My New Year offering is the second installment of my work on sapience. In this installment I explore the relationship between intelligence, creativity, affect, and sapience. The latter three are functions that modulate decision making in the first.
The full text is here.
And here is an excerpt:
All autonomous agents living in a highly dynamic and non-stationary environment must continuously make decisions about what to do next given a particular situation. Simple animals living in simple(r) environments have fewer decisions to make. Humans appear to live in the most complex, dynamic, and non-stationary environments imaginable. This despite their every effort to construct a predictable, convenient environment with technology! The evolution of intelligence and creativity is the development of neural computation systems increasingly able to handle more complex environments requiring more elaborate decision making processes (Geary, 2005).
For humans, only some decisions are made consciously after some form of mental analysis of the situation. Some decisions are the result of intentional thinking in this way. But the vast majority of decisions are made subconsciously or preconsciously (before conscious awareness). This often comes as a shock to people who are unfamiliar with the research in the psychological and neurological bases of decision making.
In light of the fact that we are about to enter a new year, I thought I might add a few questions about what might the new year bring that seem pertinent.
- How will the new administration work out in terms of tackling the economic crisis and at least halting the slide? I am actually thinking this economic meltdown is an opportunity to initiate some actions that could lead to a new way of looking at economics and the economy. Namely I would love to see Obama come to grips with the evils of growth and a consumer-based economy (especially one based on people borrowing money in order to buy junk.)
- What actions will the new administration take to mitigate our energy decline? Note that some of the answer to the above question actually applies to this question as well, since the economy runs on energy.
- What measures will be enacted to not just curb greenhouse gas emissions, but reverse the flow of CO2 into the atmosphere (and hydrosphere)? This needs action now. Given the relationship between energy and the economy, the slowdown in the latter might actually produce a noticeable slowdown in the growth of CO2 emissions. But it won't reverse it.
- How will mankind react to the economic contraction that I see coming in 2009? As always I hope that my Cassandra role is wrong and that by some miracle things turn around, or at least the suffering will be minimized. I continue to work, in my day job, on energy solutions. But the scale of the problems are so huge it is hard to be upbeat about it. In the worst case scenario I do see more institutional failures in '09 with massive job losses and further contraction into a depression. I just can't see how the government spending plans being developed and the so-called stimulus package (whatever it turns out to be) can counteract the trend toward declining energy inflow into our economy. Throwing faux money at the problem will, if anything, increase inflation at some point. Too many dollars chasing too few goods.
Less than two years ago economists were generally insisting that the fundamentals of the US economy were strong and that if we did have a recession it would be mild and short. Except for a very small number of mainstream economists no one in that field foresaw the collapse of so many markets in such a short time. On the other hand, I was predicting a general collapse and that the recession would be deeper and longer than expected. This was simply on the basis of the entering of a plateau stage of world oil production and the recognition that we had been getting in the habit of borrowing against what we believed were future increases in energy flow through. That is, people expected us to be able to do more productive work in the future in order to pay back the principle and interest. Now we see that we can't.
So my judgments tell me that things are going to get worse. It isn't just the price of oil that causes the problems, it is the flow rate. Prices just react to perceived realities and don't readily reflect the ground truth. But the low prices for oil currently are going to exaggerate - amplify - the decline in net energy flow into the economy because investments in new projects are now being cancelled. Even if those projects went forward, they are in increasingly hard-to-extract fuels, meaning that the net energy delivered to the economy will still be declining.
What does it mean? What should we do? Well a tremendous amount depends on what Obama and his team do or can accomplish. But I must admit I am skeptical of this as well. It is not easy to see what he can do when politics and lawyers are running the show. If he can transcend that and put real scientists into the fray, we might get some visibility into what is really going on in the energy arena. That would allow us to determine what we can and need to do to forestall a complete meltdown (if there is anything we can do!)
I have no real advice to give. Like everyone else I will keep plodding along thinking about what to do and keeping my eyes and ears open. I do believe we will see a pattern emerge by midyear. If it looks like Obama is heading in the right direction (according to my judgments, of course!) then I may breathe a sigh of relief and relax a bit. If not, I will redouble my efforts (to be seen on this blog) at figuring out how to pick up the pieces after the house falls. Time will tell, but not a lot of time now.
May 2009 be a better year than 2008.