Talking about oil in Oil City, USA

I presented in Austin, Texas, 9 January 2011 under the title, Durable Living: Preparing for Climate Change and Energy Decline. Free and open to the public, the event was sponsored by Design~Build~Live and Crude Awakening Austin, and attended by about 30 people.

I was shooting video of this presentation, but my camera failed 15 minutes in. So we’re stuck with multiple audio files and the slides in the usual awkward format. And whereas the audio files are adequate during the presentation, the only microphone in the room was near me, so the question part of the Q & A is poor.

You get the original slides this time, along with the audio file. Plagiarize to your heart’s content. Share widely. Spread the news. But please keep your complaints about the quality of these materials to yourself, unless you have suggestions for improvement.

I was speaking in the capital of the state built, economically at least, by oil. As I was speaking, I could see the Capitol, which convened the following day to deal with the state’s $27 billion deficit. Gee, I’d have never seen that coming.

My presentation was greeted with the usual mix of profound denial and fatalistic acceptance. The very few anarchists in attendance could hardly compete with the majority, who could see absolutely nothing amiss with the industrial economy, western civilization, or American Empire.


Introduction from Gayle Borst, Design~Build~Live

Presentation part 1

Presentation part 2

Presentation part 3

Presentation part 4

Presentation part 5

Presentation part 6

Presentation part 7

Q & A part 1

Q & A part 2

Q & A part 3


Special thanks to Ken McKenzie-Grant from Shades of Green Radio for the considerable effort behind the audio files and to Gayle Borst for hosting (and all the associated work).

Comments 46

  • Perhaps a comment from a good friend and outstanding scientist would be helpful now here.

    “…… The perspective that human behavior is a a function of environmental contingencies is highly resisted in our culture, just as understanding that our genetic makeup is a function of environmental contingencies (natural selection) is highly resisted. Regarding human behavior, this resistance is behind psychologists not agreeing on the definition of their own subject matter. This resistance occurs in overt and covert ways, even among scientists.

    The resistance to seeing human behavior, genetics and ecology as being a function of environmental contingencies is behind all of our current difficulties. For example, I think it outrages all of us that we have a culture of denial regarding peak oil. I think it amazes all of us that there is almost no general acknowledgment that we may very well be in a human species die-off, not in spite of our large numbers, but because of our large numbers. I think it astounds us that people deny the reality of climate change, or see it only as opening up new trade routes in the arctic. It baffles me, and precious few others, that we can fully comprehend that every other living species’ population increases to the level of its carrying capacity, i.e., food supply, but that that this reality doesn’t apply to the human species.

    I hope we’ll move beyond ourselves or our brains / minds as “the creators” of our behavior and, instead, focus on the independent variables that will lead to success and sustainability.


  • Guy. Always good to hear the grim news spoken with such humour and coverted into ‘good news’.

    It seems that nature is going to throw a lot of surprises at us. Two year ago Australia was in the grip of an extended and deadly drought. Now look at it!

    When lunatics are running the asylum sane people have to be categorised as mad.

  • “Once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it.” – that is so true. What is amazing is that so many can hear it and still not see it. I hope a few in your audience saw more than they had ever seen before. Excellent talk Guy. Bravo for you.

  • “Leading horses to water” comes to mind for some reason….. Excellent, Guy. You don’t hold back a lot either. I admire your courage and dedication as well….it takes a lot to face non-drinking horses….

  • …just finished part two of Guy’s presentation when I’m interrupted by the Obama/Hu live news conference … Guy is telling us the environment is not able to support our current way of life … Obama is saying he wants to export to China’s rising middle class (with this big smile about 41 minutes in)

    the tragedy continues to unfold … one thing I think about is the self sufficient peasants of China who will be ripped from their ancient ways of living close to the land so that they can become consumers

    as Guy put it in the title of a post back in December
    “We’re Toast”

  • On the BBC World Hard Talk interview last night we were once again treated like idiots by both the interviewer and his guest (Nabil Sha’ath, I think): firstly there was some acknowledgement that the west is ‘losing the economic race’ to China, India etc. and that resource constraints do matter. But then, even as economies are imploding all over the world, we were subjected to all the nonsense about continued economic growth (worldwide) and rising prosperity on the basis of increased efficiency and human ingenuity -that unshakable belief that we can innovate ourselves out of any predicament!

    Presumably the message that the oil supply has peaked and is on its way down still has not penetrated the brains of more than a handful of people, despite the IEA admission. (One does not like to think there is a worldwide conspiracy to keep it firmly off the agenda of topics for public debate, but I suppose that is a possibility.)

    One has to wonder how much longer the mainstream media can keep up the pretence of recovery. Since it is a slow crash, perhaps it will be another year before the truth starts to become obvious to a significant portion of the population.

    Coincidentally, there was an item about a Chinsese peasant family eagerly awaiting their chance to move into an unsustainable housing complex.

  • Thanks for posting your talk, Guy. I really enjoyed listening to it and looking at the slides. I love the pictures of the goats and can’t wait to get my own. I love the cheese! :-)

    My partner and I had a somewhat dark discussion last evening as we were contemplating the reality of a 3.5° C increase in average temperature by 2035. When we hear those kinds of predictions, sometimes we forget that it won’t just continue along the way things are for the next 24 years and then suddenly jump by 3.5°. But rather the temperature will become progressively warmer year after year. Realizing that and the implications of such severe warming is what prompted our brief bout of introspection.

    Survivors of plane crashes have described what it’s like to know that the plane you’re on is about to crash. They often describe a feeling of peace and resignation. You know that you can’t do anything about it and panic simply fades away.

    It’s like we’re all on a worldwide plane that’s going down. There’s nothing we can do to stop it so we might as well relax and enjoy the ride down.

    Maybe it’s not quite that bad. But sometimes it sure seems that way.

  • Thank you, Guy. Wonderful presentation, and engaging, too. Thank you again.

  • obarma to Hu “We want to sell you this and that” ($42 billion worth)
    Hu to obarma ” How you going to afford to keep an industrial economy functioning? Were will you get the money?”
    obarma to Hu “Why you Hu”

    What a fucking joke we are.

  • My friends, the issue is not whether China or the West wins the race for global economic supremacy; the issue is whether the human race wins the race to become a global, and then a cosmic species before the forces of regression drag us back to the Olduvai. We are in a holy war against time now, and if you’re not with us you’re against us. I’m afraid I have to put the neo-Neolithic civilization haters in the same category as the Taliban: reactionaries who for whatever reason fear the cosmic future and wish to see the human enterprise fail. Fortunately, I’m confident that the forward- and up-lookers are more powerful than the backward- and down-lookers, and we will, despite the best efforts of the prophets of doom, continue toward our greater destiny among the stars. Ad astra!

  • The Cosmist (Sean?)

    You have yet to present any evidence that the current human situation can be extracted from the “doom” scenario. I would welcome such a discussion. Some of the questions I would want answered are (and there are many, many more):

    How can technology take us to the stars – the nearest of which is some 4-5 light years away?

    What technology will do this for us? Is it here yet? To be developed yet?

    Where would we get the money for this? How long would it take?

    For an interstellar flight, how would humans survive? How is the ship to get spare parts should something happen on the way? Do we have the technology for multi-light-year travel? Where would we go if we did? How would we select the appropriate target world?

    How would we colonise another planet within the next few years when our Earth resources already begin to run dry?

    How would we transport the huge amount of materials required to build even a small city to another planet? How would we provide that planet food, fuel and supplies?

    Technology today on this planet has a huge dependence upon oil and the other fossil fuels. If we begin running short of oil to support our current global population within the next 2-3 years, how would you propose to manage the remaining supplies that might have to be allocated to save economies and people in addition to those required to develop the technology to turn a man into a cyber-creature and transport him (her) to another star or galaxy? I’m looking for practical suggestions here.

    You imply (at least I infer from your statements) that we are very close to this capability. Would you mind expanding upon that please? How close, and what evidence do you have to support that view?

    I have no problem at all with the advancement of solutions to the impending collapse of civilisation, IF I am given reasonable assurance and evidence that such a solution is even remotely viable. But if you are here to simply fill us with science fiction hubris, then your statements like the one above and others you have offered will surely fall on deaf ears.

    I and others here have given you what we consider to be valid and rational reasons for why we feel as we do. You have countered none of those reasons we have offered. Neither have you offered reasons for why you feel so strongly the way you do about mankind’s future.

    Ad astra indeed! This is your chance. Give us some facts and let’s discuss!


  • Sean, why the need for a new name. Are you so fearful that you have to multiply yourself. Clearly you fear the future. Since you think the up-lookers are more powerful than the down-lookers what need to evangelize us to your attempts to project a different future. In fact you seem to fear that if you don’t make us change our way of thinking our thoughts might come true. Magical thinking.

    The fact Sean is that we are human and mortal. You are going to die. I am going to die. Hunter-gatherers died. Presidents and Kings died. Carl Sagan died. No way around that. All previous civilizations to the world industrial civilization have died and there is no reason to think this civilization won’t a well.

    Que sera sera

    Play the song above whenever your fear threatens to overwhelm you – or start a new blog – what are you up to now – 8. Admitting you are fearful is the first step. Check out the local chapter of Future Fearers Anonymous.

  • [Dr. House] “It’s like we’re all on a worldwide plane that’s going down. There’s nothing we can do to stop it so we might as well relax and enjoy the ride down.”

    That captures it. Climate change has made the future much more uncertain for those who wish to try live through the bottleneck. That has come home to me more and more in the last few years. So I just grow what I can and enjoy what I can. Every time I put a meal on the table that is totally food grown here I feel an intense sense of satisfaction. That moment of satisfaction is real whether or not I can do it all the time when the crash comes. Every time we hatch new chicks we have such pleasure, whether of not we are able to keep any once the crash comes.

    I will alter you image a bit tho – we are on the plane going down. We see this through our window. Most of the other passengers have their shades down and are sleeping or reading books. It adds to the sense of unreality, and yet each time we look out the window the ground gets closer.

    Robert – thanks for your economic humor

    Here’s another bit of economic humor – Monster Crash song – laugh while we can. Dmitry Orlov says humor is an important asset for coming times.

    Robert thanks for the ecconomic humor

  • One of the things we can hold on to while the industrial civilization is collapsing is that while it gave lots of ease and goodies those of us in the first world, it required horrible living from countless others – coal miners for one. Just discovered this song the other day by Utah Phillips and it speaks to the horror of the lives that supply the energy scarfed up by the industrial revolution.

    Also speaking to the horror is the documentary Devil’s Miner about a young Bolivian boy in the silver mines of Bolivia.

    People will die in the crash, and the future will have its horrors but not these deep in the bowels of the earth horrors.

  • The Cosmist,

    For many years I felt just as you do. In fact, I was quite active in working to achieve those goals. You can read about my efforts if you like. The book “Free Space” by Alex Howerton has a chapter devoted to the work I was doing.

    However, the questions Victor raises are spot on. Unless multiple new miracle technologies arrive on the scene within the next few years (emphasis on “miracle”), then it’s too late for star-trekking humans. It may be too late for even earth-walking humans. I wish it weren’t so. Perhaps if we hadn’t canceled the Apollo program and had proceeded with the promise we had initially, things would have turned out differently. But alas, we didn’t and here we are.

    The opening line on your blog has a very interesting and germane quote from Carl Sagan: “… If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.” I’ve often wondered what Dr. Sagan would be saying today if he were still alive. No telling, of course, but his work to end nuclear proliferation suggests that he would be tempering his enthusiasm for space exploration with efforts to save humankind from extinction.

  • I discussed the ill-conceived notion of occupying another planet in July 2009 under the title, Earth Egg. Here’s the bottom line: “If we’re ‘successful,’ we need to ask the ecological literate question: ‘And then what?’ We’re still on the brink of ecological disaster here on Earth, and we’ve managed to export the predicament of ecological overshoot to another planet. And this seems like a good idea?”

  • Guy

    So true. But even further, many of these folks who believe in interstellar colonisation believe that humans should leave the planet precisely because it is dying and we need, therefore, to find new worlds to save and propagate our species. Somehow they have it in their minds that the universe is infinite and so we humans can just go from planet to planet, ravaging each for all its resources as we have done here. Star Trek’s Cyborgs come to mind….Resistance is futile…. ;-)

  • It appears to me that a good enough future for children everywhere and life as we know it appears to depend upon us, and us alone, finally 1) accepting and taking responsibility for ourselves, cognizant of the placement of Homo sapiens within the natural order of living things as well as 2) finding balance in the planetary home we are blessed to inhabit, given the biophysical limitations imposed upon living things, including human beings, by a planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth.

    A failure on our part now here to accomplish 1 and 2 just above (a formidable challenge, indeed) could lead us not to discover sustainable paths to the future, the result of which could be the inadvertent precipitation by the human species of some sort of unimaginable global ecological wreckage that threatens everything we claim to be protecting and preserving.

  • If you happen to believe, as I do, that the science related to human population dynamics is vital and also that this ignored research is the most unreported evidence to be presented for rigorous examination since the beginning of the new millennium, please speak out loudly and clearly.

    If you disagree, what would you say is the most vital, unreported scientific evidence?

  • The answers to The Cosmist’s rant are provided by fundamental laws of physics and chemistry. Newtonian laws and Einstein’s laws relating mass and length to velocity prove beyond all question that interstellar space travel is impossible within the lifetime of any species known on this planet, even if it were possible to construct a spacecraft with a drive system capable of delivering continuous acceleration for years on end (followed by an equivalent period of deceleration), which we currently have no capacity to do. There is mounting evidence that living tissue subjected to years of bombardment by cosmic radiation would suffer so much damage it would not be living at the end of the journey. Only stupendous amounts of shielding, necessitating a massive increase in the size of the propulsion system we currently donl’t have, would prevent that.

    The technofundamentalism ‘The Cosmist’ exudes stems from the Industrial Revolution, the works of Jules Verne and post Second World War optimism.

    I have just one question for ‘The Cosmist’: having sent several manned missions to the Moon approximately 40 years ago, how come we do still not have the Moon base and manned missions to Mars that were talked about so enthusiastically in the 50s and 60s?

    The empire thrived on the Dysneyesque wish-upon-a-star-and-all-your-dreams-will-come-true mentality ‘The Cosmist’ displays, and it is still obviously very prevalent, even as the empire crumbles.

  • Viktor, I can’t give you a detailed plan for getting to the stars because I only have an undergraduate degree in physics and that was a long time ago. No one is saying that we’re going to be visiting the stars any time soon; it’s a long term project for the next couple of centuries. Scientists who have studied the problem conclude that it’s possible, but difficult, and will require tremendous amounts of energy.

    The point is that it’s part of a long-term cosmic vision for humanity, which is what is currently lacking. Our so-called leaders have little or no cosmic vision, which leads many people to believe that this ship is rudderless and going down. From a microcosmic perspective the problems discussed here are way too big and our civilization is simply doomed. From a Cosmist perspective the problems are solvable because a Cosmist understands what is at stake and is willing to do what is necessary to solve them. We have the science and technology to solve our problems; we simply need the right perspective to give us the will to solve them.

    Five hundred years ago Leonardo da Vinci said “There shall be wings! If the accomplishment be not for me, ’tis for some other” and created designs for flying machines that were centuries ahead of his time. I’m sure people scoffed at him then and insisted that God did not create man to fly, etc., just as people scoff at the idea of interstellar travel today. Meanwhile, we have gone from hot air balloons to space probes to the outer solar system in a century despite all the naysayers who denied the possibility of heavier than air flight. The pessimists have been wrong since the dawn of time, and they’re wrong now. Our adventures in the Cosmos are just beginning.

    I come to this blog because I know there are many smart scientists in the doomer world who have abandoned hope, and I know what that feels like because I’ve been there. This state of mind is incredibly toxic, because it basically attempts to snuff out all optimism and creativity from the human enterprise, which are the only things that have ever produced progress. If you reject civilization completely as an abomination then we can’t really have a discussion, because our worldviews are light years apart. But I challenge the biggest civilization-haters among you to visit this link:

    Look at the beauty of these images and think about how they expand our cosmic horizons. Now think about the elaborate technological civilization required to produce them, and ask yourself if you are willing to give all that up to return to the contracted worldview of some previous epoch. Is that really what you want? I didn’t think so!

  • The Cosmist, if you follow the links is Sean Strange. He has the following blogs
    The Singularitarian
    The Cosmicist
    The Cosmist
    Comics Cosmos
    Other Gods
    The Doomer Report
    Wizard’s Quest
    Being Sean Strange

    If you follow out a few of these blogs I think you will realize that this person is not worth further comment or discussion. I am not sure what his agenda is but just the fact that he posts under different names and has been seen in the past to have some rather contradictory statements suggests that he has some other agenda than serious discussion.

    Check out his Comics Cosmos where he writes “Hello again from the cybernetic plane, fellow comic cosmonauts! I have returned at last, and let’s just say that my mind is officially blown! For many moons I have journeyed through demon-haunted dimensions, into dreams and nightmares, across aeons of time and space to the very ends of the universe – yet I live to tell the tale! Yes friends, I have been travelling in some of the strangest territory in the entire comic book multiverse: the far-flung astral realms of the surreal Sorcerer Supreme himself, better known as Doctor Strange!”

    or the Doomer Report where he writes “Since I’ve recently been accused of being a fascist (and not for the first time), I did a little self-reflection and concluded that, yes, I probably am that. And so, I suspect, are you, if you are honest with yourself and possess any degree of self-awareness. Allow me to explain…”

  • Thanks Kathy,

    ‘I only have an undergraduate degree in physics’

    undergaduate (n): A college or university student who has not yet received a bachelor’s or similar degree.

    ‘let’s just say that my mind is officially blown’.

    Nuf said.

  • oops add an ‘r’

  • Would the issue of Artificial Intelligence relate to what has been discussed above? … not really informed in this area but recently heard about progress with AI that would result in machines with self-awareness as well as potentially through the stratosphere intelligence … I’ve never wanted to leave the earth and yet being here with machines like the ones that seem to be on the AI agenda gives me pause.

  • Sarah

    Yes, AI has much, though not all, to do with what we are talking about. There is a hypothetical event called The Singularity, popularised by Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, in which technical progress reaches a point at which the development of machine intelligence is thought to surpass human intelligence. It is beyond this point, the Singularity, that the future of humanity can no longer be predicted since machines will be smarter than people and because of the inherent intelligence of those machines, they will be able to modify their own source code, thereby making themselves even more efficient. After this, it is assumed technology takes an evolutionary jump forward, and the big question remains – what happens to us? Do the machines take over global decision-making? Are people kept as useful pets? Are people improved upon by extending their bodily capability artificially? Are people left to live on their own as a separate species? Many questions revolve around such an event.

    One view promotes the idea of a synthesis between human and machine, making both our minds infinitely smarter and our bodies immortal – a cyber-human is you will.

    Many such folks predict that the first machine capable of surpassing human intelligence will arrive around the year 2019. After that, things begin to rapidly change as the machine, being smarter than man, is able to rapidly make itself far better, quickly develop the means to protect itself from mankind, and begin the process of taking over the management functions of the global environment – which could, of course, mean the eradication of the planet’s most destructive species – the human.

    Still another extension to this concept is that machines and humans will combine (or not), and the machine (human) will strike out into space. Being an immortal now, the new “species” will bed able to “go where no man has ever gone before” without concern for length of life or travel time.

    What these folks forget is that all this will require huge amounts of resources to accomplish. Resources the world is running short of. Of course, their response to that is that nanotechnology will have advanced under the leadership of the newly superior intelligence of the machines to a point where the machines can create their own resources at the molecular level.

    Welcome to the Matrix…. ;-)

  • Victor, thank you for the info in your post.

    Almost like humans are carrying a parasite that pushes us to create this singularity event. (fearlessness related to Toxoplasmosis here

    … always trying to find some logic as to why we as a species have progressed towards polluted, destructive greed while examples of balance and reverence were stamped out

  • Steven Earl Salmony wrote: the science related to human population dynamics is … the most unreported evidence to be presented for rigorous examination since the beginning of the new millennium …

    The twin ideas of overpopulation and carrying capacity are at least two centuries old. Population explosion was a gnawing fear in the 60s and 70s, then forgotten. I’m not sure what’s new about this in the last ten years. I can’t trace the history of these ideas, but to say that our problems boil down to one principal factor — that there are simply too many people — is probably accurate. However, any steps taken to restrain population growth (which is self-correcting in the long term, though nastily so) fly in the face of our most basic biological impulses. Only a very few of us are not positively ruled by those impulses, so I don’t expect to see a manmade solution on this front. Nature’s solution, OTOH, is unavoidable.

  • Sarah.

    ‘always trying to find some logic as to why we as a species have progressed towards polluted, destructive greed while examples of balance and reverence were stamped out’

    Unfortunately it always comes back to ‘selfish genes’ (Dawkins). For most of humanity’s existence acquiring more stuff, killing off competing species, exploiting species that could be tamed, and in many cases exploiting people, led to increased food supply, a lower mortality rate (increased biological success) and therefore an increasing prevalence of ‘selfish genes’.

    Many people, especially the religious, refuse to accept this fundamental truth.

    TPTB recognised the advantage [to them] of imposing systems of control that blunted the action of certain behavioural traits, whilst redirecting the action of others. e.g. in recent times support for internationalised sport instead of wars between ‘local tribes’; celebrity worship as a way of reinforcing hierachical arrangments in the minds of the masses; the ‘war on terror’ -wild, dark, unseen enemies at ‘the entrance to the cave, waiting for the opportunity to enter and slaughter us’.

    There is plenty of evidence that those the system ‘loses’ quickly revert to tribalism via street gangs etc. where a degree of balance between co-operation and aggression/exploitation is achieved.

  • Population problem – just an engineering problem. See for the full press release
    “A groundbreaking Population report (Wed 12 January) by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has revealed the world is hurtling towards population overload placing billions at risk of hunger, thirst and slum conditions.

    Population: One planet, too many people? is the first report of its kind by the engineering profession. Unless the engineering solutions highlighted in the report are urgently implemented then the projected 2.5 billion more people on earth by the end of this Century (currently there is 6.9 billion) will crush the earth’s resources.”

    Silly us, its just an engineering problem….. :)

  • Kathy.

    Spot on. Saw the headline; didn’t nother to read the article.

    In my experience engineers are among the worst creatures living on this planet. Since many are well qualified academically, they regard themselves as well educated. Since their knowledge of chemistry and biology tends to be very limited, they tend to dismiss them as inferior or irrelevant. Since governments are always looking for economic growth and ‘development’, they had a endless gravy train for decades. Even as the system imploses, governments still look to infrastrucxture investment or ‘energy projects’ as a way of saving the eocnomy. And if governments can’t think of a project, engineers always can.

    Since practically everything engineers do digs the hoile a little deeper, times get more interesting by the day.

  • To “continue toward our greater destiny among the stars. Ad astra!” has several presumptions.

    First, that of a “destiny”: as has been postulated by some, biological life is an epiphenomenon on DNA biochemistry – evolution serves not the individual, nor the group, nor enen the species, but the DNA that manifests as the organisms.

    To solve the problems of overshoot and dieback, organisms evolved sporulation: when dieback occurs, the organisms form armored, hardy spores (or cysts in the case of multicellular organisms) that remain viable in a suspended state until in a favolable environment. To my knowledge, this phenomenon has not been noted in vertebrates. To solve this problem for any given species would take mulitple cycles of overshoot and dieback to program the DNA for adaptation to such circumstances. Homo sapiens having existed for 200,000 years with a generation cycle of 25 years gives us 8,000 generations (80.000 generations if we count back to the genus with Homo erectus): perhaps inadequate time to experience enough overshoot-dieback cycles. And to my knowledge, there was only one dieback for Homo sapiens, in which it is estimated that we were reduced to six hundred breeding pairs.

    It htas been suggested that numerous instances of life forms have arisen, adapted to the conditions of extrasolar planets, and these have even produced technically advanced civilizations: the reason that none have been contacted is the dieback after overshoot.

    Second, the “greater” destiny – whatever that implies, has to presume a unified prospect for all of humanity: in praciice this may entail suppressing the ideas and aspirations of many. Riding roughshod over others to a greater destiny might detract from its greatness.

    And then “amang the stars” overlooks the harshness and hostility of the environment outside our biosphere to creatures thai have evelved to live here. At altitudes over 10,000 feet, military aviation requires oxygen masks in unpressurized cabins / cockpits. Over 40,000 feet a pressure suit is required.

    We have to carry not only our food and very sophisticated clothing / shelter but even our atmosphere. Indeed having done so, some of us have walked on the moon. But how much of the primary and secondary economies of planet earth had to be harnessed and focused on that objective? Or for that matter on the space shuttle or the space station?

    How big an allocation of resources (including “human resources) would be needed to make an independent team for deep space exploration?Some things may be simplified such as by growing algae in tanks for the nutrition of the crew: but such shortcuts may require the crew to resign themselves to sucking down algal glop. However, smelting the ores for the iron and machining the parts for the maintenance and repairs might also be issues to consider on a decades-long trip. Of course, iron-rich asteroids can be proposed as an option.

    “We have the science and technology to solve our problems; we simply need the right perspective to give us the will to solve them”.

    Actually, the right perspective may not necessarily be subservient to science and technology.

    In Richard Bach’s novella, Jonathan Livingston Seagull‘s teacher
    Chiang, takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the Universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to “begin by knowing that you have already arrived…”

    This speaks to intentionality: when one’s individual perception of self in complenely extinguinhed (Buddhism) or the individual self is completely subsumed into the universal Self (non-dualist Hinduism) or the soul has merged into its Source (Kabbalah), then there is no longer an individual will: all action is non-volitional action. This does not imply simple reflexive action: even the most deeply thoughtful and judicious decision is then non-volitional.

    Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood carry water. But in the latter case it is non-volitional, although seemingly a minor quibble, having an import greater than the difference between night and day.

    “Que sera sera” indeed.

  • Kevin Moore Says:
    January 21st, 2011 at 2:18 pm


    ‘always trying to find some logic as to why we as a species have progressed towards polluted, destructive greed while examples of balance and reverence were stamped out’

    Unfortunately it always comes back to ‘selfish genes’ (Dawkins). For most of humanity’s existence acquiring more stuff, killing off competing species, exploiting species that could be tamed, and in many cases exploiting people, led to increased food supply, a lower mortality rate (increased biological success) and therefore an increasing prevalence of ‘selfish genes’.

    imo u have a great talent for synthesizing information and summarizing it succinctly in very simple, easy to understand statements, kevin. certainly ‘selfish genes’ have much, perhaps most, of responsibility for our ‘reptilian’ leadership, and what u say strikes me as perfectly reasonable and correct. but i think it’s only part of the story.

    a curious (surreal?!) relationship i think has developed between the smartest and the most powerful, clearly 2 mostly separate, distinct groups of people. in acquiring power (selfish genes at work) in ever more ruthless manners (or perhaps at some point long ago in what would become the dominant human society/culture, sheer ruthlessness became the norm for elite rulers), and in exercising it in ever more manipulative and subtle ways, those at the top had/have almost everyone below in the hierarchy by the balls, to use a common vulgar american slang term referring to any social relationship in which one side has virtually all the power. unfortunately, many smart people with dominant ‘selfish genes’ outside of elite circles learned how valuable, in a myopically selfish way, it could be to ingratiate themselves to those in power. the conclusion i’m trying to reach here is that intellect to a great degree has been harnessed to serve rather stupid, greedy, short sighted and limited purposes. perhaps for many it’s harnessed relatively early in childhood, via indoctrination to dominant dogma.

    the flip side to this ‘selfish gene’ theory relates to genetic selection for the vast majority at the base of the socio-economic pyramid. if ruthless rulers and sycophantic intellectuals seek to exploit ‘the masses’, this suggests that some sort of selective breeding mechanism is at work in favor of the most exploitable (aka ‘sheeple’?). a deficit of critical/independent thinking ability. selective breeding towards creating a population of easily manipulated authority worshippers.

    who was it that said ‘there are none so blind as those who will not see’? this characterizes i think most of the people i supposedly know best. they drive me crazy by either refusing to consider evidence which may shatter a dogmatic (ignorant) belief, or exhibiting flawed reasoning ability which consistently leads them astray.

    i think our species greatest ‘blind spot’ is regarding our own flaws, which has resulted in monumental hubris. surreally stupid people who are virtually clueless are in charge, and also predominate among the ‘sheeple’. rampant, unchecked stupidity. stupid and selfish genes.

    we’re idiot-savants, with the emphasis now on the idiot part. we’re just a temporary aspect of surreality.

  • Kevin

    I read this article shortly after it came our (last week I believe?) on the recommendation of a friend. I came away from it with a similar view as yourself. I have known several engineers in the past. I submit that there is no subset of humanity possessing greater hubris than an engineer. There is an engineering solution to all problems. Give them the resources and they can re-form the earth. In these folks it is like our tool-making genes gone mad.

    I have found that most engineers focus almost entirely upon the task set before them without regard to context; in other words, they see the solution, but never ask if it makes sense.

  • Victor, to sum up, engineers (etc.) believe that every problem has a solution (which is false) but fail to recognize that every solution has a problem (or problems). So we have solved ourselves into one doozy of a problem……

  • Kathy

    Indeed. In failing to recognise the context of the problem (and its proposed solutions) engineers force added and unnecessary complexities upon civilisation. The equivalent to this in the world of business and economics is the concept of externalised costs, costs which are deemed social costs, not corporate costs, thus minimising the costs of delivering a product and maximising profits for the shareholders, and OTOH maximising the environmental and social costs to the public who must pay for the advancement of capitalism.

  • Kevin,

    I rank, politicians, religious leaders, economists, and IT managers, ahead of engineers.

    Definitely all deserving of contempt.

  • I’ve been p[laced on the black list!….LOL

  • Curtis what about scientists – you know the ones that breed more productive grains, that then lead to overpopulation along with requiring more irrigation and pesticides. Or the ones that “save” lives by creating vaccines and antibiotics, leading to overpopulation and resistant bacteria, or the ones who sprayed us with DDT, or created atomic and nuclear weapons, or the ones who engineer roundup ready plants. How about the dentists who insist we must have fluoride in our water even tho in continental Europe most countries discontinued it in the 70’s and have not resumed. Heck got to do something with the waste from phosphate mining eh so make sure the studies say it really helps and does no harm. So put scientists on your list too but Guy and other scientists on this site and James Hansen get waivers :)

    Plenty of blame to pass around. I would put religious leaders at the top tho – they have the leverage of eternity to push their belief systems. But as with the scientists there are exemptions in every category so perhaps it is not the category so much as a more general mindset that inflicts those with the big amygdalas and infiltrates all the categories of professions. Or more likely it is just a symptom of an advanced case of civilization of which we will soon be cured.

  • I was “managing my bookmarks” today and came across this old link I had saved.
    “Avida: Darwinian evolution on a computer
    Much of the work in the Devolab is centered on research with and the continued development of the Avida digital evolution research platform. In Avida, a population of self-replicating computer programs is subjected to external pressures (such as mutations and limited resources) and allowed to evolve subject to natural selection. This is not a mere simulation of evolution — digital organisms in Avida evolve to survive in a complex computational environment and will adapt to perform entirely new traits in ways never expected by the researchers, some of which seem highly creative. Data about each individual is saved to track the fate of the population and analyzed to help answer our many research questions.”

    From the link on the site to an article in Discover Magazine is this snippet from the article

    “Charles Ofria, director of the Digital Evolution Laboratory has been finding that digital organisms have a way of outwitting him as well. Not long ago, he decided to see what would happen if he stopped digital organisms from adapting. Whenever an organism mutated, he would run it through a special test to see whether the mutation was beneficial. If it was, he killed the organism off. “You’d think that would turn off any further adaptation,” he says. Instead, the digital organisms kept evolving. They learned to process information in new ways and were able to replicate faster. It took a while for Ofria to realize that they had tricked him. They had evolved a way to tell when Ofria was testing them by looking at the numbers he fed them. As soon as they recognized they were being tested, they stopped processing numbers. “If it was a test environment, they said, ‘Let’s play dead,’ ” says Ofria. “There’s this thing coming to kill them, and so they avoid it and go on with their lives.””

    Not sure this relates to the thread but may be of interest to some.

  • Kathy,

    Yes, you are of course correct. All categories have some exceptions. Although I am hard pressed from my view to give any religious leaders an exemption.
    I consider religious leaders to be pedaling myths to the simple folk.


    If you are and IT manager, you may apply for an exemption. I have 45 years experience as a programmer, analyst, project leader, lead developer, trouble shooter, but NOT manager. I was an employee in 6 shops, and a contractor/consultate in at least 40 others. Nearly all IT managers ranged from bumbling idiots, through fools, drunks, ogres, and at least 3 world class certifiable sociopaths.
    Of course, my experience may be skewed by being called into those kind of places.

  • Please excuse the typos. Too late to be doing this. Sorry to all.

  • Curtis,

    No exception required….you’re probably quite right… ;-)

  • kathy, thanks for the link to the avida article in discover magazine. i find it surreal that humans have created this ‘digital life’ which feeds on data, reproduces and evolves similarly to dna based life. makes me wonder if dna based life (us) might also be the creation of an absurd, flawed ‘intelligence’. perhaps ‘god’ is an idiot-savant?