualities which favour fellow-feeling and social behaviour rather than those (to-day most esteemed by many) which make for personal 'success', as success is usually understood at present. There were some post-war defections among the signatories, most notably Theodosius Dobzhansky who later said:
Even if the direction of evolution were demonstrated to be "good", man is likely to prefer to be free rather than to be reasonable. and:
Culture is not inherited through genes; it is acquired by learning from other human beings.... In a sense human genes have surrendered their primacy in human evolution to an entirely new non-biological or superorganic agent, culture. 
 Eugenics manifesto, list of signatories
 Social Biology and Population Improvement, full text of eugenics manifesto, with original title, as published in Nature, Sep. 16, 1939
 Theodosius Dobzhansky, The Biological Basis of Human Freedom, 1956, as referenced in Evolutionary ethics
 Against "Sociobiology", NYT Review of Books, Nov. 13, 1975
Friday, August 10, 2012
Thursday, August 9, 2012
In response to Edward Greisch @ 147, commenting on previous Hubble post on RealClimate.org [list of sociobiology texts omitted]:
"Science will solve ethics. But we don’t have ethical equations yet."
Somehow I don't find this reassuring.
"Preservation of your own species has to be the primary value."
Substitute race for species and this statement sets off deadly alarms. You may not like the transposition, but people have made it in the past and will continue to do so. In every case I'm aware of when the value of human existence has been defined in biological terms, the results have been spectacularly awful.
Forcible sterilization was official policy in the United States well into the 1960s. Margaret Sanger is famous as the founder of Planned Parenthood, but she was also a committed eugenicist, and her ideas were considered normal at the time. Nazi war criminals claimed with some justification that their racial purification laws were inspired by American eugenics. The Wikipedia article on sociobiology includes a delightful photo demonstrating the resurrection of Eugenics Quarterly as Social Biology in 1969.
What makes humans special is that we aren't limited only to biologically determined values. For better or worse people have developed cultures, and eventually civilizations, which completely redefine our relationship to each other and to non-humans. Civilized people are not motivated primarily by a desire to ensure the dominance of their genetic traits. This was as true of the ancient Romans as it is of us. Most of what modern humans do is useless or visibly counterproductive from a strictly biological point of view. Climate change is an apt example: it's simply an unintended consequence of our feverish cultural activity. All around the Mediterranean, entire forests were cut down to make ships, floors, furniture, lutes, picture frames and countless other biologically indifferent but culturally essential artifacts. Much of the area became permanently arid as a result, but this was the price we paid for the Renaissance and subsequent steps toward the global civilization on which our current discussion depends.
For humans, value has to be culturally defined or we become apes. When human beings are reduced to animals or considered only in terms of their biological attributes, rather than viewed as individuals with intrinsic rights, the way is cleared to fascism, as the thinkers of the Frankfurt School rightly insisted after WWII. If the choice is between humans surviving by sacrificing their humanity, and humans not surviving at all, there's no choice: it can only be the latter, because people won't tolerate the former for long.
Humans could turn out to be great at science but lousy at ethics. This would partly explain why we aren't reacting to climate change quickly enough. Dan Miller's "A Really Inconvenient Truth" makes this same point in an amusing way:
"Imagine that you read in the newspaper tomorrow... that all the excess CO2 in the world is being released by al-Qaeda. Think about that. Would we react? Of course we would. We would spend any amount of money ... to fight that. We would spend a trillion dollars, which we just did."
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Sorry not to hold up my end.
But I did look at a whole bunch of Hubble images when I was in Vermont three weeks ago. Sorry about not posting, after the intense engagement I felt overwhelmed by all the ideas.
Here's my reaction:
I was thinking, "What is it I'm supposed to be getting out of this? Why is it supposed to changed my sense of things?" They are spectacular shots of nature, exotic images. Some of them look as if they could be things seen under a microscope -- I have no sense of the scale when I look at them. They are images I realized that I can't see with my naked eye. They didn't have any apparent emotional or philosophical impact on me.
Can you explain to me to me what Hubble and Hubble images signifies to you and or it has such an impact on you? I don't get it.
Friday, June 29, 2012
I did some background reading on science before my previous post. It seems both our positions fit reasonably well into known categories. My position is closest to scientific pragmatism. Yours appears to be closest to epistemological
anarchism. I enclose my reading list below.
Overview of science:
Types of science:
Boundaries of science:
Pragmatism and scientific realism:
Less pragmatic but related:
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
There's stuff, in patterns. Patterns emerge from the stuff. Stuff emerges from the patterns. One or the other description may be more useful, depending on the goal. We differ from most stuff/patterns in an important respect: given sufficient time and effort, we can explain how stuff works with increasing accuracy. Our explanations are valuable because they allow us to correctly predict what stuff will do. Worrying about whether stuff is real wastes time that would be better spent understanding stuff. Stuff is real enough, and there's lots of it, and it's complicated and potentially lethal and moving fast, so there's no time to waste. This is the essence of pragmatism.
"A theory that proves itself more successful than its rivals in predicting and controlling our world is said to be nearer the truth. This is an operational notion of truth employed by scientists."
"Einstein liked to say that the Moon is 'out there' even when no one is observing it."
-Wikipedia, Local realism
Monday, June 25, 2012
Question 4 appears to be a trap. If I say that science is aesthetic, then it's merely subjective, in which case how is it any more "true" than art? On the other hand if I say science is objective, then how do scientists make value judgments? This trap was a major theme of Robert Pirsig's classic philosophical novel "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". He attempted to solve the dilemma by positing the existence of "Quality," a preconscious, instinctual value awareness that was neither subject nor object. He explicitly equated Quality with Zen, e.g. by stating "The Quality that can be defined is not the real Quality" (paraphrasing Lao Tze).
Unlike Pirsig I'm not going to retreat into mysticism. The scientific search for better explanations may involve aesthetics, but that's not what makes it scientific. What makes it scientific is the requirement that explanations be testable and predictive. This requirement is what distinguishes science from other human endeavors.
If we generalize aesthetics by equating it with value judgments, ALL endeavors involve aesthetics, and not only human endeavors either. Dolphins and ants also make value judgments, though we might find them hard to relate to. But even if you reject my broad definition of aesthetics, clearly many if not most human endeavors involve aesthetics. However I challenge you to identify a non-scientific human endeavor which requires all explanations to be testable and predictive.
So far the only thing I've described as "boring" is mysticism. Mysticism bores me because it's childish and defeatist. Creationism is a good example. Faced with one of the most challenging, fascinating questions of all time--how complex life came to exist on earth--Creationists say: "don't ask." What could be more boring than that? There are no mysteries in science, only unsolved problems.
Freedom is such a vague and overloaded term that I can't even begin to answer questions 1-3 until we've agreed on a definition of freedom in this context. The same goes for autonomy.
I will look at Hubble before I respond to post below or write more myself. I haven't yet read your post below before posting these questions. After looking at Hubble, I will repond to Hubble experience and to your post below. But I would like to post the following questions I've composed for your consideration in upcoming posts.
1. Do you see any notion of a claim to freedom or autonomy on the part of scientists? If so, what's the nature of this claim to freedom? Is it freedom "to" something, or freedom "from" something?
2. Does this claim to freedom relate in any way to the claim to freedom or autonomy on the part of artists?
3. Does this claim to freedom relate in anyway to the claim to freedom of capitalists?
4. Is science an aesthetic activity?
5. Are scientists artists? (or visa versa) Is there some relationship between art and science?
6. How does this relate to the ideas of "interesting" versus "boring" that you mention. In other words, what is the significance to you of the spectrum of interesting--boring as a measure of value?
Sunday, June 24, 2012
"whether our 'true nature,' fate and destiny is to live in competition and domination (power) or symbiosis and mutuality (wholeness, self-regulation)."
This is another false distinction. All species survive by some COMBINATION of competition and cooperation. The details are complex and vary from place to place, even on tiny scales.
For example, of all animals, ants have the second most highly organized societies, after humans. They exhibit extraordinary degrees of specialization, cooperation, and altruism. Ants normally sacrifice themselves heroically for the welfare of the colony. Ant colonies also periodically conduct all-out wars with other colonies, regardless of whether the colonies are of the same species. These are wars of extermination which only end when one of the colonies is completely destroyed, its territory occupied and its members enslaved or cannibalized. See e.g. Edward O. Wilson for electrifying descriptions of ant life.
Biologically, evolution is the differential survival of self-replicating organisms. Attributes that contribute to survival tend to become more prevalent, while attributes that detract from it tend to die out. On Earth at least, self-replication is an elaborate chemical reaction involving DNA. The attributes themselves are not necessarily competitive or cooperative. The competition in evolution comes from the fact that the energy supply (ultimately sunlight) is limited, and therefore increase of one organism often comes at the expense of another.
Other applications of the term evolution, e.g. to the development of human social systems, or to the spread of ideas or computer viruses, are purely metaphorical, so to avoid confusion I would prefer we restrict use of the term to its biological meaning as stated above.
Your denial of non-human perspective doesn't prevent me from achieving it. In fact this perspective is the source of antihumanism. I reject the statement that "in relationship to cosmic time, nothing matters." To me, the notion that value exists only for humans is just another example of narcissistic humanism. Why should we assume that other organisms don't value their existence? Why shouldn't the universe have intrinsic value?
On question 4, concerning the fate of the human species in terms of millions of years, this is the kind of question that contains so many of your own assumptions that I can't answer it on that level.
You are proposing questions from an inhuman perspective upon being human. In relationship to cosmic time, nothing matters. I am a human being, not the creator of the universe looking down upon all of time and creation. It's a question of scale. You are framing the question within a timescale within which human agency doesn't even exist. And then you are asking me to express my human will (my sense of agency) about what should be done. To me this is like arguing about how many angels fit on the head of a pin. It evokes a longing for God-like power and control over our fate that can never be satisfied, while annihilating the "zoomed in" realm of our own human-scale existence (our collective human subjectivity) in which we can meaningfully participate.
It also suggests a longing for humanity to have some kind of absolute, eternal value.
Can any human, even a scientist, actually does transcend their humanity, for even a second? Is the objective, third-person (out-of-self) perspective of science, which claims to be the unique truth, a scientific delusion? And in fact a shame at being human, vulnerable, and transient?
Finally, does that third-person, objectifying and aestheticizing perspective lead to the legitimation or rationalization of dehumanizing practices and treating people as objects, simply by treating their experience as unreal and off-the-books, externalized out of the system of thought, in the same way that mainstream economics excludes the lifeworld?
I'm thinking of how marginal groups are first dehumanized by the power structure, to prepare acceptance for violence against them.
So the question is, whether the objective point of view promoted by "scientism" lays the ground for violence or oppression of those objectified.
You have said that the Hubble perspective confers humility by showing that humans are mere accidents. That a human-centered perspective is narcissistic.
This brings up the issue of "man is the measure of all things" which is what you say is at the center of what you define as Humanism in the Anti-Humanist manifesto. I think the implications of whether to use a human scale -- in regards to your question 4 on the lifetimes of species -- could have a different relation to humility than you say.
There is an issue of humility in the perspective, and not just in what's being contemplated.
A first thought. I am using the term "pure science" to refer to that science which distinguishes itself from applied science, and the ethical issues associated with it. To you the word "pure" is redundant, because you already assume that science is pure. Thus, according to you, a scientist would reject the term because it implies that there could be such a thing as "impure science" and that would violate the definition of science as inherently pure. In other words, if it's not pure, it's not science.
I am inventing the term "pure science" to draw attention to science's claim to be pure, so that claim to purity (ultimate truth) can be seen for what it is, only a claim. Science's claim to inherent purity (truthfulness) and indeed a unique claim to truthfulness, is what I want to question. First, that there actually is any separation between applied science and "pure science" or what you would call "science." The definition of science, as scientists use it, is self-serving and ideological. Scientists do not have authority over the definition of science. Scientists would like to disassociate themselves from applied science, in the name of their autonomy, the universal value of their work. This universal, autonomous quality, or transcendent quality, is also ascribed to art in our culture.
Therefore it's very relevant that you also invoked Jasper Johns as being sacrosanct. I wouldn't say that Jasper Johns paintings should be destroyed, but I would say that they have no more claim to universal, transcendent value than does science. This also draws attention to the aesthetic value that you ascribe to science. I'm very interested in the ideas about freedom and autonomy (and independence from or transcendence of social conditions and power) that are invoked in three areas: science, art, and the market system. There is something very similar and interrelated about the ideal of freedom in these three pursuits.
I haven't yet looked at the Hubble images. I have had it as an intention, but since I haven't done it, although I am also busy, I clearly am resisting doing it. My first thought is that I'm not interested, because I can't imagine how it would impact on my view of things, it seems off the track of what I'm thinking about (I am preoccupied with the subjective). The perspective of the Hubble seems diametrically opposed to the perspective that seems humanly relevant to me. So the block in me is, "Ok, I need to look up that image, but it's irrelevant to what we're talking about; and I'm not going to see the significance in it that Chris sees." I will make myself look at it and try to understand the significance that it has for you......when I can make myself! I promise I will.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
- What scientist would willingly be called impure? Where is the journal of impure science?
- Should Jasper Johns' paintings be destroyed because he used acrylic, which is a type of plastic?
- Are you opposed to power, on the grounds that authority is impossible without it?
- The average mammal exists for a million years. So far we've managed 100,000 years, a mere tenth of the average. What is it exactly that you hope for? Another 900,000 years? Do you wish for a kinder, gentler period in human history? If so, how long would you expect it to last? Is there any precedent for it in human history? In non-human history?
- Many parasites are born, live their entire lives, and die of old age entirely enclosed in food (e.g. many of the bacteria in your body). Should we be jealous of this? Or should we feel lucky?
- Why haven't you looked at the Hubble telescope images even though I sent you links to them twice? Are you prejudiced against them and if so why?
Reminder notes: issues arising within this conversation:
what is the purpose of the conversation? - is the aim that one convinces the other (capitulation)? or dialogue as mutual development, revealing of assumptions
Discussion of how emotionalism in conversation indicates our dependency upon and investment in ideas that are being threatened. Emotionalism as tracer dye, investigating the conflicts in assumptions is fruitful, rather than angry conflicts being a problem to be avoided.
autonomy: art science market/embedded-means/ends
freedom from what? their work and discoveries of universal value to humanity?
Are scientists like artists, in their social function? (Bohemians)
is ethics separable from science?
Are scientists responsible for how their discoveries are actually used?
Science or "pure science" (does "science" already mean pure?)
authority over terminology, definitions and rules of conversation
science as a system - like tools versus technology - is it neutral?
systems of knowledge - how do you evaluate them? what makes them truthful?
does the word science need to be subdivided? or is everything using the scientific method one thing called science? Is science really about it's method?
Is science an accumulation of true facts and the progressive elimination of errors and superstitions?
Spirituality=errors, delusions, confusions, superstitions Science=facts
Spirituality=first-person perspective, subjective (error) Science=third-person perspective, objective (true)
Spirituality=childish, irresponsible, wishful thinking; Science=adult, responsible, facing the truth
Is science a higher level of knowledge above all other knowledge systems (tradition, religion, mysticism) Kuhn putting everything on level ground.
Is science a religion? Christianity and science - is science really opposed to Christianity, or is it an outgrowth of christianity?
Meaning of the third person perspective (power) (I-It relationships)
Point of view
Time frame (cosmic history? lifetime? 7 generations?)
Is objectivity more truthful than subjectivity?
Science as separating the wheat from the chaff, conclusively proving what is true.
What does "falsifiable" mean?
Science as the best of the human. "do science well, but do ethics badly" idea.
"People are expecting scientists do do something they can't do, they can only provide the facts, they can't solve the political problem."
Political domain is psychology and sociology
I think about psychology and sociology, non-objective; Chris involved with objective;
Mutually exclusive ways of thinking?
Can we even communicate, or are we always going past each other, and not making contact?
Chris: he's asking important questions that I don't answer. Accountability for meeting the points that have been raised. I feel same thing.
First, huge issues being raised, a kind of pile-up. Second, you can't answer a question if you don't concur with underlying assumptions. It's meaningless. You can only answer by starting to talk about the assumptions.
Mutual meaninglessness of our questions and answers.
Thomas Kuhn addresses this!
Idea of trying to slow down the conversation and keep it focused.
Friday, June 22, 2012
Hyphens aren't allowed in the blog URL, but I'm OK with using one in the title (which appears on each page) if you think it's important. In my opinion it's unnecessary as many common words have a meta prefix without the hyphen, e.g. metaphysics, metaprogramming, metatheorem, etc. Whether the hyphen is required is merely a typographical convention subject to change. It seems words that begin with a vowel commonly have the hyphen, e.g. meta-economics not metaeconomics.
BTW what meta-delusion means is delusion about delusion, according to Wikipedia:
'The modern sense of "an X about X" has given rise to concepts like "meta-discussion", a discussion about discussion, "meta-joke", a joke about jokes, and "metaprogramming", writing programs that write programs.'
It sounds right to me! Shall we go with it??
That sounds fine, except that I wouldn't want to have to worry too much about expressing myself in good form. I'm not sure if you mean it would be a public page on COE. Trying to write well is so arduous for me, that I don't want to have to do that. So if you don't have standards of quality of writing, it sounds and helpful. That would be good to excize anything that might violate someone's privacy. Also then we could add things as they occur to us and not be in haste to keep up with email pace.
Anyway, can't respond today, I got very excited last night about a new article about mental illness.
Biology is as falsifiable as any other science and Jeremy Jackson would be horribly offended if you accused him of practicing non-hierarchical science. Conversely Richard Dawkins would be equally offended if you accused him of being a tool of the power structure. Dividing scientists into good guys and bad guys may be rhetorically convenient, but it's not supported by the evidence. Bad guys do great science, and vice versa. Robert Oppenheimer was reviled for his political views, but his science was sound. Albert Einstein was a pacifist hero but he spent half his life refining a theory that was bunk. Scientists try to explain phenomena, they make errors, the errors are eventually caught, and that's how science advances.
Science depends on the power and leisure provided by civilization, in order to develop the critical infrastructure of logic, mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. The entire scientific enterprise develops hierarchically; more specialized fields are built out of blocks provided by more fundamental fields. You may dislike science because it depends on civilization, but the same can be said of modern art. Should Jasper Johns' paintings be destroyed because he used acrylic, which is a type of plastic?
Pythagorean geometry hasn't changed in 2,500 years, regardless of whether it was useful to the many power structures that have come and gone since then. The power structure of ancient Greece is long gone, but their geometry is still with us. It was always true, and it will remain true after humanity disappears. That's why we include Pythagorean proofs in our messages to extraterrestrials.
Of course science has intensified humanity's ethical problems. No one is saying otherwise. That's what I mean when I say science has revealed disturbing truths. Science both requires power, and enables power. It's a positive feedback, and positive feedback is notoriously hard to control, as we're currently discovering with climate change. Power could be directed towards egalitarian aims, but that's determined by ethics, not science. As I said previously, humans could turn out to be great at science but lousy at ethics. On the other hand, there's no scientific proof that humanity has to use its power to destroy itself. In the absence of intergalactic distress calls, E.O.Wilson's claim that intelligence tends to snuff itself out remains merely his (and my) OPINION.
I sometimes wonder if you're simply opposed to power, on the grounds that authority is impossible without it. This would at least make sense. The problem is that power has always been with us, the myth of the noble savage notwithstanding. Early humans wielded power, exerted authority, and modified their environment, just more slowly and on a smaller scale. Fire is power, and we can accuse Homo erectus of abusing it, but I'm sure they were glad to have it.
I asked some questions at the end of my previous reply, which I believe cut to the heart of this whole matter. I look forward to receiving your answers.