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« Is the End Near? | Main | The Glass is Half (?): Happy Spring Equinox, 2013 »

February 10, 2013

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John Wheeler

It's pretty logical that when cataclysmic but predictable event occurs, those who can predict and prepare or who can learn and adapt will have a great advantage for survival.

I wouldn't be so sure that those with higher than average sapience are not broadcasting their plans, just not in a way that those with average sapience can comprehend.

monsta666

Question is will the people of above average sapience reproduce sufficiently to become the dominant trait in the population? I could easily seeing people with high sapience predicting the event and thus their chances of survival will increase but that is not enough. They need to reproduce also.

It seems to me that people of high sapience tend to produce less offspring (perhaps this is because they know what is coming) yet it is this behaviour or non-behaviour that can limit this groups long-term future. The less sapient, less aware members of society tend to reproduce more furthermore it is likely these members will increase birth rates even higher when the offspring are seen to become an asset (as opposed to a liability seen today). This transformation of the value of children is likely to occur as various public services such as pensions or hospital care begin to breakdown and so these functions must be filled directly by the parents offspring.

Sure we can argue that the probability of these less sapient population to survive is lower but if there are sufficient numbers of these beings it is likely they would still remain the dominant trait through sheer numbers.

In summary while I could see increased sapience as a distinct possibility in the future I think the jury is still out on that one. Still none of these points negate your main theory and if it were to come into play into the future I think this increased mutation disposition is more likely to express itself through some physical trait where the fittest members are more resilient against diseases or have an increased capacity to eat a wider range of food etc.

Brian

Interesting take on why birds and mammals made it through 65 MYA. I had always heard it was because both birds and the mammals that did not go extinct had special breathing apparati, birds can clear almost all the air out of their air sacs while the mammals that survived are missing their lower rib cage. I also wonder the implications on intelligence because of the difference between the fact a filter occurred 65 MYA versus a bottleneck we are about to go through.

My own personal take on intelligence and technology: http://theemergist.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/of-information-and-humans/

Aboc Zed

George,

Thanks a lot for this one. Many good points combined make a narrative very convincing. And I learn an aspect of evolutionary process I was not focusing at before.

Thanks again.

@monsta666

Don't forget that 'more sapient' are likely to have better accesss to accumulated knowledge (science) at the moment and it is reasonable to assume that they will be better suited to preserve the knowledge and carry it thru bottleneck event.

When environment becomes harsh and stressful in terms of all the expected climate change, food crisis, desease dissemination and the damaged genetic laboratory of life having more _uneducated_ children may instead of increasing fitness to decrease it.

In this situation those who would respond with more children to the upcoming streess may hasten their own demise by increasing the competition for the limited resources.

Although it is almost certain that the democracy and capitalism as we currently know it will not survive the bottleneck it would be unreasonable to think that hierarchical organization of society and human organism-whole will not go away but insted improves and _evolves_ towards a variant better utilizing _all_ members of the group.

In other words, I think the upcoming bottleneck event will provide environment that will exert pressure onto genus homo pusshing it towards the higher levels of eusociality and the more sapient will be able to mold themselves and their hierarchies faster than less sapient.

Once the environment clears, or once most if not all non-sapient subgroups of genus homo die-off the remaining sapient contigent would be in equilibrium with the whole planetary system of life<->planet<->life gradually learning how not to disterb the balance thru their unique position of being in and outside the bocx at the same time.

The evolutionary pressures of our own making are unlike anything LIFE ever encountered before but in terms of basic mechanism of evolutionary process nothing changed: the fittest will survive and the DNA of other will be recycled by the biota as it has been going on for billions of years.

So, as George said, "It is not over for the planet and it is not over for the naked ape".

The only difference is what would be the level of human population at sustainable level: the faster we learn the higher the numbers we could have later on but none of us could ever come close to actually understand the speed of our species learning on an evolutionary scale simply because the human life time is too short and the bottleneck event has been in the making since the homo sapiens sapiens took its place on the top of the food chain.

Oliver

Something deep in the brain stirred and produced a wave of calming sensations when I read Prof. George and Aboc Zed referring authoritatively to "It isn't over for the planet and it isn't over for the naked ape".

When many around the world are either focused on the immediate-term steep downslope for genus Homo, or are simply living in me-now denial, it is stimulating on many levels to contemplate the continuation of sapient evolution at some distant point, rather than a long, long reversion to brute level.

That I myself and probably today's young adults and children and their children will likely only experience the decline, bringing with it at least 'temporary' mayhem and savagery, it is no bad thing to think way ahead to a time when life continues on an incline again.

We are not the center of the universe, we have not so far earned the right to claim species superiority, but evolutionarily we are all playing a part in genetic modification that needs to play out on planet Earth. The sooner we stop dwelling on the dark side of the natural bottleneck that's coming, the more healthy thinking we will add to the pot from which new seeds may flourish.

This is no different from the science fiction plot where it takes a number of generations living and reproducing and dying on a spaceship, complete with dangerous encounters and shocks to the system, before the descendants of descendants arrive at a healthier new world.

Tom

First, thanks George for another essay that instructs and enlightens the reader. But:

Here we go again with the "we'll always survive" hubris of human "intelligence" and the vaunted human species. When the air we breathe is so polluted as to cause illness (when Bejing becomes the norm), when the water we need to survive is tainted with bacteria and other organisms that we caused to grow there via dumping waste of all kinds (including pharmaceuticals, tainted blood from medical waste, toxic chemicals from fracking and other industrial by-products, etc.) that are not filtered out through conventional waste treatment, when the land is so depleted of nutrients by over-reliance on petro-fertilizers, non-organic farming, drought and floods that the food produced lacks nutritional value (not to mention taste), CLEARLY the sum total of humanity's actions and inaction (regarding stewardship) indicate that it's all going to end in a decimating collapse that will leave NO human survivors - especially as the planet continues to heat up past the point of plant (ALL VEGETATION), bird, fish and animal (including us) adaptibility (ie. NO FOOD, WATER OR AIR).

Oh, that's not enough? Someone or few MAY survive that? Okay, how about irradiating the planet on an unprecedented scale as all the (over 400) nuclear reactors not completely decommissioned (and all the waste that is being kept in pools), fail all over the world and we get Fukushima times >400?

By the way, now it looks like we're going to screw it up even more with "geo-engineering" plans (to begin in March) to mitigate the very climate change they deny every day!

Lots of luck with that survival of the most sapient dumbasses on the planet, who can breathe oxygen-depleted nanoparticulate-filled air, drink non-existent toxic water, and survive in a completely inhospitable and hostile environment.

Since we've failed to heed the warning signs up til TODAY, and tomorrow we'll still keep doing what got us into this mess in the first place - until we can't - humanity not only won't survive, but doesn't even deserve it! We're the idiots of creation - not the crowning beacon we perceive ourselves to be. Our science and math has been misused, misapplied and co-opted over the centuries to produce the industrial civilization we have now: overpopulated beyond the carrying capacity of the planet, lopsided "wealth" distribution, inadequate stewardship of the environment, non-stop (ever worsening) pollution of all kinds, and greed-induced depletion of all resources.

We can't even overcome our own internal drives, so how are we supposed to suddenly "cooperate" (a long-forgotten attribute we once had) to turn it all around immediately and guarantee that not only we survive, but that the earth can heal itself in short order so that the rest of the species and environmental factors we rely on for our existence aren't terminated? Hint: we CAN'T and WON'T, because faulty, frail, non-sapient HUMANS make the big decisions to KEEP IT THIS WAY!

Tom

Forgot to add this for your reading pleasure:

http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-emperor-has-no-clothes.html

Oliver

Tom - you make interesting points as always.

By way of castigation, you state: Here we go again with the "we'll always survive" hubris of human "intelligence" and the vaunted human species.

Do you not think that this statement could easily be changed to: Here we go again with the "we'll all be extinct" hubris of human "intelligence" and the vaunted human species.?

Wielding the word hubris as a weapon against my viewpoint is purely judgemental on your part. It could easily be levelled at doomers.

You have misinterpreted my rationale if you believe that I am anthropocentric. I have no egotism about our species. Philosophically, I feel we have had our time in the sun and used it poorly, and it may be time for 'something else' to arise. However, in my prior comments, I am merely theorizing that total extinction may not occur, to us or to plant, bird, fish and animal life, similar to avian dinosaurs (and many other species) surviving the planetary catastrophe that resulted in the extinction of mighty land dinosaurs.

There is room for all our viewpoints. I respect yours. Time will tell, none of us knows for sure, despite the wild claims bandied around by non-scientists. (As I understand it, scientists work with theory, historical and contemporary facts, testing and proof.)

One more point, if I may. What is the purpose of blogging about 'certain disaster', such as the web links you supply? I am confused when I read hardcore doomerism. Is it to influence decision makers in the plutocracy? (Too late) To warn the general public? (Ineffective) To forewarn that it is the End of the World in 'I told you so' terms? (Egotistic) Please teach me.

Gail

Assuming mine is one of "certain disaster" websites you refer to, Oliver, I have to say that you have asked a good question. In fact I am probably a bit more pessimistic than even Tom, because from all that I have been able to learn, his idea that cooperation is a "long-forgotten attribute we once had" is very doubtful. The evidence is that on balance our species has always been competitive, even warlike.

Whether you subscribe to the notion that there exists some higher spirit with a benign natural connection to nature that has been severed by agriculture or capitalism or industrial civilization - or that we are more like bacteria overflowing the petri dish - the outcome will be equally gruesome. So your question as to why blog about it is worthy of an answer.

People come to awareness of certain disaster via different paths, none of them the least bit enjoyable. For some it's peak oil, for others climate change, for others economic injustice and corrupt institutions. Personally, I was pretty oblivious until 2008, when I realized trees are dying. Once you look at the trend objectively, it's clear that they are in rapid decline, all over the world.

For a while I thought it was from climate change and so I set out to read everything I could. I very quickly realized that climate change, especially this unprecedently rapid era with amplifying feebacks kicking in fast already, always leads to mass extinctions. I wouldn't have bothered to write about it, because there are many far more informed and skilled authors scribbling frantically away on the topic even back then.

Then from various observations (tropical plants being watered in pots also dying, for example) I came to understand that in fact it isn't climate change that is killing trees (yet), it's tropospheric ozone pollution. So that is the reason I started writing - since nobody else is. There have been a few people in the past who even published books about it, but they were ignored and have given up. It's an incredibly terrifying and thus wildly unpopular subject.

I wrote because the fact is, unlike CO2 which is the main driver of climate change, the precursors to ozone dissipate very quickly. The atmosphere would become much cleaner within days, and since all the trees aren't completely dead yet, some might revive and certainly new ones could grow. And it would result in anywhere from a 10 to 60 percent increase in annual crop yield with higher nutritive quality.

So I started in 2009 trying to document tree death and collect research about ozone in the hopes people would wake up and decide to choose life over driving cars. And the blog is also a diary - and the best I can come up with to demonstrate to my children that I didn't sit idly by as the ecosystem collapsed. But since then, climate change has accelerating at a dizzying speed.

Now I think that enormous disasters are already occuring with many more on the horizon very soon - floods, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, landslides - and the social unrest that results from governments' inability to respond to so many crises all at once is going to lead to a very volatile, unpredicatable, and dangerous situation from which there will be no escape.

And so I really often don't know why I continue to write since I feel this way. I suppose it's because I don't know what else to do - and because some people (a very few) actually do want to know about what is happening to trees and other plants - and because with one solitary exception, every single person I know is completely oblivious and in denial. I would be very alone without being able to commiserate with the wonderful friends I have met via the internet who understand, to one degree or another, that we're on a freight train headed over a cliff.

Or, my latest favorite metaphor for our earth, more current than the perennially popular Titanic, is unfolding in real time on the even more ironically named Carnival “Triumph”.

People crowded and trapped on a luxury liner, hungry, hot, and drowning in their own shit and vomit. Apparently there is still plenty of booze though. Something to look forward to!

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/02/14/stranded-carnival-cruise-expected-to-dock-in-alabama-after-four-days-with/

Aboc Zed

Gail,

You account of transformation of the trees is profound but it is "old news" in the sense that pure science warned of 'limits to growth' some 50 years ago.

Being scared without having any means to influence the course of events only leads to waste of mental and emotional energy.

To the extent that it is hapenning to people who have capability to understand it is a double disservice to genus homo and LIFE as the whole.

When we allow our negative emotions to rob us of energy we act unwise.

Over unraveling bottleneck event and eventual collapse of fossil fuel civilization the members of the very thin strata of aware and science oriented among genus homo has to identify each other, connect and begin to evolve the ways of institutionalization that are only capable under complete and exclusive guidance by science of sustainability.

Given the enormous complexity and rare occurence and dispersal of such individuals over the planet this task seems to be close to impossible. But if one factors rapid die-off of humans population it is not inconceivable that those individuals may find each other at some point down the road.

When we talk "doom and gloom" we add to the noise making the task of identification and collaboration much much harder.

If we want to be of service to posterity (in whatever numbers and organization they will superceed us) we should carefully manage what kind of thoughts we allow ourselves to think and what kind of communications we pass along.

As it is all of uss are part of the problem.

And only select few may turn out to be part of the solution - we will never know who but the fact that LIFE survived many extinctions guarantees their existance among us.

Manolo

Hi George !

Just as a reminder, humanity went through 2 terrible bottlenecks in the last 70'000 years, the first being the "Mount Toba event"( last Super volcano eruption in recent history), which left, after 6 years of darkness and according to our best genetic science, less than 10'000 homo sapiens roaming on mother earth. Though selection I suppose...and the ride was pretty wild from there through the Ice age, definitively no cake walk.
The second was 12'900 years ago, the very sudden breakdown of the Laurentide ice sheet. This one was even reported in mythology by about 600 cultures around the globe and must have been devastating. Sea level rise of about + 40 meters very sudden, reported "in one day and one night", loss of landmass (submerged to this very day...) estimated to be almost the size of China and Europe together.
Whoever was around on the low level seafronts and islands perished. Humans like to be close to sea and at that time, getting food from the sea was certainly very attractive. Pristine world at that time :)
Just to say, here we are again, 7 billions ... pretty resilient that homo sapiens species!

Tom

Oliver - you know i meant no disrespect to you personally as i was writing for the general reader and expressing my utter contempt of mankind's history with respect to living on Earth (especially since the Industrial Revolution). Your point is well taken, that the exact comment can be turned around and could be, except the measurable direction we're heading is obviously not one that will include "growth" or an easier time for mankind (though people continue to stay high on hopium to continue doing what we're doing - and killing off all other species while we're at it). i've become familiar with your position and respect it, but beg to differ on the state of the Earth we'll leave behind.

Oh and the reason i write is a "mission impossible" directive - trying to awaken as many as i can that this charade we've been living is going to end SHORTLY and to enjoy their remaining time. As you stated, it's probably useless.

At least you aren't recommending the self-censorship that Aboc Zed is advocating - you know, just ignore the science and be happy. Go shopping, all is well.

Aboc Zed: there are no guarantees and you know it.

Tom

Here's an example of human intelligence being exposed as a LETHAL MUTATION!

http://blogdredd.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-evolution-of-anthropogenic.html

Oliver

Gail - Thanks for your thoughtful response, and I hear you about why you are driven to write about your certainty that pollution is causing tree death, precipitating a mass extinction. But it's this very certainty that I question. And it's the certainty I read about on many blogs that has made me stop, scratch my head and wonder about the basis on which this certainty is expressed.

Everyone worldwide should be free to express opinions about anything that worries them, and even to sound a clarion call to fellow planet dwellers. However, I would like to see more scientific rigor in the statements made - such as "the latest thinking is that ...", rather than unprovable assertions such as "all large animal life will be extinct by 2031" etc.

The reason I posed my question about the motivation to write about unverifiable certain doom is because it seems to me to be a waste of energy - emotional and physical. I like what Tom said about enjoying our remaining time, echoed by Aboc Zed in different words, which has always been valid advice since the dawn of Man, seeing as we are each mortal beings with a relatively short life. On this basis, agonizing about The Forthcoming End in my opinion serves no greater purpose than enabling individuals to express their anguish, which just adds more pain to a painful existence.

Hence my desire to think beyond the bottleneck to the possible renewal of some aspect of Life on this resilient planet. (I admit I arrived at this point having gone through doom-is-nigh thinking for several years.)

Tom - I know you weren't being personal, and I enjoy the debate. But I would again question you about the validity of your statements such as "this charade ... is going to end shortly". If you added "in my considered view" I would understand better. As I mentioned to Gail, it's the unverifiable certainty that puzzles me.

Also, I can only speak for myself, but allowing for the possibility of some humans living beyond catastrophe and continuing to evolve is nothing to do with "ignoring the science and be happy", "going shopping" or "growth as usual". Far from ignoring it, it is the science of evolution that informs my viewpoint. I think the science you refer to is environmental science, where adherents seem to pick and choose from reports of changes going on and jump to the conclusion that complete doom is certain.

---

I guess at the end of the day, it is up to each of us to decide how to cope with the knowledge we think we have gained about this era of decline. If we can keep debating in this civil way, we will probably all learn from each other and benefit from communing - it certainly is lonely living in isolated angst.

PS: The news that something hit Russia from outer space reminds me that no matter how badly we treat our planet, it’s the cosmos that holds all the cards to our long-term survival.

Tom

Oliver, thanks for the continuing civil debate. Let me first point out that everything i write here is OF COURSE in my humble opinion. So you can take everything i say with a grain (ok, a 5lb bag) of salt. i read the science and understand your concern for rigor but i think you're ignoring the negative effects of our humanity. Let's start with science and math. Ever since these fields were discovered/invented they've been hi-jacked by the military, banking and business interests for their own ends. To keep this comment down to less than dissertation length i'll skip a lot of examples and "fleshing out" that we can do as we go along. To get the point across, let's look at one modern, recent example. In India right now they're having problems with bird flu in some regions. Knowing that the reporting of any cases is critical to keeping the virus from gaining a foothold and becoming stronger, the current way to deal with it by the authorities is to cull the herds. Being poor and not wanting to lose their only source of income many are NOT reporting and even threatening the veterinarians in the agencies who are monitoring the disease with violence/death. This happens all over the place. Scientific research in universities is another one we could look at. Anyone finding contrary evidence to the effectiveness of a new drug or whatever is being funded by large corporations is castigated, career and name ruined or even prosecuted and jailed.
To make a long comment short let me just say that the belief in the supremacy of human intelligence is a bit premature since our individual and group selfishness/ignorance keep any strides we make from being utilized to benefit all mankind and instead get shunted off to individual/corporate entities engaged in the all too human advantage propensity. It's happened with oil, nuclear energy (especially in regard to clean up), food production, pharmaceuticals, banking, and on and on.
If we weren't such idiots we'd have been taking steps since the 1970's (at least) to change our ways. Since it isn't beneficial to the bottom lines of the powers that be, here we are.

Tom

last one:

http://blogdredd.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-evolution-of-anthropogenic.html

"Another evolutionist, Ernst Mayr, has stated that human intelligence is a fatal mutation dooming the species:

I'LL BEGIN with an interesting debate that took place some years ago between Carl Sagan, the well-known astrophysicist, and Ernst Mayr, the grand old man of American biology. They were debating the possibility of finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. And Sagan, speaking from the point of view of an astrophysicist, pointed out that there are innumerable planets just like ours. There is no reason they shouldn't have developed intelligent life. Mayr, from the point of view of a biologist, argued that it's very unlikely that we'll find any. And his reason was, he said, we have exactly one example: Earth. So let's take a look at Earth. And what he basically argued is that intelligence is a kind of lethal mutation ... you're just not going to find intelligent life elsewhere, and you probably won't find it here for very long either because it's just a lethal mutation ... With the environmental crisis, we're now in a situation where we can decide whether Mayr was right or not. If nothing significant is done about it, and pretty quickly, then he will have been correct: human intelligence is indeed a lethal mutation. Maybe some humans will survive, but it will be scattered and nothing like a decent existence, and we'll take a lot of the rest of the living world along with us."

Oliver

Tom - Good points again. We can agree quite easily here. I believe that as a whole, the human race is not (yet) intelligent - in the sense of sapient. [Our denomination as Homo sapiens is erroneous and wishful thinking.] We could say that en masse we are clever, but this is not the same as sapient, not by any rational definition.

Clever people do all the sneaky self-serving things you describe, and more. Sapient people act far differently*, and if our species was primarily sapient rather than clever, life on Earth would be a lot different, and for a start I imagine you and I and other visitors to this blog would not be found in isolated spots on the margins of the power-elite society. (I am making some assumptions here, but I can't think Question Everything is favored reading for plutocrats, politicians and other sociopathic "leaders".)

Please be assured that I am not making any claim that because our species is intelligent, some of "us" will survive the coming bottleneck. I merely express the hypothesis that another evolutionary step towards real sapience would favor remnant humans, because in a much more hostile physical environment, wise cooperation would become a key factor in evolution's "survival of the fittest", rather than the greedy selfishness that denotes the explosion of Homo sapiens since the invention of agriculture c.10,000 years ago.

In my understanding of the theory to which I refer, there is a likelihood that, following a Dark Ages period of mayhem and carnage during which food, drinkable water and energy resources are vastly diminished and clever thugs attempt to dominate the remaining resources, this cleverness trait will not prove useful longer term, owing to the predictable last-man-standing outcome among the violent clever Alphas. Meanwhile, any emergent more sapient groups would strive to cooperate and use their brains to favor the whole group, rather than just themselves. This strategy for survival would include some kind of avoidance tactics regarding "clever others". And it is from these sapient groups that future man could emerge. Aboc Zed has referred to them as Homo cogitans.

In my view, it is selfish cleverness (ingloriously demonstrated by any number of Alpha males among today's plutocracy) that is the lethal mutation referred to by Mayr, not intelligence/sapience - which by evidential proof has yet to arise in a large enough proportion of the human race. Of course, if you are right, sapience will be snuffed out before it can properly emerge.

I still remember a university joke in the 1970s. Everyone in the bar was talking excitedly about the new funding for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). One guy sat quietly, watching everyone with detachment. When at last there was a moment of calm, he piped up: "They should start the search on Earth."

---

* History shows some examples of precursor sapients - Jesus (real or apocryphal), Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Their conduct was altogether different from the norm, and look how they fared among the mass of clever humans.

John Wheeler

And who knows, maybe this is the end of the age of carbon based life forms... Our "offspring" may end up being a "grey goo" of self-replicating nanobots that start a whole new chain of evolution.

Martin Gisser

Oliver, far earlier than Jesus, Gandhi, MLK there was a man named Siddhattha Gotama, aka Buddha. He fared better and died peacefully aged 80. He left behind a still existing "religion" - whose core is actually more a philosophy. Some of his teachings (process ontology, psychology, epistemic pragmatism) were centuries ahead of the rest of the pack. Some modern Buddhists (e.g. Stephen Batchelor) even managed to drop the rebirth BS. This gives me some hope.

Actually, it's a detail of my (Mars JP Florifulgurator's) sinister plan to save some of mankind plus habitat, and perhaps even me. Yes, I don't keep this plan secret. (It might be just a stupid hippie's dream, of course.) I've exposed the necessary part for the first time here: http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/2009/08/getting-serious.html#comment-6a00e54f9ea2e588340120a4ccde7a970b
I still haven't done a good writeup/manifesto. My idea is to use secular Buddhism (or, as Batchelor calls it, Buddhism 2.0) as a motivational tool, governance framework (cf. vinaya) and psychologic guidance. One sinister socio-Frankensteinian idea of mine is to yoke Mahayana Buddhism to get things started: For, anybody interested in seriously following the bodhisattva ideal this century needs to understand:
1) Not carbon negative, no bodhisattva
2) Not carbon negative, no sangha

This should propel serious Buddhists into action. Mwahahahaha...

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