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« | Main | The Path: The Final Episode »

April 22, 2012


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Humans lived on all continents long before fossil fuels were discovered.

Anywhere But Here Is Better

Marvellous summation of "everything" George, thanks for posting it here.

This is the digital material that, should future historians exist and manage to recover it, will show that not everyone was blind to what was coming.

My personal puzzle is trying to square the evolutionary process - survival of the so-called fittest - with the emergence of a more sapient strand of our genus after the bottleneck. It seems to me that if we believe in evolutionary process, where we have got to as Homo sapiens is the burgeoning of exactly the type of selfish, me-first creatures that have caused the current predicament where we are about to fall off the cliff. If Nature was served by the evolution of more sapient humans, wouldn't people like you George be in the ascendancy and have already moderated the self-serving abuse of energy resources?

I have started to detest the term "fittest" because it seems that it defines the clique of greedy bastards who are running the show worldwide. I personally have no interest in proving my "fitness" by jumping into the pig trough of self-aggrandisement at the expense of others.

It is my last hope that sapience does become the new fitness, but I have severe doubts. Human history tells me that when push comes to shove, the greed-infested power clique will decimate the sapient ones so as to extinguish the idea that there is an alternative way to progress on this flawed planet.

What say you George?

Thanks and best wishes, Oliver


The big problem is that no matter how sapient we behave nothing will happens before we go through the bottleneck. With the remaining population we will be forged to stay alive in a energy low environment. Preparation is the best thing to do now, try things out practice skills and develop energy efficient way to do things.
With the enormous masses of humans born since in the baby-boom still alive processing human corpses will be big task. At Pyrolysium we are developing methods and awareness to pyrolyse corpses with concentrated solar-power and prevent 120 kilo CO2 compared to a typical cremation with natural gas.

Aboc Zed


Excellent assessment of the present situation.

And I agree with your conclusion that fate of Homo Sapiens Sapiens is sealed.

To your point about wisdom and sapience being key to future evolution of genus homo I will add that in the immediate future we can see the trends.

First, it is self-selection of the elites to be the 1% survivor as they are those whop have much beter access to the benefits of civilization and they are expected to retain that access over the breakdown and collapse regardless of how long it will take to manifest. In other words in the long run it will be children of 1% that will survive and reproduce.

Second point is about science in government. As you say the vast majority of humans do not understand science and reject it in favour of fath based un-reason that helps them to cope with human condition. This is natural outcome of evolution and we cannot blame them for that. Because of this we can clearly see that democracy that is rull by ignorant majority will never produce sustainable socio-economic system. So it will evolve into something "better" like everything else.

This brings me to my third and final point:
It seems to me that the only way to further evolution of homo sapiens into homo cogitans is to bring science into government. The only way we can do this is by one of two actions. One is educationg 1% on top. It is hard task since 1% are busy fighting off lessers under them. The other is for those men and women who understand science to _evolve_ into becoming government. This one seems to me doable even if it is clearly intra-generational and long term effort. This is why I will keep looking for those who understand this and will be willing to act upon this understanding.

Aboc Zed


Truly sapient will not be decimated by the "fittest". In fact they _are_ among the fittest already. They will survive and they will change the way the homo genus is organized. They will do it all the way while the nature takes care of overpopulation thru war, hunger and desease. And even if the technology will be not fossil fuel powered it will still be in place and belief-free science will "run the show".

There is no contradiction here at all.

Because in Nature "contradiction" does not exist.


Oliver, what if the "fitness" and "sapience" required to survive the bottleneck constitutes what we refer to as "selfish" and "greedy"? If only a small fraction of the human ape population is required to survive and reproduce to carry on the evolution of human apes, might they not be predisposed to "greed" and "selfishness" in the context of their own self-selected interests and defending those interests at whatever costs against the multiples of "unfit" competitors?

Might they not attempt to secure as large a share of the vital resources per capita as they can before the worst of the conditions of the bottleneck occur?

What if the self-selecting nature of evolution has heretofore demonstrated that these "selfish", "greedy" b@stards are the precursor human apes who will successfully adapt to conditions of scarce resources and survive the bottleneck?

And add to the b@stards' evolutionary conditioning a rationalist, techno-scientific predisposition such that they systematically, and one might say ruthlessly, apply experimentation and best practices, if you will, to the challenges posed by the bottleneck.

And then imagine a dominant plurality or majority of this kind of individual and associated groups forming the basis of governance, social conditioning, division of labor, resource allocation, and distribution of income and wealth for what remains of the remnant "fittest" population.

Then consider that the overwhelming majority of the human ape population today is techno-scientifically ignorant, superstitious/mythmagical in their thinking, largely cognitively unreachable, and woefully unprepared for the bottleneck and the emerging high-tech, scientific society that could serve as a solution to the inevitable bottleneck for the remnant few.

If you were among today's "greedy" b@astards, on what basis would you risk compromising your survival and adaptive reproductive prospects by giving up per capita a growing share of the concentrated wealth, income, privilege, and power you will surely need in surplus to survive and carry on beyond the bottleneck?

If you were to concede that the overwhelming majority of us and our progeny will not likely survive the bottleneck, then there is a point during one's realization that (1) requires conceding this fact and deciding what to do thereafter, which might include attempting to align oneself with, or ingratiate oneself to, the "greedy" b@astards; (2) denying it and carrying on, hoping that the bottleneck conditions won't adversely affect you and yours; (3) emotionally reacting against the seeming unfairness or inequity of the situation and wasting one's vital energy raging against the overwhelming forces of entropy and evolution; (4) conceding the likelihood, knowing one is unprepared and ill-equipped, and then (a) grabbing whatever one can get as quickly as possible, realizing the futility of it all, (b) resigning to it all and living each day as one's last, or (c) detaching oneself emotionally and embracing the myriad potential rationalist, techno-scientific solutions for a remnant of the human ape population beyond the bottleneck.

For the sake of discussion, what if the foregoing is the most likely scenario we face and thus the most prudent choice is to self-identify with and act in such a way as to encourage the rationalist, techno-scientific solutions and future for a remnant of human apes?

How would you relate or appeal to the "fitter" techno-scientific fellow human apes? Would you resent or envy them? Embrace and support their efforts? Oppose them? How would you like them to relate to you? Would you prefer that they be honest with you, even brutally so if necessary? Deceive you so as not to frighten you? Patronize you so as to make it easier to charm and deceive you and carry on the necessary work?

I do not ask these questions to inflame but hopefully to clarify one's thinking, including my own.

Anywhere But Here Is Better

Interesting questions Bruce.

I will need to think about them before responding.

For the moment, I have a single question for your perusal. Are you equating the sapient 'fit' humans who will survive the bottleneck with the current greed-infested 1%? (The latter include a large number of dolts with inherited wealth.)

If you are equating them, I respectfully bow out of such a post-bottleneck world.

Anywhere But Here Is Better

Thanks AZ.

The truly sapient of whom you speak are indeed among the fittest. But my puzzlement continues as to the sapience of the '1%' who hold all the power over resources that may enable them to thwart the true sapients' passage through the bottleneck.

Aboc Zed


one way of thinking about 1%, sapience and sustainability is in terms of Venn diagram

Set A = "1% that are on top of the pecking order pyramid"

Set B = "sapient survivors of the population bottleneck that over evolutionary horizon will eventually vestigialize pecking order and re-organize into trully sustainable poplupation of homo genus"

Set C = "all individuals from evolving genus homo that exibit higher than average sapience"

The applicable relationship is


99% are simplly not in the picture

it absolutely does not matter how we self-identify

we may think we are 1% when in fact we are 99%

the error of assessing oneself to belong to 99% when one is in fact is 1% is very hard to imagine but in theory possible too

George Mobus

Just a quick note of clarification of my thinking on this WRT: the "fittest" and evolution of sapience.

By definition the fitness of a species is in relation to the conditions of the environment. Change the conditions and what was once fit may not be so any longer. Furthermore, change the conditions such that some extreme variant of a genotype possesses the phenotypic characteristics that form a better match to the new environment and you have the conditions for a bottleneck event.

That the current selfish b@stards, as Bruce calls them, have been the most fit is really still arguable. They are not the ones producing the most offspring which is the other requirement for evolution to proceed in some particular trajectory. Moreover, the environment is about to undergo a significant change. The techno-scientific "solutions" that Bruce mentions are not likely to carry into this new environment, so if the greedy b@stards are banking on their wealth and purchasing power to protect them, I suspect they are in for a rude awakening. As a side note, most of the rich people I know (a few, and no name dropping at this time!) are not preparing for a bottleneck event. They sincerely believe they can go on this way forever.

My speculations on the survivability and future fitness of higher sapience is based on two basic aspects. The first is that the environment is about to change drastically requiring something more than mere cleverness to survive. Many people assume that that additional something is more like what they imagine humans used to be like, i.e. ferocious competitors. That is, the bottleneck should select for less civilized individuals. But this view is based on the conception of primitive humans as brutish beasts in the Hobbesian sense. We now understand that certain triggers can bring out the beast in all of us, but that isn't the only means by which our evolutionary success was produced. A more complete view of natural selection applied to humans is the multi-level selection theory which is gaining ground evidence-wise. Group selection, in which those groups who had more strategic thinking appear to have been the more successful. In my book this is part of the beginning of real sapience.

And that leads to my second point which is that I see evolution as having a trajectory that includes the emergence of sociality (the predominance of cooperation over competition seen first in biological systems as endosymbiosis. All forms of cooperative group behavior have been set in the model of sociality at every level in the biological world and I have a strong suspicion that we have been witness, without really realizing it, to its evolution in our own bio-cultural co-evolution.

In other words, I think the trajectory strongly suggests a future hominid species that is far more motivated by cooperation than competition (even though the latter never is completely eliminated). Sapience provides a mechanism for overriding our baser instincts, so to speak. It has the ability to down modulate the effects of the limbic, reactive systems to grant more time for contemplative reasoning. It also provides the tacit knowledge base (gained over a lifetime) to guide that reasoning in more fruitful directions.

So my hope stands. The change in the conditions of the environment - mostly the radical and swift changes in climate along with the loss of high powered energy fuels - will trigger a return to selection for higher sapience and not an imagined, devolved brutishness.

Hope this clarifies the concept a bit.

PS. Focis, while what you say is true, and I interpret the short comment as an assertion that humans will survive quite well, the fact is that when humans migrated out of Africa there were far fewer of them and the environment had not been so drastically depleted of resources. Moreover, those peoples had no expectations of having creature comforts that would drive them mad to learn such were being taken away from them. Modern humans are spoiled by what we have produced through technology and energy. I suspect the average low-sapient individual will not react well to losing those comforts. On a more scientific note, all populations of any species that have overshot the long-term carrying capacity of their environments have crashed. Some have crashed so badly the have gone extinct.


Aboc Zed


Thanks for clarification.

I totally agree with you on the point of emerging eusociality and cooperation being more important than competition. Most recent book by EO Wilson comes to mind on this topic.

Still I would maintain that in order for this trend to matter it is to manifest among 1% on the top.

Yes most of the so called "rich people" probably are not sapient enough and not eusocial enough yet.

But they will learn over collapse and the more sapient "scientists" around them will help direct the group learning experience.

Since the homo species as a whole needs to "learn" eusociality to be truly sustainable I argue that our educational efforts ashould be spent on 1% not on 99%.

And in fact it is happening whether we like it or not because all scientists, if they are "smart-enough" to propell themselves high enough to be closer to the top and survive the bottleneck event by taking advantage of existing albeit actively disentegrating power-structures.

I think what Bruce and I are sazying is the continuity of "knowledge" the organic matter accumulates in DNA that program the types of social organization and ultimately eusociality.

The pecking order of warm bloded verterbrates as social organization clearly is more advanced that social organizzation (or non-existance of such) of cold-blooded

I therefore think that Nature is not going to waste the concentration of power by 1%.

It will modify it into eusociality when the species finally "learn" it as a organism-whole.

Anywhere But Here Is Better

Thank you George for the clear follow-up.

I am much more at ease now, because I can rekindle my hope that cooperative sapients will emerge to replace selfish non-thinkers at the top of the tree post-bottleneck. It is this intelligent social cooperation that I have dreamt of since I am became self-aware and simultaneously disgusted by the way humankind has been functioning (if we can call it that) at brutish level.

If we both find ourselves on the other side of the bottleneck, I will be delighted to share my precious potable water with you. Cheers!


Priorities of higher "education" in the US.


i'm still not seeing ANY long term survival for our species or a host of others we (formerly, after the bottleneck is over) relied on for food. Animals, plants and marine species may be able to adapt "in time" (though the evidence so far is that they won't) but the pervasive pollution and changed climate conditions (unreliable growing seasons and chaotic weather), combined with lack of available energy will finish most of life off in short order (less than a few centuries). i sincerely hope i'm wrong, as i too have grandchildren.

Alexander Carpenter

Just a minor quibble, and not focusing on the sadly overemphasized AGW silliness in this entry (which distracts from the industrial toxicity and mechanical disruption that are really devastating the biosphere):

Evolution at large is not stochastic, it is chaotic. Only a narrow and artificial focus on the small incremental molecular-scale aspects of evolution called neo-Darwinism even remotely merit being characterized as stochastic.

Overall, evolution is not random, and all the aspects of it are inter-connected in the web of life, which is not teleological and thereby not sapient (by definition). Whatever overlay of "sapience" we humans can muster is dust in the wind, except possibly in very long time-frames during which selection events ("die-off") might concentrate sapience in the survivors.

The trouble is that history shows us that such selection events and processes tend to select against sapience and concentrate high-status individuals and groups whose ruthlessness and narcissism have been and will continue to be destructive to all others (but they are in control!).

Too bad for all the rest of us, and all other organisms as well.

George Mobus


But they will learn over collapse and the more sapient "scientists" around them will help direct the group learning experience.

Since the homo species as a whole needs to "learn" eusociality to be truly sustainable I argue that our educational efforts ashould be spent on 1% not on 99%.

Emphasis mine.

This is the part I don't get. How can anyone "learn" sapience. It isn't learnable. It is native to the genetics for brain development.

In my view there is a range of sapience from very little (the vast majority of humanity I suspect) to very high (without being a different species altogether). This is no different than, say, intelligence. It is determined by a range of alleles or, more likely, a range of non-coding, genetic control sites. There is no way anyone can "learn" to be sapient. They can only, at best, learn to exercise what they have.

And I seriously doubt that anyone who fits into the category of the so-called 1% (in the socio-economic classes) comes close to being high sapients. Though intelligence and sapience are highly correlated (i.e. highly sapient people tend to have high intelligence scores) it is only from the standpoint of sapience. You can have very clever, intelligent people who will rob you blind (like the Wall Street crowd) who are not high sapients. I've described this in my papers. Citation of work done by Sternberg, et al.

So I don't really understand your and Bruce's belief that the 1% are a) more fit for survival in the future world, and b) that some of them are somehow sapient. I just don't think this is so.


Thanks for the sentiment. But I don't expect to find myself on the other side for a variety of reasons. I will be post another episode of the path soon in which I explain what I think are reasonable demographics for the survivors.


Well, less competition for my department then! It really is crazy, in terms of the perceptions of the marketplace. But I have personally endured the stupidity of some former administrators who tried their best to diminish our program at UWT. Their gone and the new administration is four-square behind us. My job seems more secure for the time being!


Of course your conjecture may be as valid as mine. You have your reasons for believing that humanity will simply go extinct. But neither of us can claim our visions are the most probable. Evolution has an interesting history of doing the least expected!

Many prior mass dieoffs have left evidence of just how resilient life itself is. I'm sure that the climate changes we think are going to be a part of this scenario are going to severely decimate many mega-fauna and many plant species, but I don't think it will be as severe as some of the prior situations (e.g. particularly the dinosaur-killing event circa 65 mya). But, who really can say?


There are a lot of authoritative-sounding claims in your short comment! Since chaos is very hard to demonstrate for even modestly dimensioned systems it seems a bit much to claim such a fine distinction between chaos and stochastic processes. Perhaps you would enlighten us with some references?

WRT: "evolution is not random" I did provide a link in my last comment RE: evolution's trajectory. In that work I address the role of random events in the matrix of auto-organization, emergence, and selective environments.

I would really like to see this evidence, "...that history shows us that such selection events and processes tend to select against sapience and concentrate high-status individuals and groups whose ruthlessness and narcissism have been and will continue to be destructive to all others (but they are in control!)." Sounds awfully Hobbesian. If you are really talking about hominin (pre-historical) evolution I'm afraid the evidence is quite the other way. I've written it all down if you care to look.



Personally, I think people are "hard wired" for the kinds of short term oriented behavior and cognitive limits that have prevented mitigation or otherwise rational living habits. Some people are capable of seeing ahead, and it is frustrating and frightening for them, because they are too few to effect changes that would improve long term prospects. It's a systemic problem in which behavioral instincts collectively lead to a result that, on a larger scale, do not appear to be well suited for long term success. Evolution is an ongoing process... :-P

Aboc Zed


Bad choice of word on my part. Indeed "sapience" cannot be learnt. It can evolve and manifest.

what I wanted to say was that sapience will evolve and manifest within 1% at the top and 9% near the top.

You believe sapience will emerge after collapse of fossil fuel technological civilization from the bits and pieces from all over the place.

I think that the structure of 1-9 -90 will be shrinking as a whole but still be in place even as civilization collapses.

In this I agree with Alexander Carpenter but he thinks sapience will never happen because 1-9-90 structure will persist to the point of no returen after which there will be no basis for any further evolution of homo genus but simply extinction.

I think evolution of homo genus will not stop and even after first, second, third or permanent "collapse" it will continue and final I think the planet wil be scortched beyond recognition by that time and now of us would what to live in that kind of world. But our distant descendants will have no choice - that would be the only kind of planet they would inherit from us.


What is the likelihood of a runaway GH effect reducing the earth to a venus-like planet? Now that the oceans are bubbling with methane, how will even a small remnant of humanity survive GW?

George Mobus


Evolution is an ongoing process.

Indeed. And one that is extremely hard to predict, full of surprises. I would so much like to witness the outcome. But life is short...


You believe sapience will emerge after collapse of fossil fuel technological civilization...

Just to clarify: Sapience has already "emerged" in human beings. But it comes in a range of "strengths". The distribution is very likely a highly skewed one, toward the low end, with a thin tail out toward the high end.

My conjecture is that higher sapience will become a more fit trait during and after the bottleneck event. Thus it won't so much emerge as simply come to dominate in the true evolutionary sense.

I'm still mystified by your focus on what we call the 1% (or 9% if you like). These are categories applied to wealth holders. There is no necessary connection that I can see between holding wealth and higher sapience. Indeed I would argue the opposite. I strongly suspect that one feature of higher sapience is a recognition of the corrupting influence of excess wealth and an eschewing of the kinds of things one has to do to obtain it. Ergo, I strongly doubt that there is much high sapience within the 1%ers.

I notice you like to make predictions about what will happen in the far future. For my part I am not really concerned with the distant future, AFA what things will be like. There are way too many factors and variables to consider. My focus is on the nature of sapience, especially in its stronger form, in the here and now. And my interest is in how that might be preserved through the bottleneck. I don't take an activist approach because, by definition (mine anyway) highly sapient people are already considering what they have to do. My only concern is to sketch out some possible survival strategies and scenarios. Anyone who is truly highly sapient will know what to do.


The Earth has been through a number of hot-cold cycles involving methane and carbon dioxide. There is a long term cycle of carbon through the atmosphere and oceans and back into geological capture that has gone on since the beginning of life. There is evidence of a worst case scenario but it turns out to be about what the dinosaurs experienced. That period was one of the lushest as far as plant and animal life (not to mention bacteria!) is concerned.

The Venus scenario arises from very different geophysical/atmospheric histories. I seriously doubt that anything even close to that would happen on Earth.

I suspect that the methane escape will, as in past times, cause a significant rise in Earth temperatures but nothing close to that on Venus. What is really problematic is the rate of temperature increase due to the rapid burning of carbon fuels by humans. The rate of rise is stressing many species (and including our own) in ways that make it hard to imagine them adapting rapidly enough to compensate. Macroscopic life will certainly not be able to adapt genetically in the time scale we are projecting. The only salvation for living things is behavioral and territorial adaptation, which we are already seeing in many species. Rats and cockroaches should do well! Migratory animals might do OK in some instances as they change their migration patterns in accord with the temperature gradients as they develop.

But I do not think there will be a time when the temperature rise is "runaway" in the sense of scorching the planet the way Venus is scorched.

Humans are a semi-migratory species. There will be environments that are not so hostile that some humans can't survive. It will just be very different, what survival will mean.


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