How Does the World Work?


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« With Lots of Time to Ponder | Main | More Modeling in Biophysical Economics »

July 27, 2010

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Georgi Marinov

As you said, the problem is that very few see understanding how the world works as a clear and significant goal. And that's how even many people working in the physical science think of their work. What finally killed all my illusions about this was what I saw coming from people arguing over the compatibility of science and religion - they are completely incompatible as ways of understanding the world, yet a disturbingly large number of people insist that because there are scientists who are religious, there is no contradiction at all. Which can only be because they never see improved understanding of the world around us as the major outcome of what they do. What is even more disturbing is the fact that it is very hard to convince those same people that they are not right, even when you tell them that understanding the world around us is precisely what we have science for. They simply ignore that, and these are people who are supposed to be persuadable by logic and facts, and use such when trying to show that the other side is wrong...

This is, of course, not very helpful at all, but the way I see it, it is simply impossible to get rid of all the historically accumulated cultural and psychological baggage that prevents us from seeing the situation as it is. You are on a planet you have no way to get out of, with limited resources that you need to stay alive, you want to survive as long as possible, what do you do? It is a quite straightforward question when posed in such a way, but in order to get people to see it like that, you need to make them forget pretty much everything they have been told all their life. Not going to happen.

A lot of really cherished stuff has to be thrown away even regarding what is being studied in schools and universities if a curriculum that produces students "getting it" is to be designed. One has to make absolutely sure that anthropocentrism is purged from students minds, as this is a very fundamental part of the problem, yet the vast majority of what is considered classic works of art, literature and philosophy does nothing else but promote anthropocentrism and distract us from reality. So they have to go or better, be taught as examples of anthropocentrism and what's wrong with it. But such a thing will be a very tough sell even to maнy people who mostly "get it". My guess is that even getting general systems theory type of thinking to be the center of a university program will be a very tough sell in the current environment, let alone anything more radical that that...

t0wnp1ann3r

Not to sound like a nihilist, but when it comes to searching for a “purpose of life,” each individual makes up their own purpose. And in reality, absent our own second-order consciousness, there can’t be any empirically-proved “purpose” for life. Evolution moves along, and we’re just a particular iteration. We create our own value of life and divine our own purposes (or some people just accept the purpose of life as dictated to them by their friends, family, religion, or society).

I feel intermittent sadness for my lack of attachment to the survival of this species. I guess since we aren’t aware of any other beings in the universe possessing second-order consciousness, there would be no one to mourn the extinction of our species, as such.

You responded to a comment of mine by saying “you seem to cling to the notion that somehow you can get through and change minds, presumably just in time to save the world?” In truth I don’t think it’s possible to save the world. I enjoy little exercises, little projects to focus on, as I simultaneously realize that I’m just a breathing organism flying around for a short time on a watery planet going who-knows-where.

I will continue to try to refine my incomplete map of the world; I will continue to try to expand the worldview of the people around me; I will continue to ponder how to affect the worldviews of a greater portion of the population; I will continue to learn more about systems and the limits of biofuels and discrete math; and I will continue to breath as I hurdle inexorably towards a time when I am no longer a part of this planet’s living creatures.

These entertainments, these projects, these ponderings, all contain their own enjoyment. I take the enjoyment I can from them. I try to spread a little joy to some people. I try to feel the phenomenological falsehood that we call ‘time.’

I support changes to the teaching of our youth not because I think it’s possible to arrive at a more sapient version of business-as-usual, but because for whatever time our species has left on this planet, people with higher levels of cognitive development seem to experience less pain. If changes to teaching can do this, at least it would do some good.

porge

George,
Take heart........I have had this very conversion with several acquaintances recently and was surprised at the depth of thought that they had given to the topics.
So I guess the awareness is beginning to ramp.
Incidentally, I gave them a link to QE and also the oil drum. I think that here are enough of us out here we are just not organized.


TOwnp,
Hurtle not hurdle. Got Ya!

PS..George, I hope you heal up 100%

porge

correction:

.......there are enough of us out here...........

t0wnp1ann3r

porge: You're right. I don't use metaphors much in my writing. Maybe it's because I'm just no good at them.

Molly Radke

THANK YOU for being the kind of teacher we need. In my small way, when I was in the high school classroom, I tried to so the things that you try to do - ALWAYS to teach in the context of larger, verifiable, if often inherently complex, realities.

In my experience, I think that some of the most important things any teacher can do are first of all, to teach with honesty, caring, respect and compassion for one's students, and secondly to trust in the basic interest and intelligence of many, if not most, of one's students - to remember that they appreciate being treated with respect and HONESTY. Yes, some will NEVER "get it," will remain tied to inherited prejudices and illusions, but many will begin to move beyond cultural straight-jackets and to think independently and originally. Yes, some will be rather disheartened by the inherent cruelties of many aspects of "reality, " but aren't we all? Still, to feel the caring and intelligence in the mind and heart of a teacher who is trying to do his/her best by their students, in my experience, both personally with my own teachers, and with my students, is an essentially up-lifting experience. To find connections to people with similar hearts and minds is an ultimately reassuring experience.

Nathan

Hello George,
I think you might find that more young people than you imagine are already disillusioned with the endless consumption cycle. You could approach your role as one of "The Liberator". If you're the guy who tells stressed, depressed and soon to be debt ridden students that they don't need any tertiary quals for the future that's coming, you will be lifting a huge burden from their young shoulders. Young, fit, people who can think and are not afraid of hard physical work will not have much to worry about no matter what is coming. There is something extremely satisfying labouring to provide for yourself and your loved ones. You sleep like a log. Encourage ingenuity, practical aptitude and an enquiring mind and you'll have earned your paycheck.

Robin Datta

An educated person, it had been said, "is one who knows a little of everything, and everything of a little". That makes education a journey, not a goal: a lifelong endavour.

And again, as a Chinese saynig from a long time ago says:

For a return on investment in one year, plant rice. For a return on investment in ten years, plant fruit trees. For a return on investment in a hundred years, educate people.

I am reminded of the terminology used, appropriately, although perhaps without full awareness of the implications: surgical training, and medical education.

There is a distinction between education and training. Training can be quite sophisticated, depending on the complexity of the skills being imparted. It can (and these days often does) masquerade as education.

xraymike79

"Writers like James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, and John "Michael Greer, author of The Long Descent, both emphasize that the process of economic and cultural unwind will take perhaps several centuries (hence the word 'long' in both titles). I am not so sure myself. I imagine a number of scenarios that may hasten the process and in at least the worst case scenario lead to catastrophic collapse. ..."

What are these fast collapse scenarios you imagine? Not to be overly morbid, but I'd be interested to hear your take on such possibilities...

Facts Analyzer

George,
This might be easy question, but for newby like me can you say what you think in a nutshell about the book Bottomless Well by Peter Huber and Mark P. Mills. I watched a youtube video about the book and authors state that the oil will never run out, it will only run out of cheap oil, not of oil in general.
Big Thanks

George Mobus

Georgei,

...you need to make them forget pretty much everything they have been told all their life. Not going to happen.

I agree, not going to happen in any sense that will make a difference for the whole of humanity. But in bits...?

A lot of really cherished stuff has to be thrown away even regarding what is being studied in schools and universities if a curriculum that produces students "getting it" is to be designed.

In a sense my attempts at writing an introductory text book on systems science is an experiment in what needs to be thrown out vs. what needs to be kept. From my POV an awful lot of details from all of the sciences can be "compressed" in the form of the general principles of systems science and the patterns that recur over and over again throughout all disciplines of knowledge. Preserve the principles of systemness and you maintain the capacity to regenerate the details again later (when needed).

George

George Mobus

T0wnp1ann3r,

By "purpose of life" I am not necessarily concerned with one's personal concept of their own purpose. Rather I am addressing a more general purpose of ALL life. Learning and understanding within a single entity is essential (to whatever extent necessary) to continuance of life itself. And, as far as I can tell, life seems pretty determined to maintain itself on this planet (even if humans got it screwed up).

My teaching (and this blog) are dedicated to filtering out those few individuals who are strongly motivated to UNDERSTANDING as this is a possible sign of higher sapience. My objective is simple: create a community of sapient people who stand a chance of making a difference in a new world to follow this one. I have no belief that I am going to change minds of those who don't already want to change.

George

George Mobus

Porge,

It is that organization of like sapients that occupies my thinking these days.

George

George Mobus

Molly,

Your comment prompts me to clarify something I just told T0wnp1ann3r. In truth, I actually do hope to change some minds. There are a lot of very intelligent people out there who may not be quite as sapient as I suspect will be necessary when the collapse starts in earnest. However if these people at least can understand what and why the world is collapsing they may see the value in assisting the more sapient individuals to prepare for the possible bottleneck situation.

That is, if more young people can learn about the impending demise of the current economic and population system and NOT fall into despair, they may actually see how they can help prepare the world for what will come tomorrow with some joy in knowing they are part of the solution. So I hope that teaching may lead to that result as well.

George

George Mobus

Nathan,

Thanks for the observation. That helps. Also see my response to Molly re: teaching to everyone, not just the highly sapient.

George

George Mobus

Robin,

You have probably read some of my choice comments about our so-called education system. Don't get me started...!

George

George Mobus

xraymike79,

Several things I have mentioned in the past: A major concern is how people who are spoiled by a high energy lifestyle are going to react to the loss of material wealth - riots and regional resource wars are likely to accelerate the decline.

Our ability to adapt to the problems that will come with climate change (which now seems to be coming on faster than even the IPCC estimates) will require a lot more energy than we will have available.

Our economic systems are so intertwined, interrelated, and somewhat brittle (think about the modern just-in-time supply chain, esp. for food production) that even small breakdowns in key areas could cause an amplified cascade of breakdowns.

Imagine that one day the food delivery trucks just stop bringing food to the supermarkets. Imagine the electricity going out in major metropolitan areas, or water supplies.

Within a few days of major breakdowns people start looting and killing to keep themselves alive.

The big question mark has to do with how humans react to it all.

George

George Mobus

Facts Analyzer,

Haven't read the book, nor read a review of it. As to the fact that there will be lots of oil still in the ground after peak oil, that is true. The problem is that it will take too much energy to do the work of extracting what is left. Unless you get more net energy for your efforts you don't put in the effort. The energy in the oil left in the ground is there, it just won't be available (unless, of course, someone figures out how to overcome gravity!)

George

Justin Ritchie

Brilliant post George! I just ran across your blog after it was linked to on Energy Bulletin. I struggle with these same issues, but perhaps in the opposite direction.

As a grad student, in my class and group presentations I try to bring up issues of net energy to frame motivation for why we are researching better solar cell processing methods. When I do, my engineering professors seem oblivious and sometimes perturbed that I'm saying human civilization won't continue in exactly the same form it has for the last few decades. I suppose I eventually realized they are just a product of the same educational system that handicaps students when dealing with our present crisis.

Great to know there are some university professors with the foresight to discuss these issues with students.

Guy McPherson

Great essay, George. I've been teaching reality for years, which made me persona non grata at the University of Arizona. So I left my position as full professor at the height of my career, at the age of 49, to pursue an alternative path. I've written often about this choice, most recently here: http://guymcpherson.com/2010/08/cleaning-up-2/

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