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« Does Evolution Have A Trajectory? | Main | What Gets Us Into Trouble? »

June 26, 2011


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Alexander Carpenter

Well folks, I just invented a new word. It's a portmanteau word, and perhaps some other clever fellow has invented it before. It is, however, a word for our times, a word that exemplifies what we get when the cultural norm is that we lie to others and we live in comforting blindness (i.e., systematically lie to ourselves): preality. Preality is what you get before reality kicks in.

Preality is what happens while we are maneuvering to "extend and pretend" the bizarre complexities and contradictions of our financial and political edifices. Reality happens when that crumbles.

Preality is what we get when we suspend the rules of accounting and the rule of law (and let's ignore the laws of physics, too) in the realm of finance and government. Reality happens when that falls apart and the system of illusion, corruption, and deception collapses.

Preality is the home of those who are stubbornly ignorant about the facts of life on a finite planet that is bursting at the seams with more and more people. Reality is what happens when the more desperate and ruthless of those people start eating our lunch and playing games with our daughters.

Preality is the orbit of those (most of us) who are burning fossil fuels without (or even with) regard for the future. Reality sets in when the rate of production decline exceeds the rate of demand decline.

Preality is the universe of those who believe Obama is a "progressive." Reality takes over when they see who he really serves, and why.

Preality is where we live when we are operating within our conditioning, within the box of conventional, standard beliefs and officially approved behaviors. Reality rolls up on us when we experience how insane our conditioning has made us.

Preality is the native terrain of fundamentalist ideologues of all stripes and colors. Reality gets a foot in the door as the old true-believers die off. Reality advances one funeral at a time (to paraphrase Max Planck).

In the world of preality, its only antidote may be discomfort of intensity in direct proportion to the white-knuckle death-grip we use to cling to the comforting lies and avoidance of increasingly obvious truths. Urgency de-reifies those abstractions and their ideologies, and many people can then see fairly straight, often for the very first time.

Indeed, preality may be the word for our times; our times being the end of an era of plentiful cheap energy and other resources, the end of an era of blind faith in such ideologies as "economics" and "democracy," and the beginning of a transition to more reality-defined physical limitations and realpolitic-defined social routines.

Without doubt, every one of us can find more examples...


It is amazing how many pundits there are who think that more growth will solve all our problems. Have you seen this article about the limits of wind power?


On a similar note, T Boone Pickens will be on 60 Minutes to discuss the future uses of natural gas, it should be an interesting and controversial discussion to say the least.

Phil Henshaw

The key question is how to break through, and let "the voice of reality" be heard. I don't think scientists should try to convert their insights into political speech. I think we should find simple starting points for the general public, to do true scientific thinking.

One irony for me is that on natural systems subjects, I myself am now in year #30+ in a struggle to get professional scientists to think scientifically too. So I'm not saying it's gong to be easy. We're all struggling with much the same symptom, though, having found ways to make the counter-intuitive evidence of how our world actually works crystal clear, and having it fail to raise a discussion.

Take my finding that the estimates of energy use impacts of businesses are nominally 80% below the world average energy use per dollar. The simple reason is that the standard method counts only in-house energy uses and out-sourced energy services are the missing 80%.

Everyone seems to agree that the finding is technically correct. It does not have a familiar framework of discussion to fit into though, and... (perhaps more importantly), is not culturally affirming. Because it is not culturally affirming people also don't have a positive emotional response to it. That the scale of the error is so large may make it even harder to find a way to talk about.

Another more familiar example is that of Jeavons' finding, that using efficiency to make resource use more profitable, multiplies resource use. Why our popular culture finds that counter-intuitive is quite puzzling. I think it's possibly a direct transference from the positive reinforcement for being efficient we get everywhere else. It wins us approval from our bosses, spouses, children and friends. It's then a small step to sincerely believe that for being efficient in using her resources and creatively removing costly impacts, nature will also shower us with approval too. The opposite is happening, clearly, but you can't tell people.

I'd love to have suggestions of culturally affirming ways to present either of these or any of the others. Human culture does indeed seem more and more to be clinically mad, in having all these very threatening detachments from reality we can count.

George Mobus


Excellent. Hope you got a copyright!


Thanks for the link. I will check it out.


Thanks for the heads up. I don't watch TV so will miss 60 min. But I'm sure there will be some chatter on the oil drum about it.


I continue to applaud your desire and efforts to get more people to understand the issues as they really are. As you may have understood my motivations, I am less inclined to worry about the public, as in getting them to do things that will 'save' us. I am content with an understanding that the whole edifice is destined to fall down and must do so if there is to be any future evolution of the genus. Besides, after years of trying to proselytize the benefits of everyone grasping that energy is the basis of life and the economy, and getting nowhere, I've concluded that for me the effort is futile.

I'll just stick with the science. Post here if anyone cares to read it, and live out my life in whatever comes. I'd suggest you read William Catton's remarks at the end of his last book, Collapse. He went through the very same personal evolution.


Phil Henshaw

I guess my reason for aiming at finding "common language" is to first speak to the wide spectrum of experts who all have different languages are become blinded by their theories.

Most experts use equations to represent complex systems composed of creatively learning and adapting parts, for example. As a result they come to understand the natural system only as theory.

That prevents them from considering changes in what the parts are learning, and how that alters the form or behavior of the real system. If they could ask that sort of question it would let them see the need for a new model at appropriate times.

In that case, then, it's sticking with "the science" (the "trusted abstraction" that no longer applies) that is the worst mistake of all...

George Mobus


Well this is exactly why I am toiling over an introductory text on systems science, a language that should be common to all sciences (and humanities). If you are interested I can send you a draft to review later in the fall.


Phil Henshaw

Sure, I'd be happy to see notes or anything else you'd like response to.

You know I've been taking on that same task using an empirical method, rather than a theoretical one. I lay out the foundations for a systems science everyone can use taking the common grammar and syntax directly from the physical system objects of nature people can directly observe in their own environment. That's what my papers and research findings have been on since I started writing on systems science methods for SGSR back in 85.

Yesterday I got a nice email, announcing that one of my key papers was awarded the ASME prize for best paper on Energy Sustainability of 2010. That's the one that first established the nominal 500% adjustment in what needs to be counted to estimate the real energy impact of business products and decisions. (using my empirical systems science method)

Henshaw, King paper awarded prize (link to announcement with citation)

George Mobus


Congrats on the paper.

I will be in touch e-mail-wise when I get further along.


James Olson

George, your assertion that the left believes that we can continue on as before using renewables in place of fossil fuels does not square with my own experience.Virtually all on the left that I am personally aware of accept that the party is over with or without renewables. In fact most myself included have known this for at least forty years and have altered our consumption patterns to reflect that knowledge. I had a vasectomy in 1969 the same year we hit peak oil and landed on the moon.During the televised moon landing I told my nephews and nieces that they were witnessing the high point of American civilization and it was all downhill from there.

George Mobus


The 'left' that I refer to is represented by the Paul Krugmans, Robert Reiches, Robert Sheers, etc. These are progressivists who firmly believe that growth is the answer. And they tend to have the most heard voices. People like you and I, who work in the trenches and observe the ground truth (and are able to hear the Paul Ehrlichs and Donella Meadows), have to grapple with reality. Naturally we try to do what is best.



The data suggested that the claims of the return of these wells were very overrated, and that their long term potential was not nearly as rosy as predicted financial types.

הקמת בריכות שחיה

This requires a process called hydraulic fracturing drilling, is also used to extract shale oil related.

[Moderator edit: removed commercial URL]

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