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August 20, 2013

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Oliver

@Bonce - That's all well and good, but you appear to still reside in wishful thinking territory.

I respect you for attempting to "set out an alternative sociopolitical paradigm". Once upon a time, I too believed that people could and would change the bestial way society was run if only they were better educated and better informed by better ideas. However, I have come to realize that self-interest/ego/me-first Darwinist survivalism in Homo sapiens militates against sufficient enlightenment (akin to sapience), except in an extreme minority of cases.

On this basis, I remain unconvinced that your general proposition has any traction in the real world. I return to the conclusion that no matter how much you wish/hope people will act in the "right way", or how much you campaign for it, the fundamental nature of the current crop of hominids will remain an unmovable obstacle to progress in the "right" direction.

I am not trying to change your mind. Everyone is entitled to follow any path they choose to make sense of how the future is unfolding for the fragile biosphere and the full outcome of foolish short-termist/capitalist behavior becomes evident.

Personally, I am more interested in Professor Mobus' thesis about post-bottleneck evolution towards eusapience and eusocciality. This would take many generations, so it's of intellectual rather than practical interest of course.

Bonce

@Oliver - To suggest I have "wishful thinking" is a psychologism - a psychological explanation for why I am wrong. First, we need to determine if I am wrong (the substantive issues).

I understand your position (humans and our predicament are dodgy so we are doomed). I have been setting out an alternative viewpoint and arguing that it is a better explanation of how things work (that's what I meant by 'paradigm' - a way of looking at things, not a wishful solution). I accept your comment that what I've written is hard to follow, that's not my intention but I do think that the questions we are addressing have a depth of headache-inducing complexity that's hard to avoid (whether I've expressed it well or not). You didn't address what I was trying to set out, so we'll have to agree to disagree for now.

George Mobus

@RE,

Thanks for the link. RE: stupidity vs. cleverness without wisdom, two references.
Craig Dilworth's "Too Smart for Our Own Good" and Robert Sternberg (ed), "Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid"

The last one helps put things in perspective, I think.

-------------------------------------
@Bonce (1),

I have a hard time understanding what a "sociopolitical struggle" is if not the result of people interacting. If those people are clever but not wise in the sense it is defined in the literature (which I have pointed to) then I can easily see it being a struggle because those people are incapable of seeing consequences of not cooperating (which would eliminate the struggle part). You seem to be claiming that this struggle is a construct outside of the interactions of people that then conditions what they do. I think this is pre-assigning causal force to something that is, itself caused by that which you claim it causes. I'm OK with mutual causality and co-evolution, but in this case I assert that the social fabric (and dynamics) are a result of our cognitive capabilities lacking a capacity to think in a sapient fashion.

It would be a hasty generalisation to conclude from this alone that we are doomed.
Well I would hardly consider a decade of study as hasty. Nor have I concluded from our lack of sapience "alone" that we are doomed. Quite the opposite. I saw from the various trajectories of major predicaments and the nature of the received wisdom of neoclassical economics that we are doomed. I then wondered why we are stuck acting so foolishly. And BTW the "we" who are doomed is the overshoot population of the current species. The species is doomed in the long run just as every species has been doomed to extinction. But, I hope, not before giving rise to newer, more sapient species.
I would position the role of self-interested power structures as the main feature of sociopolitics.
Quite so. I agree, but the reason that people pursue self-interested power structures is precisely because they do not possess adequate sapience! Later you seem to conflate "cleverness" with sapience and, again, I need to restate that these are not the same thing (even though they are obviously related as cognitive processes).

WRT: scenarios A & B, you might be interested to know that there has been a tremendous amount of both anthropological and theoretical work (sociobiology, evolutionary sociology, etc.) done on this exact sort of modeling. Let me suggest just one article that captures a lot of the thinking about the evolution of cooperativity in humans. Nowak, Martin (2012). "Why We Help", Scientific American July 2012, page 34.

You're hypotheticals have been investigated from a number of perspectives, including some recent paleoanthropological evidence that human tribes tended far more often to cooperate with one another than compete. In my theory cooperativity is a natural consequence of the emergence of sapience (along with language, abstract thinking, tool making, etc.) And they all work together to form social structures. The thing I think you fail to see is that sapience emerged in a weak form - most new traits do, in evolution. The selection pressures that favored increasing sapience were removed (relaxed in evolution jargon) after the invention of agriculture. And due to our high cleverness, which much preceded sapience, we have constructed a world of technical solutions but have very poor judgment in areas of human interactions. In some of the above mentioned studies they have shown that defectors (sociopaths?) will always exist in any general population of cooperators and they will generally be failures. But when the environment starts to select for defectors (that is people who are selfish and will take advantage of others), as is the case in societies based on ownership of land needed to coordinate larger scale agriculture (e.g. as developed in Mesopotamia), then those power structures you like to point to as explanatory have an emergent advantage and the selfish power mongers will prevail simply because that structure is favored. In a perverse sense, the species became more fit by virtue of those power structures. And it remained more fit (as evidenced by our current population) until the present when those power structures are the key cause of the major predicaments.

------------------------------------

This has gotten too long!!! I'll continue in another comment after lunch.

George

George Mobus

@Bonce (2),

As I understand the logic, the assertion is "we are doomed and nothing can be done", so the burden of proof is on those making that claim

I will admit that my rhetoric has become a lot more strident of late in this regard. However, I assert for good reason. Consider this argument. We have scientifically known about the trends and consequences of most of our current predicaments for well over fifty years. For greenhouse gas forcings of climate it has been over 100 years. In all that time scientist have pointed out that we might be able to avert climate change, water shortages, food shortages, resource depletions, etc. if we would take actions to do so. Unfortunately, in all cases the problem came down to costs of mitigation, and in the case of fossil fuels being abandoned it is in direct conflict with the western profit-based capitalist system. Since so many people in the developed world follow that system as a religion, they naturally railed at the thought of giving it up in order to save ourselves and our world.

I, myself, started out with the intention of making the case for salvation but over the last several years it has become more clear that the trajectories and rates of these predicaments make it already too late to avoid catastrophe. Just in the peak net energy from fossil fuels conundrum we have an impossible situation. There is no conceivable way that so-called alternative energy sources (most of which have ridiculously low EROIs) could be ramped up in time to take over the burden carried by FFs right now. There is growing evidence that net energy per capita from all sources has been declining since the mid 1970s and the rate of decline is increasing today. We exceeded the planet's carrying capacity for a biological species by virtue of having so much extrasomatic energy, energy slaves, but once those slaves die so will billions of people whose lives depend on them (and that is almost everyone on the planet).

So given the high certainty of calamities from multiple phenomena hitting us in short order (any one of which could cause our demise), the fact that these calamities are already in motion, with inertia, and will get very much worse, and the prevailing beliefs that capitalism will solve all problems, that is the reason I conclude that we are doomed.

Proof will be available shortly when the experiment runs its course. BTW, the concept of burden of proof (one way or the other) does not apply here since proof is not what science does. It can only disprove at best (falsify an hypothesis). So in this sense the burden of some kind of falsification rests on those who claim my thesis is false. For example, if they could show that cold fusion was economically viable and readily implemented over the next the years, that would completely undermine my thesis about energy decline.

If you and I were the world leaders, I'm sure we could sort it out in the medium and long term.

Really??? So you think there are technical solutions that could be brought to bear on these predicaments with nothing but good outcomes for the future? Geoengineering, for example? Sorry, but there is nothing that is going to sort out FF depletion and declining EROI. Those fall under the category of laws of nature. And short of the cold fusion miracle mentioned above, what we will experience is a given.

OTSO: "defeatism". Actually my thesis is absolutely not defeatist but only insofar as a salvation of the genus is concerned. I put it this way. Over the last several decades I have gone from trying to figure out how to save the population (and when it became clear to me that was impossible) to save the species (which is a biological impossibility) to save the genus. The later may yet involve doing something proactive (I've been writing advice to younger and hopefully more sapient beings who just might take up the challenge). But the more familiar I have become with prior bottleneck events, mass die-offs, and the genealogy of our species (at least one bottleneck event ~80k years ago) the more I see the salvation of the genus as a given. Whether the population that makes it through the bottleneck is more sapient on average than the current global population is pure speculation. I've suggested some mechanisms to boost the odds. And whether or not future selective pressures will favor returning to the evolutionary trajectory toward more sapience is up for grabs. I happen to think it will because humans will be forced back into small tribal communities where group selection can once again push us toward greater eusociality (as I have now exhaustively written about!)

I don't understand how the claim that we are doomed can be so strong, considering all the uncertainties in the models and methods for the prediction of a supremely complex system.

Well take a look at what the actual "uncertainties" are about. There is no uncertainty about the direction of global warming and the climate forcing effects, the uncertainty is about the sensitivity of the forcings per units of carbon. Hence the IPCC projects a slew of scenarios from a best case (low sensitivity) to a worst case (high sensitivity). The earth is warming and the RATE of warming is due to anthropogenic sources of carbon. On that there is very little uncertainty (only possibly the noise due to natural climate cycles). I strongly recommend you take a look at the special section of Science, Vol.341, 2, Aug. 2013, especially the reviews on pages 486 and 492 (actually you should read them all). This is what the science has to say, not the main stream or Fox News media.

To consider what is attainable we first need to critically consider how things are the way they are. If we can model past and present effectively, then that will guide us as to what is possible and how to go about changing things. [emphasis added]

Couldn't agree more. Of course that is what I have argued I have done! And because of that analysis I have concluded the doom (for the population) scenario. Ergo there is no going about anything to be done to change things; there is nothing that can be done (to save the population or even the species).

The challenge to you is to follow your own advice, critically consider, etc. and if you arrive, via that route to a conclusion that something can be done (and let us know what that is) then good on ya. Bear in mind, however, you cannot get by with merely claiming you did the critical analysis. We will all need to see it (in the spirit of scientific verification) and perhaps dissect it to see if we agree with your conclusions. I have spent the last many years laying out my analysis on sapience, energy, biophysical economics, etc. So my analysis is readily available for anyone to critique.

George

Tom

Very interesting discussion prompted by another excellent, probing essay. Thanks George and everyone else (even justnobody who basically says "we don't really know [how it will turn out], albeit in a crass way, which is true - it's all just speculation and ideas).

The only point i'd like to make is that with the profiteers in charge (having paid off, through banking shenanigans, the governments who in turn run their militaries) the chances that any of our other ideas presented here of a "happy outcome" (ie. humanity continues along because we're so special and possess this germ of sapience) before the environment totally goes south (ie. inability to grow food AT ALL in an super irradiated, depleted environment full of killing gases, devoid of oxygen producing vegetation and sea-life and increasingly heating up for who knows how long) are less than miniscule in the amount of time we have to change the trajectory we're on.

We may as well look for the Second Coming or being saved by UFO's as just as likely.

Denial and myth is what we grasp for when faced with extinction. The "anything is possible" idea is a pipedream - like carbon taxing - and will not come about due to the momentum of the Industrial Revolution and the fact that humanity has gotten lazy and is too attached to its toys to let go now.
It's too late even if we stopped all fossil fuel use tomorrow - the lag factor of all the carbon we've ignorantly pumped into the atmosphere (and oceans) will still take thousands of years to "shake out" and the effects will still kill most if not all of life on the planet. I wouldn't be surprised if anaerobic life retakes control for the next million or so years. The twenty (and increasing) positive feedbacks we've triggered aren't going to just go away because we have all these great ideas.

Oliver: i hear you and agree.

Bonce: proofs, shmoofs - tell it to the dying trees.

George Mobus

@Tom,

...before the environment totally goes south (ie. inability to grow food AT ALL in an super irradiated, depleted environment full of killing gases, devoid of oxygen producing vegetation and sea-life and increasingly heating up for who knows how long) are less than miniscule in the amount of time we have to change the trajectory we're on.

and

...and the effects will still kill most if not all of life on the planet. I wouldn't be surprised if anaerobic life retakes control for the next million or so years. The twenty (and increasing) positive feedbacks we've triggered aren't going to just go away because we have all these great ideas.

What I am curious about is how you come to these conclusions (or claims). I follow the science pretty closely and while I expect a pretty awful great dying, I take my cues from previous great die-off events. And none of them were anywhere near as radical as you suggest is our fate. I only know of one person who has a scientific background who thinks this way and while I concede that he tells a good (internally consistent) story, as far as I can tell it is still based on a number of assumptions that cannot be shown to be operative (yet).

I suggest you list out these twenty feedbacks, put some numbers on them (magnitude, rate, direct effects, etc.) so that we get some idea of where you are coming from (you sound very certain of these claims). Then you also might consider looking at the literature on systems feedback loops as the systems dynamically evolve. It is generally the case that in natural complex systems there are negative feedback loops that are "hidden" during the early phases with dominance from positive loops. That is what drives the system exponentially upward. But the building effects of the positive loops eventually trigger and amplify the negative loops which then counter the positives. Granted the situation might get dire and there will be "casualties." But I think it is a mistake to focus on the positive loops and discount out of hand the negative potentials.

Take a look at the issue of Science that I recommended to Bonce above. The people doing this work are certainly alarmed at what is happening. They don't necessarily want to see the Earth changed so radically - most of us think that the way things have been are the "right" way for them to be forever. But their evidence is clear that life in most taxa is pretty resilient. Notably, generalists persist more readily than specialist species. Humans, are among the most generalist animal species there has ever been.

George

Bonce

Hi George, lots of interesting topics, though I think we're getting a bit tangled in a few places. This is long (lots of quoting for clarity) but I've tried not to introduce new lines (holding stuff back).

Procedural matters

Firstly to outline the structure of what I'm debating/discussing. You're concluding that humans are doomed soon and I am questioning that conclusion. I don't have a clear outline of the lines of reason for your conclusion. You are presenting some reasoning and I'm questioning some aspects of that and proposing aspects of alternative viewpoints. I've been suggesting that the central area of difference is how sociopolitical structures can work and change - I've been asking how you are concluding that they cannot work for the given task and I don't have a clear picture of why you think so.

To jump to a procedural matter:

BTW, the concept of burden of proof (one way or the other) does not apply here since proof is not what science does. It can only disprove at best (falsify an hypothesis). So in this sense the burden of some kind of falsification rests on those who claim my thesis is false. For example, if they could show that cold fusion was economically viable and readily implemented over the next the years, that would completely undermine my thesis about energy decline.
I'm not sure how you are reasoning this. You are making a claim - limiting the range of prediction of a complex system to draw a strong/definite conclusion. I'm not asking for a formal proof (and I don't see how it can be formally scientific), just an outline of your reasoning. Where you present some of your reasoning, it's then up to me to critique your reasoning, if I disagree. If along the way, I make a counter claim, then I will have the burden of proof for that claim.

The challenge to you is to follow your own advice, critically consider, etc. and if you arrive, via that route to a conclusion that something can be done (and let us know what that is) then good on ya. Bear in mind, however, you cannot get by with merely claiming you did the critical analysis. We will all need to see it (in the spirit of scientific verification) and perhaps dissect it to see if we agree with your conclusions.
It sounds like shifting the burden of proof for the whole thing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophic_burden_of_proof

I am critically considering the routes and trying to break this down into manageable sections (my suggestions are in the direction of critical tradition). The context is your route to your conclusion. If, as a separate task, I were to address the whole shebang and present my complete reasoning for a range of possibilities, then that would serve the same process but make it much less manageable (I don't have the time for that and I doubt you have to time to get tangled up in lots of long essays in the comment sections of your blog).


(replies 1)

You raised some interesting things in your reply, but I feel you didn't always follow what I was trying to question, though it's clearly rather complex.

back to (reply 1), some tangles ...

I have a hard time understanding what a "sociopolitical struggle" is if not the result of people interacting. If those people are clever but not wise in the sense it is defined in the literature (which I have pointed to) then I can easily see it being a struggle because those people are incapable of seeing consequences of not cooperating (which would eliminate the struggle part). You seem to be claiming that this struggle is a construct outside of the interactions of people that then conditions what they do. I think this is pre-assigning causal force to something that is, itself caused by that which you claim it causes. I'm OK with mutual causality and co-evolution, but in this case I assert that the social fabric (and dynamics) are a result of our cognitive capabilities lacking a capacity to think in a sapient fashion.
I think that 'sociopolitical struggle' is an emergent abstraction/result of human interaction (and that human interaction is effectively guided by such abstractions: culture, economic structure, etc.). You didn't quote what I said that made you think that I thought otherwise, so I'm not sure what you're referring to.

It would be a hasty generalisation to conclude from this alone that we are doomed.
Well I would hardly consider a decade of study as hasty. Nor have I concluded from our lack of sapience "alone" that we are doomed.
You must have read me too quickly. I was separating out a line of reasoning that crops up (esp in the comments) , i.e.: because something hasn't happened before means it won't happen - formally that is 'hasty generalisation'. I was careful to say that "to conclude from this alone". I was separating this in order to focus on the substantive analytical stuff, I said:
It would be a hasty generalisation to conclude from this alone that we are doomed. I assume your conclusion (that we are doomed as a species) is an extrapolation of the qualities of sapience that you have modelled - that you apply your model of sapience to a model of sociopolitical process (and circumstantial factors: technology, etc.). Have I got this right?
Which you then begin to answer:
I saw from the various trajectories of major predicaments and the nature of the received wisdom of neoclassical economics that we are doomed. I then wondered why we are stuck acting so foolishly. ...
(Understood. I have learned to interpret 'foolish' to mean lack of wisdom, not lack of 'cleverness', but it is still dissonant for me due to paradigmatic reasons that I've discussed.)


(power structures)

I would position the role of self-interested power structures as the main feature of sociopolitics.
Quite so. I agree, but the reason that people pursue self-interested power structures is precisely because they do not possess adequate sapience! Later you seem to conflate "cleverness" with sapience and, again, I need to restate that these are not the same thing (even though they are obviously related as cognitive processes).
I'm glad we agree on the power structures bit. The sapience is inadequate where the outcome is inadequate, but the question is whether it might be adequate for our future - our predictions of possibility. (I no longer conflate 'cleverness' with 'wisdom', but if you think I've used either term in a problematic way, please point it out. It may be that I don't know your definition of 'cleverness' though I tried to define my need for a usage at the end of the Remember comments.)
WRT: scenarios A & B, you might be interested to know that there has been a tremendous amount of both anthropological and theoretical work (sociobiology, evolutionary sociology, etc.) done on this exact sort of modeling.
I wasn't trying to build a naive model/simulation from scratch, I was just setting out a notion/paradigm and raising the question from that. I thought it was usefully succinct. (Similarly with my 'Good King Thomas'.) You didn't address what I was trying to set out (I asked why 'outcome B' was not possible).

Thanks for citing the "Why We Help", but it doesn't seem to address the same level of analysis that I was aiming at (power structures and change, etc.).

I found your next paragraph very interesting (and in agreement) - sapience selection, 'defectors', ownership, power structures. (BTW, I do see sapience as 'weak'.) I'd like to quote your paragraph and expand on this soon (it seems to go in the direction I'm asking about).


(replies 2), range of crises

I will admit that my rhetoric has become a lot more strident of late in this regard. However, I assert for good reason. Consider this argument. We have scientifically known about the trends and consequences of most of our current predicaments for well over fifty years.
You then set out the inevitability of CC catastrophe.... "already too late to avoid catastrophe" - indeed, catastrophes are due and cannot be avoided completely. I don't disagree with the general severity of the problems due, and in no way am I downplaying the importance of the analysis. It is the headline news that isn't. I don't think this is the source of our differences. As I said:
As to the circumstantial factors (technology, the timescale and range of climate change, etc), I don't think this is the source of disagreement.

Back to you...

So given the high certainty of calamities from multiple phenomena hitting us in short order (any one of which could cause our demise), the fact that these calamities are already in motion, with inertia, and will get very much worse, and the prevailing beliefs that capitalism will solve all problems, that is the reason I conclude that we are doomed.
As you might guess, I agree with all of this except the conclusion (it is implied but how is it inevitable?).

If you and I were the world leaders, I'm sure we could sort it out in the medium and long term.
Really??? So you think there are technical solutions that could be brought to bear on these predicaments with nothing but good outcomes for the future? Geoengineering, for example? Sorry, but there is nothing that is going to sort out FF depletion and declining EROI. Those fall under the category of laws of nature. And short of the cold fusion miracle mentioned above, what we will experience is a given.
If by "nothing but good outcomes for the future" you mean survival of humanity, then yes we would save the day (eventually). If you mean keeping the population above 1 billion, then that would depend on the contingencies/solutions. It's an absurd suggestion by me, but it does seem to tease out a difference in our futurist perspectives. I could expand on my view in a later post if that's of interest.


(...modelling the complexity)

I don't understand how the claim that we are doomed can be so strong, considering all the uncertainties in the models and methods for the prediction of a supremely complex system.
Well take a look at what the actual "uncertainties" are about. There is no uncertainty about the direction of global warming and the climate forcing effects, the uncertainty is about the sensitivity of the forcings per units of carbon. Hence the IPCC projects a slew of scenarios from a best case (low sensitivity) to a worst case (high sensitivity). The earth is warming and the RATE of warming is due to anthropogenic sources of carbon. On that there is very little uncertainty (only possibly the noise due to natural climate cycles). I strongly recommend you take a look at the special section of Science, Vol.341, 2, Aug. 2013, especially the reviews on pages 486 and 492 (actually you should read them all). This is what the science has to say, not the main stream or Fox News media.
Sure, important stuff, which I'm not debating (and I don't follow mainstream news but I know what you're referring to). As I mentioned with "circumstantial factors", I'm interested in how these crises might play out (the technical problems and solutions), but I want to focus on what I think is the source of our different conclusions, which I've been focussing on.

What I meant by "uncertainties in the models and methods" was how the prediction is reasoned. In particular, how the sociopolitical model is affected by the sapience model. Take a quick hierarchy leading for predicting doom/survival (nothing definitive), bottom up: human biology (sapience, etc); human behaviour (environmental); societal; economic; political; crises policy (technical). We are discussing whether the top of the hierarchy can be achieved, and if it can be implemented through each stage of the hierarchy down to, or up from, the level at which sapience is defined. I have been suggesting that the significant area of difference in our viewpoints is centred on how change occurs (between the societal and the political layers).

To consider what is attainable we first need to critically consider how things are the way they are. If we can model past and present effectively, then that will guide us as to what is possible and how to go about changing things.
Couldn't agree more. Of course that is what I have argued I have done! And because of that analysis I have concluded the doom (for the population) scenario. Ergo there is no going about anything to be done to change things; there is nothing that can be done (to save the population or even the species).
We agree on the need/emphasis for critical thinking. You have quoted my preamble but not addressed what I was setting out, e.g. I followed with "...can change if the majority struggle against the existing structure." I.e., I need to know why you think this is not possible. You say you have set out your case, but I don't see the outline of it and I have questioned various aspects of this a few times (and acknowledged other aspects that we apparently don't need to address, there is also plenty of agreement).

Bonce

Bonce

@Tom

Denial and myth is what we grasp for when faced with extinction. The "anything is possible" idea is a pipedream...
...
Bonce: proofs, shmoofs - tell it to the dying trees.

In my disagreement with George, I'm not focussed on the range of the contingencies (technical crises/solutions) and I'm not disagreeing with or downplaying George's outlines of these. (As to their severity, George seems to suggest that our species will die but our genus will live, though I don't discount that it might end up much worse.) I'm questioning George's prediction/conclusion with a focus on the sociopolitical model.

Tom, if you don't qualify the range of the crises and the range of the mitigation/solution (including sociopolitical change), then you are presumptively defeatist. If you want to start qualifying your position, that's fine but that's not a debate for me. As to "proofs, shmoofs", I guess I've dealt with that further up.

George Mobus

First let me say I appreciate your desire to engage in this discussion as it indicates you see something worth discussing. But there are a few difficulties arising. As you will probably acknowledge this discussion thread is growing larger and more complex (judging by the size of your last comment). I would have to add it is growing more convoluted as well.

This site is a blog, not a formal paper vetting venue. Except for my sapience and systems science working papers, most of what I post here is informal ideas, most prompted by wondering why the world is the way it is (which looks increasingly insane to me with each passing day). Ergo, I didn't put the site up for protracted, in-depth discussions. There are better technologies and venues for doing that sort of thing. I only want to get people thinking about these things if they care to read my thoughts.

Secondly, you have me at an unfair advantage. You know all about me, my professional background, education, etc. but I know nothing about you. I don't know, for example, what motivates your comments other than wanting to understand my POV, but seemingly more formally than a blog post deserves. It might be that there is a useful outcome in pursuing this line of discussion off-line (now that is unless other readers insist on following it! Oliver, Tom?) If, for example, you bring an expertise to the discussion it would be nice to know it. And if you have done work in the areas you discuss (e.g. political science, social science, etc.) and have published works that would help me (us) grasp your POV, it would be nice to know that as well. That is, if you really want to take this "formal" we should lay all our cards on the table, so to speak. I personally have very hard constraints on my time. Moreover, I have posted most of my "outline" in the many postings I've done over the years. It is really a complex of ideas that mesh and interact. I doubt that I could produce a simple outline of my reasoning, as you ask, that would be any more satisfactory than the work I've been doing.

That said, let me make one last stab at providing my "reasoning".

It might be this simple. It is the momentum in the dynamics of the many factors*. Look carefully at the trajectories of all of the factors. The onset of the destructive factors, e.g. climate change and energy depletion (as well as water, soil, and other minerals) are bearing down rapidly. More importantly, their momentum is substantial meaning that even when the sociopolitical power structures finally recognize a need to act it will be too late to actually do anything that could be counted as mitigation and they will be unable to effect any adaptation mechanisms because there won't be any energy with which to operate. Which points to the trajectory of the human factors. It has always been toward consuming more and producing more offspring, also with significant rates and momenta. Our socioeconomic system and the environment have been on a collision course since we invented agriculture. Both trajectories have gained momentum due to our burning carbon for energy. At present both are unstoppable except that nature will win the clash.

The time for humans to have recognized the dangers and started acting passed us long ago. We had the information but failed to acknowledge its significance. Very many people still will not acknowledge the predicaments (Jim Inhofe comes to mind). And the few that do, most of them do not grasp the significance of rate of change and momentum. Now it is too late to act in a way that will mitigate the main impacts (New York and Florida will be under water within the next several hundred years even if we stopped spewing carbon tomorrow). The only recourse is for small groups to scatter and adapt locally, and keep our fingers crossed.

My claim is straightforward. Humans as a species are deficient in judgment regarding long-term consequences and that is due to a lack of adequate sapience (cognitive capacity). I believe I have offered sufficient evidence and provided pointers to literature that backs this up. We are hedonistically driven which is why the vast majority (who are weakly sapient) continue to hold the belief that a materialistic existence is good and that the capitalistic, profit-motivated, growth-oriented economy is what has given us this life and what will save the planet and population. That belief is patently absurd and counter to the laws of nature. Again, I believe I have provided considerable evidence for this in prior blogs. So the fact that so many hold it and these so-called sociopolitical structures of which you speak do nothing but promulgate and reinforce this belief, I conclude that this is the reason why it is already too late to do anything. We have been intelligent and creative enough to invent new ways to feed our hedonism (though we can never satiate our appetites), but we have been unwise in choosing to do so.

And I do not see any mechanism in the current mentality of this species that would sufficiently change that, either in numbers of people who would think differently or in time to make a difference if there were. As I said, if you grasp the dynamics of these factors then you will realize this latter factor. The best I can hope for is that a sufficient number of higher sapient people will have the foresight to take steps today to survive and adapt to the coming environment.

If you are holding onto a belief that there is some method by which you can change these sociopolitical power structures which is viable and can be activated quickly, fine. I'd like to know what that is. But my claim is that even if it were so, it still would not be adequate to salvage some semblance of civilization (even a pre-Colombian-like one).

George

* This assumes you are familiar with the systems science of dynamics. If not, then I think that is a better explanation for your disagreements.

Oliver

@George - This is a fascinating debate between yourself and Bonce, but I understand why you are concerned about having a protracted discussion on the blog. Perhaps it would be more manageable if you two continued offline more formally, but then when some finality is reached, you could post a summation of the overall debate (time allowing!). I am most definitely interested in where Bonce is coming from vis-a-vis your conclusions regarding the momentum of destructive factors.

I find QE a wonderful source of brain-tickling material - the polar opposite to >99.9% of the MSM - so I'm in favor of anything that means you continue to post your informal ideas. Long live (King) George. :-)

Alexander Carpenter

This is just a semi-pedantic correction to Dr. Mobus' Latin: in simple and short definitions, calidus (with one L) means "cool," while callidus (with two Ls) means "clever." I note that throughout, Dr. M uses the one-L'd calidus, whereas I believe he means to use the two-L'd callidus.

This reminds me of Ogden Nash's little ditty:

A one-L'd lama is a priest;
a two-L'd llama is a beast;
a three-L'd lllama don't exeest.

What a difference an "L" makes...

What the "L."

Regards,
Alexander

Bonce

Hi George. Oh well, it seems this will be my final contribution here.

I wasn't aware that you didn't wish to debate your position in detail on this blog (I think it requires detail to properly discuss it). I wasn't aiming at debate but you are very confident in your position so it seemed to go in that direction.

"I doubt that I could produce a simple outline of my reasoning" - I think that's something worth pursuing as you have an overarching conclusion. It would enable others like me to consider and critique it. I think I have an overview now and I do disagree that the 'doomed' conclusion can be drawn. I've written enough to outline why, though I'm not sure how easy it is to critique a strongly held conclusion.

Final procedurals...
My anonymity. Discourse is much better sharing cups of tea, but the internet is our great enabler (I'm in the UK). "unfair advantage"? we were pursuing critical reasoning for complex systems, no tactics involved in our case. My identity shouldn't have any bearing - ideas are ideas (ad hominem covers this). "bring an expertise"? if I showed you some status or body of research how would that change what I say (the appeal of authority?). I set out reasoning which stood on merit/explanation instead of needing references - that's a bonus in my book. Just think of me as a 15 year old with floppy hair, or as a political insider with 30 years of policy research, same difference. I would have considered giving my identity, but I don't see the purpose at this point.

As you will probably acknowledge this discussion thread is growing larger and more complex (judging by the size of your last comment). I would have to add it is growing more convoluted as well.
In my last post I was trying to keep things on track (not introducing new branches) - if you remove the quoting my post was 7,000 chars while yours that I was replying to was 10,000. To keep things on track we would need to address each others points step by step and I don't think you were following/considering what I was setting out, you seemed to prejudge it and offer something else. I could recognise the pattern that things weren't going smoothly. You can assess this yourself if you wanted to review it.

I don't mean to be petty about procedures, but I think procedure/structure is necessary for robust research/governance/etc. I touched on this in my first Remember comment, "organisational difficulties" (you agreed with the emphasis).

Onward...

I understood your 'momentum in the dynamics', part of the 'technical/contingencies/solutions' area where I noted our general agreement.

... meaning that even when the sociopolitical power structures finally recognize a need to act ... ...The only recourse is for small groups to scatter and adapt locally...
Despite some significant political commonalities, I think we have almost reverse understandings of where our best chances of survival lie (hence our opposite conclusions). I already suggested that I saw no inevitability in the sociopolitical processes, while you seem to see it as a single vector from your sapience model. What of social and political theories? The sociopolitical layers are genuinely complex systems (emergence, chaotic, etc) and difficult to interpret (require critical methods) - there's over two centuries of theory to consider (some is wonky, some is paradigm-shifting), and those theories will be stretched by the turbulence that is approaching. It would have been interesting to expand on this. I started setting out my groundwork and was holding back on further exposition, but we lacked the procedure to progress.
If you are holding onto a belief that there is some method by which you can change these sociopolitical power structures which is viable and can be activated quickly, fine. I'd like to know what that is.
No need to presume that my viewpoint is wishful (already had that from other comments - it really is missing the mark). We just didn't have time to examine my reasoning (no mysticism required). I hope you can look into critical sociopolitical theories, I suggest you would find some mechanisms for various outcomes, despite the dire circumstances. That needn't conflict with a model of sapience.

"systems science" - if you read my first comment in Book Project, I found this blog because of a Google image search for a Simon hierarchy (though my usage is different, you had the nicest diagram on the web). BTW, I see no conflict between systems sciences and social/critical theories - they just need to cohere in a foundational framework, not an either/or pick.


Closing thoughts

My closing thoughts would be on the significance of all this. The question is whether the 'humans are doomed soon' outcome is inevitable or not. If it is inevitable, then good luck with working out some way of contributing (interesting area). If we are not doomed then every effort is more significant than we can imagine, while your position works against this - this is the bottom line for me. The bipolarity is all the more striking because we have some significant areas of agreement.

Take my highly simplistic calculation of moral worth (that we never got to address, I commented the calculation to Oliver a few posts ago). If our doom is 99.9999% certain (0.0001% survival), then for each person that pursues 'nothing can be done' but would otherwise actively pursue survival routes (say one million), I calculate the loss of hundreds of millions of lifes - that is not 'wishful thinking' that is a calculation that can be critiqued.

The further problem from my perspective is that focussing on the crises themselves tends to lead to policies like population reduction. The actual barrier to survival is the 'power agenda' which allows these crises to develop. I didn't get to outline how this works, but I suggest that such medium-term power agendas (which are somewhat documented) are based on managing the crises while maintaining capacity for themselves only (at the expense of global population size). Yet our route to survival lies exactly in their inability to control working mass opposition. (Don't prejudge this viewpoint as missing something.)

I hope your position is not so much a 'conclusion' as two sets of features from your work on sapience at one end and your knowledge of crises at the other. As such it would be open to mediation by the dynamics/emergence of the social/economic/political layers between. Perhaps in the future we might discuss which methods are best suited for this.

Good luck with the book George. I'll keep an eye on your blog. My email should be visible to you as the blog owner if you want to contact me.

Cheers, Bonce.

George Mobus

@Oliver,

Blush!

Thanks for the comment re: the discussion.

--------------------------------------
@Alexander,

Blush for a different reason! You are right. When I first started using this term I had done some research into the translation and wrote the word properly. Somewhere along the line I forgot the second 'l'. Thanks for reminding me and I'll try not to forget in the future!

George

Bonce

(I tried posting this earlier, there may be another copy sitting in the spam filter, so split into three posts...)

Hi George. Oh well, it seems this will be my final contribution here.

I wasn't aware that you didn't wish to debate your position in detail on this blog (I think it requires detail to properly discuss it). I wasn't aiming at debate but you are very confident in your position so it seemed to go in that direction.

"I doubt that I could produce a simple outline of my reasoning" - I think that's something worth pursuing as you have an overarching conclusion. It would enable others like me to consider and critique it. I think I have an overview now and I do disagree that the 'doomed' conclusion can be drawn. I've written enough to outline why, though I'm not sure how easy it is to critique a strongly held conclusion.

Final procedurals...
My anonymity. Discourse is much better sharing cups of tea, but the internet is our great enabler (I'm in the UK). "unfair advantage"? we were pursuing critical reasoning for complex systems, no tactics involved in our case. My identity shouldn't have any bearing - ideas are ideas (ad hominem covers this). "bring an expertise"? if I showed you some status or body of research how would that change what I say (the appeal of authority?). I set out reasoning which stood on merit/explanation instead of needing references - that's a bonus in my book. Just think of me as a 15 year old with floppy hair, or as a political insider with 30 years of policy research, same difference. I would have considered giving my identity, but I don't see the purpose at this point.

As you will probably acknowledge this discussion thread is growing larger and more complex (judging by the size of your last comment). I would have to add it is growing more convoluted as well.
In my last post I was trying to keep things on track (not introducing new branches) - if you remove the quoting my post was 7,000 chars while yours that I was replying to was 10,000. To keep things on track we would need to address each others points step by step and I don't think you were following/considering what I was setting out, you seemed to prejudge it and offer something else. I could recognise the pattern that things weren't going smoothly. You can assess this yourself if you wanted to review it.

I don't mean to be petty about procedures, but I think procedure/structure is necessary for robust research/governance/etc. I touched on this in my first Remember comment, "organisational difficulties" (you agreed with the emphasis).

Onward...

Bonce

(part 2)
I understood your 'momentum in the dynamics', part of the 'technical/contingencies/solutions' area where I noted our general agreement.

... meaning that even when the sociopolitical power structures finally recognize a need to act ... ...The only recourse is for small groups to scatter and adapt locally...
Despite some significant political commonalities, I think we have almost reverse understandings of where our best chances of survival lie (hence our opposite conclusions). I already suggested that I saw no inevitability in the sociopolitical processes, while you seem to see it as a single vector from your sapience model. What of social and political theories? The sociopolitical layers are genuinely complex systems (emergence, chaotic, etc) and difficult to interpret (require critical methods) - there's over two centuries of theory to consider (some is wonky, some is paradigm-shifting), and those theories will be stretched by the turbulence that is approaching. It would have been interesting to expand on this. I started setting out my groundwork and was holding back on further exposition, but we lacked the procedure to progress.
If you are holding onto a belief that there is some method by which you can change these sociopolitical power structures which is viable and can be activated quickly, fine. I'd like to know what that is.
No need to presume that my viewpoint is wishful (already had that from other comments - it really is missing the mark). We just didn't have time to examine my reasoning (no mysticism required). I hope you can look into critical sociopolitical theories, I suggest you would find some mechanisms for various outcomes, despite the dire circumstances. That needn't conflict with a model of sapience.

"systems science" - if you read my first comment in Book Project, I found this blog because of a Google image search for a Simon hierarchy (though my usage is different, you had the nicest diagram on the web). BTW, I see no conflict between systems sciences and social/critical theories - they just need to cohere in a foundational framework, not an either/or pick.

Bonce

(part 3)
Closing thoughts

My closing thoughts would be on the significance of all this. The question is whether the 'humans are doomed soon' outcome is inevitable or not. If it is inevitable, then good luck with working out some way of contributing (interesting area). If we are not doomed then every effort is more significant than we can imagine, while your position works against this - this is the bottom line for me. The bipolarity is all the more striking because we have some significant areas of agreement.

Take my highly simplistic calculation of moral worth (that we never got to address, I commented the calculation to Oliver a few posts ago). If our doom is 99.9999% certain (0.0001% survival), then for each person that pursues 'nothing can be done' but would otherwise actively pursue survival routes (say one million), I calculate the loss of hundreds of millions of lifes - that is not 'wishful thinking' that is a calculation that can be critiqued.

The further problem from my perspective is that focussing on the crises themselves tends to lead to policies like population reduction. The actual barrier to survival is the 'power agenda' which allows these crises to develop. I didn't get to outline how this works, but I suggest that such medium-term power agendas (which are somewhat documented) are based on managing the crises while maintaining capacity for themselves only (at the expense of global population size). Yet our route to survival lies exactly in their inability to control working mass opposition. (Don't prejudge this viewpoint as missing something.)

I hope your position is not so much a 'conclusion' as two sets of features from your work on sapience at one end and your knowledge of crises at the other. As such it would be open to mediation by the dynamics/emergence of the social/economic/political layers between. Perhaps in the future we might discuss which methods are best suited for this.

Good luck with the book George. I'll keep an eye on your blog. My email should be visible to you as the blog owner if you want to contact me.

Cheers, Bonce.

Bonce

I tried posting earlier and it didn't show up. So I split into three and the first two parts didn't show.

George, please check for my parts 1 and 2 in your spam/moderation filter (there are no URLs, typepad can be flaky).

Thanks, Bonce.

George Mobus

@Bonce,

I can understand your decision and, perhaps, frustration. Please know I have tried to respond to your thoughts as best I could. As I point out below, however, I simply do not understand many of them, it seems. Here is my one last go at explaining my thoughts as they pertain to yours.

I wasn't aware that you didn't wish to debate your position in detail on this blog (I think it requires detail to properly discuss it). I wasn't aiming at debate but you are very confident in your position so it seemed to go in that direction. [emphasis added]

And I believe I have provided a sufficient amount of evidence and reasoning over the past many years to be fairly confident. Several times I suggested that what you were asking me to do had already been done and was totally open to critique.

Cannot the same be said of you and your position? You imply that debate is the result of my failure to change my mind based on your critique. But I reiterate, I do not understand your critique (see below).

"I doubt that I could produce a simple outline of my reasoning" - I think that's something worth pursuing as you have an overarching conclusion. It would enable others like me to consider and critique it. I think I have an overview now and I do disagree that the 'doomed' conclusion can be drawn. I've written enough to outline why, though I'm not sure how easy it is to critique a strongly held conclusion. [emphasis added]

My conclusion is not based on logic per se. You will see no syllogisms or predicate logic proofs. I have spent a number of years extracting a variety of threads of scientific data/information, used system dynamics reasoning, and documented all of that here in these blogs. An outline per se is not forthcoming. If you are truly interested in understanding how I came to this conclusion you are more than welcome to read everything I've written in QE that relates.

I've bolded your statement above to emphasize that while you may feel that you have outlined your arguments sufficiently the fact is I do not understand them, at all. Perhaps that is my weakness, ineptitude, or stubbornness (as implied). But the reality for me is that you have not provided me with adequate explanation (e.g. what is a sociopolitical structure) of elements of your argument for me to respond to them. I'm sorry. I am not trying to be obtuse. I simply do not speak your language and the semantics of many of your phrases is opaque to me.

Final procedurals... My anonymity. Discourse is much better sharing cups of tea, but the internet is our great enabler (I'm in the UK). "unfair advantage"? we were pursuing critical reasoning for complex systems, no tactics involved in our case. My identity shouldn't have any bearing - ideas are ideas (ad hominem covers this). "bring an expertise"? if I showed you some status or body of research how would that change what I say (the appeal of authority?). I set out reasoning which stood on merit/explanation instead of needing references - that's a bonus in my book. Just think of me as a 15 year old with floppy hair, or as a political insider with 30 years of policy research, same difference. I would have considered giving my identity, but I don't see the purpose at this point. [emphasis added]

Clearly we come from different worlds. I am engaged in a large number of science-based communities on-line and there is no problem with revealing identities and reputations are known. It has to do with understanding a common language and body of knowledge that we can use to tease apart issues. BTW: an ad hominem is when the attacker impugns the reputation of the other and has nothing to do with wanting to know the background from which the other comes from.

Once again I've highlighted a source of trouble. You believe that these discussions rest on your reasoning and your ideas (having merit of their own). Unfortunately I have tried hard to find the reasoning and tried hard to grasp the meaning of your terms and failed. Let me put it this way. If I am having a discussion with someone about evolution and I discover that the last time they read anything about evolution was in high school biology 20 years ago I would then understand where the failure to communicate originated. You wouldn't have me wasting my time discussing, say, evolvability, with someone who had no clue what I was talking about would you? OTOH, if I know I'm discussing the subject with, say, Sean Carroll, I will pay close attention to what they say and probably learn something from it. I would be definitely willing to invest my time because here is someone who I know has developed considerable knowledge of the subject. My asking you for your identity and background (which I offered to take off-line if you preferred) should not be an issue if we are going to engage earnestly in a discourse on these topics and I am going to use up what little spare time I have in the discussion.

I already suggested that I saw no inevitability in the sociopolitical processes, while you seem to see it as a single vector from your sapience model. What of social and political theories? The sociopolitical layers are genuinely complex systems (emergence, chaotic, etc) and difficult to interpret (require critical methods) - there's over two centuries of theory to consider (some is wonky, some is paradigm-shifting), and those theories will be stretched by the turbulence that is approaching. It would have been interesting to expand on this. I started setting out my groundwork and was holding back on further exposition, but we lacked the procedure to progress. [emphasis added]

More evidence that you must believe you are providing adequate arguments. You, personally seeing no inevitability is not sufficient to argue that there is NO inevitability. The term "single vector" must have some meaning to you that is, I suspect, different from my interpretation (language).

Then let us look at the key here. "What of social and political theories?" indeed. The existence of the blog, "Question Everything" owes a considerable amount to the fact that such theories have been failures. I have read a fair number of treaties on such theories (I assume you refer to things like post-modernism, Marxism, liberalism, libertarianism, etc) and I will say, bluntly, I do not think - and I want to emphasize this is my assessment - that the vast majority of these so-called theories have explained anything that has actually happened in our world. Nor can they produce predictions of what will happen in the future. Let me offer one simple example of a sociopolitical theory system that one would think should be taken seriously (indeed is by politicians and free-marketers): neoclassical economics is touted as a cross between a hard'ish science (since they have mathematical theories) and social science (since they have critical theories as well). As I have pointed out in the past and many others are currently pointing out in various venues, their theories are pure bunk - invented just so they could impress the world with their math skills. And they have failed miserably on every count to explain or to predict. (See: Keen, Steve (2011). Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor Dethroned (revised ed), Zed Books, New York. and Hall, C. & Klitgaard, K. (2012). Energy and the Wealth of Nations: Understanding Biophysical Economics, Springer, New York.)

This is not meant as a put down to you personally. Since I don't know who you are or what you have studied (researched) I can only respond to the suggestion. Critical theory lacks any substantive evidence gathering (and qualifying) methods, any, except generally ad hoc reasoning methods, and no mechanism for verification of conclusions. Its main argument for being what it is, is that social systems are too messy and too complex to study scientifically. Yet there are many social (even some political) scientists who are proving daily that these areas of interest are perfectly amenable to scientific study (not being able to do experiments - on society - is not the only way to do good science: look at astrophysics). In my opinion (but shared by most natural and scientific social science practitioners) critical theory is a loose cannon in which a lot of verbiage is generated without producing one ounce of useful knowledge. I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, and I really don't mean to offend. But I realized a long time ago that engagement with this crowd would be non-productive. I have been told, to my face, by clearly agitated post-modernist sociologists, "You science guys just don't understand anything important." and "Well science can't know everything." (as if it makes such a claim). These were meant to be arguments???

We just didn't have time to examine my reasoning (no mysticism required). I hope you can look into critical sociopolitical theories, I suggest you would find some mechanisms for various outcomes, despite the dire circumstances. That needn't conflict with a model of sapience.

As noted I have looked into a variety of critical sociopolitical theories. My general impression is that they are verbose "just-so" stories that, as I said above, fail to actually explain anything. I prefer to get a grasp on human nature and the human condition from anthropology, neuropsychology, etc. I suppose one could conclude that I am closed-minded because of that. I've been accused of that several times before. However, I have looked at critical theory with, I hope, critical thinking turned on. So it isn't as if I stubbornly refused to consider it.

In your closing thoughts you use the word "inevitable". There are some things that are inevitable, such as eventually the sun will burn up its fuel and expand as a red giant engulfing the Earth. Taxes seem to be inevitable in modern societies. I don't think I have really used that term but I will admit that I see the likelihood of collapse and die-off as quite high (>90%). I acknowledge that "something" could intervene that none of us could know about that would change outcomes. And I've said repeatedly I wouldn't mind seeing that happen if it diminishes suffering. But by its nature we cannot really know what that would be. You seem to hold out some hope (sorry don't know what else to call is since by your own admission you haven't really expanded on your reasoning/evidence) that something called a sociopolitical power structure can somehow be aligned so as to do this minimizing. You certainly could have at any point offered an actual vision of what that would look like. Merely saying you "see" it as possible doesn't quite inform the rest of us as to the basis of what you see.

You also seem to imply that the position that collapse and die-off are nearly certain (not quite the same thing as inevitability) leads automatically to a do-nothing or defeatist attitude/posture. But my whole point is that there is always something that needs to be done, just not always what everyone believes. My conclusion is that the civilization and even the species of Homo sapiens will go extinct, the civilization will collapse in the near term, and humans will evolve to some new form in the long term (by definition that means sapiens is extinct). Thus, if you spend effort trying to preserve civilization, in the short term, against the odds as they stand, then you are wasting your efforts (you still need to say what that effort would be toward other than that you and I could sort it out). And there is really nothing to be done about the long-term extinction of H. sapiens. Such an effort would be foolish to the extreme since extinction is the fate of all species. But, it just might be possible to do something about the nature of the seed population that makes it through the bottleneck, if we have sufficient foresight to see the need. That is part of what I DO. I am also engaged in trying to codify and record knowledge of systems science as a seed to rekindle reacquisition of scientific knowledge long in the future of whatever sapiens evolves into.

Admittedly that is possibly a fools errand as well. It might be my own form of hubris to think I could actually do anything worthwhile. I am completely open to that criticism. However, since I have not developed a do-nothing/defeatist attitude seeing what I see, I feel compelled to do something. It keeps me engaged in the world.

George

Wheelerlucas

A question: Have you heard of the concept of "supernormal stimuli" and what is the relationship of this concept to profit taking?

George Mobus

@Wheelerlucas,

That is an excellent question. Had not considered this angle before. Thanks.

I am familiar with the notion of a normal stimulus being exaggerated to induce non-normal behavior. It could very well apply to this case. We evolved to try to maximize profits at a time when that meant very small increments above subsistence at best. The environment didn't provide the opportunity (very often) to reap giant profits. For example our attraction to sweetness and propensity to eat anything sweet (as much as possible) evolved to ensure we would be motivated to get enough calories to keep going. Now we have desserts!

I think you've hit on something there. Any more thoughts to share?

George

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