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« Limits to Complexity | Main | An Update of the Sapience Papers »

March 20, 2011


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Hi George,

I'm still reading your sapience papers. A lot to like there and worth rereading and digesting. I keep a Somso brain on my desk and marvel at all of that cortex that gets crammed into our skulls and sometimes think evolution must have overdone things a bit when the ultimate goal is simple reproduction. It also seems to me that development of behaviors that allow social interaction must have taken precedence over sapience and had more survival value. This can be summed up in the common saying, “it's not what you know, but who you know”, that matters.

I'm not sure sapience, as it occurs in human societies, can overcome the natural biases in human behavior. Our pleasure/pain feedback system ensures that we behave more or less like Skinner rats, even if it eventually kills us, as it often does. Many of those with a nearly complete systems perspective are unable to tame their appetites even though it would be beneficial in a personal systems sense to do so.

I don't think sapience can ever overcome the basic life preserving feedback systems that have evolved in humans. We are on a course to consume everything within our positive EROEI grasp. Currently our technological system will fail just trying to restore health to the human bodies that were damaged from an overabundance of pleasurable stimuli. It's also counterproductive when those that dominate our society are heavily invested in delivering to us an increased volume of satisfying stimuli at a substantial profit. In the near future, when it becomes apparent that there are finite limits to consumption, resources will be hoarded by wealthy nations and individuals and life-long austerity will be offered to the poor and former middle classes.

I'm not sure that becoming sapient was ever really an option on a widespread societal scale. Sapience is like a rock protruding above the flow of a river, it is a promontory from which the great flow can be seen, but provides very little resistance to the direction or speed of the river's flow.

Joseph Ormond

I am reading Sapience and noticed that Upton Sinclair is spelled wrong

Phil Henshaw

Well, yes. You keep asking the right questions. How I hear it is asking why people don’t notice it's more profitable to invest their net returns on energy investment for securing a niche at the limits of growth. Instead what people are doing is continuing to self-invest their returns to expand the scale of the economy. That creates demand greater than supply around the world, and disrupts the environment, in place of profit. I have good posts discussing pars of that on Azimuth that got hits, as well as on my blog.

It seems to have to do with noticing that the rules that growth systems seem to follow, could have no way of responding to their environments. Net-energy systems might be energetic processes of complex organizational accumulation, though, often made of parts that are actively learning as they go. That lets them be physically more responsive to their environments that just following rules would allow.

George Mobus


You may have seen that I recently revised and extended the working papers on sapience [ ].

It is actually my thesis that sapience in the current species is, indeed, too weak to overcome the issues you raise. As to whether a stronger version of sapience could do so is the question. I base my notion on the fact that there do seem to be a relatively small number of people who are able to override their more basic drives under conditions that suggest continuation would lead to bad results. Such people are rare but not totally absent. I'm suggesting that there is a distribution of sapience strength just as there is intelligence strength but most likely a highly skewed one.

I've tried to cover this more in the new revised papers. The fifth one, in particular, covers evolutionary issues.


Oops! Thanks. Fixed it.


Crash-cows! That is a good one.


גופי תאורה לגינה

It is too bad for those who dominate our society is heavily invested in the production for us to satisfy the greatest number of stimuli is a significant victory.

[Moderator edit: I have removed the URL since it is of a commercial nature.]

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