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t3knomanser's Fustian Deposits

I Know I'm a Jerk (The World Needs Another Carl Sagan)

How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policy

run the fuck away

Mad science gone horribly, horribly wrong(or right).

I Know I'm a Jerk (The World Needs Another Carl Sagan)

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tesla
I'm a jerk, and an asshole, at least in certain situations. I don't tend to play nicely with others, especially in the realm of intellectual discourse. I'll present arguments and facts like a loan shark wielding a baseball bat, not so much convincing anyone as intellectually bullying them into silence. I present evidence to prove them wrong but I never convince them. (This is ignoring, for the time being, the legion cases in which I am the one being proven wrong- and therein lies the problem- it's easiest to convince me of the error of my ways in the same way I attempt to beat sense into others- mercilessly. Do unto others, etc. It's just that my ideas of "done unto me" are a bit weird).

Okay, so what brings this up? For a long time, there's been something sticking in my craw- the dismissal of science as a tool to help us. I have met and carried on conversations with people who actually advocate a return to a nomadic hunter gather lifestyle. Apparently, the deaths of billions don't weigh on their conscience at all- because billions would need to die. Those that argue the benefits of sustainable agriculture are more tolerable- because there is some truth to their claims. With the lower per-acre crop yields however, I do not think that we would meet the worldwide needs (and certainly not in the developing world!). Strangely, these folks stand on the opposite end of the political spectrum from the other anti-science league, religious nut-bags that advocate Creationism (Or Intelligent Design, Creationism in a fancy suit). People who take the "God of the Gaps" strategy to section off areas of knowledge and tell us there are things that man should not know. People who try and shrink the Universe down to a speck, to fit their tiny idea of what God must be like- when pressed, I think most of them would admit, in their heart-of-hearts, that they prefer the Geocentric hypothesis so that the Earth is at the center of the Universe, like they think it should be.

I make a horrible advocate for science and rational thought because, despite the strength of my convictions, (and the extra twist of my love of Discordianism, the direct antithesis of rational thought (which makes perfect sense if you think about it)) I don't communicate them constructively.

Which brings me to the real point of this post. I gave Minna her Christmas presents early, and we've both been digging into them (making them not as much her presents as ours- we both enjoy them equally). The list? "Cosmos" (TV series by Carl Sagan, back in the days when PBS actually produced things), The Pale Blue Dot, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark- all by Carl Sagan.

Carl Sagan... was an amazing man. Growing up, I remember by dad talking about him, I remember going to an astronomy class in third grade (a special extra-curricular activity that really shaped much of my life) and hearing about Carl- and he was always "Carl" to people- even if they had never met him. It's a tragedy of my youth that I didn't learn to appreciate his contributions to the world until long after he was dead. Carl shared my convictions, but was able to express them empathetically in a way I could never dream of. His knowledge was broad, deep, and his sense of wonder finely honed. His enthusiasm for everything about this world runs off the pages of his books.

Western society is starting to collapse under its own weight. Fear and hopelessness abound, driving people towards superstitions and mysticism. Only a few pages into The Demon Haunted World I can already see how frighteningly prescient Carl was. And that makes me wish he were still here...

The world needs another Carl Sagan. The world needs someone that can express the wonder of the natural world and make people care about it. The world needs someone that can cast an optimistic vision of the future- a vision that's something to strive for. The world needs to be educated about what science really is- and what it means to us. And the dangers of a society that isn't scientifically literate. More than anyone, Carl tried to take science out of the ivory towers and into the streets- because that's the power of science versus religion.

Science is verifiable, science is communicable. Religion always requires someone else's words, whether the source is a holy book or a priest's ramblings, Religion can't be truly shared in the way science can. Anyone can learn about science, replicate experiments and understand how the world works. To push the boundaries might require special knowledge, but to appreciate the discoveries- that's something that's accessible in an intimate way.

So here's to Carl Sagan. May he still be behind the controls of his "Spaceship of the Imagination", the dandelion seed of the Cosmos.
  • Maybe you're misunderstanding the situation.

    It is a strawman argument that advocates of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle would condone the deaths of billions of people. Rather, they condone the reduction of the world population by several billion. People are dying all the time - what is actually required is to prevent them from making more people to replace them. We could accomplish this through simple controls on reproduction. China already has a similar policy, whose results, though limited, have been significant; we might need somewhat stricter measures, but no one needs to be actively killed.

    Sustainable agriculture is necessary not for any hippy-dippy love-the-Earth reasons, but simply because unsustainable agriculture exhausts and depletes the soil. If we don't start using sustainable methods, we'll get more food in the immediate term, but in the long run we just won't have enough, and then people will die of hunger anyway. If sustainable farming can't meet our food needs, then we need to have fewer people.

    The only alternative to a dramatic reduction in the human population is massive, self-sustaining, off-world colonies, which simply aren't viable at the present time. If we're straining our resources as it is, we may simply not have enough to launch such a project.
    • Honestly, we're not terribly straining the resources- we're distributing them (and ourselves) poorly.

      There are several problems that remain with the hunter gather lifestyle:
      1) The death of billions- and I'm not talking about to get there. I'm talking about generations of people whose lives will be nasty, brutish and short. Between disease, starvation, injury, etc. not to mention the inevitable extinction that will come as a result (eventually, within a finite time scale, the Earth will be struck by another astronomical body of some size, wiping out most species, humans included- this will occur within a few million years).

      2) Define "sustainable". Crop rotation is highly sustainable and has been in use for millennia. The standards we're using play a huge role in determining what "sustainable" is- I would argue that most of the food produced in the US is done via sustainable methods- for some values of sustainable. The real dangers are to the developing world which don't have the luxury of employing the more expensive and less effective "sustainable" techniques- hence run away desertification.

      3) Voluntary population reduction is the antithesis of every biological imperative and violates common sense. Legal constraints in reproduction are abhorrent to personal freedom, and I'd hesitate to use China as an example of a "success" on such matters. The only reason humans exist is to propagate our genes. To overcome that imperative is to reject what it means to be human, and further, to deplete the store of genetic information of potentially valuable traits. On a multi-million year time scale, it's sheer idiocy and a sure path to extinction.
      • question: if the propagation of our genes is the main imperative and we face the extinction of possible the entire human race is then constraining the individual's opportunity for passing on its own genes not the imperative choice?

        I like Niven's Ringworld-solution to this issue I have to admit :)
        • Natural Selection overwhelmingly applies to the individual, not the group. Our genes don't know about overpopulation. I'm sure we'll adapt.

          And I'm totally down with a ring-world/dyson-sphere combo (And I mean Dyson Sphere in the original sense, not the modern sci-fi interpretation).
          • I might be a bit shaky about this. But I seem to remember that apparently most more advanced life-forms on our planet have developed forms of cooperation and population control to ensure survival of the species at expense of the individual.

            bright colors signalling "danger" do not work for the first to develop them but after a few generation when the hunter population has the drive to feed on the bright thingies weeded out. lemmings jumping off a cliff stave off overpopulation.

            over-feeding reduces prey too much thus predators get regulated. but humans can somewhat circumvent these mechanisms. which is why we might need some extra-biological attempts at control...
  • Part of the problem is that U.S. agriculture is heavily dependent on pesticides and fertilizers made from petrochemicals. We either need to find a way to grow things in abundance without them, or find a good, cheap substitute within the next decade or two. And then there's the entire distribution mechanism - also currently based on fossil fuels, from road construction to fuelling the vehicles.

    I think we may end up fusing high-tech and other-tech - improvements on "primitive technologies" that optimize the use of scarce fossil fuels where they do the most good, and other kinds of energy, whatever they may be, providing they don't just poison us or dig us into a deeper hole.

    About the only good thing about hunter-gatherer lifestyles... errrr... I guess they are nice if you live in a very resource rich area with a still-small population?

    Let's stay industrial. Hell, let's get more and better industrialized! But let's bring in a longer, broader view for the cost-benefit analysis, consider things like health, aesthetics, people outside our immediate cohort, future generations, etc.
    • I'll go a step further- we need to start planning for society on the million-year time scale. I think that's the largest weakness brought about by our short life-span- we can't bring ourselves to address fifty years in the future let alone fifty thousand. But at the rate our technology develops, we're going to need to.

      Now here's the kicker- how do we develop technologies to increase our awareness of geological time-scales? What tools do we have, or can create, that allow us to start planning a million years out?
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