Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How did humans "overshoot" in intelligence? Plus a Tech Roundup!

Phew. The news cycle has slowed enough to get our heartbeats down just a tad.  So how about some stimulus on the positive-hopeful side? You are still a member of a spectacular, scientific civilization. The War on Science (and all other fact-using professions) will not succeed if we keep our spirits up. So let's roll up our sleeves and dive into some amazing stuff.

But our main feature this time? A riff on why humans may have shot way beyond "threshold" levels of intelligence.

== How did we get so smart? And what does it imply? ===

How did we evolve intelligence? In a classic paper, Nicholas Bostrom (author of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies) and Carl Shulman appraised the Hard Intelligence problem with some panache. Yet they left out a crucial observation — (I believe I am one of the few to state it explicitly) — called the Glass Ceiling Effect.  That the rise to sapience is blatantly non-linear.

We see dozens of species that cluster near quite similar levels of threshold semantic ability and basic tool use.  A level that (in my novels) I have long called “pre-sapience.”  This clustering, which includes several diverse mammals (apes, elephants, sea lions and possibly prairie dogs), birds (corvids, parrots), and perhaps even cephalopods, implies two things:

1- that rising to this level is relatively easy and
2- moving beyond it is - for some reason - very hard.

#1 and #2 seem to be logically derived from observation. There are added implications, though. The stunning degree to which we crashed through and moved beyond this ceiling — leaping many orders of magnitude in semantics, tool use and other realms — suggests either:

3- moving through the ceiling, while rare, opens up whole realms of mentation in a nonlinear way.

 Or else

4-  the opposite. Reaping any benefit from sapience requires a species to continue evolving very rapidly, moving to a distant and very difficult plateau, or its fitness profile will collapse back to pre-sapience. Alas, #4 fits the facts better than #3, by far.

Either way, the implications are that human sapience is likely to be rare.

But there’s more. Consider dogs and goats.  As soon as humans developed a 100 word vocabulary and fire and stone spears, we were the top predators - especially after we got a partnership with dogs - and we could then defend goat herds, which proliferated to denude vast stretches of land, causing deserts to spread long before agriculture. Hence, we were already wrecking the planet at that level of borderline effective sapience. (Of course, irrigated agriculture then spread deserts even more dramatically.)

We might now save the Earth!  (See my novel Earth.) But only because we leaped ahead to be capable of ecological science just 10,000 years after we began herding goats. That’s an evolutionary eye-blink, so rapid that much of the planet is still in decent shape!

Picture a species that crosses this gulf more conventionally, or more slowly. Then by the time they get smart enough to understand ecology, it’s already too late. Their world is too impoverished to support a major, industrial civilization, capable of spaceflight.

In other words, our non-linear leap from threshold pre-sapience to interplanetary tech and ecological management might affect the Fermi Paradox in two ways. First, it happens only rarely, and second, it must be very non-linear, almost exponential in order to leave the species with adequate resources to expand.

What might be a mechanism for this non-linear leap? Roger Penrose’s hypotheses merit some scrutiny here. Is it possible that this exponential nonlinearity of mental growth happens because we  reached a threshold, where new modes became possible, suddenly?  Perhaps Penrose’s quantum effects in the brain. Or else dramatic leaps in available software. (The latter is my own theory about this… successful software reprogramming revolutions, 100,000, then 40,000, then 15,000, 6000, 2000, and 250 years ago.  I describe this in Existence.)

Furthermore, Nick Bostrom’s speculations about numbers of neurons winds up being quaint and irrelevant if you ponder recent discoveries about intracellular and inter-cellular computation, which suggest levels of computability many, many orders of magnitude greater than mere synapses.

This suggests that sapience may not be as common as we assumed. Simon Conway-Morris of Cambridge - author of Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe - is the accepted maven of Convergent evolution. But he has lately retracted his earlier stance that full sapience will naturally and convergently evolve.

Finally, there is Nick’s attempt to draw conclusions about the difficulty of artificial intelligence… These  I shrugged aside as tendentious leaps without much justification. In my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson congress in Las Vegas, October 2016, I presented a tour of big perspectives on Intelligence, as well as both artificial and human augmentation.

And yes, this will be nonlinear, as well.

== Tools and more tools ==

Stanford’s new, four-layer 3D-chip design replaces silicon with carbon nanotubes (sheets of 2-D graphene formed into nanocylinders). The top layer has sensors, then resistive random-access memory (RRAM) cells. Then two logic layers. Three-dimensional integration is the most promising approach to continue the technology-scaling path set forth by Moore’s law, allowing an increasing number of devices to be integrated per unit volume…

…though in fact, Moore’s law is collapsing in what I call the Big Flip, as the last 50 years of advancement in computational hardware slows down to its long-awaited S-Curve… but progress in software (which had been glacial) seems to have taken off spectacularly - especially in Learning Systems - in just the last couple of years.

A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window.

Pharmacy on Demand: DARPA has a really neat project in battlefield medicine for a small (dorm fridge size) synthesizer that can produce pretty much any basic pharmacy drug (chemical) to GMP levels using base ingredients.

Their next project which is well underway is a biologicals machine (enzymes, mRNAs, etc.) In developing a flexible, miniaturized synthesis and manufacturing platform, Battlefield Medicine will lead to distributed, on-demand small-batch pharmaceutical production in austere environments. 

It correlates with other advances such as the recent Qualcomm "Tricorder XPrize" which advanced the capability of hand carried disease diagnostic systems.  http://tricorder.xprize.org/  Many pieces are coming together at the same time.

A “living” programmable “ribocomputing” device based on networks of precisely designed, self-assembling synthetic RNAs (ribonucleic acid). The RNAs can sense multiple biosignals and make logical decisions to control protein production with high precision. The research was performed with E. coli bacteria, which regulate the expression of a fluorescent (glowing) reporter protein when the bacteria encounter a specific complex set of intra-cellular stimuli. But the researchers believe ribocomputing devices can work with other host organisms or in extracellular settings. What could go wrong?

Will we see the return of storing bulk data on… magnetic tape? Oh, but at the recent Science Foo Camp (on the Google Campus) George Church told us about the near feasibility of storing all the world's books in a cup of DNA... (Also ask him about resurrecting mammoths!)

All around the world, scientists are building repositories of everything from seeds to ice to mammal milk — racing to preserve a natural order that is fast disappearing.  Both disturbing and reassuring in some ways… though I admit some pique that the description of “life arks” in EARTH (1989) gets no mention.

Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes, a new book by Richard A. Clarke & R.P. Eddy, offers insights into how we can weigh predictions, especially when it comes to national security, threatening technologies, the U.S. economy, and possibly the fate of civilization. In Greek mythology Cassandra foresaw calamities, but was cursed by the gods to be ignored. Modern-day Cassandras predicted the disasters of Katrina, Fukushima, the Great Recession, the rise of ISIS, and many more. Like the mythological Cassandra, they were ignored. There are others right now warning of impending disasters, but as Ray Kurzweil asks: “how do we know which warnings are likely to be right? … Clarke’s and Eddy’s penetrating insights are essential for any person, any business, or any government that doesn’t want to be a blind victim of tomorrow’s catastrophe.”  

Alas, short-shrift is given to the truest font of such alarums… hard, high-level science fiction.

== And some setbacks ==

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) -- who is bafflingly chair of the House Science Committee -- penned an op-ed praising the “benefits” of climate change. He goes so far as to celebrate carbon dioxide emissions for melting Arctic ice to allow for “new commercial shipping lanes”. They've spent years telling us climate change wasn’t happening, then human-generated CO2 wasn't responsible... and now it’s suddenly a good thing?' Sorry 314 guys. This has been going on for years. 

These towering hypocrites shift the goal posts with stunning agility. Vast farms in Canada will replace those lost to desert in Mexico and Texas! (Oops, there's no topsoil up there, and even if things warm enough for crops, there'll just be one, short growing season, to replace two long ones, down south.) And thawing tundra will pour gigatons of methane into the atmosphere. But this is the sort of raving monster the GOP puts in charge of the Science Committee. And even if your crazed uncle is beyond reach, maybe his wife isn't. Go have coffee with your aunt. 

He may relish the end of the world; she'll frown and worry about her grandchildren.

Finally....

Here's a good article on METI - the rash cult wanting to send "messages" to aliens - and the response of a dozen SETI thought-leaders, including myself, asking for discussion.

Not that I’m unhappy with how things turned out… but where was this “sapiosexuality” movement, back when I was a frustrated student at Caltech? hm? Well, it's a new and better and wiser generation.
  

147 comments:

Jumper said...

A canid who lives 15 years will not have more than 15 years of wisdom. Much of human intelligence is related to lifespan.
Also the neurology of the hand is hammered into our deepest brain tissues. We visualize pathways to move our hands to resolve our wants.
And much ability was partially co-opted by the language centers.
Definitions of intelligence are not finalized.

Weldon H. Metal said...

Darpa - CHON? Why not?

Jan Eringa said...

Life span may be one factor. But consider how smart your average 15 year old is vs. Average dog. Another thing to think about is how much good energy is required by the average human brain. Maybe the skill of cooking was the thing to tip the balance?

David Brin said...

In fact, I believe lifespan made a huge difference. Humans are the methuselahs of mammals, getting 3.5x as many heartbeats asn an elephant or a mouse. This let us have grandparents to watch our babies who are essentially fetuses until... well, maybe it was 13 for shepherds, now it's more like 30. Those fetuses can reprogram instead of using instinct.

J.L.Mc said...

I remember reading a few articles suggesting that an animals lifespan is related to how long a generation of animals can use the resources of their environment without causing to much damage so that the next generation can still survive.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Dr. Brin, if my memory serves, wrote fairly extensively on neoteny; the possibility that intelligence is enhanced by an extended childhood, something unique to humans. (Nearly all other species reach adulthood in three years). It's a highly acquisitive stage, during which we amass more knowledge and awareness than in the subsequent 80 years.
I'm playing with an idea for a world in which two very different species are at threshold, and that the possibility of them breaking your "glass ceiling" stems from competition between the two: one preys on the other, and the other predates nests. I'm figuring out how their respective roles might indicate the TYPE of intelligence each will evolve.

Tim Wolter said...

I wonder why Galapagos tortoises don't do better than their very low level of functioning? You want a Methuselah, you got it. Sure, sexual maturity is not until 20 to 25, but that is likely a good thing if you want to avoid a logarithmic population explosion that denudes the landscape. Then they get another century to ponder the great mysteries of the Universe. Or to placidly munch on grass...

They might even work out a partnership with all those clever finches Darwin found there....

Tim Wolter/Tacitus

Paul451 said...

Obs,
I answered your question in the previous thread, in the previous thread. This one is sci. rather than pol. so I didn't want to contaminate it this early in the comments.

Paul451 said...

Tim2,
"I wonder why Galapagos tortoises don't do better than their very low level of functioning? You want a Methuselah, you got it."

No, tortoises don't really live longer, it's the same amount of life lived slower.

Paul451 said...

Re: METI.

As usual, I'm gobsmacked that those who want to summon the wisdom of the elder races pointedly ignore the one message they've been consistently telling us since we knew how to listen:

Shhhh....

LarryHart said...

@Paul451,

I responded to a comment of yours after the "onward!" on the previous posting. Didn't think that discussion belonged on this one.

LarryHart said...

Tim Wolter (spelled correctly!) :

I wonder why Galapagos tortoises don't do better than their very low level of functioning? ... Then they get another century to ponder the great mysteries of the Universe. Or to placidly munch on grass...


Their bodies might just not be conducive to actually doing anything with such knowledge.


They might even work out a partnership with all those clever finches Darwin found there....


If you haven't already read Kurt Vonnegut's novel "Galapagos", you might want to.

Paul451:

No, tortoises don't really live longer, it's the same amount of life lived slower.


It's pretty much tortoises all the way down. :)

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Not that I’m unhappy with how things turned out… but where was this “sapiosexuality” movement, back when I was a frustrated student at Caltech? hm?


Heh. Well, it wasn't trendy in our day, but the first girl I fell in love with at college in the 1970s and the one I married in the 1990s were both highly intellectual and love sci-fi. I was never one to attract hordes of women, but when opportunity knocked, quality made up for quantity.


Well, it's a new and better and wiser generation.


You've got that straight. My teenage daughter and her mixed-gender gang have none of the romantic soap-opera hang ups that seemed so prevalent in my day. The romantic sub-plots of comics written by Stan Lee would have no meaning at all to these kids.

Twominds said...

Back from an indecently long holiday, needed some days for backlog reading and hey, I´m in the present again!

This thread is a good one to ask: I got Brin´s second Uplift series, but not the first. Can I read them independently, starting with the second, and doing the first series later? Or are they too much one continuing story, that I better read in correct order?

I read Kiln People and Glory Season in the holidays, it was good to have some Brin time!

I hope to be here more often, I can use a laptop now and again that is modern enough for that pesky reCaptcha...

David Brin said...

TWominds welcome back. I tried to make the second trilogy stand on its own. But there are a few situations/events that might make more sense if you read STARTIDE first.

A.F. Rey said...

To go further off-topic, I have a question only Dr. Brin can answer.

I grabbed the last (only?) copy of The Transparent Society from Mysterious Galaxy bookstore and have finally started reading it. I noticed that the introduction is dated 1999, and one of the footnotes references something from January 1999.

But the book's copyright is 1998.

I always thought the copyright was the year a book was actually published. So how can there information in the book from the year after it was published??

Or do you know something about time travel that we don't...? :)

donzelion said...

Whoops, I responded to the LarryHart/Paul451 responses over on the other chain too, without seeing that 'onward' call. Oops; normally I read the whole chain first before posting.

I'll leave it there, the context makes sense, and there's no sense continuing that discussion.

LarryHart said...

@A.F.Rey,

I'm not in the writing biz, so caveat emptor, but I'm guessing you've got a newer edition of the book with an introduction that was written after 1999. The book's copyright on the first edition could be earlier.

Either that or time travel is involved. :)



Tim Wolter said...

LarryHart

Vonnegut has never been a favorite of mine. Interesting guy and all, just not my style of writing.
The only SciFi appearance of a turtle race that I can call up easily is in The Lathe of Heaven by LeGuin.
Unless you want to bring Gamera into the discussion....

T Wolter

Paul SB said...

Tim,

I haven't read "The Lathe of Heaven" in a very long time! I have seen two different movie adaptations of it, one by the BBC and one by HBO (IIRC). The British version had its flaws, especially in terms of production (typical) but was dramatically better in terms of sticking to the original. The American version, alas, suffered from what many American films suffer from; it was slick and everything was beautiful, but barely resembled the story, got everything wrong, and was way off message. I wonder if you (or anyone else here) would care to comment. It has been so long since I saw either of them my memory may not be the best, but I do remember being disappointed by the former, then deciding it wasn't so bad after seeing the latter.

David Brin said...

Paul which one was in the 70s and used Beatles music? I thought it was lovely.

A.F. Rey said...

I'm not in the writing biz, so caveat emptor, but I'm guessing you've got a newer edition of the book with an introduction that was written after 1999. The book's copyright on the first edition could be earlier.

No, the only copyright statement is for 1998 on the back of the title page. No other printing date is listed (although it does not list which printing it was, perhaps because it is a soft-cover edition).

And there is the note (I think it was on page 48, but I don't have my copy nearby, so don't quote me) that gave the date of January 1999. That was in the actual text, in chapter 4 or so, not in the introduction.

So I'm still leaning toward time travel. I always knew these SF writers were holding out on us. (They let you in on the secret you when you win the Nebula, don't they?) :)

Twominds said...

Thank you!

I´ll read them second first then.

As I like to reread books, I can enjoy the second series again after the first, with the gaps filled in.

I´m glad to be able to participate again now and again. I may have weighed in on the ´meat and old bones´ comments some weeks ago.

If I can´t get my old Mac to change into a Linux comp, as I´m trying with my brother, I´ll probably bow to the inevitable and spend money on a new computer. It would be a first.

Smurphs said...

It's pretty much tortoises all the way down. :)

I know it's not the original reference, but every time I see this, I think of the Great A'tuin. ;)

J.L.M.c said...

One of the main barriers to A.I. Is that we can created computers that can use logic but don't possess any emotion, which is a prime mover for behaviour.

locumranch said...



In a masterpiece of understatement, Jumper states that "Definitions of intelligence are not finalized".

We have no idea as to what 'intelligence' is, yet we attribute it to ourselves & others. What is 'intelligence' & what are its prerequisites? This we must determine before we can natter on about thresholds, sapience & pre-sapience.

Some argue that 'intelligence' requires the capacity for self-awareness, coordinated behaviours, abstraction & language use; others assume tool use, the competitive/cooperative impulse & the ability to manipulate the environment as prerequisites; and still others assume the presence of what we euphemistically refer to as 'higher order reasoning'. I propose a much simpler definition, however.

I argue that term 'intelligence' amounts to little more than a synonym for LIFE.

Even the simplest biological construct possesses the capacity for stimulus-response (aka 'self-awareness') & demonstrates coordinated behaviours like chemotaxis & phototropism. Single-celled organisms may communicate, compete & perform drastic environmental alterations through the use of chemical secretions & chemoreceptors as in the case of blue-green algae; simple multicellular organisms demonstrate 'abstraction' by associating, confusing or conflating distinct stimuli with one another; octopodes, hermit crabs, wasps, shrikes, sea otters & dolphins also use tools; and locusts, goats & elephants can destroy vast expanses of vegetation through thoughtless automatic action.

The use of symbology, what we euphemistically refer to as 'higher order reasoning', amounts to little more than abstraction (aka 'the act of associating, confusing or conflating distinct stimuli with one another') in order to randomly correlate, create, generate & recognise new associations between previously distinct phenomena.

Even so, the use of such 'higher order reasoning' does not necessarily demonstrate intelligence UNLESS those randomly generated (true, false or indeterminate) associations can be shown to improve the biological fitness & long term survival of the symbolising organism.

It is important to note that the so-called 'truth' of these symbolic associations (as validated by scientific process) is largely IRRELEVANT in terms of biological fitness & long term survival outcome. And, as in the case of Humanity, the jury is 'still out' as to whether our clever symbolising capacity improves our biological fitness & therefore qualifies as intelligence OR whether our 'cleverness' represents massive stupidity & another evolutionarily dead end.

Oh, well. I guess we'll have to wait & see if we can cross that *Threshold* when we come to it.


Best
_____

The British film version of 'Lathe of Heaven' was better than the Hollywood version in all respects. And, by the by, did anyone else read David R. Palmer's *Threshold*, circa 1985? Palmer may just be an incredible tease, but I suspect that he came to the same conclusions about intelligence & biological fitness that I did:

Those intellectual characteristics that do not favour & facilitate biological fitness, survival & reproduction are a DEAD END.

As it is a SCIENTIFIC FACT that what we call "intelligence is negatively correlated with fertility rate (but) positively correlated with survival rate of offspring", this would mean that Fermi's Theory is more of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy than a 'Paradox'.

The MORE intelligent the species, the LESS it reproduces -- the LESS it reproduces, the LESS likely it is to expand outwards -- the LESS likely it is to expand outwards, the MORE likely it is to turn inwards, collapse on itself & approach singularity.

What we call 'Intelligence' (aka 'cleverness for its own sake') is Anti-Life.

And, down the WEIRD-o toilet we go, 'The Sewers (but NOT the stars) Our Destination.

LarryHart said...

Twominds:

As I like to reread books, I can enjoy the second series again after the first, with the gaps filled in.


The Uplift books definitely benefit from a second read when you kinda know what's being foreshadowed.

The second trilogy is really like one long story that was simply too big to fit in one non-Russian novel. I wouldn't recommend reading those out of sequence. But the first trilogy is three separate stories (though II and III overlap quite a bit in time) that take place in the same universe, but don't need to be read in order.

Dr. Brin is correct that a few of the "aha!" moments in the second trilogy will go over your head if you haven't read "Startide Rising". And I'd strongly recommend getting "Sundiver", which can quite easily be enjoyed all on its own.

I don't know if you like to savor your books (like me) or to speed-read through them (like my wife). Just recently, I devoted six consecutive summers to re-reading the books, forcing myself to wait a year between books in order to recapture the "to be continued..." aspect.

LarryHart said...

J.L.Mc:

One of the main barriers to A.I. Is that we can created computers that can use logic but don't possess any emotion, which is a prime mover for behaviour.


I agree. I used to argue that Vulcans can't be without emotion as they claimed, or they'd have no reason to get out of bed in the morning. Machines are designed to help with tasks that humans want to do. Even a self-driving car has to be given a destination and some sort of command to start moving.

What makes a machine intelligence want to do anything?

LarryHart said...

Not worth the effort.


Paul SB said...

The old BBC version of "The Lathe of Heaven" from the 70s was the better version, by far. The only thing I can remember thinking was that the fellow who played the psychologist was a little over the top in his performance, but once again it was a long time ago that I saw it.

"The MORE intelligent the species, the LESS it reproduces -- the LESS it reproduces, the LESS likely it is to expand outwards -- the LESS likely it is to expand outwards, the MORE likely it is to turn inwards, collapse on itself & approach singularity. "

This guy has an amazing capacity for argument ad absurdum. If he had a clue what he was talking about, he would know that K strategy does not lead to extinction, it leads to a plateau in growth - what's called the S-curve or logistic growth. The R strategy of breeding huge numbers of low-quality offspring with very low survival rates frequently overshoots carrying capacity and leads to extinction. His agenda of enslave women, turn them into incubators for Real Men is what will most likely cause extinction.

He is right that high intelligence (however defined) cannot be universally assumed to be more adaptive. Bacteria are doing quite well, thank you. It is entirely possible that humans will fail as a species as a result of their specialization in big brains. Overspecialization is a huge contributor to the halls of extinction. But I doubt it. The whole point of having large, flexible brains to to have enough behavioral flexibility to adapt to all manner of environments. But the narrowest of minds can't get this, and miss the most fundamental aspect of being human (and prove that not all humans do well in the neuroplasticity department).

David Brin said...

It is not intelligence that lowers reproduction rates or smart guys. It is (1) freedom for women to control their own lives and (2) monogamy. The older polygamy systems saw the smartest males get more than one wife and hence more kids. Today the fellows who get several wives do so sequentially and are generally not ideal mates or fathers. There are too many implications to work out here. But alas, Locum things extrapolation from your current tangent to a curve is actually meaningful..

Zepp Jamieson said...

The first trilogy is definitely a must-read. Some flashes of brilliant humour in there: the Thunderdance, the characteristics and behaviour of the Gubru, and so on. You won't regret it.

LarryHart said...

I was reading "The Uplift War" for the first time about the same time that Babylon 5 was doing a bit about (I think it was) the Mimbari having leadership which reminded me of the Gubru. They had something very much like the Suzerains of cost-and-caution, the military, and the religion (even though they were called something different). It was amusing to be exposed to both stories at the same time.

LarryHart said...

locumranch is literally advocating the cancer model for humanity--that success means expanding ourselves over the entire universe until we consume it all and die. Anything less rapacious than that is "the drain".

With that, he demonstrates that the ability to use technology to type things that other people can read does not correlate with intelligence--that is if Donald Trump hasn't already proven that.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

Good stuff, but you do have to note that for freedom of the female half of the species to reduce the birth rate, it is necessary for them to have the intelligence to see past belief systems that insist on their lack of intelligence and inability to make choices for themselves. In every third-world nation where women have gotten jobs and the power of income, they have reduced the birth rate. But in America we have religious groups that promote dangerously excessive fertility, in some cases polygamy, though that has to be kept underground, and many women participate, even with glee. It's a bit like those African cultures that practice female circumcision. Women are convinced that an uncircumcised woman is a whore, so they proudly mutilate their own daughters. Culture does that, just as culture has turned locum's mind into a maze of logical twists and jumps to reach the conclusions he wants to reach while ignoring all the facts that shout out against him. The capacity for self-delusion is in all of us, though some do better keeping it at bay by attempting to be fair to all sides. Richard Dawkins once said that by all means we should be open minded, but not so open minded that our brains fall out. I've tried that brand of "intelligence" and it just doesn't mesh with reality very well.

Tim Wolter said...

Fun bit of SciFi trivia. The BBC version of Lathe of Heaven credits E. Emshwiller (classic SciFi illustrator of the 1950's) as Special Effects!

I'm holding out for sentient turtles, as they are a current interest of my grandson. Go ahead and make turtle and hare jokes. But the have a better ability to manipulate things than whales do, and additionally would be able to use fire. Motivated to as well....the endothermic species that invented heated suits first would rule most planets!

T. Wolter/Tacitus

Alfred Differ said...

I thought Cal Tech students weren't supposed to think about such things. 8)

Best advise I got in my first year of college came from a woman I tutored in math. I told her I intended to go on to grad school and she quickly responded that I should avoid marriage. If I failed at that, I was to avoid having children until I was done with my last degree. I followed her advice, but I got to see the dramas of those who did not know. 8)

On a different note, I finally got to see a total eclipse. I've been waiting since '79. Took me two days of thick traffic to get home from Oregon, but it was worth it.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch | As it is a SCIENTIFIC FACT that what we call "intelligence is negatively correlated with fertility rate (but) positively correlated with survival rate of offspring"...


Yah, yah. Correlation ain't causation, so the rest of your logic chain collapses.

Stimulus-response isn't self-awareness. One must be able to recurse upon the stimulus-response pairs and develop expectations that lead stimuli for a self to exist and for it to be aware. If one can do all that and spot patterns in the recursion layers, THEN it might make sense to use the 'intelligence' term. Recursions loop and create meta-information that can make a 'self', but only pattern recognition in loop layers and between layers makes any sense to me as 'intelligence.'

Take a peek at Hofstadter's "I am a strange loop" book for details if you want to see something that goes beyond the pop culture material most of us are taught.

Also, consider the dissonance in your head. If intelligence can't be defined well, how does it correlate with lower fertility? Once you get past that, recall that intelligence measures are highly politicized, so every study (especially old ones) should be treated a bit like radioactive material.

Alfred Differ said...

@J.L.M.c | but don't possess any emotion

So far. Emotion strikes me as a speed method at a layer of abstraction higher than physical myelination. I see no reason why we won't invent such techniques for our machines that are intended to emulate us.

Of course, many machines WON'T be intended to emulate us. We will still need speed, though, and I suspect we won't focus soley upon the physical processes. Higher layers of abstraction compress a lot of details, so opportunities for speed will be found there too. And then there are the abstractions on abstractions and so on. 8)

David Brin said...

COngrats Alfred!

Tim W we have box turtles and a big CA desert tortoise named Shelly (licensed.)

This insipid silliness of extrapolating complex functions from one tangent line is especially loony when it comes to human populations. The Earth is currently OVER populated and hence, when women have education, empowerment, they are wisely having minimal replacement numbers. If they found themselves on a nice, lush colony world -- still healthy and empowered -- I know many who would in that case choose to have 4 or 5.

Ooooh! Because women are having just 2, humanity will go extinct! No son, it won't.

There is a word for this ability to contextually choose to regulate reproduction according to circumstances... a gift ability of female humans that looks as if it will save us from Malthus and other curse. It is called sapience.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ to locumranch:

@locumranch | As it is a SCIENTIFIC FACT that what we call "intelligence is negatively correlated with fertility rate (but) positively correlated with survival rate of offspring"...


Yah, yah. Correlation ain't causation, so the rest of your logic chain collapses.


It doesn't even have to get that far. He somehow thinks that fertility rate is good while survival rate is not. If you have 100 offspring and all of them die, is that better for the species than if you have 2 kids who survive?

My loc fatigue is quickly catching up to my Trump fatigue.

Jumper said...

Well, intelligence is correlated to mitochondrial DNA, and vertebrae. I don't know how significant that is.

I remember a story by Hofstadter I think, about the anteater and the ant colony who became friends and conversed on philosophy and such.The co;ony always offered a few live ants as mannerly like serving chips. It had no effect any more than offering a guest a few apples off the tree. So was the ant colony unintelligent for setting such precedent?

Erin Schram said...

J.L.Mc said,
One of the main barriers to A.I. Is that we can created computers that can use logic but don't possess any emotion, which is a prime mover for behaviour.

LarryHart replied,
I agree. I used to argue that Vulcans can't be without emotion as they claimed, or they'd have no reason to get out of bed in the morning. Machines are designed to help with tasks that humans want to do. Even a self-driving car has to be given a destination and some sort of command to start moving.

What makes a machine intelligence want to do anything?


I believe the premise in Star Trek is that Vulcans do have emotions, emotions with a lot of rage that led to violence and war, so they train themselves to tightly control their emotions by bonds of logical reasoning.

My subconscious is self-aware independent of my conscious and likes to communcate with other parts of my mind, so I have some insight on emotions and intelligence. My subconscious thinks by weighing experience and values. It is great at decision-making, and those decisions come out as emotions about the right thing to do. My conscious handles logic, imagination, and communication with other people. My subconscious is amazed (an emotion) at how my conscious can take unverified and even imaginary information and extract reasonably accurate predictions about the world. My subconscious routinely trains its emotions to be more sensible, so I have no errant emotions that need control.

Both my conscious and subconscious have the same curiosity-driven personality, so my conscious has no objection to my subconscious making all the decisions. My psychologist daughter told me that in most decisions are made in the subconscious, anyway.

I have other emotions that do not originate in my subconscious. The main characteristic of those deeper emotions is that they are often not targetted at a specific event or action, but would be just an undirected feeling of depression or anger or boredom. These feelings affect my decision-making process, but neither my conscious nor my subconscious can observe the mechamism by which they do so.

Erin Schram said...

David Brin said in his blog,
Not that I’m unhappy with how things turned out… but where was this “sapiosexuality” movement, back when I was a frustrated student at Caltech? hm? Well, it's a new and better and wiser generation.

This was obvious to me thirty-four years ago. One of my best friends in college was a very intelligent gamer girl with whom I would play board games and have long converations. She also liked pinball and Dungeons & Dragons. We were only friends until she broke up with her boyfriend in junior year and expressed a fondness for me. She is currently playing a video game 10 feet away, and we like talking game strategy. She also challenges me in my Pathfinder campaign (Iron Gods adventure path) by routinely derailing the adventure by playing a dwarven smith with realistic motives. The party was supposed to fight the evil computer and its robots, not convince it they were a repair crew trained by its missing android!

Alfred Differ said,
Best advise I got in my first year of college came from a woman I tutored in math. I told her I intended to go on to grad school and she quickly responded that I should avoid marriage. If I failed at that, I was to avoid having children until I was done with my last degree. I followed her advice, but I got to see the dramas of those who did not know. 8)

We married in graduate school and we had our two children by the time I was working on my doctoral disertation. My daughters were a great mental support during my research. They were discovering new things (new to them) every day, which made it easy for me to believe that I could discover new things myself.

I was a teaching assistant in graduate school, and my wife would help grade homework if I found myself overwhelmed.

Anonymole said...

Fire. Period. Read Catching Fire -- (no not the Susan Collins fiction book). This one: Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Fire released the nutrition to help us grow our brains. Without fire we'd be large stomached primate dullards.

David Brin said...

Erin ;-))!!

Alfred Differ said...

@Erin | You are a lucky dude then. I saw a number of marriages under stress when one partner felt abandoned by the one focusing on research. I also saw a couple of cases where children pretty much absorbed the time a student was supposed to spend on research.

It takes a very trusting partner to believe that you won't use them to help finish the research and then abandon them for someone new. One lady I knew was that trusting, but her parents absolutely were not. (That relationship didn't work out, but for different reasons. I know the guy she did pick later and they are a good match.)

When I did find the right one, I became amazingly sick and tired of being poor. I had worked as a part-time lecturer for so long I never imagined a different life. Then BAM. I did a 180 degree turn and left academia. It was a few years before I even realized I had made the decision. THAT is what I think the woman I once tutored warned about. Life has a way of enforcing priorities we might not admit even to ourselves.

Paul451 said...

Larry,
"I devoted six consecutive summers to re-reading the books, forcing myself to wait a year between books"

Ack. I couldn't do that if my life depended on it. I typically polish off a readable book in a sitting, two if I'm absolutely forced to stop. Knowing that, I can't start unless I know I have the time to spend. The second Uplift trilogy, being a continuous story, had to be read as a single book. Not quite a single sitting, but as close as I could get.

This is a problem with webcomic series. If it's reasonably short, I'll binge it in an evening; then I hit the current strip and... "Updates weekly"? Argh! And if the series is long, I keep putting off starting because I know I will be screwing up my sleep for several days while I binge (which I'm getting too old to do.)

[Random aside: When I was a kid, and Amazon/etc didn't exist, and buying ten $1 seconds or second-hand was more valuable than buying one $9.99 new release, I just bought what I found. If it had a spaceship on the cover, I bought it. Hence I often ended up reading only book two in a trilogy. What I later found fascinating was how interesting the book seemed initially, and then how bad it became, and how bad the author was, when I finally got hold of the first book in the series. It's like there's four overlapping stories, the future history (the big setting), the recent history leading up to the start of the book (the news), the characters' history leading up to the start, and then the plot of the book. And you have to figure out all four stories at the same time. When you read the first book of the trilogy, everything is spelled out and dumbed down too far, too much exposition, too much info-dump. Having to figure out all four strands, in medias res, was more fun. Likewise the third book typically spelled out the ending in detail, trying to tie up every loose end, often in a deeply unsatisfactory deus-ex way; having an open, uncertain ending in the second book was more satisfying. I decided that if I ever wrote a book, I'd throw away the beginning and end. You can guess from that that I assumed I'd be a bad writer.]

[[Aside 2: I think the "anything SF in the second hand store" was how I found Brin. IIRC, Practice Effect and Sundiver. When I bought Startide Rising, I didn't realise it was part of the same universe as Sundiver until I later re-read the first book. Hell, I didn't recognise the name of the author until I put Startide away.]]

--

Paraphrasing Loco, "Intelligence equals death".

There are 7.5 billion humans in the world. There are an estimated 300,000 chimps. Hmmm....

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

When I did find the right one, I became amazingly sick and tired of being poor. I had worked as a part-time lecturer for so long I never imagined a different life. Then BAM. I did a 180 degree turn and left academia. It was a few years before I even realized I had made the decision.


I learned that lesson from Merlin in the movie "Camelot".


"Man goes from love to ambition, never from ambition to love."

Paul SB said...

Anonymole,

Fire, yes, that was a hugely important step, but H. erectus had fire and they didn't see a huge jump in encephalization. That huge jump mostly happened when H. sapiens hit the coast and the big lakes of East Africa and figured out how to fish (barbed fish hooks and net weights show up in the record about the same time cranial capacity starts to rise). What fire really did was make food much more digestible. Your food doesn't sit in your digestive tract until it is completely digested and then the leftovers get expelled. It goes through the digestive tract at an average rate, and whatever isn't digested in that time gets dumped. Cooking made it possible for more nutrients to get digested in that period of time. I haven't read the book you recommend, so I apologize if this is stuff you already know. I just wanted to point out the importance of getting the omega 3 in the diet. Land animals are mostly omega 6, and that does nothing for your brain, and in fact makes it worse with all the damage it does to circulation.

As I wrote about locum, meat and potatoes is not a recipe for health. But then, he has put himself in the ironic position of claiming to be the only smart person here while simultaneously claiming the intelligence equals death. Hmm.

M L Clark said...

The ability to print drugs would be highly useful not just in battlefield scenarios. Space colonies are too far away to wait for resupply. In fact the whole replication of old colonialism is off-base. Having low tech colonies that provide raw materials for factories in the old country won't work when you live on Mars or an orbital colony in the asteroid belt. You've got to be able to make any part on-site, not wait months for a part from Earth.

The same tech would be applied to other things like making food, or maybe artificial flavors.

One of the problems with identifying Cassandra's is people deciding they would prefer their enemies not knowing the upcoming crises. Some junior professor dies in a mugging, and most corporations or countries won't pay much attention to his dissertation.

BTW the saying about an open mind and brains falling out goes back to 1940ish, with the general concept-expressed in different words- going back even farther. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/04/13/open-mind/

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

"I devoted six consecutive summers to re-reading the books, forcing myself to wait a year between books"

Ack. I couldn't do that if my life depended on it. I typically polish off a readable book in a sitting, two if I'm absolutely forced to stop.


My wife is like that, although not quite as fanatical. :)

When I first met the woman I married, she was going to California (from Chicago) for a long weekend, and I wanted her to be thinking of me on the trip. I already knew she liked sci-fi, so I lent her my copy of "The Postman", which had taken me more than a month to read. I briefly talked to her after she landed in California, and asked her how she was enjoying the book. She had finished it. Her explanation was, "It's a long flight."

It was a fortuitous exchange, because while I really loved "The Postman", it had never occurred to me to seek out other books by the same author. She, on the other hand, immediately came up with the then-only Uplift trilogy and introduced me to them.

Paul SB said...

Erin,

Good observations about the conscious/unconscious mind, as well as great self-awareness on your part. The unconscious mind is not one thing. Our brains have a bunch of different parts that are all talking to each other, and often conflicting with each other. We 'think' with our frontal lobes, for the most part, but there is so much processing going on in other parts that we are not very well aware of, except through intense scientific scrutiny of how brains work in general. Think of it like a movie. What we see on screen is the end product of a whole lot of people and a whole lot of different processes happening that we don't see on screen, but affect what we do see. The unconscious includes the lighting, the soundboard, the director, the cutting floor and a lot of other things, any one of which might not be going in the best direction at any given time.

This is one of the problems with the medications used to control mental disorders. They go into the general circulation, some fraction gets through the blood/brain barrier, and then they circulate through the cerebrospinal fluid, going all over the place between a person's ears. So if, for instance, someone has a malfunction in a serotonin circuit in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, the doctor prescribes an SSRI, which then affects serotonin everywhere, not just in the one place it needs to. I suspect that a lot of bipolar disorder might actually be a result of SSRIs giving depressive patients too much serotonin in parts of the brain other than where it is needed. But we are probably a long way from being able to target medication that precisely. Just a random thought...

Darrell E said...

David Brin said...
In fact, I believe lifespan made a huge difference. Humans are the methuselahs of mammals, getting 3.5x as many heartbeats asn an elephant or a mouse. This let us have grandparents to watch our babies who are essentially fetuses until... well, maybe it was 13 for shepherds, now it's more like 30. Those fetuses can reprogram instead of using instinct.

The average life span of early Homo sapiens sapiens was not nearly as long as in modern humans. Though data is sparse for obvious reasons what evidence we do have seems to indicate that average life spans were more comparable, as measured in heartbeats, to the average of other mammals. There is a correlation between cultural/technological advancement and increasing life spans over our species life span, especially in the last few centuries.

But given that the time from prehistoric to current Homo sapiens sapiens is not significant in the context of biological evolution I think it is more likely that the causation is the other way around. That our evolved cognitive abilities enabled us to achieve longer life spans. It makes sense that longer life spans would enable us to get more out of our cognitive abilities but that is cultural evolution not biological evolution.

Similarly, notice how the life spans of other animals often increase dramatically when they are cared for by humans. For example look at the average life span of wild/feral domestic cats compared to cats kept as pets.

George Desmond said...

Life span made a huge difference, I think......

Paul SB said...

Darrell,

I hope I'm not doing too badly in the Mr.-know-it-all department, but I wanted to point out a common misconception. Your observation about intelligence preceding lifespan increases sounds good to me, and the argument about animals raised in captivity is what I was thinking, too.

Some years ago I was on a list serve for people interested in Aegean archaeology. Almost none of the people there were actual archaeologists, although quite a few seemed to think they were. An osteologist published a paper after examining skeletons from a Minoan cemetery for the first time (Greece has kept a tight clamp on their ancestors' remains), and people were quite shocked to find that even the wealthy elites of Minoan society only averaged 45 years of life. I pointed out that the move to agriculture actually dramatically decreased human life expectancy up until a couple hundred years ago. Our "primitive" nomadic ancestors actually tended to live a lot longer, but this fact doesn't jive with our common notion of progress through cultivation.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

Our "primitive" nomadic ancestors actually tended to live a lot longer, but this fact doesn't jive with our common notion of progress through cultivation.


Maybe that explains why the people in Genesis live so long? Although I strongly suspect that a mistranslation is involved, and that maybe they lived "900 months".

LarryHart said...

...which is still older than I am now, btw.

Esolb Nairb said...

It's possible the intelligence explosion was the result of a Fisherian Runaway. All it would require is a preference for more intelligent mates and human brains would become the equivalent of the peacock's plumage.

LarryHart said...

Question for someone who knows about California's power grid and its connection with solar power:

I keep hearing about the challenge the eclipse presented for keeping the grid stable when the solar power was temporarily reduced. How is this any more of an issue than clouds or nighttime?

That's not snark. I'm really asking.

LarryHart said...

Esolb Narib:

All it would require is a preference for more intelligent mates and human brains would become the equivalent of the peacock's plumage.


And Republicans would go extinct. :)

raito said...

Yes, I saw the eclipse, too. From Kentucky. Neat stuff.

As for sapiosexuality, it was my wife who planned the trip months ago. But she's the one with all the education. In my adolescence, I didn't like the giggly ones, but wasn't attracted (with good reason) to the smart ones around. As a young adult, I was too concerned with keeping a roof over my head to contemplate such things. So now I'm an old man with young children. It was worth 6.5 years of having to drive 4.5 hours one way to see her before we got married.

Someone mentioned self driving cars again. In the science section of a 1954 Worlds of If, they predicted those in the next few years. That type used a wire in the road.

The nanotube semiconductor stuff (which I at least have some knowlege of) is really, reall cool. Some years ago, I tried to interest my current employer, then trying to figure out how to get more light density out of large-scale LED things, to look into using nanotubes to produce high-density LEDs, where a single light-producing element could be atop each nanotube, which could be quite densly packed. They weren't interested, and still don't have a solution. It was most interesting to have them say that there would be too much heat, considering how much even an efficient incandescent puts out.

What I'd also like to see in this vein would be methods similar to today's multi-layer boards that can accomodate surface-mount devices (albeit in different packages) between the layers. Layout and routing software has come along way since I was in college (even SPICE was new then), but you can still run into situations where it's rough to get everything to fit properly.

I wouldn't say that ptogress in software had been glacial, in general. But most of the progress got buried under the avalanche of consumer-level offerings that quite frankly, didn't require anything beyond 70's software technology. Moore's Law didn't help softare much in the beginning, as throwing more hardware at the problem generally worked. And possibly a bit like the stories of quamtum physics and relativity in the early part of the 20th century, a lot of the bigger theoretical gains were made in the 50's and 60's (some in the 70's, and previously going back to Shannon and those guys in the 30's).

But I think that it's Moore's Law that has also allowed the machine learning to progress as it has. Ultra-large datasets + huge computing power fundamentally changes the nature of what can be done (as does the enormous amount of data generated in the internet). If you read the literature from, say, the 80's on the subject, and compare to today, you'll see that the constraints were in the environment, not in the minds of the people doing the work (though the so-called 'AI winter' did slow things down quite a bit).

For a single example, I had a student job as a cluster operator in college. Lots of 9-track tapes. At 6350, that's 175MB per tape. And reading the whole tape takes a fair bit of time. These days, I can buy 10,000 times the space of that tape for a less than a hundred bucks (and it takes less time to read and write). The fastest machine on that cluster likely had a pair of 22.22Mhz processors (though mainframe-style machines have a lot of hardware for moving data around). My older machine at home is, again, 10K faster than that.

Paul451,

There was a place where I could get a book for a dime. I spent several dollars there.

Darrell E said...

Paul SB,

Yeah, life expectancy and average life span are a bit tricky and I am definitely no expert. It is fairly common for people to misunderstand the terms, the numbers and what they mean. For example a life expectancy at birth can be much different than a life expectancy at 15 years old. And a life expectancy of 25 years doesn't mean that it is uncommon for people in that group to live to 70. But I'm pretty sure you know more about all this than I do.

One thing seems to be fairly clear though. The one clear signal that stands out after attempting to account for all confounding factors is that there was a significant increase in average life spans at one point in our species history and the point is just now. Just now as in the past 50 years or so.

Zepp Jamieson said...

The eclipse had little effect on the power grid. Places in totality that are wholly dependent on solar power had a drop over a period of about an hour and none for about two minutes, and that was it.
Next eclipse is in seven years. While solar will be much more widespread by then, battery storage will have vastly improved as well.

Catfish N. Cod said...

@LarryHart: The Minbari have three castes, Worker, Warrior, and Religious. (This maps onto the organization of medieval Europe: commons, nobles, and clerics.)

Clans of the Warrior and Religious castes battled for supremacy in Minbar's Dark Ages, until Valen came to unite the clans and castes. For the next thousand years, the Grey Council and its (non-voting) speaker, the Chosen One, ruled the Minbari Federation: three members of each caste stood on the Council.

In the period in which Babylon 5 is set, the castes are bickering in a manner not unlike the Gubru Suzerains, which do map pretty well: Beam and Talon would be the Warrior Caste, Propriety would be the Religious Caste, and Cost and Caution would be the Worker Caste. Unlike the Gubru, the Minbari do not repeat their triadic leadership style below the supreme level, nor do they tie it to reproduction. There are entire Minbari ships and clans that are purely worker, warrior, or religious in nature (though individual transfers are not uncommon, via a ritual known as Calling of the Heart).

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

Next eclipse is in seven years. While solar will be much more widespread by then, battery storage will have vastly improved as well.


The part I don't understand is why an eclipse is more of a complication or threat to the grid than the normal occurrences of clouds or nightfall.

Catfish N. Cod said...

In re locum:

There are plenty of bacteria that, having sensors that detect the buildup of toxins and the falling concentration of food, will restrict growth and division, in order that the colony might survive long enough for a spore to find a new source of food and energy.

Those who equate birthrate with evolutionary fitness imply that our reproductive strategy should be less sophisticated than those of bacteria.

They also imply that we should be primarily evolved by, and measure our fitness by the means most creatures, including humans prior to the discovery of germ theory, used to control population:

PESTILENCE
FAMINE
DEATH
and WAR

whose primacy in such matters was mentioned in the ramblings of one stoned-out prophetic exile once upon a time.

Note: studies of the human genome over the last 100k years confirm that by far our most active point of evolution has been in infectious disease resistance. Indeed it was noted in the justifications of the Confederate slave-owners, as well as of other Europeans from the Caribbean to Brazil, that Africans just didn't die in tropical conditions as much. That was primarily due to their more highly exposed and 'evolved' immune system. So if genetic Darwinian evolution were to be the criterion used to 'judge' populations of humans, the clear implication would be that Africans are superior to all other populations, sort of contrary to the result most eugenicists were aiming for.

LarryHart said...

Catfish N. Cod:

In the period in which Babylon 5 is set, the castes are bickering in a manner not unlike the Gubru Suzerains, which do map pretty well: Beam and Talon would be the Warrior Caste, Propriety would be the Religious Caste, and Cost and Caution would be the Worker Caste


That's what I remember thinking at the time, having just read "The Uplift War" when some of those B5 episodes were airing.

locumranch said...


PSB argues 'bass ackwards' as usual: It is he who confuses intelligence with death, whereas I define intelligence as life.

He also lacks a grasp of the conditional. The K-selected reproductive strategy (the production of fewer, stronger, smarter, larger & more resource-intensive offspring with delayed maturation & longer lifespans) leads to growth plateau & population stability IF & ONLY IF we assume environmental stasis, but leads to EXTINCTION if & when we assume environmental instability. Note how K-selected species dominate the WWF's endangered species list at https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/directory

David counters with the argument that "It is not intelligence that lowers reproduction rates (but) freedom for women (and) monogamy", yet he fails to either (1) define what intelligence is or (2) explain his conflation of functional sterility with 'freedom for women'. Plus monogamy as a reproductive strategy is old hat, statistically speaking.

Most certainly, I do define human success as "expanding ourselves over the entire universe". What I find surprising is that Larry_H, who self-identifies as a fan of the StarTrek future, prefers death with pseudo-intellectual dignity to a future of human survival, expansion & triumph.

Like so many others here, he is a Death Cult Dominionist dressed up in StarTrek pajamas who longs for (1) the Nerd Rapture Afterlife as promised by the Book of Singularity and (2) The End to Human Strife & Imperfection that is supposed to coincide with the Death of Homo Sapiens & his replacement by either Homo Angelicus or another suitable trans-human analog.


Best
_____
@Alfred: I have defined 'intelligence' whereas you have not. If the simplest biological construct possesses the capacity for stimulus-response and demonstrates coordinated behaviours, then this ability to recognise an 'other' implies 'a sense of self' (aka 'self-awareness'). Your loop-ishly recursive argument also betrays a conflation of 'self-awareness' with 'self-consciousness' even though these terms hare very different meanings.

Anonymous said...

Read The Marching Morons for the end result of going to extremes.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

What I find surprising is that Larry_H, who self-identifies as a fan of the StarTrek future, prefers death with pseudo-intellectual dignity to a future of human survival, expansion & triumph.


The phrase you are searching for is death. But this is not death. "Life in balance with the supporting environment," perhaps, but that's a different thing, in fact the opposite thing.

The phrase you are searching for is triumph. But this is not triumph. "Devouring ones supply of food and oxygen faster than it can replenish itself," perhaps, but that's a different thing, in fact the opposite thing.


Like so many others here, he is a Death Cult Dominionist dressed up in StarTrek pajamas who longs for (1) the Nerd Rapture Afterlife as promised by the Book of Singularity and (2) The End to Human Strife & Imperfection that is supposed to coincide with the Death of Homo Sapiens & his replacement by either Homo Angelicus or another suitable trans-human analog.


No, he isn't.

It's your side of the aisle who thinks that if "we" can just eliminate the blacks, the Jews, the Muslims, the Mexicans, the news media, the bankers, the Jews, the Palestinians, the social justice warriors, the feminists, did I mention the Jews, whovever, that your utopia will last a thousand years. How's that Reichy, Uber Allesy thing workin' out for ya?

Viking said...

@Alfred Differ

Did you go to Madras?

Zepp Jamieson said...

Clouds have a surprisingly small effect on solar panels. And thanks to the miracle of science, we can predict nightfalls with a high degree of confidence.

The eclipse was, in fact, no big deal, but the possibility was hyped by the anti-renewables crowd.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Anonymous wrote: "Read The Marching Morons for the end result of going to extremes."

I always saw that as an example of how good marketing can persuade people to be swindled.

SapphireHarp said...

I heard a decently compelling argument for an exponential take-off of intelligence, though it surely has flaws.

Once intelligence emerged, it became the deciding factor in competition between early humans. Both within groups, as well as between groups of humans. It triggered an intelligence arms race, pushing the whole species up to the most cost-effective level of intelligence available. Whatever groups didn't take the next step usually were replaced by those who did.

Eventually, the forefront of competition would move from biological to cultural to technological, but competing and replacing definitely describes our pre-history and early history to a fair degree.

Twominds said...

@Paul451:

I´m doing the same, starting a book and not stopping voluntarily. I´ve done all-nighters till the book was through, hardly noticing the hours going by.

Now that I´m less young than I was, I better avoid that, or be a zombie for the next two days.

@Zepp Jamieson:
Yes, the solar eclipse was a piece of cake for the utilities. They´ll just have bought some more electrons from gas or water power plants, that can ramp up reliably in just minutes. Even easier because the time and strenght of darkness were known exactly, beforehand.

David Brin said...

LarryHart: I am delighted to have played a helping role in your courtship rites!

Darrell: Our ancestors needed grandparents. When you are a reproducing adult at 15, all that is required is for a few members of the tribe to reach 45. And that’s exactly what we see. 45 is VERY old for non primate mammals.

Esolb Narib: Yes sexual selection was probably a huge effect, indeed I see reason to believe it was a rare case of TWO-WAY sexual selection. After all, it is human females who have the exaggerated physical appearance characteristics, in that they look less like apes than males do. See http://www.davidbrin.com/nonfiction/neoteny1.html

Ah, but then our complaint at Caltech… why did they stop preferring smart men?
See this great classic! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FotYss3fRo

David Brin said...

Locum’s confederates (who have hijacked American conservatism) are emotional allies with the Randians who have hijacked American libertarianism. Funny thing. Both claim to be “life” oriented. And yet, the Dominionist-fundies pray for the world to end in conflagration and Book-of-Revelation holocaust and thus an end to all new lives and an end to the United States of America.

And Ayn Rand never ever even once shows even one of her uber-superior demigod characters ever reproducing or caring for a child, even remotely. Ever. So much for “life-oriented.”

Hilariously, he declares that those who want to stabilize population and get our Earth management skills up to snuff are a “death cult.” Har! While a few of the techies getting us into tech and space are libertarians, almost none are republicans. Some were! But have been driven off by the wholesale war on science and all fact-users. But all — even Peter Thiel — care about the environment.

Given an opportunity on some frontier, I think most of us here would happily switch to higher fecundity. We are the ones trying to give our descendants that chance by saving the world so they can make that outward leap. The fools and maniacs who want to kill the Earth right now are in no position to lecture about posterity.

THE HEALTH WARRIOR said...

I like to think about everything in terms of food.

Including intelligence.

And since everything here comes back to the Civil War, don’t forget The North cut off the South’s salt supply, restricting their ability to preserve meat. But if you’re counting kills, wasn't Disease the undisputed winner of the Civil war?

So maybe we’re just here to host the party for bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses.

Given the choices Americans are making at the super market, I’m left wondering: are some of us only able thrive long enough to reproduce because we’re housing parasites and bacteria strands that can assimilate the garbage and chemicals and produce essential nutrients via their waste.

https://www.wired.com/2012/11/whipworm-immune-regulation/

And if so, how do these little buddies effect our behaviors and decision making?

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-gut-bacteria-tell-their-hosts-what-to-eat/

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2015/10/29/parasite-human-brain-control/

So if some rogue glasshole developer built a “You are what you eat” app that hacked the smartphones of everyone within viewing radius and accessed their food purchasing data in order to re-render the volume of space occupied by each individual as the sum of the food stuffs they’d bought, pre-consumption, would extremists appear any different than the rest of us? Will TSA include k-9 units sniffing out degenerate micro flora. Frankly, I doubt it. But I am curious

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch | You really have NOT defined intelligence. I’m not asking you to do it, though. I don’t think there is a good one yet, but we can play around with a few loose definitions if you like.

What I was taught to see as ‘intelligence’ was basically about pattern recognition. Early on, I took it to mean certain patterns with spatial and temporal patterns being the most obvious. Later I learned there are patterns at many levels including levels of abstraction. That suggested there were multiple kinds of intelligence if we measured pattern recognition speeds for different kinds of patterns. Since some brain injuries are local enough to disable certain types of pattern recognition, we can work backward to link region/pattern type/intelligence type.

I am generally respectful of multi-intelligence theories as a result, but I’m inclined to think there is a continuum between stimulus-response and pattern recognition systems. Patterns are just an abstracted stimulus if one has the receptors for them. For example, what does the letter ‘A’ look like. Hofstadter and his associates spent a lot of man-years on stuff like this in order to figure out what humans were actually doing. Does one need intelligence to recognize letters in an alphabet? Sure. Pattern proximity gets to the heart of what goes on in our analogy constructing brains. Recognizing what those letters mean, though, occurs in another layer of abstraction and could rightly be labeled by a different intelligence.

My son is autistic, so I’ve seen the difference in capabilities between abstraction layers. Recursion is obvious as are the breaks in the loops he can do compared to some other kids. He has most of the functionality the rest of us have, but certain emotion detection patterns don’t work. That plays havoc with his ability to socialize. He is self-aware, but has issues with certain aspects of other-awareness.

Paul SB said...

Darrell,

The terminology used by demographers can get confusing - to say nothing of the math. You are right about the big take-off in longevity within the past century. Antibiotics is likely the biggest culprit there, though improvements in sanitary conditions were huge, too. Transportation technology that allows food from giant factory farms to get to crowded cities with a minimum of spoilage is a big deal, too. Now we are entirely dependent on science-based agriculture to feed our current population. Ironic how many people oppose GMOs without taking a minute to ask how we can feed so many people without them.

Alfred Differ said...

This talk of fertility is a tad silly. I think it is a stretch to argue that the Earth is currently over-populated with humans. It is more accurate to say we cannot sustain ourselves at our current levels using our current techniques. Since we are rapidly altering our techniques, it isn’t clear to me how many humans are too many.

When women choose to have fewer children, it seems to me they are saying they’d prefer to avoid spreading the resources they have to too many children. Fewer children that are more likely to be successful is the procreation strategy they are trying. K strategy? Okay. Modern reductions in fertility might be dietary results, but they can be many other things too. There is no reason men can’t be using a similar strategy… and no reason why we can’t counter women’s choices with our own choices… and be countered in return.

When any particular man grumbles about the choices made by women, I usually just smile and conclude their strategy isn’t working. No doubt they will have rationalizations for their preferences. I do too. However, it takes two to tango. Mother Nature doesn’t give a damn about our rationalizations. Since there are now a tad more than 7.5 billion of us and we are likely to ‘top out’ this century somewhere between 10 and 11 billion, I’m not worried about fertility. Women seem to have things under control for now and from where I sit, they did this very simply. Once they believed their children were likely to survive to have children of their own, that was enough. Birth rates dropped. I am VERY okay with that as it gives us more time to change our techniques. Wouldn’t it be cool to have 11 billion fellow humans who could live with a high quality of life? I think so. I also think it is quite possible.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

What I was taught to see as ‘intelligence’ was basically about pattern recognition.


This might be kinda/sorta the same thing, but to me intelligence implies awareness the nature of reality, or at least of ones perceived reality. It implies a certain level of predictive ability, understanding that this thing will cause that thing, or at least that that thing will follow this thing.

My impression of the intelligence of cats changed completely when I witnessed one cat intentionally overturn a water dish so that the other cat, who was waiting her turn in line, would not have any water. That wasn't just a lashing out; it was a chess move.

Maybe we need to refer to the euphemistic usage of the word "intelligence", the sense we think of as military intelligence or intelligence gathering. Turning raw data into information and making sense of it. Isn't that what the other kind of intelligence is about as well?

Paul SB said...

I will say that locum was right about one thing; whether a K strategy or an R strategy is appropriate depends on the environment, so if the environment changes, the strategy may have to change with it. Humans have this neat trick where they change their own environment by inventing new technologies. That's been going on since the first Acheulian hand ax was hafted. And human population growth has been exponential ever since. Well, until recently. Since the Demographic Transition started in Italy 200 years ago, populations have been falling in the more advanced nations. Dirt-poor agricultural (Third World) nations are still reproducing like roaches, but the growth is slowing as more of those people escape from subsistence agriculture. The curve is leveling off, which is a good indication that the human race is approaching K. The speed with which technology is changing suggests diminishing returns, and our economists and politicians are sadly undereducated about population dynamics. Liepig's Law of the Minimum will rear its ugly head if humans can't slow their growth fast enough. Calls for increasing reproduction are lunatic until some new technology comes around that will support continued exponential growth.

I think this is a case where we can invoke Dunning-Kreuger. A person with high intelligence gets that they can be wrong, and that their thinking is often guided by the biases of the time and place where they were whelped. The kind of tenacity locum shows does not suggest a high level of sapience, only a severe case of lastworditis.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Arguments of 'K' strategy are ridiculous. Like the bacteria I cited, humans (given the freedom [mostly to women] and technology) are capable of switching strategies according to environmental conditions. If sufficient freedom and technology are provided, this ability is independent of culture or genetics. So locum's discussion of strategies "isn't even wrong" as Pauli would say. We should develop & have ready BOTH the controlled-reproduction ability for when resources are becoming strained AND the explosive-growth ability for when resources are plentiful and/or replenishment needs are dire.

Indeed I sincerely doubt we can expand to even a small fraction of the galaxy without mastering both modes.

Alfred, without the Green Revolution we would already be starving. As matters stand, we can feed the world; we just can't feed the world Big Macs. It's certainly possible that we'll improve efficiency and/or arability more and increase the carrying capacity further, but I won't (literally) bet the farm on it. Imagine if we had made our plans assuming fusion was "twenty years away".

But I'll help fight for a world where those 11 billion are all empowered to help build that sustainable planet. Indeed it seems the only sane response to the crisis.

Paul SB said...

Alfred,

While I like most of what you wrote here, are you sure it would be cool to have 11 billion other humans to share this planet with? There's some pretty nasty ones out there, and increasing the numbers of hominids doesn't seem to be decreasing the numbers of bastards.

Larry,

I think it will be a long while before a definitive definition of intelligence comes to operationalization. The problem is that the word has always been thrown around more for the purpose of insulting people than for edifying them. There is far too much cultural baggage attached, and few people are taking Howard Gardner seriously on this one. Intelligence is a fluid thing that cannot be determined by a single, static number, and attempts to do so will always be deeply flawed.

I had a cat who would jump up on a rail and paw at the door knob, well aware of what opened human doors, but sadly unequipped to actually turn the knob.

LarryHart said...

Twominds:

@Paul451:

I´m doing the same, starting a book and not stopping voluntarily. I´ve done all-nighters till the book was through, hardly noticing the hours going by.


Really? I understand wanting to finish off a mystery or otherwise wanting to relieve suspense. I've pulled an all-nighter or two myself finishing off a book like that.

But something like "Dune"? Or "The Postman"? Or "Earth"? Your preference is to read in one sitting?

I enjoy the being immersed in the world of such novels--becoming familiar and comfortable with their elements. That necessitates a certain amount of coming back to it over a period of time. Finishing too quickly actually defeats the purpose. I did that with the comic "Watchmen", btw. I picked up the trade paperback and intended to read it one chapter at a time and savor the story. Instead, I couldn't put it down. But once I was finished, I was disappointed that there was nothing to come back to. So I do understand the impetus, but in my case, I was acting against type, knowing there would be a price to pay. It's the wanting to be done quickly that I have can't relate to.

I'm not criticizing, mind you, just having trouble understanding.


Paul SB said...

Sapphire Harp,

The idea you heard is not much different from what old Charlie D himself proposed in "The Descent of Man." A lot of that competition became a matter of sexual selection, with people competing to outdo one another with feats of artistic merit, likely starting with song long before we start seeing cave paintings and carved figurines in the archaeological record. But technology no doubt also played a role, and we see that even today with the tendency for people choose one path or the other, but both artistic and technological paths are preserved.

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

I had a cat who would jump up on a rail and paw at the door knob, well aware of what opened human doors, but sadly unequipped to actually turn the knob.


I had one that did the exact same thing. I suspect it's common.

My mother-in-law can do you one better, though. Her office had those straight metal handles that you just push down to unlatch the doors. A neighborhood cat used to jump up to the handle, let its weight pull down, and the door would swing open. Then it would jump down and saunter inside.

Alfred Differ said...

@Viking | We were a few miles north of Corvalis. Adair village has a small day-time park where they carved up one of the softball fields for us. We are pretty sure OSU was behind much of the organization attempt in the area, but all involved managed themselves and us in a very professional manner. I was very pleased to see both the eclipse and evidence of competent social institutions.

My original plan of a year ago had us further east in Oregon or even Idaho. I think I was better off staying closer to the big cities, though. When thousands upon thousands of people descend on a rural region, it doesn't really matter how well prepared we are as individuals. Someone might accidentally start a wild-fire and then we'd discover there aren't enough evacuation resources to get us out. It would have been nice to turn the trip into a longer vacation for my family, but knowing what I know now, I'm sure we would have spent days on back roads going nowhere at all. Since there were a number of fires in Southern Oregon and Northern California, the stress might have dominated the fun. 8)

Paul SB said...

Catfish,

You're kind of making my point for me. It's a point that any biologist would recognize as standard - you have to adapt to your circumstances to survive, and nothing, even intelligence or fecundity, are off the evolutionary negotiating table.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | Your connection between intelligence and the nature of reality is a portion of a broader definition. You are focusing on concrete stuff, but I suspect intelligence is more abstract than that. I’ve seen mathematicians playing with stuff that doesn’t appear to have any relevance to anything, but I can see the intelligence they employ in doing so. Basically, we make up reality when we construct perception models and that isn’t all that different from the type of play mathematicians do.

That’s a good cat story. I got to witness a Maine Coon that had been declawed by a previous owner (ugh) do battle with a smaller, fully clawed cat. It avoided direct conflict and sat up high on an armchair as if it was giving up. The smaller, less intelligent cat misinterpreted this and went about its business thinking it had won. A little later, the big one simply dropped on the smaller one. There was no doubt in my mind this was the plan all along.

It is funny how the words in our language have overloaded meanings. Intelligence can be an attribute or the meanings inferred from information. Obviously they are related as one needs the first to infer the second. Heh. Time for me to go get some ‘coffee’ now. Is that enough to infer what I’ll buy?

Twominds said...

@Larry Hart

That´s why I reread. I get sucked into the storytelling and suspense the first time, and take the time to savour the world building the second (and mabe third, rarely fourth) time. Sometimes, I just reread bits and pieces of books that I almost know by heart. Lord of the Rings was one of those.

Some of Brin´s books tend to a slower pace of storytelling. I read Existence in pieces, it didn´t have enough speed to suck me in for binge reading. And I reread it, and again, and everytime I liked the book better. At first, I didn´t really know what to think about it, but it did really grow on me.
Earth was my first book from Brin, I found it in a youth hostel, started to read, couldn´t finish it in time and was able to buy it from the hostel owners. So kind!

Glory Season was faster for me, after the main characters started their journey. I´ll reread, but probably not for some months.

Kiln People is a bit in between. I did read it in a couple of days, but it felt relatively slow to me.

Not that that´s diminishing my enjoyment, it just changes the way I read it.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | Regarding 11 billion of us...

Yes. I'm quite sure it would be cool to have that many of us around if our general standard of living was high. To explain why, I'll refer to the new book I have on the desk next to me. Check out the last paragraph on pg 327 of Sapolsky's book.

Yah. I'm okay with it. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@Catfish | ...without the Green Revolution we would already be starving. As matters stand, we can feed the world; we just can't feed the world Big Macs

Agreed. The American diet will give way either to environmental pressure or the fact that we are killing ourselves with obesity. Both are dumb in the long run.

I was born in those last few years when the population growth rate in the US peaked near 2%/year. In hindsight, I suspect mothers-to-be had every reason to be concerned that their children would not survive. Civilization almost ended before I reached my first birthday.

I'm pretty confident we will sort things out with much teeth-gnashing along the way. Oldsters will complain about the loss of their hamburgers and youngsters will largely avoid type II diabetes. I'm okay with all that as long as we don't sit on our butts assuming others will make this tolerable future happen for us.

Paul SB said...

Alfred, you only really need the last sentence on p. 327.

I think you were one of the few people here who looked up that Nat Geo stress video when I recommended it. I don't imagine if you did you could forget what he said about Keekorok. But when he phrases it as a question, it would be easy to look at Charlottesville, or our own bridge lurkers here, and think that the lesson will never be learned.

But good for you getting the book - as a new book only available in hardback it isn't cheap, and at 675 pages it's not a quick and easy read. I hope you enjoy it as thoroughly as I did.

Tony Fisk said...

Probably a little late in the discussion, but...

@twominds, Reading the second Uplift Trilogy first, you will be a little confused by events at the end of the first novel. On the other hand, if you've read the first trilogy, you'll be waiting in suspense for them to turn up!

Before my now-teen daughter confiscated her colony of soft toy turtles from her geek idiot Dad, I used to stack them...

Turtles in SF: do the UDF Special Forces in Scalzi's "Ghost Brigades" count?
The monster that controlled Pennywise had a more benign and chelon-like companion in the novel...
A'Tuin's greatest moment would have to be the illustrated novel "The Last Hero". Some of Kidby's drawings are worthy of Chesley Bonestell, or Cassini. And I *love* the way Cohen manages to beat Destiny.

Jumper said...

11 billion people will leave the oceans dead except for some kind of green slime. Ecosystems across earth crashed, 3/4 of all species extinct (and that's with some luck) and solitude in the wild impossible - a story of the olden days. I cannot begin to understand Alfred in this matter. All I can come up with is this is a view which might be understood if someone viewed fellow humans as prey.

Jumper said...

The first review is worth a look.
https://www.amazon.com/Sea-Slaughter-Farley-Mowat/dp/1771000465/ref=sr_1_sc_1

"Five hundred years ago, cod grew to seven feet long (2.1 m), and weighed up to 200 pounds (91 kg). An observer noted, “Cods are so thick by the shore that we hardly have been able to row a boat through them.” Today the average cod is 6 pounds. For many years, they were killed in staggering numbers. By 1968, the cod fishery was rubbished. It has not recovered, because fish mining has also depleted small fish, the cod’s basic food."

Duncan Cairncross said...

Re Intelligence

The stone tool record is interesting -
We have had stone tools for about 2 Million years
And we have apparently modern human bones from about 200,000 years

Stone tools did not change very much - the same tools were made for tens or hundreds of thousands of years

But about 50,000 - 70,000 years ago something changed - "suddenly" there were lots more different specialized tools and tools kept changing - very fast

Something happened back then - I personally suspect that "language" - "happened"

The next question is - was it a genetic change and the carriers of the change replaced the older humans (with identical bones - as far as we can see) - or was it something that was cultural and the other humans "learned"?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Jumper
You may be interested in this

https://www.meetup.com/Marine-Mammals-Meetup/events/223264909/

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/royprsb/277/1699/3527.full.pdf?maxtoshow=

Basically when we killed all of the big marine creatures we dropped the fertility of the oceans as the big deep diving beasts would mix the rich bottom waters with the sunny top layers

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "What makes a machine intelligence want to do anything?"

Not seeing a direct response, thought I'd chime in. Seems to me that 'what makes a machine want to do anything' is 'who made the machine can make it want to do what it is made to do.' Of course, isn't it only when it can choose not to do what it was made to do, and then do something else of its own choosing, that we start attributing consciousness to it?

For biological beings, we are fraught with contradictory impulses, general concepts that are repudiated in particular cases, etc. It may be that emotion is simply our own way of experiencing those contradictions - not a driver of behavior, but a correlate.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

You are focusing on concrete stuff, but I suspect intelligence is more abstract than that. I’ve seen mathematicians playing with stuff that doesn’t appear to have any relevance to anything, but I can see the intelligence they employ in doing so.


That's still a type of reality. Numbers and geometric figures follow a self-consistent set of rules that can't just be made up as one pleases. Within the constraints of certain axioms and postulates, the concepts follow laws just like physical objects and energy do. Understanding the one is the same kind of thing as understanding the other.


That’s a good cat story. ... A little later, the big one simply dropped on the smaller one. There was no doubt in my mind this was the plan all along.


Cats certainly think more than we give them credit for. I remember seeing a cat sleeping on the back of a couch who (uncharacteristically) fell off as she woke up. The first thing she did was to look around to see if anyone was watching. Back at our old house, my wife and I used to play with a neighbor's cat. One day, his whole human family was out on the lawn, and as we walked by, the cat ignored us and pretended he had no idea who we were. A block later, there was the cat chasing after us and being all friendly. He just didn't want to do that in front of his real owners!

It is funny how the words in our language have overloaded meanings. Intelligence can be an attribute or the meanings inferred from information. Obviously they are related as one needs the first to infer the second. Heh.


I've tried to be more aware of the obscure or archaic meanings of words. There's often some insight to be gained from variations. I remember recently reading someone who complained that when you look up a word like "band" in the dictionary, there will be something like 50 separate numbered definitions, mentioning a band of theives, a musical band, a tribe, a thing that girls wear in their hair; and all as if the various different definitions have nothing to do with each other. He felt that somewhere in there should be mentioned the overarching concept of "band-ness" that relates them all.

I used to think that "swearing to tell the truth" and "swearing" by saying a bad word were unrelated subjects, but they really aren't. The original "bad words" were not fuck and shit, but words that indicated you were taking the Lord's name in vain, commanding Him to do your will or at least implying that He would. Even the phrase "take the Lord's name in vain" has two different meanings that converge together: You are being vain in your belief that God will obey your will, and you are doing so in vain, meaning uselessly. I suspect that the one meaning came from the other, though in which order I couldn't say.


Time for me to go get some ‘coffee’ now. Is that enough to infer what I’ll buy?


It probably should be, but no.

donzelion said...

Jumper: "11 billion people will leave the oceans dead except for some kind of green slime."

Even 5 billion people living like Americans in the 2000s could do that. Luckily, only abput 5% of the planet lives like we do...but even Americans in the 2010s don't do quite as much harm as in the 2000s...

Alfred's view is that "we have work to do" - not that things are hopeless or that things will take care of themselves.

Cod have not recovered, but after 100 years, whales are starting to. We light our houses with electricity, where once sperm whale oil was preferred. Will tilapia, or 'vat-meat' save cod and tuna? I cannot say.

Alfred Differ said...

Jumper,

I don't see humans as prey, but I can see how the world might wind up as you describe if we have that many people and do NOT change our techniques.

I don't think it is clear that the oceans will be dead (or home only to green slime) if we reach 11 billion. It could happen that way, but I can see viable ways where it would not and enough 'good behaviors' to make a better future plausible if not guaranteed.

Last time I checked, 11 billion humans is baked in to our future. 10 billion is highly probable shortly after the middle of this century and then improved longevity in formerly third-world nations will push us higher. I’m going off of Hans Rosling’s material at gapminder.org, so I’ll adjust my predictions as he does. I think he is mostly correct due to where he gets his data. Therefore, I think the only sane way forward is to plan for this. Women choosing to reduce our birth rate to near sustainment won’t be enough, though it helps. Everyone becoming a vegetarian won’t be enough, though it helps. More efficient use of industrial resources won’t be enough, though it helps. No one thing will be enough, but together they might be.

Last time I checked, I think many of the smaller things that have to happen are happening. Some people are moving from rural areas to large urban cities reducing our habitation footprint and others are learning from this. Some people are moving away from energy sources that produce little at the cost of entire habitats and others are learning from this. The average global citizen is coming out of abject poverty and will be able to risk some of their new income adopting successful techniques for further mitigating their impact meaning the solutions we need not all come from the wealthiest. The average global citizen now has largely unfettered access to education enabling them to build the most distributed form of capital humanity ever invented and it is difficult and costly for the wealthy to expropriate it.

Will this all continue? Maybe so and maybe not. We have a chance, though. Unlike the certainty of the grinding misery our ancestors suffered, we just might get out of this with a civilization AND a planet capable of supporting it. If we play our cards right, we might get more than one planet. Bonus points, hmm? 8)

Tony Fisk said...

Cod haven't recovered, partly because the big cod used to guard the little ones.

Erin Schram said...

Alfred Differ said,
You are focusing on concrete stuff, but I suspect intelligence is more abstract than that. I’ve seen mathematicians playing with stuff that doesn’t appear to have any relevance to anything, but I can see the intelligence they employ in doing so.

LarryHart said
That's still a type of reality. Numbers and geometric figures follow a self-consistent set of rules that can't just be made up as one pleases. Within the constraints of certain axioms and postulates, the concepts follow laws just like physical objects and energy do. Understanding the one is the same kind of thing as understanding the other.

As a mathematician, I just make up my set of rules as I please. As an applied mathematician, I make up those rules to model a concrete problem. My training tells me how to extend a minimal set of rules consistently so that the result will be self-consistent.

Philosophers have argued about the reality of mathematics for centuries. In contrast, we mathematicians don't care much. I view mathematics as a process of abstractification: we throw out so many details of a problem that we can apply the same reasoning to many different problems. Empiricists argue that mathematics is nothing without those concrete problems. Platonists argue that mathematics has its own reality. Intuitionists argue that the basic components of mathematics are built into the human brain. Constructivists argue that mathemtics is constructed with no underlying reality. Social realists argue mathematics is a social activity among mathematicians to share their constructivist rules.

That last argument ties in with Duncan Cairncross's suggestion that language drove the creative intelligence of humanity. If mathematics requires language, then mankind created two immensely powerful intelligence-multiplying tools at the same time. Young humans could have learned to chip stone tools or tan hides by observing experienced makers, but explaining why one technique should be preferred over another would encourage language.

Paul SB said...

Duncan,
The bones weren't quite exactly the same at that time. They became more gracile, less robust and heavy. This indicates that testosterone levels were dropping. In addition to showing how utterly worthless manly men are to humanity, this might indirectly support the contention that this is when language began to really take off. (IIRC, Chomsky thought this, too, but his thinking was based on genetics as it was understood before epigenetics was discovered. Epigenetic changes caused by changed environments is more likely to explain when we see any particular protein ramp up or down in quantity, though deletion mutations could cause a decrease in gene expression.) Testosterone tends to correlate negatively with linguistic skills, though this generalization has some issues. Still, having both a drop in t-level and the sudden appearance of symbolic communication is a suggestive correlation.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul SB
The information that I have is that it was a cliff edge event in that the change appears very fast - from this side of that time chasm!

Does that tie in with your understanding?

THE HEALTH WARRIOR said...

Paul SB

“Transportation technology that allows food from giant factory farms to get to crowded cities with a minimum of spoilage is a big deal, too. Now we are entirely dependent on science-based agriculture to feed our current population. Ironic how many people oppose GMOs without taking a minute to ask how we can feed so many people without them.”

Our dependence on “Science-based agriculture” is analogous to our dependence on fossil fuels. Golf clap and cheers for 45% of the US corn crop used to feed animals like chickens and pigs (that could almost survive on our table scraps) and cows that have biologically evolved to eat grasses. Then you got 29% going to fuel ethanol--which is the belle of the ball, until solar energy steps into the room and you ask yourself why am I with ethanol? Growing corn is a bitch.

Why not use science to uplift and move us forward? For example: grow food on rooftops and use hydroponics in vertical spaces in crowded cities. You can find existing restaurants in a few clicks that can source 5-10% of their produce this way.

I’m not categorically opposing GMOs but I sure as hell am opposed to the current large scale practices which are creating Glyphosate resistant weeds. While I somewhat trust that my local “Make America great again” voting farmers know how to dispense glyphosate mixtures better than your dumb neighbor who waters his lawn in the middle of the day, there are other methods to control weeds. Pigs, geese and chickens for example are pretty much designed to till land—if you know how to manage them. And for small-scale suburbanites: get off your ass. Garden weeding is good for you. And for gravel areas or stone pathways, why use stinky Round up when you can use a propane torch instead? The roaring noise and flames are therapeutic and you can fantasize about dragons and creep out your neighbors all at the same time.

The arguments that farmers give for using Monsanto seeds and Roundup on their no-till crops sound very rational, unless you take a step backwards and reframe the big picture.

Why do we have to do this? Our current large-scale agricultural industry is in many ways analogous to the necessity of using technology and medical science to keep a brain-dead patient alive in a state of vegetation which is great! Then again, think of what we could do with those resources to uplift and advance us! Why are we propping up these ridiculous practices?

Take the cow. Why are we growing corn to feed cows. Cows are ruminates. They have evolved to eat grass. They roam in large herds. Yes, Feedlots and subsidized corn growing for corn feeding requires science, but only because the practice is so impractical and stupid.

Understanding the ecosystem and the balance between a prairie and a million head of herd animals passing by once or twice a year—naturally tilling and fertilizing the land, a savvy farmer can mimic nature on a small scale and profitably manage his resources to raise food animals and actually build up the fertility of the topsoil while doing it. More farmers can do this.

Anyone ever try one of those cricket flour snacks?

Alfred Differ said...

@Erin | I figured I'd wait and give you first crack at Larry's concrete views. I'm just a physics theory guys with a strong appreciation of what mathematicians of all stripes do. We may be called applied mathematicians in Europe, but I don't see it that way. What you guys do is different.

I learned to see mathematics AS language. Word problems demonstrate the point. We translate (albeit poorly) from a spoken language, solve our problem using math, and then translate back. Proofs have expected forms and are judged for aesthetic values. I don't know whether to count them as poems, epigrams, or something else, but I think there is a good reason many of us object to 'proof by computer.'

If there is one thing I'm sure mathematics is NOT, it is whatever it is that Hobbes thought it was. Wallis didn't get it right either as his view of induction was pretty strange. Such arguments as occurred between them, though, demonstrate the struggle to define proper forms. That is exactly what we do with other languages. In this sense, our sciences are also languages that encode accepted forms intended for particular predictive uses.

My suspicion is a small group of our ancestors faced a bottleneck event that was starving them into extinction. Under duress, they found a need for a richer language. I suspect that first language served a very particular purpose associated with trade outside of kin groups where unvoiced assumptions might not hold. I could be wrong, though. Maybe it was something else or several things at once. Whatever it was, though, a few people adapted their plastic brains and found through trial-n-error that it was a reproductive advantage. Evolution took care of the rest. Now we surviving humans imagine the universe in terms of our language structures with mathematics being one of the more successful constructs.

Tony Fisk said...

@Alfred. A couple of things to consider wrt your notions about language and maths:

- language tends to evolve most rapidly under duress, particularly when there's competition between other tribes. It's a sort of cryptography. Point is that this is when there's population pressure, which is unlikely at a time of genetic bottlenecks.
- many animals have the ability to count, or at least be able to distinguish between different numbers of things. Even honeybees! Harvester ants have been found to select a nesting site using algorithms. This suggests that the basis of maths is a fairly innate talent. How much mathematical talent is down to a big brain is an interesting point to consider.

Paul451 said...

ML Clark,
"BTW the saying about an open mind and brains falling out goes back to 1940ish, with the general concept-expressed in different words- going back even farther. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/04/13/open-mind/ "

Missing from the QI article, didn't Twain have a version, "It's one thing to have an open mind, another to let the geese run around in there"?

--

Esolb Narib: "All it would require is a preference for more intelligent mates and human brains would become the equivalent of the peacock's plumage."
LarryHart: "And Republicans would go extinct."

Intelligence doesn't require morality, and allows you to game everyone else's. Sociopaths get mates.

Paul451 said...

LarryHart,
"I keep hearing about the challenge the eclipse presented for keeping the grid stable when the solar power was temporarily reduced. How is this any more of an issue than clouds or nighttime?"

During totality, there typically a huge drop in demand, followed by a sudden surge as people go back to work/etc. Sharp on, sharp off. The supply from solar has a similar curve. So it's not much of an issue. It's just that it happens much faster than most events, so can potentially exceed grid reserve if switching isn't up to the task. However, I suspect much of the concern trolling was PR opportunities by power companies ("PowerGenCorp's plans to deal with eclipse crisis!"), plus the usual solar-critics.

Aside: The usual engineers rule of thumb for the maximum amount of solar a grid can handle is half the daily variation in demand. It makes sense when you think about it for a bit. You already deal with more variation that this.

Aside 2: Apparently, one of the biggest issues with solar in Cali-type climates isn't clouds/night/eclipses, it's when you get a very mild sunny day. You have full production from solar, but not the corresponding high-demand you get on a hot summer day. There's too much power available. Spot-prices fall off a cliff as the sun comes up, and suddenly all the suppliers are losing money, so the big generators start switching off, then in the late afternoon the production from solar falls away, but there's a delay before the big generators can get back online, suddenly spot prices spike and now distributors are losing money.

So the benefits of storage (Tesla/Solar-City, etc) are not that they supply power when supply is down, grids already deal with that easily with predictive models, peakers, etc, but that they can consume power when demand drops too low.

Larry,
Re: Books
"It's the wanting to be done quickly that I have can't relate to."

It's not wanting it to be done, it's not wanting to stop. If I want to stop reading a book, I probably don't want to continue later.

If it helps, the confusion is mutual: I don't get people who read a two or three pages each night, letting the book last a year. How can you enjoy a story like that? I mean, if I was trying to force myself to read something that I really didn't want to, but had to because of an external reason, then that method might make it tolerable.

Ioan said...

I have a question: do you think modern Iran is a developed country? Here are the stats which make me believe that it could be classified as such. Most of my sources are from the relevant Wikipedia pages, so I will only cite the sources which arent

GDP (PPP) per capita: $19,050
GDP (nominal) per capita: $5,383
HDI in 2014: 0.766
Total Fertility Rate: 1.7
Urbanization: 73.4 percent
Immigrants as a percent of population: 3.4 percent

University enrollment rate: 58% (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/iran-developed-country-mahdi-hayatbakhsh)
Rank based on global output of academic articles: 16th (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/iran-developed-country-mahdi-hayatbakhsh)

To me, it seems that only the GDP (nominal) per capita rate and the HDI rate preclude it from being a developed country. However, the HDI rate was last measured in 2014, before the nuclear deal. The GDP (PPP) per capita indicates that it is borderline developed. To my knowledge, the boundary for developed nations is:

GDP (PPP) per capita: $20,000
GDP (nominal) per capita: $13,000
HDI: 0.8
TFR: 2.1 (numbers lower than this indicate a developed country)

Let me know what you guys think?

twizl said...


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Jumper said...

Duncan, that Mowat book is more than sufficient, and I read the tale as it unfolds in realtime too. Some of the reviewers mention how unrelenting he is, documenting more and more catastrophes one after another. He's been rightly accused of exaggeration in his other work so he did a well-documented examination of real history in response.

raito said...

Zepp Jamieson,

Try reading Toxic Sludge Is Good For You. Fairly hilarious book on public relations. More so since the Milorganite people tried to get the author to change the name.

Paul SB,

I see sanitaion and antibiotics as stemming from the same source -- germ theory. One you know the little buggers are there and what they do, you can encourage the good ones and discourage the bad ones. I think the most visceral account of the difference between yesterday and today was an account of how Victorian surgeons would have their hands in multiple diseased people and rotting corpses without any washing in between. Something that's seen, properly, as pretty horrific today.

As far as reproduction and strategy...

The best (male) strategy is to be good-looking and not too obnoxious. Having piles of money doesn't hurt, either. Some of the comments remind me indirectly of a friend of mine. He has the good-looking and not too obnoxious part down, and isn't destitute. He got a lot of women back when we were younger. And he always insisted that any of us normal guys could have done as well, if we just acted as he did. Well, no. We couldn't have (most of us tried). He had the advantage even before the talking started, but he just couldn't see that. On the other hand, I got married and had children before he did.

Marshall Boice said...

Paul SB and others,

You have to go back to the 80s to see a good production of The Lathe of Heaven.
PBS spent some decent money on it and while the special effects are "made for tv" level of production, it kept to the novel all the way to the end with few differences.

I think you can still YouTube it if anyone cares to. Much superior to the more recent versions.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

It's not wanting it to be done, it's not wanting to stop.


Ok, I can understand that.


If I want to stop reading a book, I probably don't want to continue later.


See, for me, that's not the case. Maybe I was too conditioned by comics and episodic tv as a kid, but there seem to be natural breaks in novels (such as between chapters) in which the setting aside and coming back later seems to be the natural flow of the story, and where a certain amount of suspense or contemplation of possibilities is part of the fun.

If it helps, think of a good novel as similar to a good meal. Having enough and wanting to stop eating doesn't mean that you don't want to eat again later.


If it helps, the confusion is mutual: I don't get people who read a two or three pages each night, letting the book last a year.


That's more extrame than I am. But I do feel there are natural times in the book to pause.

Part of the issue for me is that I accept that I have limited time to read. If I refused to read "Dune" or "Earth" until I could do so in one setting, I would effectively deny myself the pleasure altogether. But as stated above, that's not the only reason.

LarryHart said...

raito:

I see sanitaion and antibiotics as stemming from the same source -- germ theory. One you know the little buggers are there and what they do, you can encourage the good ones and discourage the bad ones. I think the most visceral account of the difference between yesterday and today was an account of how Victorian surgeons would have their hands in multiple diseased people and rotting corpses without any washing in between. Something that's seen, properly, as pretty horrific today.


This is a tangent, but when I finally got around to reading the original 1897 novel "Dracula", I noticed that when the good guys, including a medical doctor, tried to save Lucy's life with serial transfusions, there was no mention of blood typing. That whole area of medicine apparently came about a decade or so later. That's nothing to fault the author for, but it is particularly noticeable to a modern reader.

In Fred Saberhagen's retelling from Dracula's point of view (The Dracula Tapes), he has the count point out that the transfusions probably did more to kill Lucy than the vampire did.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Blood types were first reported in 1900, and it wasn't until the 30s that the full significance viz transfusions was understood.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Toxic Sludge Is Good For You.is hilariously, if darkly. "Thank You for Smoking" is a similarly themed documentary well worth watching.

LarryHart said...

raito:

The best (male) strategy is to be good-looking and not too obnoxious. Having piles of money doesn't hurt, either. Some of the comments remind me indirectly of a friend of mine. He has the good-looking and not too obnoxious part down, and isn't destitute. He got a lot of women back when we were younger. And he always insisted that any of us normal guys could have done as well, if we just acted as he did. Well, no. We couldn't have (most of us tried). He had the advantage even before the talking started, but he just couldn't see that.


I've mentioned before that a beautiful woman who doesn't know how beautiful she is is irresistible. Your theory here is that something similar works for male attractiveness to women.


On the other hand, I got married and had children before he did.


Reading my personal bias into this, I suspect that you did so because you knew better than to let the right one get away. I've said as much about meeting my own wife, and in so many words.

Your attractive male friend probably wasn't in that position, because if one got away, the next one was already in line. And that's if marriage and kids was even the goal for him.

Alfred Differ said...

@Tony | I’m not suggesting our hypothetical ancestors under duress invented mathematics. I suspect they had to broaden some of their trade concepts and their ability to mentally model people who were not part of their kinship group. The way that would have appeared to an observer is the topics gossiped about whould have changed a bit. Instead of HG women talking about who was sleeping with whom, they might have also discussed who cheated whom, what might be worth trading with another band next year, and how to teach the children the skills needed to create trade items and then trade them without being cheated. HG bands had ways of dealing with cheaters within the group, but some of them would not have worked well for more distant traders.

My suspicion is that a few people who were slightly less xenophobic than others in their band made a small change to the set of concepts covered by their languages and that change required extensions. Only some of them would have been mathematical. Anyone thinking about whether it is worth making a thing now to sell later is working through a simplified net-present-value calculation. Our ancestors were probably already doing that from before we were human, but doing it for trades outside one’s kinship group requires a little more complexity due to risks that cannot be easily mitigated by old HG techniques.

It’s just a suspicion, though, and since I don’t think this event would leave much evidence to be found, I suspect it will remain just a suspicion. I’m left with using it as a personal view of history where its plausibility can easily be debated. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

@raito | I didn't think too much of physical beauty in males being useful until a few years ago when I was out with a bunch of co-workers at a bar and finally noticed that one of them kept getting hit on. It took real effort to set aside my reluctance to judge whether he was good looking or not, but when I did I could see it. I found the rest of the evening quite amusing in a not so friendly way. He didn't deserve the annoyance he suffered, but it was quite obvious he did NOT appreciate all the interest. He wasn't sending any signals that he wanted it, but the women in the bar didn't seem to notice. They were just as captured by their hopes as some guys get around beautiful women. 8)

To make matters worse, the other guys in our group were merciless. They found it quite funny and I don't think it could be blamed on alcohol suppressing their better judgment.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

He wasn't sending any signals that he wanted it, but the women in the bar didn't seem to notice. They were just as captured by their hopes as some guys get around beautiful women. 8)


Pheromones?

Seriously, who can identify all of the myriad signals we give off, consciously or otherwise. They don't always mean "I'm interested." Sometimes, they just identify you as a type that the receiver finds interesting.

My wife bears a noticeable phenotype resemblance to my first college girlfriend. The most obvious explanation is that I go for that physical type. The unflattering explanation is that I married someone for her resemblance to the one I couldn't have (there's a Lyle Lovett song to that effect). The one I prefer to believe is that my initial attraction in college was a prescient anticipation of my true love, as "Childhood's End" cast humanity with an ingrained racial "memory" of meeting the Overlords in the future.

But whatever...the point is, of the two women, one quickly lost interest, the other has been my wife for 21 years; but I receive(d) similar "signals" from both. I doubt they were conscious of giving off similar signals. The information is in the receiving, not in the giving. To bring it back to our "intelligence" conversation of yesterday.

Twominds said...

@LarryHart 9.11AM
On reading styles: your analogy with eating is apt I think. You could say I like binge reading, taking in as much as I can in one go. I can't overread, there's no physical limit like with eating, but I can ignore other needs and duties if I'm not careful. My impulse control isn't always strong enough when I'm deep in a story. It has brought me in trouble in the past...

Alfred Differ said...

The only signal he was giving off is one he couldn't dial down. Sure... I suppose he could have dressed down and shaved his head to look like a skin-head, but he wasn't doing anything special to be attractive or unattractive. He was just being himself and that was enough. The hopes and desires in the women around him did the rest.

Since then, I've been told a lot of guys can do this without realizing it. Unless we are pretty mangy, there is probably a woman out there who finds us attractive. Since it works that way in reverse, it seems humans are moderately symmetric at this level. What we DO isn't so much.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

The only signal he was giving off is one he couldn't dial down.


I'm not arguing with you. I'm pointing out that many such signals are not "sent" intentionally. Things like body scents, pheromones, and such are "signals" in the sense that the receiver interprets them favorably. Whether the sender means anything by them is largely irrelevant. They convey god-knows-what subconscious information that the receiver interprets as "That's someone I want", irrespective of the desires of the sender.

David Brin said...

Ioan, the insanity of attacking Iran will onlyu benefit the mullash themselves, who are threatened by that vast, urban, educated middle class. Every enemy of civilization, Trump, Putin, the Saudis, the Iranian mullahs, the oil-cos… all of them want that war. But not the American or Iranian people. Nor (thank God) the US intel and military officer corps.

Ioan said...

David, would you agree with my characterizing Iran as a developed country?

Paul SB said...

Duncan,

Yes, that transition seems to have happened very quickly, probably in a matter of only a few thousand years. Significant epigenetic change, dramatically increasing or decreasing the average value for a hormone in a population can happen in as little as two generations if the cause of that change is broad and consistent enough. So did the change in t-levels cause the sudden appearance of symbolic communication, was it the other way around, or was there some other factor that lead to both? It's not likely we will ever know for sure, even with improved chronology. If we should find that the decrease in t-level preceded evidence of symbolic communication, we can't be sure because symbolic communication might have started as vocal communication before any sort of archaeologically preservable behaviors (painting, sculpting, musical instruments) arrived on the scene. If it can be shown that symbolic communication preceded the change in t-level, then you might have something. But then, what caused the birth of symbolic communication?

David Brin said...

Ioad, like Mexico and China, Iran is at the THRESHOLD. A very dangerous time.

Paul SB said...

Health Warrior,

There's nothing you wrote I disagree with. I've been an advocate of green roofs and vertical farms for awhile, and I noticed the problem with corn-fed cattle when I was 13, before I even knew what "ecology" meant. It's a travesty, a perversion, but it's a perversion of capitalism, and in post-Cold War America the market is still sacrosanct. People are still convinced that market forces will create efficiency in spite of the obvious fact that what market forces create are bloated robber barons who have money to burn and will burn it just to show how rich they are. Not only would the human species be able to feed itself better if cattle were put out to pasture and corn were fed to humans, but they would be eating more healthy as well. But this won't happen as long as everyone thinks they should be one of the 1%, and the 1% insist that anyone who is not one of them is lazy and stupid.

If you are a masochist, I would recommend reading Thorstein Veblen's 1899 book "The Theory of the Leisure Class." The prose isn't really any more arcane than reading Thomas Hobbes, but it's hardly light reading. Otherwise you can look him up. He's the one who came up with the terms "conspicuous consumption" and "competitive emulation." Now we have enough neuroscience to explain why this happens. Prestige is a drug, fueled by dopamine. Once someone becomes rich they become embroiled in an arena of competition over who is richer. Just like the cocaine addict who has to snort more and more to get the same high, these people have to boast more and more to get the same high. Few people are insensitive enough to the dopamine feedback loop to resist its pull.

Jumper said...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tally_stick
The split tally stick is like a check (or cheque).


Alfred Differ said...

@Ioan | I am not convinced it makes much sense to use 'developed' as a category anymore. The differences between nations are not so stark as they were in the 60's when that term made sense.

Play with some of the statistical measures at gapminder.org and you'll see the problem. For Iran, you should probably ignore data before 1940 as it is probably inferred, but later charts can show where they are relative to other nations. The one I've linked to also demonstrates what a disaster it was for them in the late 70's. Per capita income was cut in half in a few years. They've only recently made up for that drop. Ouch.

http://www.gapminder.org/tools/#_locale_id=en;&state_marker_select@_geo=irn&trailStartTime=1800;;;;&chart-type=bubbles

Alfred Differ said...

Jumper,

Good point. I remembered how clay could be used to record contracts, but forgot the tally stick. Both would appear as evidence, but one is easier.

Steven Hammond said...

Pau SB said:
"I've been an advocate of green roofs and vertical farms for awhile, and I noticed the problem with corn-fed cattle when I was 13, before I even knew what "ecology" meant. It's a travesty, a perversion, but it's a perversion of capitalism, and in post-Cold War America the market is still sacrosanct. People are still convinced that market forces will create efficiency in spite of the obvious fact that what market forces create are bloated robber barons who have money to burn and will burn it just to show how rich they are. Not only would the human species be able to feed itself better if cattle were put out to pasture and corn were fed to humans, but they would be eating more healthy as well. But this won't happen as long as everyone thinks they should be one of the 1%, and the 1% insist that anyone who is not one of them is lazy and stupid."

I was trying to hold back but have to weigh in here. I completely agree with Health Warrior and have to say that the travesty of current US Agriculture with 40% of corn being used for biofuel at a negative EROEI and the remaining majority being used for livestock feed is definitely NOT the result of capitalism--or at least capitalism as described by Adam Smith (invisible hand and all that). This is very much a result of US government policies and subsidies supporting Agrobusiness and big time industrial agriculture.

Given the nature of the comment, I suspect you haven't read the classic Omnivore's Dilemma by Michale Pollan. I highly recommend it. (I also agree with his conclusion regarding the ethics of eating meat, BTW, but that's not set in stone)

As far as the future of agriculture goes, I am more interested in the adoption of agricultural practices that treat the "farm" as its own ecosystem, using species diversity and "stacking" stragegies like poultry following cattle to eat maggots in manure, manuring arable land, composting straw from grain crops, increasing carbon in soils by wise practices both to increase yields and as a carbon sink as opposed to synthetic "vat meat". Careful aquaculture fits in as well, though I am concerned about escaped GMO salmon affecting the wild population and raising mollusks and ring non-piscivorous fish preferentially would be better, I think.

What I really would like to see--and we've seen a little of this lately-- is a change in agricultural government policy and changes in the market that allow small producers to "make it" economically. This may help make small cities and towns more viable which, in turn, could stop the rural to urban exodus. Vibrant small cities and towns with opportunities for folks in the Ag economy as well as enough jobs and cultural opportunities for tech people and service workers would be a godsend for America. Visions from democratic politicians about how to do this (broadband internet in rural areas to start with) could really reverse the tide politically as well.

Enough from me.

Sorry for the screed.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Jumper
I already have

https://www.amazon.com/Unnatural-History-Sea-Callum-Roberts/dp/1597265772
as a paperback

and I'm allergic to paying $16 for a Kindle book so I will give the Mowat book a miss

Hi Load
Iran were the most advanced and secular nation in that whole area until the Brits and the USA toppled their elected government in favor of a blood stained dictator who destroyed the secular opposition

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Paul SB said...

Steven,

You are right that I haven't read Michael Pollan. Right now my list of books to read is so long I would need some science fiction regeneration technology to make a substantial dent in the list. But if you would be willing to give me the skinny, my eyes are open. As far as I can tell, the capitalism of Adam Smith's day exists in only a few places on this planet, and the US is not one of them. Businesses that get to be spectacularly successful experience a snowball effect, growing ever more massive, powerful, inert and inefficient. They use their inertia to influence the masses to vote in pro-robber baron politicians and to purchase or dictate government policy. 5000 CEOs pull the government's strings rather than compete with each other, as Adam Smith supposed. They don't even have to form monopolies or trusts, they just have to be smart enough to know what is in their short-term interest. It may not be capitalism, but it is exactly where capitalism has lead.

As far as agricultural policy goes, I won't pretend that I know what will be an improvement, but it is obvious enough that as the world becomes more crowded efficiency will become more important to survival of the species than supporting those bloated robber barons. I'm a little bit doubtful that the slow bleed from small towns and cities is going to stop whatever policies are in place. Once an archaeology class I was taking had a guest lecturer to teach us about enthoarchaeology, which is simply examining societies of today in great detail as an ethnographer would, but focusing on material culture to help interpret the past. He was working in the Amazon, charting the fusion of small villages into towns, then migration of people from towns into cities. When asked why people wanted to move to larger, more crowded places, he said that even though they talk about economic opportunity, it has more to do with marriage prospects. If you grow up in a tiny village where your only prospects are Ug and her sister Ly, you have a powerful motivator to move to a larger place.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Steven Hammond said...

Hi Paul SB

I'll get back to you on the next post (I here the bell ringing from our host...) and try and do justice to Pollan's book which really opened my eyes and get into other thoughts about small cities and what might make them more vibrant and attractive. You bring up great points worth responding to.

Steve

David Brin said...

onward

Matt Colborn said...

Hi David --
Awe inspiring tech developments, and very intimidating for an SF author who daily struggles to keep his work futuristic!

I do have concerns, however, that this tech development is happening in such a reactionary political age. Reactionary, feudal politics combined with high technology to me anyway, has dystopian connotations. Take life extension: what is the use of having the capacity to extend life to 1000 years, if the only people who can afford to benefit are the 1 %? After all, the reasoning would probably go, who wants the serfs living to 1000? 70 years is good enough for the likes of them!

It seems to me that we cannot rely on runaway technological development alone to bring us a 'Star Trek' world. Automation, for example, is only of benefit if we also have social reforms like democratising work and/or things like Universal Basic Income. Automation on its own, in this world of gross economic inequalities, says mass unemployment to many people and rightly spells fear.

Finally, re. preserving genetic stock, cloning, etc. as a solution to extinction. This, I'm sorry to say, is probably necessary, but we're naive if we think we can somehow put the pieces of a devastated highly complex ecology back to together after the fact. I think we also need to think in terms of Edward O Wilson's 'half Earth, ' i.e. leaving half the Earth's land surface as wilderness, and extensive rewilding. Biotech on its own is not enough.

In sum: I think we need to move beyond the 'gosh wow' factor of new tech, and think more seriously about how it could fit into a broader picture of social, political and environmental reforms. Only then might we have a civilisation of which we can be proud. Right now, it's just not in evidence.

Interested Observer said...

Just skimming the comments, I thought the discussion was more in line with the premise of the Uplift novels, where older races slow down and "cross over"/ die off. Besides entropy, I thought the implication was that such a evolutionary drive had to exist, or else some civilization would have burned too hot and exhausted all resources. In the novels I know the government structures also reinforced this for the youngins, so to speak, but the motivations of at least some of the elders seemed entirely different.

Side tangent: The game Galactic Civilizations 3 allows players to create and share custom playable species (No profit involved, of course) There is a plethora of Star Wars, Star Trek, Animie, Warhammer 40k, etc., but nothing from the Brin universe. If anyone gets bored, it would be neat to revisit the universe a bit. I call the post-separation Tandu ;-)