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« A casual thought on scientific questions | Main | My annual reminder of human nature's darker side »

August 02, 2009


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"We must evolve a better brain."

Wouldn't the path to that better brain be a higher consciousness?

I don't want to pull New Age stuff into this discussion but I don't think a better brain would necessarily be a solution. There are things you can grasp only with your whole being, of which your brain is just a part.

I'm actually reading a book right now called "Can Humanity Change?" where modern mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) enters a dialogue with buddhists and David Bohm. What I have understood from Krishnamurti's books and talks so far is that he can explain quite convincingly where things are going wrong on the personal, and thus the global, level.

If anyone is interested I could try to make a synopsis of hwat Krishnamurti is saying or put up quotes. But perhaps not. It's not very scientific, although I wouldn't put it under the header of New Age mumbo jumbo either!

It's devoid of all spiritual or occult terminology and very much to the point on a psychological level. Most New Age people I know find him a boring, which to me is a very good sign.


I'm afraid I cant offer any solutions that will cope with global mass sheeple George. Actually thats a bit unkind they are victims of 4 millena of civilisations (via technology) project of control and domination of nature under the fatal delusion of separation...the conquest of brute nature has unleashed a brutal 'megamachine' on the Earth more barbaric that anything nature could devise. So we're fcuked, totally and completly, its just a question of timing. I think this every the tower of babel crumbles it feels like the first page of HG wells War of the Worlds...its not so much Aliens are among us as feeling alone among Aliens- millions of them!
Its the tragedy which overwhelms because individual Humans in the right kind of nurturing environment can produce symphonies and poetry and space telescopes we have that spark of the sacred and the eternity encoded in our genes...we are the consciousness of the universe dimly looking at itself in awe and wonder. How can that colossal potential be snuffed out on the alter of psychotropic anthropogenic consumerism?
Maybe it is meant to be...maybe the extremes of both separation and collapse are necessary- as they have in other geological transistion shifts- to provide the environment for the Earth to 'imply' a newer species... maybe sequences of the 'junk DNA' we all carry around will be switched on when these environmental signals reach sufficient intensity...maybe its started already.

Its perhaps the only real hope left........

George Mobus


I may have just given my thoughts on this question at my last blog. Briefly, it depends on what you mean by consciousness and what is its dependence on brain function. While I do believe we can develop better awareness and understanding as plain vanilla humans through various mental practices (which might include better education!!!), this isn't necessarily the same as developing better brain capacities through biological evolution. As I stated in my answer in the prior blog regarding Teilhard's views, these are not mutually exclusive processes. Every individual can be more conscious and the species can evolve to one that is more sapient to begin with.


George Mobus


I think your second paragraph captures it well. If that is the case, and there will be a cleaning of the slate, so to speak, then how can we prepare for it such that those better attributes of our species you allude to can be assured of making it through a bottleneck?

I think sapience is the key and that attention paid to ensuring the continuation of individuals in the far right tail of the distribution would be a kind of intentional intervention that works with natural evolution (selection). I suspect that this is preferable to genetic engineering, but I could be wrong. There have been some spectacular breakthroughs in the field of Evo-devo and epigenetic control mechanisms lately. Who knows what might come up along the lines of boosting sapience in future generations.

My only fear is that there just isn't enough time left for that latter approach to have the intended effect.



My idea: Let b/millions of hominids do small scale bio-char farming. (More elaboration tomorrow.)


George I dont have an easy answer....the dispersed nature of sapient folk, the white noise of the internet and ideological differences means agreeing a course of action, never mind carrying it out is difficult enough. Ideally a philospher-king who can knock heads together and overcome postmodernist paralysis.... Thinking more Colonel Kurtz than Obama!....


***Show me how to get the vast majority of human beings working on this agenda within the next two to five years.***

Here comes my idea (actually a conclusion). I haven't yet managed to do a succinct write-up, and nobody wants to take it serious (it sounds like a hippie dream, and I even suggest growing hemp). One reason why I hoped to meet you during your vacation. So, *cough*,

Considering the state of the biosphere (which includes mankind), there are 2 inevitable logico-ethic conclusions for our species:
* Conclusion 1.: Live carbon negative.
* Conclusion 2.: Do not procreate.
These are not easy to live by (and verifiably so) on an individual level. Moreover to try alone would be not very effective and convincing and does not prepare the species for a possible evolutionary bottleneck:
* Conclusion 3.: Build a network of dedicated communities.

For sucking enough greenhouse gases out of the air there is only one technique known: Using char coal in agriculture. The char coal must of course be made of biomass that would anyhow decay within a few years. More technical details below.

Conclusions 1. and 2. sound like a parody of the classic monastic vows, poverty and chastity. So, what about setting up an epi-religious quasi-monastic order, engaged in carbon negative permaculture and education. Tentative name: "Earth's witnesses" or something. Perhaps a charismatic preacherman can fire it up and bootstrap the order's first habitations by turning abandoned suburban lawns back to productive life.

The order should be not about chastity and poverty, but about working for Earth (which includes humans) and having fun at it. The fun is indispensable to attract novices (e.g.: forget your SUV, enjoy the horse. Grab gratis food from your garden).
* Conclusion 4.: Have maximum fun with it.

I have not worked out a set of rules (e.g. decision finding, procreation exceptions) and neither done much maths (e.g. how many squaremeters of Miscanthus to char for one iron shovel). This needs some more expertise. One almost self-evident rule is to not engage in trade with carbon offsets. A funeral ritual reflecting the goal of the order would be composting.


On biochar: To get the picture quick, read Folke Günther's response to Monbiot's polemic [1].
I haven't yet managed to get an overview of the scientific literature, but I'm quite confident after 5y of "experimentation" in a temperate mountain climate (Bavarian Forest, springs of Kößnach, elev. 650m. There was no soil before, and char coal was of great help to stretch volume and fill the holes left by pulled-out boulders). Almost all literature focusses on the tropics, where biochar application seems trivial (add to soil and get amazing yield increase [2]). The research got started with Amazonian Terra Preta, an exceptionally fertile soil left over from pre-Columbian civilization. In temperate climates it can be detrimental [3] and some extra care is needed: Fresh char coal is water repellant and needs some temperature and humidity first, e.g. by flushing the hot fireplace. Then it should be mixed into steamy nitrogen rich compost and after a year is ready to go into soil.



That 90% reduction in emissions over a period of 20 years is some 'Herculean effort' for the current rabble in control, Flor!
They are still fiddling (sic, the treaties)) while Rome burns....


Yeah, it looks quite theoretical.

BUT, even if we are over the tipping point and the climate system is inevitably headed for the transition to the hot: If the order survives, hominids would have a repair tool at hand.

So, there's another conclusion. It gains even more weight from the Lovelock quote I plugged in a prior blog comment:
* Conclusion 5: It is worth to preserve some of the knowledge gathered by Homo S "Sapiens"


Florifulgurator wrote: "One reason why I hoped to meet you during your vacation."

Ah, so you also tried to lure George into coming to Niederbayern? We should have teamed up and gone to Munich, taking our sleeping bags with us and camp outside of George's hotel, waiting for an autograph. ;-)
BTW, I'd love to see some of your experimentation up close. I live only 85 km from where you are.

George wrote: "Show me how to get the vast majority of human beings working on this agenda within the next two to five years."

Impossible. Absolutely impossible, even if some kind of cataclysmic Pearl Harbor occured that could sweep the masses like 9/11 did for stirring a war (or two). I was hoping for the Arctic Sea Ice to hit a dramatic new low this September, but it looks like the melting stalled about a week ago. Perhaps 2010 will be the warmest year ever recorded due to a probable El Niño, but even that won't get too many people nervous for more than a day or two. No, in my opinion the only real hope is that the recession continues to exacerbate and that Peak Oil really is happening as we speak.

There are theoretical solutions (like the one Florifulgurator is mentioning) and thankfully these solutions also work and have their rewards on an individual scale. I'll try and go into that a bit more later today or tomorrow.


"Show me how to get the vast majority of human beings working on this agenda within the next two to five years." I Kinda agree with Neven...only when backs are truly against the wall will people be motivated to which time its too late. The other possibility depends on finanial and social coercion directed from above and a transistion( town type) from below meeting in the middle and propelling us foward. transistion ideas well documentated:
Less well know are scenarios from above, literally a motivated group of the enlightened and sapient taking over an area or even state.....
Sounds fantastical but it is theoretically possible (I was involved in spyware-avoidance 'Feralia and Omniv' moniker forum scenarios on a certain eco-radical website) This need not be overly violent either.... the key is getting committed individuals in nodes or points of leverage inside the infrastructure and using HERF guns/E-bombs at strategic moments/points and utilising this electronic achilees heel to 'takeover' advantage. The two greatest problems were (secondly) agreeing on a post attack stratagy and (firstly) the sheer lack of numbers of individuals willing to commit themselves.
Given these two seemigly insurmountable obstacles the whole idea began to resemble a adolescent fantasy game so I bowed out. I still believe in its basic strategic soundness but without greater recruits to the cause its a non-starter.
'Recruits' are potentially increasing as the endgame approaches...the vast majority are beyond hope but perhaps we should try to identify/communicate with sections who may be receptive to (more) radical ideas.

Phil Jonat

Is is possible that the sum of human knowledge can continue to increase? Even with failures of education and restrictions of a finite world, knowledge could continue to grow. Your thoughts?


Neven, you'd be very welcome for a visit in my little garden! I got no more time this month, it looks, but one weekend Sept./Oct. sure will work. I have not an Email address I would publish, but here's the cell phone: 0160 99619058 (best 18-24, else SMS).
Some photos (to be updated tomorrow) here: (forum PM would be ersatz email).

Meanwhile I had a closer look at a famous guerilla garden on centuries old ground in a remnant of the moat of Regensburg (Ratisbon) -- Looks like lots of char coal! Perhaps most is from burnt remains after Napoleon's capture of Ratisbon, 1809? Will put a sample under someone's microscope next week.

George Mobus


Great comments and some beginning socialization! I love it.

On the main point of whether or not there is some 'plan' that could save mankind, the challenge was meant to dramatize the fact that the scale of changing minds, attitudes, beliefs, etc is simply too great to expect that we can save mankind (the current population/species) and that efforts to do so will only, at best, plant a few seeds that might germinate after the collapse of civilization -- as Flor says, "...hominids would have a repair tool at hand." One reason I have not gone into the book writing business (and doomsday books sell well these days) is that the underlying assumption of writing a book is that lots of people will buy it and understand the message and *change*. Evidence to date suggests the changers are in a really small minority.

I'm coming to the conclusion that it will be wiser to set up an enclave in a relatively climate stable location, preferably far from the madding crowds, and invite provably sapient breeding stock! The research in the neurobiology, and genetics of sapience is a key to how to select volunteers.

As with utopian colonies that have been organized in the past, this one would be predicated on low energy throughput (simple technology) but with care to preserve important technologies, such as health care. Unlike prior attempts, this one would not be based on any preconceived ideological framework (unless you want to call systems science an ideology!) The volunteers would be free to organize themselves as they see fit within the framework of hierarchical management. The only operating rule is that they are constantly working toward a distant future for grandchildren and beyond. They could even procreate to the limits of the available energy flow to attain strength in numbers. But no more.

Then let the crash commence and follow whatever course it will. It can't be prevented. And from an evolutionary standpoint I'm not sure one would want to perpetuate a species that had proven itself unfit.

In fact several such enclaves -- intentional communities -- might be set up in various locations throughout the world. The keys will be keeping out the lower sapient individuals and security of location wrt: water, soil, energy sources (which could be water or wind), and as stable a climate as one can find given the changes we expect in the not-too-distant future. None of these criteria would be easy to meet, but I don't think impossible. Besides, what real choices do we have.

Future blogs will address this basic idea as my (and your) thinking develops and the situation with the world unwinds.


George Mobus

Hi Phil.

You asked: "Is is possible that the sum of human knowledge can continue to increase?"

The way knowledge/information seem to act, there is nothing equivalent to the 1st Law of Thermo/Matter conservation in that both knowledge and information look to expand indefinitely, at least as long as energy flows through the system. I'm referring to all knowledge/information, not just human-based. See: my blog on information and knowledge as ontological forms.

But your question was about 'human' knowledge which I take to mean the cumulation of books and other media plus what is in the heads of all living people. My thought is that as long as there is a species of Homo with sufficient sentience and sapience, then I would expect knowledge to expand indefinitely. But if our species goes extinct without leaving an heir, or worse, leaves a devolved species, then that pretty much puts an end to it for this planet. As Eric Idle says in the Galaxy Song (Monty Python: The Meaning of Life), "...And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth."


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