Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cool science stuff ... and more reasons to be thankful


Put this at the top of your shopping list!  Future Visions: Microsoft has published an anthology of original Science Fiction short stories reflecting its research projects, with entries by Elizabeth Bear, Greg Bear, David Brin, Nancy Kress, Ann Leckie, Robert Sawyer, Seanan McGuire, and Jack McDevitt. 

I visited Microsoft's cutting edge research labs before writing my story... on predictions. This free ebook is now available on Amazon, Google, Kobo and other sellers.

And soon... my long anticipated and long-delayed third short story collection will be available for pre-order.  Stay tuned.

And now -- a potpourri of items to help us all give thanks for being members of a fantastic civilization.  Our ancestors - who struggled to get us here - would be proud of us in most ways... except for giving in to gloom and failure of confidence, just when we are on the verge of putting it all together.

== Insight into the Brain ==

Mikhail Rabinovich, a physicist and neurocognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and a group of researchers have now mathematically modeled how the mind switches among different ways of thinking about a sequence of objects, events, or ideas that are based on the activity of “cognitive modes.” The new model, described in an open-access paper in the journal Chaos, may help scientists understand a variety of human psychiatric conditions that may involve sequential memory, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar, and attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia and autism. 

What about thinking machines? A new book from John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org, looks at the future of Artificial Intelligence: What to Think About Machines that Think: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence, with provocative essays by Steven Pinker, Frank Tipler, Daniel Dennett, George Dyson, Kevin Kelly, Nick Bostrom, Sam Harris, Freeman Dyson, Nicholas Carr, and others...

This Singularity University video examines whether we can reverse-engineer a brain.

== Cool stuff! ==


Physics Girl shows a way-cool trick of bouncing balls transferring momentum... and how this relates to the way a supernova works.  You might like a lot of her other videos.


NASA released this mesmerizing video of a liquid drop floating in space.

Intel is summoning contestants for an upcoming 2016 TV show called “America’s Greatest Makers”.  Competitors will vie for a $1M grand prize. An exceptional opportunity for all you talented Tinkerers out there.

Magnificence on a tiny level: See the winners of this year's microphotography contest hosted by Nikon.

Iceland is building its first humanoid electricity pylons, 150-foot steel figurines that look like mythical male and female giants … and support power lines in their hands. The first one is now scheduled for construction in 2017. 

== Tech news ==

Potassium is 880 times more abundant in the Earth’s crust than lithium the workhorse element in modern batteries. Now there is hope that potassium might replace Lithium in carbon-based batteries, making them far cheaper.  

Scientists have developed a robust, solid-state catalyst that shows promise to replace expensive platinum for hydrogen production from water.  One of many potential "medium game changers." 

The new Anti-UAV Defense System (Auds) beams high-powered radio to freeze drones in mid-flight. The Auds works by disrupting a drone’s signal to make it unresponsive. 

Or... will we soon see drones that dissolve into air once their mission is done? 

4D Printing Tech: Using components made from smart shape-memory materials with slightly different responses to heat, researchers have demonstrated a four-dimensional printing technology that allowed creation of complex self-folding structures.

Drones build a rope bridge you could safely cross. Not only entrancing, but useful. My sons could’ve used this in scouts!

“The Pike,” a 40mm laser semi-guided missile that can be fired using a standard tube grenade launcher, but expanding range from 150 to 2000 yards. 

== Geosciences ==

For many years I have corresponded with  Michael Rampino, a New York University geologist, about theories of mass extinction. (I even filled a small part of idea space with a low probability theory of my own.) Now, with Ken Caldeira, a scientist in the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, Michael offers new support linking the age of meteorite impacts with recurring mass extinctions of life every 26 million years, including the demise of dinosaurs. This cycle has been linked to periodic motion of the sun and planets through the dense mid-plane of our galaxy. Scientists have theorized that gravitational perturbations of the distant Oort comet cloud that surrounds the sun lead to periodic comet showers in the inner solar system, where some comets strike the Earth.

It took a while. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been producing detailed topographic maps for more than 125 years. Today they are nearly all digitized and free to download through the USGS Map Store, plus the ability to overlay every USGS topographic map on top of Google Earth. An incredible treasure trove for both map junkies and casual hikers alike. Civil servants doing good.   

See these open source methods to make underwater exploring ROVs. 


== BioTech & Health News ==

Offering promise for curing disease... Researchers create complex kidney structures from human stem cells derived from adult skin cells.

Will we all be web-spinners? Genetically engineered yeast can now brew silk proteins that can be spun into fibers. The properties of those fibers can be altered by tinkering with the protein concentration and the temperature, tension, and other aspects of the spinning process.

Wow… Researchers found that when this vine was climbing a tree it was able to imitate the host leaves in terms of size, shape, color, orientation and even vein conspicuousness.  Furthermore, when a single vine was associated with multiple tree species, it was able to sequentially mimic these different hosts.

Do Omega 3 fats actually protect against heart disease?  Conflicting results suggest a mutation that is common among Inuit people and ¼ of Asians may be partly at work. 

According to a recent paper in Scientific Data, about three-fifths of human diseases are believed to have been initially passed along to us by animals.  See this flow in an eerie and daunting visual. As you’d expect, the strongest connection is between humans and livestock.

Simply giving near-sighted children glasses can dramatically boost their school performance. Convincing Chinese teachers and parents is harder.

== Future Fiction ==

Part documentary and part science fiction, The Visit: An Alien Encounter is a faux documentary of first contact, milking a sense of mystery and suspense that might accompany such a transforming event. (Available for streaming on Amazon.) Will it be silly or cogent?  I guess we’ll see…

… though it is highly reminiscent of a TV series I was on called Alien Encounters (Discovery Channel) that took viewers through a similar situation that evolves rapidly and disturbingly in unexpected directions — alternating fictional segments with interviews in which varied sages discuss plausible technologies and conceivable outcomes.


And finally...

Inventor Lowell Wood just broke Edison's record at 1805 awarded U.S. patents. This feature about Wood portrays an American original who just happened to live in exactly the sub-civilization that best leveraged his talents, benefiting us all. (Among the inventions are a few that you might find suggested, way back in 1987, in EARTH… but never mind that.)

Okay!  That great big pile of cool items ought to keep you busy, clicking and skimming while groaning and loosening your belts on Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday)... or else however you folks elsewhere around the world celebrate Thursday.  (Ah... Thursday!)

Don't let grouches undermine our confidence.  Star Trek awaits.  Do thrive and persevere.

80 comments:

Treebeard said...

You're a smart guy, but this “Star Trek awaits” stuff is pretty weird. How many violations of physics were there in every episode? Warp drive, transporters, replicators, anti-gravity, time travel, telepathy, not to mention the shiny super-beings with absurd magical powers – these are all old wizard tropes that would have been comprehensible to stone age shamans.

No, Star Trek was never about science or technology. It was about magic, myth and morality plays clothed in scientific drag. And that's why it's entertaining, and why hard, “realistic” SF tends to be rather dull (in my humble opinion, of course).

David Brin said...

In context, my remark was about believing that tomorrow can be better. "Star Trek" is the perfect metaphor because it is just about the only sci fi scenario that (1) everyone knows and that (2) blatantly believes we can do better.

Robert said...

Two bits. First, I was supposed to remind you about something, Dr. Brin. I suspect it was about Democratic Presidential candidate Sanders and what reasons you have for dismissing outright his campaign (which is odd considering you're a cheerleader for some guy trying to crowdsource the start of his own campaign but who is far less known than Sanders).

Second, I've some ruminations on Star Trek.

I'm not quite sure if it were here or elsewhere that I saw something about how Star Trek isn't the utopian society, but instead is quite wasteful with all that energy going into starships which refuse to share their power and technology with new societies due to the limits as to amounts of dylithium and antimatter used to fuel their ships.

However, the critics of Star Trek fail to account for multiple vast levels of power - power which would be utilized quite easily and effectively by Star Fleet and the Federation (and for that matter any space-faring society that uses Replicator technology): specifically? Solar power.

A Replicator is able to transform energy into matter - and into specific forms. This means that solar radiation can be captured by solar arrays in space... which is used to create further solar arrays. Eventually the amount of solar arrays present will provide easily enough power to build more and more arrays until you have Dyson structures around each star in the Federation.

That energy would in turn be used by the Replicators to generate antimatter fuel for ships and could be beamed to the planets and bases for regular power generation. Naturally, antimatter generators would exist in case of an enemy attack (as those solar arrays would be targeted early by an invading force). Indeed, the solar arrays would likely also be powering sensor arrays, weapon platforms, and the like... and the primary threat would be an enemy like the Borg which can assimilate that technology and utilize it themselves.

The one drawback is that in a matter of a few decades, the night sky would become far emptier as less and less electromagnetic radiation escapes the stars closest to the Federation worlds (ie, themselves) and various stars start to dim out - still there, but that starlight being used to power their post-scarcity civilization.

Rob H.

Kyle McCulloch said...

Your stupid

Robert said...

So speaks the man who failed basic English grammar. Your is possessive. Like "Did you enjoy your turkey dinner?"

Rob H.

Jumper said...

I saw a guy with "Born to Loose" tattooed on his arm.

taiwan77 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
taiwan77 said...

Re lithium potassium item ...recent news item via google re president of Bolivia where 90 percent lithium is mined plans to use clout at cop21 on this. Check?

locumranch said...


I suspect that the term 'post-scarcity society' is oxymoronic because (mostly) societies exist mainly to facilitate, regulate or distribute scarce resources, so much so that any extreme of scarcity (either overwhelming plenty or penurious absence) must necessarily lead to societal breakdown.

I recall a SciFi novel (from 40 years ago) that drove home this point but, for the life of me, I can't remember either title or author. It starts with a time-displaced American astronaut stereotype crash-landing in an automated wheat field, only to be befriended by an enlightened woman & her dangerously intelligent friend, becomes an economic discussion about the relative merits of 'Blue' capitalist & 'Red' communist economic theory, climaxes in a failed raid on the Central Computer complex (where the astronaut & his friends learn how the capitalist victory over communism caused a devaluing over-supply of everything which led -- in turn -- to social collapse & anarchy), and ends with the astronaut & his trouble-making friends being relocated to a 'free' off-planet colony. It is also revealed that the merit-based Central Authority is neither capitalist nor communist in origin, but an external imposition by the returning astronauts of yet another star mission.

Anyone here know author & title?


Best

sociotard said...

Someone needs to hook a dynamo up to Kennedy's grave. Every time Brin says our best year in space is one in which we crawled to the Russians to ferry our astronauts up, that coffin gives quite a spin.

David Brin said...

Robert I like Sanders. He reminds me a lot of my father. And yes, about half of what he asks for is desperately needed and he would push harder than incrementalist Hillary. On the other hand, half of the benefit of having a democratic president is that he or she simply aapoints people who want to do their jobs well, instead of sabotaging government for the benefit of oligarchs.

That one difference helps to account for the utterly and diametrically opposite list of OUTCOMES from demo and gopper administrations:
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2014/06/so-do-outcomes-matter-more-than-rhetoric.html

Hence, what is essential is that a democrat take office in 2017 and that the GOP be smashed hard enough for American conservatives to re-evaluate their alliance with Rupert Murdoch and the Saudi Royal House. And yes, while millions hate Hillary for inchoate cultural reasons, not factual ones, she is more likely to actually win a year from now. Period.

To be honest, Bernie has flakey aspects. Not insane! (The GOP norm.) But mercurial.

As for Trek, I believe the non-interference principle was a good moral step after three centuries of conquest and colonialism. We can do better, but it was a declaration THAT we should behave differently, out there.

David Brin said...

Sociotard is back! Of course, he does not even bother to refute my enumeration of the spectacular things we did last year. Sigh.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Paul SB
I would agree with our hosts comment
"if those pre-agriculture women had plenty of food they would have had plenty of babies grow to adulthood"
We know just how fast modern human population can grow when expanding into a new environment
I'm thinking of the Maori - just a few hundred years to go from tens of individuals to hundreds of thousands

With that as an example it's surprising just how long the early hunter gatherers took for their expansion across the world

I suspect that the "stone age" Maori "tool kit" of plants, animals and tools was much more sophisticated compared to the real stone age than it looks

Tony Fisk said...

Locum, I don't know the novel you are thinking of, but I have read 'The Midas Plague', a novella by Frederik Pohl that describes a post-scarcity anti-utopia. (Seriously, I think you'd like it.)

Paul SB said...

Hi Duncan!

I'm pretty sure you know the Maori much better than I do, and it has been a long time since I was looking at the Expansion and the mathematical models. However, one thing that is a pretty indisputable fact of the archaeological record is that everywhere agriculture set in, infant mortality skyrocketed. Agricultural societies, before modern technology gave us things like refrigeration for food and vaccines against disease, had around 50% infant mortality rates. Modern h/gs were in the teens to single digits. There are hazards trying to extend those estimates backward in time, mainly due to the fickleness of preservation. However, all the osteological indicators show consistently across the human species that agriculture dramatically reduced most people's health and life expectancy. The exception was the social/economic elites of any society, the oligarchs and feudal lords who benefited from taxing the masses. Back when I was still in the business of archaeology, my osteologist associates often told me how easily they could tell the difference between the bones of h/gs and the bones of agriculturalists. It was a litany of skeletal markers of malnutrition and overwork not seen in their immediate ancestors.

The transition to agriculture was not an unequivocal improvement for the human race at the time, as we so often assume. It was mainly a trade-off between dietary certainty and dietary quality. The h/g lifestyle is generally more healthy than early agriculture, but lacks a mechanism to store food for times of scarcity. Agriculture produces surpluses that can be dried and stored, so communities have food to get them through times of drought. However, it didn't take our ancestors long to start turning surpluses into disparities.

It's really interesting to note, though, that the "Great Awakening" - the time when our ancestors who had been anatomically just like us began to act just like us (as evidenced by art and burial practices) around the same time they had filled up the landscape. It would make sense that this change in behavior might relate to the lack of frontiers for bands to fission into.

I'm not putting the prehistoric past on a pedestal here. I wouldn't trade my Nissan hybrid and credit cards for a pair of moccasins and a Clovis point. The transition from the hunter/gatherer lifestyle to the misery of early agriculture and iron-fisted dictatorships for 6000 years did make our modern era possible. However, there are things to be learned from those more distant ancestors that are relevant to us today, especially in terms of nutrition and psychology. Biological evolution is a slow process, and we carry a lot of instinctual baggage from those times. The point I was making to Alfred was that we have to be careful about projecting our modern issues and cultural norms on the distant past. That's not how useful understanding happens.

As to the time it took for the Maori to fill the New Zealand landscape compared to the time it took for the species to fill up the continents, the original founding population may have only been an order or two of magnitude larger, while the amount of landscape to fill was several orders of magnitude larger.

Paul SB said...

Robert, maybe Kyle was trying to type "Your stupid argument..." or "Your stupid attitude..." then suffered a fatal heart attack (and the quest for the holy blog continued).

Paul SB said...

As far as Star Trek goes, it was a TV show. Utopias make for boring settings (Oh look! Don planted fifty acres of alfalfa today. Suzie got a B- on her term paper and is somewhat disappointed). When I was a larva I noticed that the technology on Star Trek was so good it seemed like writer's magic. Thus some way always had to be found to get the communicators off the landing party, otherwise they could just beam outta there, or beam in a bunch of red shirts with phasers. We used to joke that Mr. Spock could use his tricorder to inform the Kirk of what pattern was printed on the Klingon captain's underwear.

Having said that, the show was still an inspiration for generations to strive for a better future - a far better thing than to cower in fear and feed your mind a steady diet of idiot plots.

Tacitus2 said...

Paul SB

Discussions here do tend to wander afield but in the general category of Thankfulness...

I would be inherently skeptical of infant mortality comparisons between hunter-gathering types and early ag societies. So very many variables.

Agriculture tends to create stationary populations. You know where to look for graves. Sad little hg demises in forests and swamps, not so much.

I assume your osteologists are looking at ratios of infant to adult burials. There are even places where climate conditions make the relative impermanence of infant remains less of an issue. But better fed humans have lots more babies. Nothing works better for contraception than amenorrhea due to malnutrition, which was a recurring state of affairs in between the Big Mammoth Scores. On a side note our ability to effectively store calories on Mammoth Day, or Turkey Day, is our triumph over those scrawny (Primitive) Sports Illustrated models who all died off when the Mammoths got scarce. Our tendency towards the rotund is our badge of success.

Oh I am sure there are some factors that would tend to make the hg's healthier. It is harder to wipe out large numbers by disease when the populations are smaller and in minimal contact with each other. But against that weigh the counter points of inbreeding, of large scale (by population percentages) impact when floods, famines, long winters etc culled the herd.

Like you I would not enjoy a Quest for Fire life style. Gimme a villa, an occasional amphora of imported wine. I'll try not to oppress the servants more than custom demands....

Tacitus

Paul SB said...

Hi Tacitus,

I am thankful for having someone around who knows a bit about the taphonomic processes to chat with (but as soon as the Thanksgiving break is over, I'll be back to work and have little time). It's rarely I meet someone outside of anthropology who has even heard of amenorrhea, much less its effects on fertility, and gets the role of personal calorie storage (and yet, we retain the instincts to drool over those maladaptive Sports Illustrated models, rather than the more styatopyginous survivors).

Archaeologists have been well aware of these factors for many decades. People like Marta Jukowsky and Brian Schiffer (if you haven't read Schiffer's "Site Formation Processes," it's the standard intro to taphonomy, and surprisingly readable given the subject matter) made their careers on such. In the old days they had to use non-parametric statistics, but like all sciences the data has been accumulating and the picture has gotten more clear. The kind of long-bone striations and carries we regularly find in agricultural populations just aren't present on the bones of h/gs (who regularly buried their dead - hell even Neanderthals did that - so not so many dieing in the bush without being recovered and properly buried).

The biggest impediment to understanding these issues is probably the general picture of the past we get from Hollywood, newspaper funnies and church sermons, none of which tend to come from people who have a clue (Quest for Fire was better than average, in that respect). And let us not forget old Thomas Hobbes' "nasty, brutish and short" quote, which still lives in our memes, even though it was based on nothing more than uninformed speculation and ethnocentric arrogance. I once read an article titled "Nasty, Brutish but Not Short" that tallied h/g burials over the age of 60, while agriculturalists rarely made it passed their 40s. Did you have to read The Paston Letters when you were in school? I remember reading them for a history class as an undergrad, and the professor had to explain that the patriarch of the clan dying at the age of 26 (in peacetime) was quite common and unsurprising in those days. It's a mark of just how much our own life expectancies have risen with the advent of modern medical science, transportation and sanitation.

H/gs were a much more diverse and interesting bunch of bananas than what you read in B.C.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, you are at your best. Eat turkey more often!

Paul SB Pohl’s THE MIDAS PLAGUE was wonderful and it certainly expressed a concept around at the time, that consumption is urgent, lest the economy collapse and everyone starve. And yes, on a surface layer, that’s true. But the notion that a post-scarcity society must therefore use-up stuff in a panicked frenzy is simply dumb. It assumes the only way to distribute wealth is through jobs in factories making that wealth.

Bah… Look at the Nail Salons that have proliferated across the country. There weren’t any, hardly, thirty years ago. They are a contrivance to employ maybe a million women doing something with their time that feels like meaningful work while getting money to buy what they need. There will be vastly more of that.

Quest for Fire was a great flick! Though the paleontology aspects were flat-out silly and there were no parallel brute hominin species… the movie contained one of the most effective and heart-wrenching-elevating individual scenes in all of cinema. I think you know which scene I am talking about. I almost cried.

===

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin, are you confusing me with my other brother Paul (451)? I haven't read that particular book (or anything by Frederick Pohl in ages), but I can see the naive, zero-sum thinking there.

On Quest for Fire, paleontologists I've met tend to have mixed feelings about it. Better than average for a cave-man flick, certainly (with Desmond Morris as a consultant - hella better than anything starring Ringo Star!). But they nitpick the details and bemoan the stereotyped portrayals. When I first met my wife, she really loved "The Gods Must Be Crazy" movies, which were a bit campy to be sure, but not hard for a non-native speaker to understand. I had a cultural anth professor who absolutely hated them. I can see his point about how they gave this romantic, unrealistic image of the "bushmen" but even with those movies, most people in the West have never even heard of those people.

The real experts in just about anything will never be happy with the media portrayals. But then, if they generate interest in young people who then go on to become experts, it's not entirely bad. I could nitpick Pixar's "Inside Out" all day if I wanted to, but I think it will do more good than harm just by getting young people to think more about what gos on between their ears.

LarryHart said...

Not having been online yesterday, I want to wish a belated happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans. Thanksgiving is getting eclipsed on either side by Halloween and Christmas, but it's one of my favorite holidays, and (tableside arguments aside) seems to have largely escaped politicizing and commercializing. May it be ever thus.

The Bears beating Green Bay was icing on the cake (sorry, Tacitus)

Tacitus2 said...

"The Bears beating Green Bay was icing on the cake (sorry, Tacitus)"

No apology needed. I am a baseball fan albeit one less observant than in times past.

The Packers have a corporate structure that precludes them shaking down the citizenry with threats of a move elsewhere. There is that to like about them. They also have a lower than League average regards arrests for thuggish deeds.

Tacitus

Douglas Fenton said...

Dr. Brin,

you said:

Quest for Fire was a great flick! Though the paleontology aspects were flat-out silly and there were no parallel brute hominin species… the movie contained one of the most effective and heart-wrenching-elevating individual scenes in all of cinema. I think you know which scene I am talking about. I almost cried.

It's is when he and his mate stare at the Moon with wonder in their eyes.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

As far as Star Trek goes, it was a TV show. Utopias make for boring settings (Oh look! Don planted fifty acres of alfalfa today. Suzie got a B- on her term paper and is somewhat disappointed). When I was a larva I noticed that the technology on Star Trek was so good it seemed like writer's magic. Thus some way always had to be found to get the communicators off the landing party, otherwise they could just beam outta there, or beam in a bunch of red shirts with phasers.


Especially back in the Original Series, while Star Trek technology might not meet real-life believably standards, it did have verisimilitude as real science, as opposed to "fantasy in sci-fi trappings" of Star Wars.


We used to joke that Mr. Spock could use his tricorder to inform the Kirk of what pattern was printed on the Klingon captain's underwear.


Keep in mind that Star Trek is not speculative fiction in the sense of extrapolating a technological advance and seeing where it might lead. Rather, it is action/adventure set in an unspecified future (the whole "23rd century" thing was a later retcon), with the science there to give the future world plausibility.

And in contrast to the counterexamples Treebeard gave above, think how much Star Trek technology already has come true way before schedule. We may not have warp drive or teleportation, but we have cell-phones that make ST communicators look ancient. Tricorders don't seem far off. Even the doors that open as one approaches were complete sci-fi at the time, and they've been commonplace since the 1970s, to the point that they don't even seem like sci-fi.


Having said that, the show was still an inspiration for generations to strive for a better future - a far better thing than to cower in fear and feed your mind a steady diet of idiot plots.


That's the thing. Ignoring the specific story elements for the moment, Star Trek gave one the sense that we could survive the era of imminent atomic warfare and actually aspire to a positive future. Also, that there might be a place in the world for nerdy science types. You might have actually had to live through the 1960s to fully understand what that meant at the time.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

The Packers have a corporate structure that precludes them shaking down the citizenry with threats of a move elsewhere. There is that to like about them.


I agree. And I also liked Brett Favre, even when he was our enemy. Last night, I was as interested in the half-time ceremony for Favre as I was in the game itself. Of course, that was because I wasn't expecting the Bears to actually win.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul SB

Now I come to think about it NZ may have been a bad example
There were no land mammals,
The coasts were full of seal colonies - exploiting the seal life with no land predators
The land had lots of flightless and semi flightless birds

And no wolves, tigers, - nothing

For the first few generations there would have been no food shortage,
The Maori had had their massive population boom and converted to an agricultural type society by the time Europeans arrived

The earlier expansion by more primitive man would not only have had a worse "tool kit" but also probably a more competitive environment
The prey species would have been much more "difficult" to hunt

David Brin said...

DF re the epic scene in QUEST FOR FIRE. “It's is when he and his mate stare at the Moon with wonder in their eyes.”

Sorry. That was lovely, of course. But I refer to the scene in which the hero stares in bewilderment as the advanced tribesman starts sawing away with a bow drill. The subtle, underplayed music hit a single beat, the moment that a wisp of smoke emerged from the drill, and the look of startlement on the hero’s face should have won an academy award, as it begins to dawn on him that human beings, actual men, could make fire. Giving way to sobs of joy when he realizes his own tribe will never be cold again.

Historically perhaps silly. But the metaphor was absolutely stunning

Alfred Differ said...

@PaulSB: (From previous thread) It’s hard to write about these things without hogging the comment space here, so I’ll try to keep the throttle in until David comes around to the subject again on the main post.

1. I am using ‘market’ in a looser sense than the economists expect. It is closer to what the anthropologists SHOULD use. Basically, if exchange is occurring outside a person’s blood relatives then there is a market. It doesn’t matter if it involves gifts, barter, or mediated trade. They key sign is that stuff and ideas show up in other family groups other than the ones who put in the time to generate them.
2. I have no qualms going against the general belief of a large group of scholars. The burden of proof obviously lies with the heretic and I willingly accept that. For example, economists generally argue for principles that rest on the notion that prudence is the only virtue that matters in the market. They are facing a significant rebellion from within right now from folks who argue that irrational market behavior isn’t if one considers other virtues. Stick with prudence and one has difficulty explaining why there is no market for human kidneys.
3. The ‘atomic’ entity in a market might be an individual, but often it isn’t. I break with the followers of Ayn Rand and argue that the family group is the atom. Of course, our family concept is a little slippery, but just HOW slippery helps distinguish cultures and horizons of inclusion. I remember well falling in love and how rapidly my sense of self changed. One day she was someone else. Another day she was someone I would share anything with and not account for it. If I’m not accounting for things, I’m not trading. My atom changed.
4. Stick with the broader meaning for market and one can account for relationship trades. What is actually being traded is the expectation of future trades. In other words, there is a futures market in play too. Market participants don’t have to understand how their markets work. They have to know the rules that lead to success and that information can ALSO be traded.
5. Regarding the Pleistocene, I’m going to be a bit of a heretic. If there was all that room and the resources to use it, we would have occupied it. We DID move into the frontier, but we had to learn HOW to make use of what was out there. The rate of growth of our knowledge was the limiting variable that determined the frontier’s carrying capacity. Until we learned, the frontier was a transfer biome. We could pass through the area going from one place to another if we carried our resources with us. As we learned, though, it became a human biome because we changed. One does not get a lot of free time as a hunter/gather, but one that participates in exchange outside the family gets a slight bit more than one who doesn’t. Free time is the root commodity being traded in markets because the many hours you spend learning a new trick gets concentrated into something traded at some price. I don’t have to repeat your effort if I can ‘pay.’ I get your free time at a price and you get mine. It’s as if we turn a 24 hour day into 24+ hours and that’s what keeps the babies alive.

Thank you for the resource links. I remember the Yanomamö from my Antro class. I did my college days in Nevada, so we also spent quite a bit of time on the Shoshone. Where I live now was prime turf for the Chumash. I have learned to expect many variations between cultures, but more importantly, I've learned one must take off one's cultural blinders to see the larger human picture. There is no 'one way' to see things.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred

"One does not get a lot of free time as a hunter/gather,"

The studies I have seen - of hunter gatherers on poor land - say that the hunter gatherer has a LOT of free time - much more than we do and much more than in an agricultural society

If free time is common and abundant that blows away that basis for markets

I am more on the page of the human desire for "socializing" - small hunter gatherer bands would meet up and become larger groups for "socializing" for part of the year

So human progress was driven by the desire to gossip about your neighbors

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

The ‘atomic’ entity in a market might be an individual, but often it isn’t. I break with the followers of Ayn Rand and argue that the family group is the atom. Of course, our family concept is a little slippery, but just HOW slippery helps distinguish cultures and horizons of inclusion.


I think Ayn Rand's writing revealss more about Ayn Rand than it does about humanity. If I recall from "Atlas Shrugged", she specifically reputed the notion that people "matter" to each other simply on account of familial relationship. Hank Rearden had a brother, a mother, and a wife who were nothing but users toward him, and who, in the end, could not be used as hostages against him once he realized he despised them all. While I'm sure this accurately represents some individual family situations, Rand presents it as the norm.


I remember well falling in love and how rapidly my sense of self changed. One day she was someone else. Another day she was someone I would share anything with and not account for it.


Not exactly the same, but I remember when my now-wife and I were dating, and her father went into the hospital with a heart condition that could have been life-threatening. This was 20 years ago, and he's still with us, but at the time, it seemed as likely or not she'd be losing her father. It was then that I needed for her to know that, should the worst occur, she wouldn't have to face it alone. It was then that I knew I didn't just want to go out on dates with her, I wanted for us to be family.


If I’m not accounting for things, I’m not trading. My atom changed.


Maybe more appropriately, your atom became a molecule.

Jumper said...

In evaluating lifestyle transitions from hunter/gatherer, domestication of sheep began about the same time as agriculture, and goats soon followed as nomadic herders began that lifestyle, goats needing fresh pasture continually. Apparently meat did decrease in the diets of the farmers, but they weren't vegans.

On the other matter, tribes have served as "atoms" of self. The nuclear family is a recent phenomenon, despite the Old Testament, (although I believe there are some evolutionary rewards for keeping your disease vectors - your family dungpiles, if I must, separate.) Direct exchange of goods is not so normal or regular among tribes; very complex systems of obligation, taking literally lifetimes or multiple generations, take the place of simple markets. In the moment, tribes share.

If you stretch your definitions too much they'll break.

Jumper said...

I refer to "trade" within tribes. "Trade" between tribes is a different story. Probably a likely cause of war as much as plenty, because assuming the other tribe's system of obligation is like yours could lead to nasty misunderstandings.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: If free time was that common, I’d agree that would blow away my argument. One ‘counterfactual’ I’ve considered is free time WAS common enough, but got consumed by ritual believed to be necessary in support of what the community knew as their truth. Humans are known to blindly follow successful behaviors of others including unnecessary steps. Our shamans may have done this too us consuming the free time with behaviors that did not necessarily lead to more babies surviving. A weaker version of this idea is that we filled the free time with other entertainments, but I find that implausible on a large enough scale to absorb us when our babies are hungry. I CAN believe parents gave up on infants earlier thousands of generations ago than we would, but not so much as to not use some of their free time to try something/anything.

Regarding socializing, I suspect we will never really know. My own suspicion is that this desire is the selected-for behavior among those who populate the world today. Those who do it the most are more likely to trade and win extra time they eventually devote to something that keeps their babies alive who later replicate the behavior.

Regarding the Maori I’d argue they had a vastly improved toolkit relative to the people who originally colonized Australia. Looking at the goods people carry misses most of the kit contents. We have to look inside their heads and at the traditions that guide macro behaviors. Develop a tradition and you add to a toolkit.

What keeps my interest on this subject is I think we have to make use of this knowledge to produce a space fairing civilization. We’ve spread across the world using relatively simple physical technology. We did it by greatly expanding the mental tools in the kit. Knowing them as well as we know the Acheulean axe shouldn’t take us a million years if we take the time to reflect on them. I’ve seen too many still-born space projects to believe we are going to figure everything out from down here, so I argue we HAVE to take our general market tool with us to learn as we go.

Robert said...

Let us consider for a moment the "healthier hunter/gatherer" and the buried remains - and what may actually have been happening.

When wolves hunt, they go after the weak, the infirmed, the diseased. It is the stronger prey animals that often survive - because it is too much effort to bring them down unless that animal is unlucky and ends up trapped.

Likewise, the diseased humans, the weaker humans... these among hunter/gatherer societies would end up taken down by predators of the day - and the humans may have decided not to bother trying to recover their dead from the larger predators. Thus the healthy humans are the ones who lived to be in their 60s and would be buried as they died in circumstances where the remains are readily available and a burial site may be more readily available as well.

Compare that to an agrarian society - which is set in one area, so even if a predator takes down one of their people, they can often get the remains and have a burial site on hand. Further, the larger community allows better defense of the sick and weak from predators... resulting in disease killing them. And they would be buried... suggesting agrarian societies were more sickly than hunter/gatherer ones.

Rob H.

P.S. - Going back out to the stars, once more I have to suggest to Dr. Brin that one of the important aspects for intelligent spacefaring life is the presence of a large moon. However, this is not to stabilize the planet... but because in the process of formation, a lot of metals were lofted into orbit and would crash into the Earth, leaving mineral deposits on the surface. Compare the Earth's crust with that of Venus. Or of Mars. Are there multiple mineral deposits near the surface of those worlds? If not... then maybe a moon's formation later in the planet's life is needed to bring sufficient mineral resources to the surface that a species can access and bootstrap itself into a spacefaring race. If all you have is wood and coal and rock, you're never going to get out of the stone age.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, if you are in Chumash territory, then you must be somewhere around Santa Barbara - some beautiful, but dramatically overpriced, places up there. I spent much of the years 2000-2001 working in Chumash country.

I'm afraid that Duncan is quite right about free time among h/gs. This is part of the gross misunderstanding most of us have about the lives of "cave men" that comes from people who wrote with no actual data to support their impressions. Studies of modern h/gs show that they spend between 12 and 20 hours per week on subsistence related activities, including time to make & curate tools, transporting & processing food, etc. We work our gluteal anatomy off compared to h/gs. In fact, when asked, modern h/gs can tell you how agriculture works, but they don't want to work so hard. What most people think is that some clever guy (or lady, if you follow Jane Auel's "Clan of the Cave Bear" silliness)invented agriculture, and the world immediately became a much better place. Cultural anthropologists and ethnoarchaeologists I've rubbed elbows with all pretty much concur with Duncan. Most of what they do with their time is gossip about each other and play social games with each other - instinctual baggage we have inherited and now use for much more deadly financial and political games. If free time is a critical element of your hypothesis, you may need to go back to the drawing board. Humans have been intelligent enough to survive in almost any landscape and barely have to work for a living for at least tens of thousands of years. It is that which gave us the time to develop things like language and symbolic communication, not the struggle to survive.

It's one thing to be a heretic and thumb your nose at old authorities, but you have to get your facts straight. If your hypothesis fits your preconceived notions but not the facts, the facts are going to be what kills it, not the old guard. Sorry. Your ideas have validity in today's world, but they don't make it as human universals, even if you broaden the definition of market. Your idea about trading in the future is pretty conventional - read that 1925 article by Mauss. Reciprocal Exchange is all about the expectation of reciprocation in the future. But this isn't exactly the same thing as our formal futures markets. The context is entirely different. The big factor is scale and the impersonal nature of market exchange, something that doesn't happen when communities are so small everyone knows exactly what everyone else had for dinner last night because they were all eating together around the fire.

Alfred Differ said...

@jumper: I suspect trade between tribes is the real innovation that distinguishes modern humans from our cousins. I can imagine many plausible scenarios for its birth and many more for how to choke the infant idea to death. Xenophobia is a sensible survival strategy in many settings and trade between tribes is obviously stymied that way. Beating that fear isn’t easy. I suspect we’ve chipped away at it for thousands of generations.

I’m in agreement that the nuclear family is an historical oddity, but I’d bet serious money (if I thought there was a quantifiable way to know) that our traditions that support this weirdness are exactly what is needed to break our xenophobic tendencies. How different is it when we isolate someone for religious indoctrination (brain washing) and when we kick young males out forcing them to acquire their own resources and build a family of their own? Both practices isolate a person long enough for them to break down a bit and build a new persona later with their new ‘family’. Isn’t that what a young bachelor (mid-20’s) goes through when they go through that little depression after being out on their own the first time? We don’t do this to everyone, but I’ve seen it often enough to be suspicious of our traditions that break down xenophobia. Loneliness/Isolation is VERY motivating.

When David asks what historical oddity led to our world of relative freedom from the forces that enforce pyramidal societies, I tend to think about our inclination to trade and the traditions that essentially force it upon our children. What is my tribe/clan? I have no clue. I’m the son of immigrants who understood the notion of clans, but we dispersed here because there was no other viable choice. I have a few relatives who would step up to the plate for me, but nothing like a tribe. What I DO have is a group I had a hand in shaping of people who would do it. Quite a few. Xenophobia on my part would destroy the relationships, but I’m still a classic human. It shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that I think of these people AS my extended family. That shows in an anecdotal sense how slippery the concept of family is for me and I suspect that memetic plasticity is necessary for freedom, security, and a rapid innovation rate.

Paul SB said...

Jumper, the domestication of sheep and goats seems to have been pretty much concurrent with the domestication of wheat, as you suggest. The literature from Middle Eastern tels generally lists the remains as "ovicaprid" because it is very difficult to distinguish sheep from goat remains in this time period. Domestication led to the dimorphism we see today (selection for much shorter legs in sheep, for instance), but at the time you would be much harder pressed to tell the difference between them. Your comment on the complexities of reciprocal social obligations trumping market exchange is good, though limited market exchange did evolve in some tribal societies (not band-level) alongside reciprocal exchange. This generally happened in the more populous cultures, like Hawai'ian or Kwakuitl. Increased population allows for some anonymity, just as coined or printed currency does (money is money, regardless of who hands it over - very different from societies in which social rank is more important than money). It is anonymity that facilitates market exchange, because it bypasses traditional kinship obligations. Complex but evolving relationships, and diverse enough to give broad generalizations high bars to jump.

Paul SB said...

Alfred,
"How different is it when we isolate someone for religious indoctrination (brain washing) and when we kick young males out forcing them to acquire their own resources and build a family of their own? Both practices isolate a person long enough for them to break down a bit and build a new persona later with their new ‘family’."

The term you are looking for here is "neolocality."

Paul SB said...

Larry,

" You might have actually had to live through the 1960s to fully understand what that meant at the time."

You're probably right. I was too young to have any awareness of anything more than a baby bottle in the 1960s. Still, a little imagination and empathy helps. I get that Star Trek was more space opera than hard sci-fi. The important thing is exactly as you say - that was a time when science was seen as the monster that created the Bomb, yet it gave people a sense that science can be our friend and make our lives better (and more adventurous, too). In spite of some of its flakier aspects, I still loved the show as a kid, and I mourn its gradual decline. It's getting harder to find Trek fans, and the newer movies haven't really lit up the imaginations of the young as they were intended to, as far as I can see. But maybe that's because of where I am. Please tell me I'm wrong!

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: This is what I like about this place. My ideas take a beating in a way that enables me to improve them. For example, I’ll have to adjust to what you and Duncan have said about free time, but I might do it in a way that defines the term in a different way. Why would gossip time be free time? Isn’t that how we learn about each other? Wouldn’t that make it part of a reasonable mating strategy among intelligent mammals? Is it really ‘free’ if you have to do it for your offspring to remain competitive? The time we spend educating our children isn’t exactly free time either, so why should gossip be? If I’m poor at these games, wouldn’t I wind up the omega male in the group? Would I even get to have children?

Still, I’ll have to face the possibility of lots of wasted free time now. Hmm. Still skeptical.

I’m not worried about the impersonal nature of modern markets. That is to be expected as they grow. There is no way I can know everyone involved in producing my breakfast this morning, but I suspect we edged into this situation from earlier experiences where we could know but didn’t really care. We don’t always trade for relationships.

I live in the Oxnard/Ventura area, but I prowl around this county and Santa Barbara County. It was interesting to learn that the Chumash weren’t exactly one culture. The people of the Channel Islands were different enough to notice and not just in what they traded. That’s all Holocene era stuff, though, so it’s no help to my attempt at a human universal which I don’t mind losing if I must. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart: I have to agree with you regarding Rand. My stand annoys some of my libertarian friends, so that's why I reached for an analogy to explain it to them. Individuals aren't the economic atoms in a Greek sense. Any group of people that is willing to surrender their sovereignty to a group 'leader' when it comes to planning the use of resources is the atom. Fusion occurs through marriage and fission when one or more rebels. As long as they act as one, though, that group is the atom.

I thought about a molecule extension for the analogy, but decided against it. It think it would confuse the libertarians. They'd just point out that the parts of the molecule are confused as to their best interests. I wanted to point out that a change to what one calls one's self would necessarily change those best interests.

The analogy doesn't work all that well on libertarians, though. They simply reject it. I'm left wondering if they've ever fallen in love with someone and thought about what mentally happened to them both. 8)

Paul451 said...

Alfred Differ said...
"I am using 'market' in a looser sense than the economists expect. It is closer to what the anthropologists SHOULD use. Basically, if exchange is occurring outside a person's blood relatives then there is a market. It doesn't matter if it involves gifts, barter, or mediated trade. They key sign is that stuff and ideas show up in other family groups other than the ones who put in the time to generate them.
[...] Stick with the broader meaning for market and one can account for relationship trades. What is actually being traded is the expectation of future trades. In other words, there is a futures market in play too. Market participants don't have to understand how their markets work. They have to know the rules that lead to success and that information can ALSO be traded."


So you get to redefine market to mean any kind of transfer, even of relationships, of learning, just so you can continue to insist that "it's all markets"?

Wouldn't it be easier to just be wrong?

Maybe, instead, as Duncan implies, "it's all relationships," and markets are just one very limited, almost perverted, subtype, given unusual precedence by our unusual civilisation because of our very unusual civilisation.

PaulSB,
Thank you for all the discussion of H/G societies. I've picked up pieces of it, but it paints a better picture to see it all laid out in one spot.)

For example, I'm wondering now how much of my mental image of bartering (which Alfred would certainly recognise) would not apply to H/G societies. Would their "bartering" be closer to the mutual gift-exchange of Christmas amongst our extended families and friends? Combined with the gift/tribute exchanges you see amongst political leaders?

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

What most people think is that some clever guy (or lady, if you follow Jane Auel's "Clan of the Cave Bear" silliness)invented agriculture, and the world immediately became a much better place


Over 20 years ago now, I read a book that argued the exact opposite--that humans were forced into agriculture because hunter/gathering had exhausted its supply. The premise of the book was that each step that we think of as human progress--for example, from a wood-based economy to a coal-based one--was not so much an improvement as it was a less efficient mode that only makes sense in the context that the older way is no longer viable.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I've just remembered something

A hunter/gatherer society has to be mobile - move from one site to another as the food sources change
If you have to move the mothers must space the children - you can't be pregnant plus carry a 1 year old and a two year old and a three year old

So the limit on growth in a hunter gatherer may not be food supply or free time but the ability to move very young children

As soon as you can settle in one place that limit goes away

The H/G verses agriculture may be an example of group selection,
H/G is better for the individuals but a farming group can have much higher growth rates and much higher population density

Paul SB said...

Duncan,

"Thank you for all the discussion of H/G societies. I've picked up pieces of it, but it paints a better picture to see it all laid out in one spot.)

For example, I'm wondering now how much of my mental image of bartering (which Alfred would certainly recognise) would not apply to H/G societies. Would their "bartering" be closer to the mutual gift-exchange of Christmas amongst our extended families and friends? Combined with the gift/tribute exchanges you see amongst political leaders?"

It's more complicated than most people get, and not really my specialty. I wish I could think of a good synthetic work to recommend, but nothing is coming to mind at the top of my head right now. The first part of your suggestion about barter sounds about right, though the second is more a characteristic of chiefdoms, which are really nascent states. I can think of an excellent ref for them, if you like. Timothy Earle's "How Chiefs Come to Power" was new when I was in grad school, but is well done and was already being hailed as top-of-the-line.

Unfortunately I have to go pick up my son now, and if he leaves me alone for even ten minutes, I will have to dedicate that time to figuring out how I'm going to teach the skeletal & muscular systems in a measly 3 weeks. Aaaaacccckkkk!

Paul451 said...

David,
"And yes, while millions hate Hillary for inchoate cultural reasons, not factual ones, she is more likely to actually win a year from now. Period."

I'm not so sure. Hillary is disliked by the Democrat left, they'll stay at home. And she is despised, utterly mindlessly despised, by the Republican base (thanks to decades of training going back to the 1992 election) which will energise them to unite behind any Republican candidate.

That's a bad mix.

Sanders is beloved of the Dem left. And while he is barely noticed by the Republican base, when they do pay attention, they mostly like what he says. And, importantly, unlike Clinton, they're willing to listen to what he says. Those Republicans believe that Sanders believes in what he's saying. Which gives him that "even though I didn't agree with everything he said, at least he..." credibility that tends to eat away at angry-opposition tribalism. Whereas Hillary is seen as explicitly dishonest, so the more they see/hear her, the more angry and thus tribal they become.

Sanders isn't so extreme as to scare away Dem moderates. And he isn't divisive enough to energise the Republican base. His message is appealing to the more independent Republican rank'n'file, once they listen to him, likewise to blue-collar Dems, and is energising the young and lefty Dems. It's a good combination.

Meanwhile, none of the leading Republican candidates are undivisive to the Repub base. Like Hillary with the Democratic left, Cruz, Bush, Carson, and especially Trump will all drive away a chunk of the Republican base... unless the "enemy" is made external to the Party. Hillary provides that external enemy to unify the ranks, and IMO Sanders doesn't.

Sanders problem is that he is virtually invisible. The media spent more time trying to bait Biden into running than covering Sanders. However, he's polling almost exactly the same as Obama was eight years ago. Being "not-Hillary" worked enough for Obama to start getting attention.

Paul451 said...

Treebeard,
Re: Star Trek
"How many violations of physics were there in every episode? Warp drive, transporters, replicators, anti-gravity, time travel, telepathy, not to mention the shiny super-beings with absurd magical powers – these are all old wizard tropes that would have been comprehensible to stone age shamans. No, Star Trek was never about science or technology. It was about magic, myth and morality plays clothed in scientific drag."

What you miss, perhaps because you are a neo-reactionary, is that David's point about "a Star Trek future" is part of his broader point about the difference between SF and fantasy. In SF universes, as in our world, technology and knowledge is broadly available; and when it's not, it's seen as a bad thing. In fantasy, magic is available only to the Chosen Few whom Fate has Selected, while knowledge is kept secret, and that is How Things Should Be.

It's the democratisation of knowledge vs the romanticisation of power.

The unrealistic nature of the "physics" in Star Trek is irrelevant. It's the way it's used in that universe.

Similarly, a fantasy-style setting can be SF, if magic is just metaphor for physics/science. And a SF-style setting can be fantasy (such as the Star Wars universe.) But in general, fantasy tends to have a society that is primitive, and SF a society which is advanced. (There's a big hint there.)

An interesting exception you bring up for Star Trek was those super-beings. But notice that the more "magical" the powers were (not just "more advanced") the less admirable the super-being was. One or a few petty, squabbling powerful individuals vs advanced societies. The former was implied to be power without advancement of anything except that power, the latter was seen as true advancement and the hoped destiny of the Federation.

Sociotard,
Re: "Best year in space"
"Every time Brin says our best year in space is one in which we crawled to the Russians to ferry our astronauts up, that coffin gives quite a spin."

It depends on whether you think that expensively ferrying a chosen few to LEO (or even the moon) to pretend to do science, is more important than the rest of what we achieve in space.

And I do suspect Kennedy would have fallen on the side of the former, but that doesn't convince me that it's right.

IMO, the failure of the space future predicted in the '50s, specifically the failure of space travel to follow the development path of aviation, is precisely because the two superpowers focused so quickly on turning space into a neo-romantic pursuit. Ie, a chosen few, heroes all, doing great derring do in the great beyond to serve the greater cause against the greatest enemy.

If the newer space entrepreneurs can turn space travel into something that, while still initially hideously expensive, is just "a thing normal people do", then it will finally start to develop like every transport system gone before. And for the same reason. It will serve real people doing real things.

Human space missions today are Fantasy. I look forward to them becoming SF.

Paul SB said...

If anyone is interested, I just found a good little article that summarizes some paleopathology basics (markers of illness on bones) that is fairly recent (2008).

culturesocietypraxis.org/index.php/csp/article/download/134/109.

It often surprises people just how much osteologists can find out from bones.

Paul SB said...

Here's another one, specifically about the transition to agriculture.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110615094514.htm

David Brin said...

Robert H the selection effect you describe… of the weak in a hunter tribe never getting buried, only the strong - because of predation… is fascinating. Never thought of that.

I am VERY skeptical of this mythology of hunter tribes having immense free time. We know very few. Nearly all recent HG tribes actually did major gardening that provided most calories. And to get rich gardens they burn part of the forest.

Paul451 Sanders was a mayor. I see no administrative chops that impress me. And the chance that the left will stay home in contempt for Hillary is nil. Three words — the — supreme — court… will get them out.

Duncan Cairncross said...

"And the chance that the left will stay home in contempt for Hillary is nil"

I wish!
The meme will be
"She is just the same as the others"
"Two parties each different facets of the ruling elite"

And millions of "the left" will stay home and gift the election to the loonies
Just what happened to Gore and Kerry

Remember the Dems need to not only win but win large or else the votes will mysteriously drift over to the other side

Jumper said...

Supreme Court musings are the last thing that motivates winning turnouts. Unfortunately, rationality is not the biggest factor. It is the actual reason, or at least a major one, to vote a Dem president, true.

"It is anonymity that facilitates market exchange." Brilliantly succinct.

Jumper said...

On the very first agriculture:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_gardening

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

"I am VERY skeptical of this mythology of hunter tribes having immense free time. We know very few. Nearly all recent HG tribes actually did major gardening that provided most calories. And to get rich gardens they burn part of the forest."

2 problems:

1. We were not discussing tribes, we were discussing bands. As I wrote in the previous thread, there is didley for evidence of tribe-level organization in the Pleistocene. Bands are an order of magnitude smaller than tribes. See Elman Service's original taxonomy.
http://www.columbia.edu/itc/anthropology/v3922/pdfs/service.pdf

2. What you are describing is slash-and-burn (a.k.a. swidden) horticulture, not hunting and gathering. That is a very different kind of economy, and there is no evidence for this until around 40K years ago in the tropics. Horticulturalists put a whole lot more time into raising crops (supplemented with a few wild resources) than actual h/gs.

I found this website that gives a good general discussion of swiddening, though it is focused on today rather than the past. It has a very good bibliography. The main source there is Hal Conklin, though there was a better one - a classic in the field - whose name I can't recall right now.

Essentially this is an apple/pear comparison.

Paul SB said...

Oops, I forgot to paste in that last ref:
http://www.cfc.umt.edu/rattan/files/Swidden%20agriculture.pdf

Paul SB said...

"Robert H the selection effect you describe… of the weak in a hunter tribe never getting buried, only the strong - because of predation… is fascinating. Never thought of that."

That falls under the heading of "differential preservation" and is discussed in the Jukowski and Schiffer references I gave in the previous thread.

When we're on astronomy or engineering topics, I usually don't say a whole lot besides "cool!" because I know my knowledge of these fields is really weak. One of the problems anthropologists encounter all the time is that it's the science of humans, and since most people we talk to are human, they tend to assume that they are pretty familiar with the subject matter. But the further you get in both space and time from any particular group of humans, the less their personal experience applies to other humans. Alfred's insistence that markets apply to everybody is exactly that. It's easy to assume that things that pervade our lives must pervade all human lives.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, I'm glad you are such a good sport about this. You demonstrate what old Tom Jefferson would call 'manly virtue' (though I can't envy the ladies of his day, if the coolest of people in that time still thought like this). Lesser beings would have just told me "Your stupid" by now and disengaged.

What Paul 451 said above is to the point.

"So you get to redefine market to mean any kind of transfer, even of relationships, of learning, just so you can continue to insist that "it's all markets"?

Wouldn't it be easier to just be wrong?"

I had a rather humbling experience of this sort in one of my first graduate classes. I was thrilled to be back in school, and one night I was hanging around after class chatting with the professor and few other students. I made some bold statement (about what I don't remember) that I thought sounded clever at the time, but the professor turned around and exclaimed, "You can't just define away a problem like that! Putting it into a different box doesn't make the problem go away!" It hadn't occurred to me that that is exactly what I had done, and I had to do a double take. I literally stopped in my tracks, thought for a minute, and had to admit that she was right. The flavor of your own foot isn't a pleasant dining experience. It would have been so much worse if I had put it in writing and published it. That's why it's worthwhile exposing ideas to hostile critics before putting them into a book with your name on it.

Jumper said...

Burning for hunting is a different thing as well. There burns are for grassland encouragement, likely after girdling trees with ax cuts and returning later, using some easy firewood and setting the area afire when it's time to move on, or letting lightning do it. In fact I'd guess tree girdling was a major component of learning fire technology way back.

Douglas Fenton said...

Dr. Brin,

I remember that scene and it was good. I also remember when he got back to his tribe and tried to make a fire and he failed! Good thing his mate was along.

Paul SB said...

Duncan,

"So the limit on growth in a hunter gatherer may not be food supply or free time but the ability to move very young children"

Precisely! Did you ever see a movie called "The Mission" with Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons? It's about a Catholic mission in Venezuela back in the 16th Century (or maybe 17th - I haven't seen it in a long time - it had a memorable Ennio Moricone soundtrack). The monk played by Irons makes exactly this point. Of course, so did Richard Lee, Marjory Shostak, and any number of ethnographers in the mid-20th C. Whoever made that movie did their homework.

Paul SB said...

Tree girdling? I haven't heard that term. I always heard it called "ringing." It sounds so cruel, but when I said that I got a look from my professor like I was out of my mind. Same professor as my other embarrassing incident, too boot.

Paul SB said...

Larry, I'm trying not to forget you in my flurry of early morning work-avoidance.

"Over 20 years ago now, I read a book that argued the exact opposite--that humans were forced into agriculture because hunter/gathering had exhausted its supply. The premise of the book was that each step that we think of as human progress--for example, from a wood-based economy to a coal-based one--was not so much an improvement as it was a less efficient mode that only makes sense in the context that the older way is no longer viable."

This is really conventional thinking in anthropology. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and people are rarely willing to change their ways unless forced. (Look at how big coal business and its employees are fighting renewables, in spite of the fact that it is methane that is putting them out of business. Ah, but methane is a fossil fuel, so it's traditional, and conservative minds can back that.) However, it is good for a generalization, but generalizations always have exceptions. If people perceive a change as an improvement, many (not all) will jump at it. As far as the transition to agriculture goes, it's doubtful too many people would have seen it as an improvement, given both the much higher labor expenditures and the much poorer quality of the food (modern h/gs make exactly those points when the missionaries try to convince them to 'settle down and farm.'

I am always suspicious of monocausal explanations regarding any transition in human behavior. Humans are complicated animals, but their brains energy requirements tend to lead them to jump at simple explanations. More data & less dogma is what we need.

Paul SB said...

I found that reference about swidden horticulture. It was a French anthropologist working in Vietnam in the 1950s names Georges Condominas.

http://www.amazon.com/Have-Eaten-Forest-Montagnard-Highlands/dp/0809096722/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448724560&sr=1-1&keywords=we+have+eaten+the+forest

The title "We Have Eaten the Forest" comes from what he was being told by his smarter informants. The way swiddening works, your tribe burns down a patch of jungle, using the ash as fertilizer in which to plant their gardens. After a season or two, the fertilizer is used up, so they move to another patch of jungle, slash it and burn it (thus the other name: slash-and-burn horticulture). Over a period of many years, they chop down and burn all of their territory, one patch at a time, eventually rotating back to where they started.

The problem is that jungle soils have very poor resilience, meaning that they recover their fertility very slowly, if at all. So often when swiddeners move onto a patch that they had previously used, very little had grown back to burn, meaning very poor fertility and very low crop yield. Their next choice would be to expand their territory, but there hasn't been anywhere to expand into for a very long time. They are surrounded by neighboring tribes that are doing exactly the same thing - eating their forest and growing their population. This leads to stealing what little food their neighbors have, resulting in retaliation raids by their hungry neighbors and ultimately open warfare.

This is a clear case of infrastructural constraints leading to the creation of warlike tribes (but once again, these are tribes, not bands).

Jumper said...

I was thinking ash runs off into streams and rivers more than it would if compost was used. It takes a lot of years of critter manure to bring it back. Hope for seasonal seabird visits or ocean fish swimming upstream to spawn.

Paul SB said...

Jumper, there was an old 35mm film I saw in a survey course that took place in New Guinea on the Dani, who were swidden horticulturalists in the coastal region (not Highland New Guinea). I vaguely remember noting the use of compost (I was more of a gardener in those days), but I don't know if this is widespread. As to guano, the tropics tend to have a lot of their own avians, but your suggestion that seabird visitations might increase the fertility is good.

Sorry Dr. Brin! You gave us cool, up-to-date scientific progress, and I've kind of hijacked it for paleontology.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

Sanders isn't so extreme as to scare away Dem moderates. And he isn't divisive enough to energise the Republican base. His message is appealing to the more independent Republican rank'n'file, once they listen to him, likewise to blue-collar Dems, and is energising the young and lefty Dems. It's a good combination.


Sanders's problem is that he's spent decades labeling himself as a "Democratic Socialist", and there are too many voters who would never vote for any kind of socialist if their lives depended on it. I wish it weren't so, but I'm afraid it is.

I'm not sure you are correctly reading the Democratic Left as to their refusing to vote for Hillary. In the primaries, sure. But once the choice is her or a Republican who will appoint more Scali-to clones to the Supreme Court, defund Planned Parenthood, and yank away people's health coverage, I think they'll vote for Hillary more than you think.

And sure, Republicans hate Hillary with a vengeance. It's the one reason I might have liked to see Biden run--he doesn't inspire that kind of invective from the other side. But really, can they hate her any mnore than they hated Barack Hussein Obama? And he won twice.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

This is really conventional thinking in anthropology. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and people are rarely willing to change their ways unless forced.


The point of the book I described was not just that humans only changed modes when forced to, but that the laws of thermodynamics and entropy pretty well necessitated that each new economic paradigm, rather than what we think of as "progress", was actually less efficient than that one previous. Agriculture takes more time and effort, and is less defensible, than hunter/gathering. Wood once formed the basis for the entire European economy, not just as fuel but as building materials for buildings, machinery, carts, etc. When the forests were depleted, people started buring coal instead of wood, but you couldn't build a house or a bridge out of coal, and heavy coal required a whole different transportation infrastructure to move than did wood.

Our modern age seems to have magically escaped the entropy trap and to truly tap into a higher source of energy. That's because our entire lifestyle relies on fossil fuels, which are not the less-efficient leavings of an earlier age, but a theretofore-unknown store of solar energy that had accumulated over millions of years. Since that stored energy can't be replaced at the rate it is being consumed, it will eventually run out, and then the free ride will be over.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I thought about a molecule extension for the analogy, but decided against it. It think it would confuse the libertarians. They'd just point out that the parts of the molecule are confused as to their best interests. I wanted to point out that a change to what one calls one's self would necessarily change those best interests.


That's exactly why I thought the molecule analogy was so appropriate. Elements such as hydrogen or oxygen can be individuated down to the atom level, but the smallest bit that can still be water (for example) is the molecule. There's no such thing as a "water atom". When you mentioned how you and your wife combined into a single, indivisible economic unit--that the family rather than the individual human may be the layer at which economic interests can be said to originate--it spoke to me of exactly where the Randists may be going astray. The molecule may be the true unit, with the atoms only making up the molecules in the same way your bodily organs make up the whole of you, but don't act as separate economic agents.

Robert said...

The thing is this: if Hillary wins, she loses the House and Senate. Then we get four more years of Obama Lite. And if she has to choose a Supreme Court Justice, the Republican Senate will refuse every. single. one. of her choices. They can, after all. They can refuse every single choice she makes until she is out or she gives them what they want.

Now what happens if it's one of the liberal justices that stepped down and she has to replace? Now you have a 4/1/3 court, with one justice swinging either way, but now his power is diminished (what happens with a tie ruling anyway?) And if a second goes down? Suddenly you have a 4/1/2 court.

Republicans will prevail in this case. They will overrule Hillary left and right, force her to bow to their will, and will have seized more and more State legislatures... because Republicans really hate the Clintons. So they will go out and vote in their people on the local level.

Now you have more and more states enacting anti-minority voting policies to destroy the Democratic base. You could even see the Electoral College be revamped so that Republicans can get into power by crook, because they enacted policies on the state level.

Hillary is the worse thing that could happen to the Democrats. It doesn't matter how good a politician she is. It matters how much Republicans and Republican voters hate her. And they hate her with a passion.

Rob H.

Jeff B. said...

Jumper,

"Burning for hunting is a different thing as well. There burns are for grassland encouragement, likely after girdling trees with ax cuts and returning later, using some easy firewood and setting the area afire when it's time to move on, or letting lightning do it."

Forget the citation, but there has been recent paleontological work that suggests that this very fate did in the fantastic varieties of Australian megafauna, by c. 40kya. The first Australians had astonishingly small toolsets, but they did bring fire, and dingoes, with them when they settled. The huge expanses of scrub and bush were the dominant biome across much of the land, on which the giant diprotodonts and mihirungs and megalanias and others depended as the climate dried toward the end of the Pleistocene, but apparently there was some evidence of widespread burning. If true, this would have depleted the land to the point it could no longer support any but the hardiest, drought-adapted life.

Paul SB said...

Larry, the book sounds a lot like the kind of thing social scientists were doing back in the 1950s, when "physics envy" ruled disciplines like psychology, sociology and anthropology. I'm not dismissing it, because the laws of thermodynamics do apply to us as much as everything else. Back in those days they had some very good points, but they also pissed off their subjects by grabbing their food right out of their hands to weigh it so they could estimate calories (Richard Lee was one of those, but started to break away from that old paradigm in the field).

What you are saying about the fossil fuel free ride is right on the mark. Hopefully we will use that free ride to scaffold our technology to the point where we no longer need the fossil fuels (though it will probably take us longer to wean ourselves off of petrochemical-based plastics, unless carbon composites get much, much cheaper). If that is what we do, then it is less a free ride and more a stage in our technological evolution (a very dirty, unhealthy stage). Of course, if we don't make that transition, the collapse down to a much lower energy level will make it impossible to support all but a fraction of our current population. The demographic collapse will be much uglier than anything human history has ever known.

We have a lot of very clever people working on these issues, but they need the kind of support large-scale organizations can give. Some of that has to be government, which is why our votes count. Some will be NGO, some will be big business, when they realize there are viable markets and unavoidable consequences. Some may even come from newer sources like internet-based crowd funding. I have some hope that we will innovate out of this mess, but it's going to take a lot of work to dispel a whole lot of disinformation, ignorance and apathy, to say nothing of combating those powers that resist change at all turns. The meme-slingers are just as important as the scientists, engineers and financiers.

I don't know if you're artistically inclined at all, but you are well-read and thoughtful. Have you tried writing any sort of fiction to get across your thoughts? I know it's a million-to-one chance anyway, with the publication industry in near paralysis (it was something like 900,000 to one when the industry was booming), but it's so much fun!

Jeff B. said...

Paul SB: are you familiar with some of the recent ecological studies of the Eastern Native American agricultural practices? While working on my history master's someone from an interdisciplinary program w. the bio dept. did a summary, which I found fascinating. I do not know if it was sustainable, but apparently vast swathes of the Eastern forests might have been managed as "deer parks"- trees thinned to allow propagation of far larger herds of white-tails than would be expected.

Most of what is now WV, KY, and western VA was barred to settlement (at least in early colonial times) so that various tribes as far afield as the Hodenosaunee (Iroquois), Catawba, Cherokee, and Shawnee could share in the hunting grounds.

And other tribes practiced temporary slash and burn agriculture similar to the swidden forms you describe, but which since the soil was far more fertile might have been more sustainable.

What is beyond debate, though, is the harsh impact of colonial agriculture on the woodland soils in the northeast. Some accounts bear witness to former woodland streams swollen with runoff cutting through 10-12' layers of rich topsoil.

Paul SB said...

Jeff B.

Hardiest, but also the smallest. Megafauna dies out in food scarcity because of the inefficiency of feeding them. Humans altering the landscape with fire is a very plausible contributor to the Australian megafauna extinctions. There is similar evidence for large-scale fire use in North America with the Clovis cultures, though I haven't read any recent work on it - not since 2002 when a company I was working with hit Clovis material in Northern California, not far from Lake Tahoe. We had to do some literature search for our reports, but I didn't get too far into the project because my wife was insisting I concentrate on getting my teaching license at the time.

Paul SB said...

Jeff B.,

Sorry but I'm not too familiar with that region. It came up in Survey of Prehistory, and I read a few articles and a chapter in a book on it back in grad school, but anything I could tell you would be outdated. I do remember some discussion of the fallow forest areas - also a feature of tropical swiddening - and some suggestion that the mound-builder civilization that collapsed before colonial times may have been affected by over-exploitation of these areas, depleting the resource. Perhaps their descendants learned the lesson.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

The thing is this: if Hillary wins, she loses the House and Senate.
...
Hillary is the worse thing that could happen to the Democrats. It doesn't matter how good a politician she is. It matters how much Republicans and Republican voters hate her. And they hate her with a passion.


I understand what you're afraid of. I was afraid she could lose in 2008, an election in which a Republican couldn't get elected dogcatcher, but she's changed my mind since then.

I'm just not convinced of your working premise that Hillary will alienate more Democrats and encourage more voting-against by Republicans than Sanders would. There's a reason Hillary is polling ahead among Democrats. And there's a reason Republicans are scared s###less about running against her. You used the examples of Gore and Kerry earlier, but Republicans didn't have nearly the personal animosity toward those two as they did toward Obama, who actually beat them twice.


I'm also not clear why you presume Hillary would cause a loss in congressional races and Bernie would not. Hillary has a much better political organization and is more determined to win. In sports parlance, she "wants it more". I don't personally believe that's the best way to choose a president, but it's the government we've got, for now anyway. Democrats lost congressional seats in 2010 and 2014 because for some reason, Democrats think they only have to vote every four years. That dynamic won't be at play in 2016, and the Tea Party Senators who won in 2010 will all be defending their seats this time.

Sanders does inspire great passion in his base supporters, but I'm not as convinced as you are that that appeal can expand broadly, nor that the Republicans aren't salivating over the idea of having a self-proclaimed "socialist" to run against. I'm not saying he'd make a bad president. I'm saying he'd probably lose in November, and quite frankly, that Hillary will not.

You think President Hillary and a Republican congress is the worst outcome? Are you ready for President Cruz, President Rubio, or God help us, President Trump?

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I don't know if you're artistically inclined at all, but you are well-read and thoughtful. Have you tried writing any sort of fiction to get across your thoughts?


I once had a comics story published in a fan publication at SPACE (Small Press Alternative Comics Exposition), and if I hadn't had a family instead, I'd probably have filled more pages with comics by now. But my stories were never particularly about politics. More along the lines of 1970s Marvel comics.

I'm not sure I could write one that would convince people who don't already agree with me.

LarryHart said...

@Paul,

Continuing the thought, the only way I can think of to do what you suggest would be using the Captain America character, and I don't think I could acquire the rights. :)

I'd actually love to try adapting Vonnegut's "Player Piano" into comics. But I'm not sure the audience would "get it". It took me about 30 years to figure out what that one was trying to tell me.

Jeff B. said...

Paul SB,

Hoo, boy, time to crack open the textbooks. To the best of my recollection, the Moundbuilders might've been finished, or forced to move on to less concentrated social structures, by the impact of the Little Ice Age on crops. But I do not think resource depletion is the same thing. The Moundbuilders lived in the richest, most fertile alluvial plains- over deep glacial deposits- so they were in no danger of exhausting their soil.

This is borne out by the survival of at least some elements of various Moundbuilder culture in the Ft. Ancient and Monongahela peoples along the Ohio River to the mid-Colonial period (c.1750s), and the Natchez in Louisiana almost as late. These were so recent that disease and cultural upheaval from the English and French settlers spelled their end.

My roundabout point was that perhaps resource depletion was not always as much as an issue for neolithic/pre-historic peoples as we might imagine. Social and cultural stresses might have played as much if not more a part in some regions.

But it's hard for me to argue, as my training relies on the opposite perspective of the historical record, and as such I tend to be somewhat suspicious of interpretations made solely on physical evidence. Written history is hard enough, and although Archaeology and Anthropology have made great strides in recent decades, there still sometimes seems to be far too much unsubstantiated speculation.

David Brin said...

RobH, your scenario makes no sense. The clocks are ticking against this mad version of the GOP. If Hillary wins there will be some momentum in Congress, likely the Senate. But two more years of demographic shifts make 2018 very iffy for Republicans. And any state they lose will end their gerrymandeing and other cheats, locking in the shift. You assume people won’t notice that the GOP senate refuses even moderate appointments to the SC.


onward


onward