John michael greer: an old kind of science cellular automata

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John michael greer: an old kind of science cellular automata

  1. 1. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science Share 11 More Next Blog» amiina.bakunowicz@gmail.com Dashboard Sign Out The Archdruid Report Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society W EDNES DA Y , DEC EMB ER 18, 2013 An Old Kind of Science The attempt to conquer nature—in less metaphorical terms, to render the nonhuman world completely transparent to the human intellect and just as completely subject to the human will—was industrial civilization’s defining project. It’s hard to think of any aspect of culture in the modern industrial West that hasn’t been subordinated to the conquest of nature, and the imminent failure of that project thus marks a watershed in our cultural life as well as our history. I’ve talked here already at some length about the ways that modern religious life was made subservient to the great war against nature, and we’ve explored some of the changes that will likely take place as a religious sensibility that seeks salvation from nature gives way to a different sensibility that sees nature as something to celebrate, not to escape. A similar analysis could be applied to any other aspect of modern culture you care to name, but there are other things I plan to discuss on this blog, so those topics will have to wait for someone else to tackle them. Still, there’s one more detail that deserves wrapping up before we leave the discussion of the end of progress, and that’s the future of science. Subscribe To Posts Comments The Archdruid Report doesn't accept guest posts. Don't even ask. If you enjoy reading this blog, please consider putting a tip in the Archdruid's tip jar. Many thanks! Followers Amiina Bakunowicz Options Site settings Members (2793) More » Invite friends Sign out Since 1605, when Sir Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning sketched out the first rough draft of modern scientific practice, the collection of activities we now call science has been deeply entangled with the fantasy of conquering nature. That phrase “the collection of activities we now call science” is as unavoidable here as it is awkward, because science as we now know it didn’t exist at that time, and the word “science” had a different meaning in Bacon’s era than it does today. Back then, it meant any organized body of knowledge; people in the 17th century could thus describe theology as “the queen of the sciences,” as their ancestors had done for most of a thousand years, without any sense of absurdity. The word “scientist” didn’t come along until the mid-19th century, long after “science” had something like its modern meaning; much before then, it would have sounded as silly as “learningist” or “knowledgist,” which is roughly what it would have meant, too. To Francis Bacon, though, the knowledge and learning that counted was the kind that would enable human beings to control nature. His successors in the early scientific revolution, the men who founded the Royal Society and its equivalents in other European countries, shared the same vision. The Royal Society’s motto, Nullius in Verba (“nothing in words”), signified its rejection of literary and other humanistic studies in favor of the quest for knowledge of, and power over, the nonhuman world.The crucial breakthrough—the leap to quantification—was a done deal before the Royal Society was founded in 1661; when Galileo thought of defining speed as a measurable thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html About Friend Connect Invite your friends About JMG John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, MD, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara. Blog Archive ► 2014 (3) 1/72
  2. 2. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science quantity rather than a quality, he kickstarted an extraordinary revolution in human thought. Quantitative measurement, experimental testing, and public circulation of the results of research: those were the core innovations that made modern science possible. The dream of conquering nature, though, was what made modern science the focus of so large a fraction of the Western world’s energies and ambitions over the last three hundred years. The role of the myth wasn’t minor, or accidental; I would argue, in fact, that nothing like modern science would have emerged at all if the craving for mastery over the nonhuman world hadn’t caught fire in the collective imagination of the Western world. I mentioned last week that Carl Sagan devoted a passage in the book version of Cosmos to wondering why the Greeks and Romans didn’t have a scientific revolution of their own. The reason was actually quite simple. The Greeks and Romans, even when their own age of reason had reached its zenith of intellectual arrogance, never imagined that the rest of the universe could be made subordinate to human beings. Believers in the traditional religions of the time saw the universe as the property of gods who delighted in punishing human arrogance; believers in the rationalist philosophies that partly supplanted those traditional religions rewrote the same concept in naturalistic terms, and saw the cosmos as the enduring reality to whose laws and processes mortals had to adapt themselves or suffer. What we now think of as science was, in Greek and Roman times, a branch of philosophy, and it was practiced primarily to evoke feelings of wonder and awe at a cosmos in which human beings had their own proper and far from exalted place. It took the emergence of a new religious sensibility, one that saw the material universe as a trap from which humanity had to extricate itself, to make the conquest of nature thinkable as a human goal. To the Christians of the Middle Ages, the world, the flesh, and the devil were the three obnoxious realities from which religion promised to save humanity. To believers in progress in the post-Christian west, the idea that the world was in some sense the enemy of the Christian believer, to be conquered by faith in Christ, easily morphed into the idea that the same world was the enemy of humanity, to be conquered in a very different sense by faith in progress empowered by science and technology. The overwhelming power that science and technology gave to the civil religion of progress, though, was made possible by the fantastic energy surplus provided by cheap and highly concentrated fossil fuels. That’s the unmentioned reality behind all that pompous drivel about humanity’s dominion over nature: we figured out how to break into planetary reserves of fossil sunlight laid down over half a billion years of geological time, burnt through most of it in three centuries of thoughtless extravagance, and credited the resulting boom to our own supposed greatness. Lacking that treasure of concentrated energy, which humanity did nothing to create, the dream of conquering nature might never have gotten traction at all; as the modern western world’s age of reason dawned, there were other ideologies and nascent civil religions in the running to replace Christianity, and it was only the immense economic and military payoffs made possible by a fossil-fueled industrial revolution that allowed the civil religion of progress to elbow aside the competition and rise to its present thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html ▼ 2013 (52) ▼ December (4) A Christmas Speculation An Old Kind of Science Great Man is Dead Man, Conqueror of Nature, Dead at 408 ► November (4) ► October (5) ► September (4) ► August (4) ► July (5) ► June (4) ► May (5) ► April (4) ► March (4) ► February (4) ► January (5) ► 2012 (49) ► 2011 (52) ► 2010 (47) ► 2009 (50) ► 2008 (49) ► 2007 (53) ► 2006 (34) JMG's Druidry Links The Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) The Druidry Handbook Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth The Celtic Golden Dawn Peak Oil Books by JMG Readers of this blog might also like my peak oil books from New Society Publications, Founders House, Karnac Books, and Scarlet Imprint, which can be purchased by clicking on the images below: Decline and Fall 2/72
  3. 3. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science dominance. As fossil fuel reserves deplete at an ever more rapid pace, and have to be replaced by more costly and less abundant substitutes, the most basic precondition for faith in progress is going away. These days, ongoing development in a handful of fields has to be balanced against stagnation in most others and, more crucially still, against an accelerating curve of economic decline that is making the products of science and technology increasingly inaccessible to those outside the narrowing circle of the well-to-do. It’s indicative that while the media babbles about the latest strides in space tourism for the very rich, rural counties across the United States are letting their roads revert to gravel because the price of asphalt has soared so high that the funds to pay for paving simply aren’t there any more. In that contrast, the shape of our future comes into sight. As the torrents of cheap energy that powered industrial society’s heyday slow to a trickle, the arrangements that once put the products of science and technology in ordinary households are coming apart. That’s not a fast process, or a straightforward one; different technologies are being affected at different rates, so that (for example) plenty of Americans who can’t afford health care or heating fuel in the winter still have cell phones and internet access; still, as the struggle to maintain fossil fuel production consumes a growing fraction of the industrial world’s resources and capital, more and more of what used to count as a normal lifestyle in the industrial world is becoming less and less accessible to more and more people. In the process, the collective consensus that once directed prestige and funds to scientific research is slowly trickling away. Forthcoming in March -- now available for preorder. Green Wizardry That will almost certainly mean the end of institutional science as it presently exists. It need not mean the end of science, and a weighty volume published to much fanfare and even more incomprehension a little more than a decade ago may just point to a way ahead. I’m not sure how many of my readers were paying attention when archetypal computer geek Stephen Wolfram published his 1,264-page opus A New Kind of Science back in 2002. In the 1980s, Wolfram published a series of papers about the behavior of cellular automata— computer programs that produce visual patterns based on a set of very simple rules. Then the papers stopped appearing, but rumors spread through odd corners of the computer science world that he was working on some vast project along the same lines. The rumors proved to be true; the vast project, the book just named, appeared on bookstore shelves all over the country; reviews covered the entire spectrum from rapturous praise to condemnation, though most of them also gave the distinct impression that their authors really didn’t quite understand what Wolfram was talking about. Shortly thereafter, the entire affair was elbowed out of the headlines by something else, and Wolfram’s book sank back out of public view—though I understand that it’s still much read in those rarefied academic circles in which cellular automata are objects of high importance. Not the Future We Ordered: Peak Oil, Psychology, and the Myth of Progress Wolfram’s book, though, was not aimed at rarefied academic circles. It was trying to communicate a discovery that, so Wolfram believed, has the potential to revolutionize a great many fields of science, philosophy, and culture. Whether he was right is a complex issue—I tend to think he’s on to something of huge importance, for reasons I’ll explain in a bit—but it’s actually less important than the method thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 3/72
  4. 4. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science that he used to get there. With a clarity unfortunately rare in the sciences these days, he spelled out the key to his method early on in his book: In our everyday experience with computers, the programs that we encounter are normally set up to perform very definite tasks. But the key idea I had nearly twenty years ago—and that eventually led to the whole new kind of science in this book—was to ask what happens if one instead just looks at simple arbitrarily chosen programs, created without any specific task in mind. How do such programs typically behave? (Wolfram 2002, p. 23) Notice the distinction here. Ordinarily, computer programs are designed to obey some human desire, whether that desire involves editing a document, sending an email, viewing pictures of people with their clothes off, snooping on people who are viewing pictures of people with their clothes off, or what have you. That’s the heritage of science as a quest for power over nature: like all other machines, computers are there to do what human beings tell them to do, and so computer science tends to focus on finding ways to make computers do more things that human beings want them to do. That same logic pervades many fields of contemporary science. The central role of experiment in scientific practice tends to foster that, by directing attention away from what whole systems do when they’re left alone, and toward what they do when experimenters tinker with them. Too often, the result is that scientists end up studying the effects of their own manipulations to the exclusion of anything else. Consider Skinnerian behaviorism, an immensely detailed theory that can successfully predict the behavior of rats in the wholly arbitrary setting of a Skinner box and essentially nothing else! The alternative is to observe whole systems on their own terms—to study what they do, not in response to a controlled experimental stimulus, but in response to the normal interplay between their internal dynamics and the environment around them. That’s what Wolfram did. He ran cellular automata, not to try to make them do this thing or that, but to understand the internal logic that determines what they do when left to themselves. What he discovered, to summarize well over a thousand pages of text in a brief phrase, is that cellular automata with extremely simple operating rules are capable of generating patterns as complex, richly textured, and blended of apparent order and apparent randomness, as the world of nature itself. Wolfram explains the relevance of that discovery: Free delivery worldwide on this title. The Blood of the Earth: An Essay on Magic and Peak Oil After Oil: SF Visions of a PostPetroleum World Three centuries ago science was transformed by the dramatic new idea that rules based on mathematical equations could be used to describe the natural world. My purpose in this book is to initiate another such transformation, and to introduce a new kind of science that is based on the much more general types of rules that can be embodied in simple computer programs. (Wolfram 2002, p. 1) One crucial point here, to my mind, is the recognition that mathematical equations in science are simply models used to approximate natural processes. There’s been an enormous amount of confusion around that point, going all the way back to the ancient Pythagoreans, whose discoveries of the mathematical structures within musical tones, the movement of the planets, and the like led them to postulate that numbers comprised the arche, the enduring thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 4/72
  5. 5. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science reality of which the changing world of our experience is but a transitory reflection. This confusion between the model and the thing modeled, between the symbol and the symbolized, is pandemic in modern thinking. Consider all the handwaving around the way that light seems to behave like a particle when subjected to one set of experiments, and like a wave when put through a different set. Plenty of people who should know better treat this as a paradox, when it’s nothing of the kind. Light isn’t a wave or a particle, any more than the elephant investigated by the blind men in the famous story is a wall, a pillar, a rope, or what have you; “particle” and “wave” are models derived from human sensory experience that we apply to fit our minds around some aspects of the way that light behaves, and that’s all they are. They’re useful, in other words, rather than true. Thus mathematical equations provide one set of models that can be used to fit our minds around some of the ways the universe behaves. Wolfram’s discovery is that another set of models can be derived from very simple rule-based processes of the kind that make cellular automata work. This additional set of models makes sense of features of the universe that mathematical models don’t handle well— for example, the generation of complexity from very simple initial rules and conditions. The effectiveness of Wolfram’s models doesn’t show that the universe is composed of cellular automata, any more than the effectiveness of mathematical models shows that the Pythagoreans were right and the cosmos is actually made out of numbers. Rather, cellular automata and mathematical equations relate to nature the way that particles and waves relate to light: two sets of mental models that allow the brains of some far from omniscient social primates to make sense of the behavior of different aspects of a phenomenon complex enough to transcend all models. It requires an unfashionable degree of intellectual modesty to accept that the map is not the territory, that the scientific model is merely a representation of some aspects of the reality it tries to describe. It takes even more of the same unpopular quality to back off a bit from trying to understand nature by trying to force it to jump through hoops, in the manner of too much contemporary experimentation, and turn more attention instead to the systematic observation of what whole systems do on their own terms, in their own normal environments, along the lines of Wolfram’s work. Still, I’d like to suggest that both those steps are crucial to any attempt to keep science going as a living tradition in a future when the attempt to conquer nature will have ended in nature’s unconditional victory. Stories from The Archdruid Report's 2012 peak oil fiction competition The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a Post-Peak World A huge proportion of the failures of our age, after all, unfold precisely from the inability of most modern thinkers to pay attention to what actually happens when that conflicts with cherished fantasies of human entitlement and importance. It’s because so much modern economic thought fixates on what people would like to believe about money and the exchange of wealth, rather than paying attention to what happens in the real world that includes these things, that predictions by economists generally amount to bad jokes at society’s expense; it’s because next to nobody thinks through the implications of the laws of thermodynamics, the power laws that apply to fossil fuel deposits, and the energy cost of extracting energy from any source, that so much meretricious twaddle about “limitless new energy resources” gets splashed around so freely by people who ought thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 5/72
  6. 6. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science to know better. For that matter, the ever-popular claim that we’re all going to die by some arbitrary date in the near future, and therefore don’t have to change the way we’re living now, gets what justification it has from a consistent refusal on the part of believers to check their prophecies of imminent doom against relevant scientific findings, on the one hand, or the last three thousand years of failed apocalyptic predictions on the other. The sort of science that Wolfram has proposed offers one way out of that overfamiliar trap. Ironically, his “new kind of science” is in one sense a very old kind of science. Long before Sir Francis Bacon set pen to paper and began to sketch out a vision of scientific progress centered on the attempt to subject the entire universe to the human will and intellect, many of the activities we now call science were already being practiced in a range of formal and informal ways, and both of the characteristics I’ve highlighted above—a recognition that scientific models are simply human mental approximations of nature, and a focus on systematic observation of what actually happens—were far more often than not central to the way these activities were done in earlier ages. The old Pythagoreans themselves got their mathematical knowledge by the same kind of careful attention to the way numbers behave that Wolfram applied two and a half millennia later to simple computer programs, just as Charles Darwin worked his way to the theory of evolution by patiently studying the way living things vary from generation to generation, and the founders of ecology laid the foundations of a science of whole systems by systematically observing how living things behave in their own natural settings. That’s very often how revolutions in scientific fundamentals get started, and whether Wolfram’s particular approach is as revolutionary as he believes—I’m inclined to think that it is, though I’m not a specialist in the field—I’ve come to think that a general revision of science, a “Great Instauration” as Sir Francis Bacon called it, will be one of the great tasks of the age that follows ours. The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age Posted by John Michael Greer at 5:24 PM +11 Recommend this on Google 137 comments: Joel said... I just got my PhD in materials science this month. I'm looking forward to starting my career, but doubts about the mainstream worldview made it tough to find motivation to finish. As I've begun networking, I've noticed that society isn't as confident as it was when incumbent scientists were starting their careers, and a lot of the places that are hiring look like bad bets to me. I don't want to have a bubble collapse under me. I also get a vague sense that a lot of opportunities are opening up, not necessarily for employment, but for good science to be done. It was good to read some of your thoughts on the matter; I'll need to work through this topic thoroughly as time goes on. thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 6/72
  7. 7. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science 12/18/13, 5:58 PM Andy Brown said... As always, a very thought provoking essay. I've long noted that people who are trained in modern medicine often understand a good deal about certain pathologies, but have no understanding whatsoever of human health and wellbeing. I think your essay here helps me understand some of that. Health is the kind of system that our assertive science can't really understand - (for reasons you lay out in your post) - but pathologies are often quite a bit simpler and, of course, often respond to blunt meddling on the part of experimenters and doctors. Your perspective helps me to understand something that has been a mystery to me - namely why modern medicine is utterly obsessed with sickness and pathology and utterly indifferent to health. 12/18/13, 6:10 PM makedoanmend said... I can accept with no qualms that humankind has been on a sort of quest to tame nature and often try to eradicate it or remake nature in some human-centric form. But I also think there has been (and I'm not going to explain myself well) a concerted attempt by humankind to destroy the human animal, and that this attempt seems to be again gathering steam lately. It's been quite obvious that certain sects, like the communists, had a deeply held distain for humanity; as humanity didn't measure up to some unspecified ideal. However, neo-capitalist ideology, especially in its current purist form, seems to be driving to the same conclusion these days. It's very evident in the UK just now. I'm just wondering if you think humanity's dislike of humans is a manifestation of the desire to conquer nature or is it just human nature asserting itself as the limits of nature confront 7 billion people jostling for the same resources? Or is this dislike of humanity a symptom of both the desire to conquer nature but also a dawning realisation that while we can do much damage, and exterminate many other creatures, we are finally meeting a cosmic sized but delimiting nature that might not just be too tameable afterall? There was a conference recently in Edinburgh, Scotland whose sole topic was how society could privatise nature and turn all natural features, like the air we breath, into cash generating streams of income. Such as deep desire to commodify everything these days seems to be the final push to conquer nature and to also loudly declare a dislike of ourselves. http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-12-06/at-theedinburgh-forums-on-natural-capital-and-natural-commons# 12/18/13, 6:25 PM Richard Larson said... There could be some simple logic to explain why a computer software program would have tendencies. A pattern in electricty influenced by some universal motion. As mentioned, a pattern in human use. There could even be more and less viscosity in thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 7/72
  8. 8. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science sequences. Lots of influneces or combinations, that could lead to its own tendencies. Does this mean it sentient? Don't believe spending time on any of these types of patterns is going to be profitable post carbon. It will be in the category of space vacations and money. Interesting nonetheless. 12/18/13, 6:42 PM Tom Bannister said... Thank you once again for another thoughtful descriptive piece about one of the, 'headaches' of our time. (I don't think its a headache, I'm just describing the reaction I usually get whenever I point out that a description of a thing is not actually the thing itself). I think you mentioned this a couple of posts ago but this is a BIG problem in the legal profession at the moment. Lawyers, academics etc are often very unnerved and uncomfortable whenever you mention that a law is not a piece of concrete (is a piece of concrete actually a piece of concrete? lol), but a verbal, social, cultural description. The reaction is usually, but if we didn't have that there would be CHOAS!!! I do occasionally try and bring up a broader philosophical point in my law lectures. Some of the students clearly get it. Often sadly the lectures don't. (and I'm at one of the more liberal/wacko/progressive law schools in New Zealand- Waikato. At least with law everyone is at least forced to admit that law is essentially a value judgement. The Science people I come across are by and large far worse. They pretend that there is 'science' 'pure' and 'objective' and free of bias! and then there is 'everything else' which ought to be more like 'science'. Anyway, thanks for allowing me to do a bit of ranting. It does make me ponder though very carefully the various strategies that could be used to gradually unhinge people from the strict rationalist 'scientific' materialist world-view. (if that's even possible at all in some cases) 12/18/13, 6:47 PM Cherokee Organics said... Hi JMG, Quote: "The central role of experiment in scientific practice tends to foster that, by directing attention away from what whole systems do when they’re left alone, and toward what they do when experimenters tinker with them." The above quote sums up the image / acceptance problem of alternative agricultural techniques such as organics and permaculture. It is simply that critics fixate so much on explaining or criticising the interactions that they are unable to observe the whole. They simply don't (or can't, or refuse to) see it. The techniques encourage complexity, when industrial agriculture - which is supported by many scientists - is a move towards a simpler system. thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 8/72
  9. 9. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science Those critiques drive me bananas too, because those techniques simply work. As an example, I don't know what the specific interactions are between comfrey / borage and a citrus tree. I've just observed that on the ground it actually works and both the trees and herb are better for those interactions. I always find it curious that both scientists (and economists too, for that matter) are happy to make pronouncements without consideration of the facts on the ground with which they operate in. It is just weird. By the way, it is 40 Celsius (104F) here today and about a third of the country is in a heatwave. Such an event is not unusual, but the sheer size and extent of it is a couple of weeks earlier than previous years. Tidy work, everyone. Regards Chris 12/18/13, 7:07 PM bryant said... Bravo, excellent essay! My daughter sums it up thusly: In theory, theory and practice are the same... in practice, they're not. 12/18/13, 7:13 PM Ruben said... Your note that models can be useful without being true reminded me of Boids, a computer model of bird flocking behaviour. The author found that three rules—Separation, Alignment, Cohesion—could create flocking behaviour. It was immediately clear to me that humans have such simple rules for the pro-environmental behaviours I was studying, things like recycling and conservation. But even though these simple rules can create a bird simulator, scientists aren't actually clear that is how flocking is controlled. As I understand it, the great speed with which changes pass through the flock means that telepathy, for example, is still in serious, if somewhat fringe, consideration. 12/18/13, 7:56 PM My donkey said... just a typo (missing word): "One crucial point here, to my mind, is the recognition that mathematical equations in science are simply models used to thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 9/72
  10. 10. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science natural processes." 12/18/13, 8:02 PM Stephen said... I think you might be over stating the role of religion when explain why the Roman Empire never had an industrial revolution. As a slave society instead of a guild society the Romans never had the technical skill and craftsmanship to build the necessary machinery and instruments except for a few rare wonders. There was also much less literacy than the high medieval period and no printing press to spread new ideas. In there mines mills there do seem to of tried to use the technology available to make them as profitable as possible. 12/18/13, 8:20 PM Richard Green said... Hi John, You use of the past tense in the first sentence stunned me. I guess it is one thing to accept that we are in collapse, but something very different to realize that industrial civilization really should be thought of as something in the past. 12/18/13, 8:22 PM Doc said... Well written once again. As a scietist, i am constantly questioning the sources of the knowledge we use - too many of these sources seem to have taken Einstein at his word when he said that 'Imagination is more important than knowledge'; they proceeded to make up their facts. The new hot issue seems to be the activity of the science publisher Elsevier, which is withdrawing valid anti-GMO articles based on thoughts from a new editor that used to work for Monsanto. I guess revisionist history can be complemented by revisionist science - the only thing lost is the truth. 12/18/13, 8:28 PM Thijs Goverde said... Eeeeh! Gotta take exception to your caricature of Skinnerian Behaviourism. I know Burrhus Skinner is everyone's favourite bogeyman, but operant conditioning works pretty well, even with yuman beans outside Skinner boxes. It is applied daily by psychologists the world over with very good results (and also, methinks, by marketing experts with very bad, though effective, results). 12/18/13, 8:46 PM John Michael Greer said... Joel, good. Materials science is potentially very useful in a salvage society, since it can be used to understand the behavior of secondhand materials as well -- still, you're right about being wary of bubbles. thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 10/72
  11. 11. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science Andy, bingo. These days in the US, mainstream medical practitioners no longer talk about "healing" or "curing" -- the model now is "health management," which means they keep you sick but functioning, so that getting well doesn't interfere with the income stream. Makedo, it's quite simple, really. Human nature is also part of nature, and it's human nature that these efforts are aimed at conquering. Richard, none of that has anything to do with what Wolfram was discussing; I'm sorry I didn't succeed in making that clear. He was talking about the behavior of simple rule-based systems, which need not be run on electronic computers at all. As for sentience, er, where did you get that from? Tom, by all means rant. I wasn't aware that the same problem was infesting law, but I'm not surprised. Cherokee, exactly. The question "does X work?" is logically prior to the question "why does X work?" -- and one of the core logical fallacies of modern scientific thought is the insistence that if the cause isn't known, the effect can't happen. Bryant, an excellent summary. Ruben, I'd take it further than that. We can't know why birds flock. All we can do is generate models that more or less imitate flocking behavior. Stephen, yes, that was Sagan's theory. Like so many of Sagan's speculations, it doesn't really hold water -- the US was a slave society at the time of our industrial revolution, for example. Richard, good. You might consider contemplating the phrase "progress is over." Doc, good gods. That's unusually corrupt even for modern science. Thijs, Skinnerian behaviorism is an effective tool for short term manipulation of living things in controlled settings -- that is to say, another expression of the will to power that pervades contemporary science. As a tool for understanding, it's contemptible -- and I've read a good many critiques of the claims that its effects are lasting, or really that effective in the real world. 12/18/13, 9:04 PM Thijs Goverde said... I don't know that I'm all that impressed by the critiques you've read, as I know people who actually do use behaviourial therapy to effectively create lasting and positive results in a noncontrolled setting. Are you certain your dismissal of behaviorism's effectiveness doesn't stem from that contempt you mentioned? thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 11/72
  12. 12. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science 12/18/13, 9:13 PM August Johnson said... JMG - Re: Knowing that the model isn't reality. I'm reminded of when astronomers used the model of Crystal Spheres carrying the Moon, Planets Sun and Stars. They clearly knew (and said so) that reality wasn't that way but it was the best model they had to describe how the movements worked. Now, today in Physics with Quarks (six flavors; up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top), Gluons, and so on, it seems that the model has been totally and unconditionally accepted as the reality. Sounds more like porn! 12/18/13, 9:27 PM Pinku-Sensei said... When I read Peter Watson's "The Modern Mind: An intellectual history of the 20th Century," one of the things that struck me was that not only was science involved in the project of conquering nature, but that science was in the project of conquering other fields of knowledge, something that scientists themselves would acknowledge wryly in passing. For example, my undergraduate adviser in Geology once remarked, somewhat derisively, that "psychology is trying very hard to be a science, and one of these days, it will get there." I later dated one psychologist and married another, and decided that "one of these days" had arrived; research psychology is indeed a science as other scientists understand it. The same thing has happened to anthropology, although the cultural anthropologists are resisting, much to the dismay of the archeologists and physical anthropologists, who wholeheartedly embrace being scientists, and is moving through sociology. Economics would be next, except, as you noted, there is too much wishful thinking going on in that field to make it a science as the scientists themselves understand it. Of course, any conquest would be resisted. Watson described one such effort by the French philosophers, who decided to combat the materialism of the German and Anglophone scientists by turning to their own materialism. Instead of following Darwin, they turned to two of the other great minds of the 19th Century, Marx and Freud, to combat Scientism. Too bad, as Watson remarked, that Marx and Freud were wrong. You probably wouldn't be surprised by this development. As you've noted, anti-religions accept the premises of their intellectual adversaries, but invert their values. The French were no different in developing their own materialism instead of trying to build a spiritual alternative. Then again, I don't find Anouilh's ennui expressed as Existentialism very comforting, so maybe it's for the best they didn't try. 12/18/13, 9:31 PM Joseph Nemeth said... I'm really struggling with this post. At root, the issue here is this: what is science for? thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 12/72
  13. 13. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science I fully agree that modern science is about the conquest of nature. If we abandon that course, then what, exactly, is the point of science? As you note, the very high civilizations of the Romans, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Mayans, etc. didn't have what we call "science." It wasn't because they weren't smart enough. It was because they didn't see the point. They didn't see the point because they weren't out to conquer nature. Does science have any other real purpose? There's a common belief that science begets technology begets power and wealth and material comfort. It's a somewhat sketchy belief at best, and grows even murkier as both science and technology rise on the curve of diminishing returns. Whatever truth the belief had in the past, it will certainly have less truth in the future. There's a common belief that science begets a deeper and truer understanding of the universe, and that this is a good thing. The second is debatable -- the first is simply nonsense. A little over a century ago, space had three dimensions, the universe was infinite in extent and filled with "luminiferous ether," atomic nuclei were indivisible, and time was absolute. Space now has between four and ten dimensions, the universe is expanding from a primordial Big Bang and is filled with a sea of virtual particles and invisible "dark" matter and energy, atomic nuclei are decidedly divisible, and time is as stretchy as a rubber-band. I've recently read of a new theory that our spacetime is some kind of holographic projection arising from a lower-dimensional universe with perhaps as little as one "real" dimension. How many left-handed quarks can dance on the head of a pin? Absent a drive to conquer nature, with diminishing practical returns on investment in science, and with every new theory winging off into Alice's Wonderland, what is the point of science? Observation of nature as-it-is, yes. No problem with that -- it's valuable. The Romans, Greeks, and Chinese did that. So did Ugg, the caveman. So do nematodes. But science? I don't feel the case has been made. 12/18/13, 10:24 PM Tom Bannister said... -Joseph Nemeth What's the point in the science if its not about conquering nature? Well of course science is really only a methodology, a method of inquiry. The direction you put on that will of course depend on your existing values. Scientific method is already being used to investigate, say different methods of sustainable farming or renewable energy or alternative healing practice. So thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 13/72
  14. 14. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science there you go. Someone using scientific method can have any number of agendas. 12/18/13, 11:30 PM 41fa48c8-550a-11e3-b48c-000bcdcb2996 said... Joseph - the purpose of science needs a little elaboration. Do you really think quantum field theorists believe that predicting the Higgs boson will grant them power over nature? They know perfectly well that theoretical physics at the sub-sub-nuclear scale has no practical relevance. You have to build a 30km long accelerator to even watch the things as they self-destruct. When Einstein published E=mc^2, he didn't think it had any earthly application. Not enough was known at the time about the nucleus to suggest otherwise. In fact one of Einstein's other papers in that year had finally given convincing evidence that atoms actually exist, so it was too early to think about what might happen if someone came along and started splitting them. My point is that motivations can vary a lot, but most great scientists are driven by intense curiosity and a desire to figure out some of Nature's secrets. Is that conquest? I don't know. However, there is no doubt that the reason scientists have been given great resources by governments is because governments think they need to do so to either conquer someone/something or to avoid being that someone. 12/19/13, 12:20 AM zmejuka-alexey said... John Michael, I have a good background in mathematics and computer science and IMO you overestimate the importance of that book. The cellular automats are arbitrary mathematical models, which are studied on their own in many details. One just takes some arbitrary axioms ( or rules in the automats) and study the mathematical universe that results from them. The problem with arbitrary mathematical models is that they are unrelated to nature. In contrast, physical laws are mathematical models carefully constructed so that their behaviour resembled the behaviour of nature. As for the larger subject touched in your post, I agree that some transformation of the way science is done will happen. Though IMO it will likely go to more practical direction, it will be just a method that allows to produce results with practical significance. In contrast to modern, costly and highly specialized science it should be cheap. Collideres, Mars trips or DNA decoding are unlikely to be present in that list. On the other hand vaccination, thermodynamics for steam engines, electromagnetism for long distance communication are high on my list of surviving thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 14/72
  15. 15. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science scientific fields. They are cheap and give high value to the practioners. And almost forgot, military science! It also gives immense concurent advantage to the society that preserves it. For example, basic gun or even machine gun technology is easy to preserve and can be reproduced without fossil fuels. Best regards Alexey 12/19/13, 2:04 AM Richard Larson said... I don't know. Reread the blog and I still get these thoughts out of your description of Wolfgram's work. Didn't read that book, but my idea has a flow of something, maybe energy, maybe other things, outside influences for sure, that create patterns, tendencies, thoughts, maybe has the same influence on humans as it does, um, everything. Like fighting nature, and all that entails, going against these flows is a losing battle. Perhaps even the behaviour of this rule-based system (not a computer program as I typed, but could still be included in the everything) is influenced by these forces. Creates a behaviour, but not sentient? A question not just for you, and like my comment last week, anyone else reading, to hold the thought, type an answer, whatever. Even though risky, that was my point, and it was just a thought. :-) 12/19/13, 2:21 AM Christian Herring said... Hey! Your last few posts make me wonder whether you have ever read Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn - it touches on many of the issues you've discussed recently, including the secular mythologies that have led mankind to assume that it 'owns' nature, and should therefore conquer it. I would highly recommend it as a book, though I don't personally agree with absolutely everything it claims, particularly regarding the 'solutions' it offers to the present state of affairs. Nonetheless, if you haven't read it, I think it would be worth a weekend to do so. Let me know what you think! 12/19/13, 3:23 AM Odin's Raven said... It seems the Greeks were here ahead of us. Their Talos and ours stops working when the flow of oleaginous ichor is disrupted. Absent the needs of Europa, the skill of Daedalus and the laws of Zeus, can there be a telos for Talos? The scientific spells of the modern Medea may persuade him thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 15/72
  16. 16. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science that he has eternal life and can rewrite the laws engraven on his brazen back; and lead to similar destruction. Talos 12/19/13, 3:36 AM Phil Harris said... JMG I'm glad you picked out 'pompous drivel'. But it has a lot of hard political and social calculation behind it. History of the Royal Society is worth strolling through on their website - illustrates your points about window dressing. (I like the new President; open-necked shirt and pullover). That sharp guy Charles II who was brought up away from home - his dad having had his crowned 'divinely ordained' head chopped off - was onto it in a flash. Science got increasingly useful in a competitive world; e.g. physics and bombs when geopolitical structures feared being 'trumped' by somebody else's technological innovation. And nuclear power was going to trump fossil fuels. GMOs and DNA manipulation would be a new agricultural and medical revolution. One trouble with exponential growth is that it gets dreadfully extravagant in its final two doublings. In a highly geared fossilfuelled society 'Science' like everything else becomes horribly extravagant - and for most purposes a 'promise' rather than an immediately useful utility - and those really sharp guys are going to cut off big lumps if they can't see an immediate use, perhaps leaving a large bet or two on the table for luck. The 'project' is in the process of being redefined by simple rules. 'Discovery' is going to mean what we want it to mean, with a bit of bread and circuses thrown in? I think you are saying that society/self-generated virtual reality is one way of living inside our heads, including entertaining and negotiating with the gods we create there? By definition some of it is bound, as you imply, to get a bit out of touch when paved roads are at a premium? Yes, I agree if I read you right, 'reductionist science' reductio ad absurdum is ludicrous. best Phil H 12/19/13, 4:24 AM Yupped said... On a day to day basis, I try to live through my senses, observation, felt experience and common sense. The more I bring a conceptual layer of ideas and measurement to my experience, the less in touch with reality I am. Sometimes this is a good thing, but it wouldn't be sensible to only relate to life through concepts and measurements. So maybe the scientific method should just be one tool in the toolbox? A couple of recent experiences to illustrate: thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 16/72
  17. 17. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science Although I'm not a scientist, I have spent the last few years working with academic researchers on a large computer science project. In observing scientists in action there did seem to be a tendency to cling to ideas and suppositions, often in the face of mounting contrary evidence from testing and analysis. This seemed especially true the more hat funding and professional reputation was on the line. This particular research project went on 5 years. Common sense intuition could tell what the results were going to be after 12 months. We took another 48 months to fully test and document that same early insight. This seemed a little pointless to me, but seemed just fine to the scientists who believed that since the early idea was now proven with data it could now be considered true and worthy of publication. Until then it was just a fluffy-headed hypothesis. In a related vein, my wife has been working on solving some health problems that have plagued her for years. She has finally done it with herbs and diet, after many unsuccessful traditional medical interventions including a couple of surgeries. Basically, she got in touch with her own body, consulted a naturopath, followed her experience and intuition, adjusted her diet and went with what worked. She recently met with her old doctor who said that this sounded fine but was not something she was trained in and because she wasn't trained in it she couldn't really comment - she was a little offended that the healing hadn't come from textbook medical science. 12/19/13, 4:24 AM Unknown said... Excellent essay. I believe you have misinterpreted the motto of the Royal Society, however. 'Nullius' is in the genitive case: the phrase means literally "on no one's words", i.e., "On the authority of no man." It could be paraphrased, "Don't believe anything just because someone says it." 12/19/13, 4:26 AM M said... Thank you for another illuminating essay. As someone involved on a citizen level with helping our small river town plan its future, it's mind boggling and somewhat frustrating how many times the kind of thinking you describe here serves to inhibit imagining any kind of future other than the one people have already burnished in their minds, the one that follows the law of perpetual progress. For one example, apparently, every human being is born with a set of keys to a vehicle (grossly oversize for the task) to transport themselves about in for the duration of their lives. And it goes onward and downward from there. 12/19/13, 5:38 AM Yossi said... Joseph Nemeth. Does science have to have a point? Surely the problems begin when it needs to have a point and then begets technology. Why isn't natural curiosity sufficient? Unfortunately scientists need money and only seem to be able thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 17/72
  18. 18. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science to get it by working for organisations that demand technology. Scientist with a private income like Newton, and nowadays James Lovelock seem to be rare. 12/19/13, 6:07 AM Just Because said... I'll jump in on the thread of comments about Behaviorism. It can be a worthwhile theory in a narrow sense (getting your kids to ask nicely for things instead of whining and pitching a fit), but does not work well as a big theory. That is, it has a place within a larger systems theory to help understand behavior at an individual level, but isn't very helpful when trying to cope/adapt to a larger system that is not under one's control. 12/19/13, 6:11 AM Marc L Bernstein said... James Howard Kunstler has used the term "technotriumphalism" to mean the assertion that humanity's problems can invariably be solved by the use of technology. One could expand that concept to include conceptual and mathematical problem solving. One would then get "conceptual-mathematicaltechnical-triumphalism". This is what we often encounter in the scientific world today. An extreme example of such a view is the singularity hypothesis of Ray Kurzweil. What is often missing from "conceptual-mathematicaltechnical-triumphalism" is a combination of ecological thinking and humility, and sometimes full systems thought as you've mentioned. I would venture a guess that even as industrial civilization declines, those who maintain a belief in the inevitability of human progress will continue to assert that all is not lost and that a new major technological discovery is waiting just around the corner. Personally I hope that something genuinely revolutionary does come out of Kurzweil's singularity institute [http://singularityu.org/] I suspect that nothing will be found to overcome the mistakes that humanity is currently making with respect to sound ecological principles, and that a major societal collapse is very likely during this century. Observational science, based upon empirical observation, statistics and elementary pattern recognition may well survive the coming collapse. Science based on the notion that nature can be subdued is probably going to take a severe blow. 12/19/13, 6:24 AM 41fa48c8-550a-11e3-b48c-000bcdcb2996 said... Joseph - you are misrepresenting current knowledge, which can never be complete. Just because there are a wide range of thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 18/72
  19. 19. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science speculations about the dimensionality of space-time does not mean we know less than a century ago. For example, if there are "extra dimensions" beyond "3+1", they must be "small", i.e. space is approximately "3+1" but may have some extra dimensions that are curled up very small so you can only see them at very small length scales (=high energy). So in other words, "3+1" is a very good approximation to the higher dimensional theories, just as Newton's gravity is a very good approximation to General Relativity. Similarly, classical mechanics is a very good approximation to quantum mechanics unless you (again) look at small length scales. It's not useful to make out that knowledge has not advanced when it clearly has advanced. Anything can be ridiculed by misrepresenting it. 12/19/13, 6:24 AM sgage said... Speaking of The Religion of Progress, and its handmaiden Modern Science, here is a rant (albeit a thoughtful one) about TED/TED-ism by Benjamin Bratton. He is far from declaring the End of Progress, and seems to 'believe in' Science, but the piece is an amusing read. Especially if, like me, you find TED talks to be glib, over-simplified, feel-good presentations. Or as Bratton calls them, "middlebrow megachurch infotainment". http://www.bratton.info/projects/talks/we-need-to-talkabout-ted/ 12/19/13, 6:45 AM Adam Funderburk said... Great post, JMG! In the mental health world there is a definite drive to “be more scientific”, particularly amongst psychiatrists and psychologists. “Evidence-based” practice gets funded, and using “research-based” techniques is becoming the norm in order to receive third-party (insurance) compensation (It’s funny that insurance providers are the ones with the biggest say in what is “evidence-based”). Irving Yalom, a famous psychologist and group moderator, commented that “the scientific quantifiability of [mental health] data was directly correlated with its triviality”. As a mental health counselor, I have observed that the best practitioners, no matter what their specific degree or title, act as artisans or craftspeople; they understand the concrete principles of their job, but there is also an artistry and a respect for the unquantifiable aspects of the relationship that makes for good psychotherapy. Carl Rogers, considered the father of humanistic, client-centered psychology, described the three core conditions for effective therapy: genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and empathetic understanding. These conditions are widely accepted, and their results welldocumented. A meta-study of research articles strongly supports the view that the strength of the therapeutic relationship is the greatest factor in successful therapy, and Carl Roger’s core conditions are all about the relationship. The thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 19/72
  20. 20. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science short of it is that they work. The thing that frustrates the more “scientific-minded” researchers (and not a few of my professors) is that they aren’t sure exactly why the core conditions work, and they can’t quantify them “properly” for “real research”. Even my professors, when we came to Carl Rogers, would encourage us to be genuine, accepting, and empathetic, but wouldn’t really explain how to do that (there aren’t many quantifiable techniques for being a kind, genuine, empathetic person) and wouldn’t really mention it again (As a funny side note, we spent more time with Skinner – a lot more “data” to talk about, and some “concrete” mental models to discuss). 12/19/13, 6:48 AM Chris Travers said... Great post, once again. It reminds me very much of Heisenberg's repetitive argument that data does not imply theory. In the end, we must accept that the map is not the territory, but is in fact a representation of territory we cannot even see or really visit. This religion of progress must come crashing down. It is already under tremendous strain. The only thing that is sustaining it currently is its own inertia and there is little chance of it doing anything other than coming crashing down again. 12/19/13, 6:57 AM William Church said... Very interesting John. I enjoyed this essay very much. I have a couple things I'll toss into the mix. One is that the conquering of nature is one way of looking at science. But some of what you write of is, as I am sure you know, engineering and not science. At some point the distinction can get subtle as I know all too well. But one of the driving motivations of many engineers, including myself, is not necessarily to conquer nature as it is to build things. There is a drive in so many of us to design, build, and operate tools, machines, buildings, etc. I suspect many of us would have been carpenters and blacksmiths and wheelwrights stone masons and whathaveyou not too many centuries ago. I would wonder if this drive to be, for want of a better term, craftsmen is not an inheritance from our long history where the ability to manufacture a useful tool could be a huge advantage in tough survival situations. There was a high price that was paid when the engineering profession allowed its highest degree to be changed from a Dr of Engineering to a Doctor of Philosophy. The difference is subtle and at the same time massive. If the future holds what you describe then I would not be a bit surprised to see that switch reversed. And ~that~ would be my offering for today. That the difference between a Doctor of Engineering and a Doctor of Philosophy in ~whatever~ Engineering is also the difference in what would be thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 20/72
  21. 21. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science useful in the future you describe versus what fits into the economy of today. Best wishes to you over the holidays Brother. Will 12/19/13, 7:31 AM ed boyle said... I finished reading the 5 volume German history of technology and the summation of ideas at the end seems to be pertinent to the discussion. Technology is what practical people do when trying to get things done. Later others make up rules to explain what is going on inside the system (Maxwell's equations, etc.). These explanations help to further develop the higher level technology. Eventually technologists are way beyond scientific theories in their own world of practical problems(high level elctronics, etc.) developing a parallel science of equal value with all sorts of engineering rules. Engineering is not just applied science. Technologists are groping to get newer, better, faster or just different effects from materials and mostly as long as it works theory of why does not matter but they have learned that as tech has developed faster and faster that they have to make their own theoretical knowledge base to accelerate the process. Still, all that matters is results. Scientists can stay in ivory towers (see aristotle and quantum theorists) if they want but an engineer has to live in the real world. To pay due respect to a common set of internet acquaintances I would like to say that The Oil Drum was therefore so important for building a basis for resource shortage concept as engineers are reality based and when empty talk runs out (economists explanations of reality) and scientists are out in left field doing their own fantasy thing that engineers do the heavy lifting turning a good idea into a useful product. Almost anything can be true, cool but not neccessarily marketable, profitable, acceptable, financable, etc. Peak oil was this idea from the TOD crowd. Our limits are now defined more and more by CO2 output of cars, low energy consumption electrical devices, recyclability. This recalls to me all those 70s green ideas you'Ve discussed and the alternative agronomy nowadays. Reality(and resulting theory thereof, e.g. religion or science) is relative to who we are, what we need, where(and when) we live(local environment). Without fossil fuels our current scientific theory would not have come about as it is mere explanation of what was happening in the world of high energy technology in scientific theory about physics, electricity, etc. Most of chemistry started with getting color dyes and pharmaceuticals from coal tars in 19th century germany. If we stopped science(attempts at explanation of current observable tech) before we had access to coal we would have thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 21/72
  22. 22. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science stayed with wood based coals then steel making would have remained primitive and also our scientific instruments as well and electrics and chmeicals and pharma would be nonexistent as well as faster than horse travel and telecoms. In short you can only explain what you see and can test. Everything else is speculation. This is why moderns consider themselves above religion as religion is based on "myth" or childlike "just-so- stories". Mapping the universe, DNS, etc. needs massive fossil fuel reserves. Ignorance was bliss for us earlier primitives and the modern sleep of reason breeds Frankenstein monsters. If Siddha powers are real then in trance one can perhaps perceive the double ohelix or chemical structures in one's own body but utilize this on an industrial scale - no way. Perhaps bilocation and other such miracles of Jesus but not for the masses. "Don't try this at home" is valid for the hi-tech here. The future of science is like the man moon landing hoax theories. Future generations will refuse to believe what they don't see. This is why the bible belt has such pulling power in their anti science bias. Intuitive reality is what an emotional animal - primate with brain or not- likes and a story book religion fits that better than ten thousand page discourse over the nature of nature. 12/19/13, 8:15 AM Karl said... Here are two links that deal with the topics raised this week and as part of the theme of war on nature if people are interested in further reading. I remember debating holism (high school debate) way back in the late 1980s but I don't specifically remember Goldsmith although he did write a book about it in 92. Whatever happened to ecology? by Edward Goldsmith · July 1, 2002 The science of Ecology has been taken over by the cult of scientific reductionism and has become a weapon in the war on the living world being waged by industrial man. http://www.edwardgoldsmith.org/753/whatever-happened-toecology/ Is science a religion? by Edward Goldsmith · February 1, 1975 Scientists are functionally the priests of our industrial society. It is only they who are capable of mobilising, for our purposes, the limitless powers of Science, of acting thereby as the intermediaries in our relationship with this new and formidable deity. http://www.edwardgoldsmith.org/881/is-science-a-religion/ thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 22/72
  23. 23. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science 12/19/13, 8:41 AM Kyoto Motors said... “The alternative is to observe whole systems on their own terms—to study what they do, not in response to a controlled experimental stimulus, but in response to the normal interplay between their internal dynamics and the environment around them.” I’d like to think that this is what climate science is all about, which is, after all, the study of how our attempts to conquer Nature have failed – having altered some significant aspect of natural weather systems… or so the theory goes. The challenge has always been to separate geological age-scaled patterns from mere industrial/ historical patterns. Our computer based mathematical tools have proved to be limited for sure, but the general theme that comes from climate science does provide something of an antidote to the ambitious hubris of the day… unless you climb aboard the bandwagon where advocates of planetary-scaled cooling interventions gather! By the way, I have sorely missed participating in this weekly forum of late, but have just been so short on time… I have read with great interest every post, and just want to extend my continued gratitude, along with the season’s greeting of warmth, health and happiness to you and your loved ones. Cheers! Maclean 12/19/13, 8:52 AM David Rhodes said... Indeed, Wolfram and yourself are contrarians of the same cloth. When describing him, one journalist started with an encounter between the Dalai Lama and a group of Hell's Angels, and how those alien beings make sense if you realize how much they love their bikes. Wolfram really loves his cellular automata. Is it fair to say that you really love morphological thinking? In his physicist way, Wolfram is advocating for it too. One needs to explore all possible patterns of behavior, and also to be able to recognize them in new contexts. On this note I'd like to recommend a gorgeous Coursera course called Model Thinking by Scott Page (just finishing now unfortunately). He really drives home the point that "all models are wrong," but at the same time shows their use with dozens of practical examples, and shows that one can be systematic and precise about it all. I like how you've motivated how we can be systematic without being Baconian. Beyond the flaws of unnatural experimentation, there are the practical dangers of attempting to "subject the entire universe to human intellect". Intellectually, we get farther by working on a more humble scale. 12/19/13, 8:53 AM thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 23/72
  24. 24. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science Robo said... It seems to me that Wolfram's cellular automata might be one way of modeling fractal self-similarity in nature ... whereby essential behaviors or characteristics of energy, particles, substances or organisms are reflected and multiplied into complex patterns that recur on a systemic or cosmic scale. As you point out, human mathematics and science attempt to describe and predict these patterns, which we then declare to be absolute laws rather than the high probability tendencies that they really are. 12/19/13, 9:02 AM librarian@play said... "different technologies are being affected at different rates, so that (for example) plenty of Americans who can’t afford health care or heating fuel in the winter still have cell phones and internet access" An interesting cultural convergence: The rise over the past 2 decades or so of "affordable luxuries", such as specialty coffees or craft beers or artisanal foods, which has been driven by marketers' accurate identification of the need to express taste and take comfort in even small things. The same faculties that enable us to mistake the model for the reality it represents also enable us to live with the dissonance of not having affordable health care, yet having easy and seemingly affordable access to Tibetan yak's milk cheese that pairs nicely with a glass of cask porter. 12/19/13, 9:06 AM Kyoto Motors said... @ Josheph Nameth You may be entering the realm of semantics (?)… I think much of what we call science, the institution, will be up for debate as to whether it can justify itself/ pay for itself, etc. For better or for worse (mostly for better, in the very practical sense of shedding extravagancies like space programs – though on a sentimental level, for worse…but I digress). An example of an old science may be exactly what you’re talking about: observing nature/ working with nature – like a good gardener, or parent! The benefits being self-evident. As you say, no problem with that. At the same time, maintaining modest technologies and systems – to whatever extent we can – may rely on some degree of practical understanding of post-Bacon scientific principles, like Newtonian physics, Copernican astronomy, and Mendeleevian chemistry. Never mind that nuclear radiation, being what it is, will necessitate that we maintain an understanding of its effects for a long time to come! 12/19/13, 9:14 AM Justin Wade said... @Andy Brown thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 24/72
  25. 25. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science I am a computer science/programmer guy, but I have spent my career writing scientific applications, the bulk of it in medical science/biotech. To your point, I (and many on the inside that I know) believe that modern medicine is akin to alchemy. The way medical science has been done for over a century, and this is the research on which all the knowledge is built, is fundamentally flawed. What they do is to start a biological process, stop it, then mount whatever is there on a slide. They do this for a bunch of processes and piece together a movie out of these slides, then derive a story. The problem is that, as per this post, living tissue is not functioning according to what you see at any time, but as a function of the network of cell and protein signalling as it occurs in real time over a duration. To continue with the movie analogy, the equivalent would be to splice together 1 second clips of video from different movies into an hour long film, and then to build a body of knowledge about film based on that. This is fundamentally why the lack of reproduce-ability in experiments is so widespread, the research keeps turning up very badly stitched together data. The fundamental limitation has been one part technology, one part ideology. We have technology now that allows researchers to take snapshots of a single sample throughout its process and to analyze those snapshots as one continuous process. The ideological fallacy is an inability to consider a biological system and its behaviors with emergent processes that are not strictly a function of what any of the single pieces are doing at a given time. Incidentally, the same is true of genetic expression. Recent research has found that mutation is a relatively common event, but what causes problems is what is going on in the network of DNA rather than a single replication/division/apoptosis. The last point to consider is that disease classification is a model, not real. Its a heuristic for putting similar manifestations into a category. When you look at how tissues behave, no two instances of disease or cancer are exactly alike. There are patterns of perturbations in signalling and response that are unique to every individual. 12/19/13, 9:28 AM Justin Wade said... @JMG, Well, if man is not really divisible from nature, and I take this to be true - the line dividing man from nature is a figment of our collective imagination - then could one credibly restate the program to render nature transparent and under human control as the program to render mankind transparent and under human control? Let's not forget that the enlightened thinkers brought the practice of slavery back after a thousand years of taboo, and thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 25/72
  26. 26. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science here we are now, where people are increasingly finding they are ensnared in debt traps that keep them essentially functioning as indentured servants for most of their lives. 12/19/13, 9:32 AM Odin's Raven said... Worried about running out of cheap oil? Not buying snake oil or shale oil? Fear not! Soon, real soon, you'll be able to enjoy the benefits of patented perpetual motion brought to you by the incomparable technical ingenuity and marketing chutzpah of America's finest developers. Algal Oil 12/19/13, 10:09 AM SLClaire said... JMG, thank you for this article. I think this is what I am trying to do with my practice of dialoguing with my garden. At any rate I will think deeply about what you've written as I am working out my garden design for next year. I wrote up what my garden told me this year in my latest blog post, for anyone who might be interested. What my garden told me 12/19/13, 10:21 AM John Michael Greer said... Thijs, nah, a set of practical techniques can have an absurd theoretical justification and still work. When I was in college, I knew several professors who had been ardent Skinnerians during the heyday of the movement -- one of them had built a Skinner box for his infant son in order to do experiments on the kid -- and, having recanted, were able to describe in detail the failings in Skinner's methods. My response to the critiques was certainly shaped by their discussions. August, exactly! One of the big points of contention between Galileo and the Catholic church was that the Church insisted that mathematical models of celestial phenomena needed to be treated purely as models, while Galileo insisted that his model was the literal truth about the heavens. Pinku, oh, granted. Thing is, it's simplistic to claim that Marx and Freud were wrong -- or, for that matter, that Darwin is right. All three offer models of the universe of human experience, which are applicable to certain phenomena and inapplicable to others. The triumphalism that insists that a theory is true because it happened to win out over the others is a real barrier to understanding. Joseph, good. You're grappling with the issues involved here. I'd point out that classical logic went through the same crisis of faith -- if the whole world can't be explained by logic, what is logic good for? -- and the answer turned out to be that, first, thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 26/72
  27. 27. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science it's a very useful tool for solving certain kinds of problems, and second, learning and practicing it has positive effects on those who do it. Just as practicing a martial art, say, has value even if you never get into a serious hand-to-hand fight outside of the dojo, practicing logic -- or science -- is a healthy discipline for the mind. Alexey, I think you've missed Wolfram's central point, which is that arbitrary systems with very simple rules very readily mimic core aspects of nature even when the systems haven't been designed to mimic nature. Of course Wolfram's models aren't models of specific mathematical processes -- but neither are the various branches of pure mathematics, and yet those provide the models through which physical scientists pick and choose to find analogues to natural processes. Richard, it's subtler than that. Take an absurdly simple set of rules for turning squares black or white in a grid, set it up under the right conditions, and processes analogous to growth, evolution, crystallization, etc. emerge spontaneously from the interactions of the whole system. Nothing flows into it -- the system itself, despite its apparently mindless simplicity, becomes a generator of astonishing complexity. Christian, yes, I read it a couple of years after it first came out. I have to say I wasn't impressed -- it seemed simplistic to me. Raven, "a telos for Talos" wins you today's gold star. Good! Phil, bingo. There are times when I'd like to translate reductio ad absurdum as "reductionism always ends in absurdity." Yupped, exactly. Science has become a prisoner of its own relative success, and more to the point, of the personal advantage of its practitioners. That's common enough in human institutions, of course, just as it's common for such institutions to keep on proclaiming their own infallibility in the face of a growing body of evidence to the contrary. Unknown, fair enough -- I'll always accept a grammatical correction. M, I see that sort of thing all the time. I've come to think that the lag time between when an ideology stops working and when its believers finally notice that it's stopped working is one of the least recognized and most important factors in history. 12/19/13, 11:03 AM zmejuka-alexey said... John Michael, you are partly right that I miss Wolfram's central point. I don't think that cellular automats can mimic core aspects of nature from PRACTICAL point of view. I'll try to clarify. If I take physical theory of optics, melt some sand and apply some brain work and hand polishing I can construct a telescope or glasses. Telescope is hugely helpful for the military, glasses for the eldery. Notice that without the thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 27/72
  28. 28. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science theory of optics I am unable by trial and error construct such complicated objects, though the technology is bronze age maximum. For me this is the core value of science: ability to make very useful things, that cannot be done without deep theoretical understanding of nature. May be I lack imagination, but I don't see how the output of cellular automats theory can be applied to construct anything usefull. Going to absurdity: How one can construct glasses using cellular automats? As for other aspects, I agree with you. Behavior of cellular automats can resemble that of nature, but it is not of any practical importance. Thank you for the answer, analyzing it, I found that my attitude toward science changed to more engineering approach. Best regards Alexey 12/19/13, 11:57 AM JP said... Wolfram simply noticed that life has a fractal aspect, I think. Life deployed in time, that is. You see this in gardens all the time. Fractal patterns interfering with each other over time. You just pull out the fractal patterns you don't want there. JMG notes: "The alternative is to observe whole systems on their own terms—to study what they do, not in response to a controlled experimental stimulus, but in response to the normal interplay between their internal dynamics and the environment around them. That’s what Wolfram did. He ran cellular automata, not to try to make them do this thing or that, but to understand the internal logic that determines what they do when left to themselves." And this is precisely what the cellular automata of the "reach toward infinite space" did when applied to humanity and millions of years of stored sunlight. It created the civilization of the West. In any event, I'm more interested in the issue of mirror symmetry because I haven't really figured that one out yet. I think it's just as important as Wolfram's cellular automata. 12/19/13, 12:10 PM thrig said... thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 28/72
  29. 29. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science Engineered systems may also evolve curious complications—for example, the Internet now mostly consists of little-endian devices talking to one another via mostly big-endian network protocols. In other words, something like: Imagine a vast number of villages, with paths between them, these paths being used by runners to exchange messages. The villagers all speak the same language--English, Klingon, whatever, the language is not important. What is important is that for any message exchanged between the villages, it must be written down, and must be written down with the letters of the words reversed: "good day" is written "doog yad", and then a runner delivers that message to the next village. Therein, the translator Olef Byteswapson reads the message, "doog yad", and announces to his village that the other village has said "good day". They all agree that this is so, and send back the reply--"dna doog yad ot uoy sa llew"--and then a runner carries this reply to the original village. Therein, the counterpart to Olef, another byte swapper, reads the message, and announces to her village the reply thus previously stated. And so it goes. How did this state of affairs come to be? Well, back in the day, "doog yad" was the actual language, as spoken between the few big castles and towers of the land. There were also some little villages, but they did not speak with anyone, at least not yet, and they spoke using the "good day" form. Now eventually the towers and castles went away, or anyways became much less important, while the little villages multiplied, and yet the same tradition of speaking in the manner of the big castles and towers carried on, at least when exchanging messages between places. 12/19/13, 12:46 PM Joseph Nemeth said... Curiosity is one valid reason for continuing to do science. I have no problem with that. In that sense, doing science can be viewed as something like art, or at least recreation. That also places science back in the realm of wonder, since the use of the scientific method isn't intended to yield anything but beautiful (human) abstractions based on nature. Like forms in poetry, there are rules, and your abstractions have to follow the rules, or they stray from "science" into "fantasy." But both science and fantasy are then on a more-or-less equal footing, following different rules. We can argue whether the sonnet (one set of rules) is better than the heroic ballad (a different set of rules), but it's an aesthetic argument. It raises the question of how much human resource we're going to devote to this. Perhaps quite a lot. In post-Renaissance Europe, a great deal of human resource was devoted to the arts: sculpture, painting, music, poetry. Most civilizations have been very fond of entirely impractical (but imposing and beautiful) architecture. Science can certainly fit as art. It's certainly beautiful to the educated mind. 12/19/13, 12:55 PM thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 29/72
  30. 30. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science sgage said... @ Karl, Thank you very much for posting the links to those Goldsmith articles - very interesting thoughts! And lots of good references. Lots of food for thought for this ecologist... 12/19/13, 1:35 PM John Michael Greer said... Just Because, that is, it's a workable tool for exercising control in limited contexts, but it's not an effective tool for understanding whole systems. I can see that. Marc, well, I'd like to think you're right about Kurzweil's outfit, but I tend to think that an organization founded to pursue a religious fantasy decked out in SF drag is unlikely to accomplish much. Sgage, excellent! "Middlebrow megachurch infotainment" is a brilliant coinage; clearly I have to catch up with this guy's writings. Adam, exactly. Who cares that Freudian methods all but eliminated hysteria, which was once an extremely common and damaging mental illness -- we can't quantify it, so it must not work! Chris, the thing that has to happen is that enough people need to start challenging the myth of progress in public. I'm trying to contribute to that, but it takes many voices. Will, engineering has a long and lively history ahead of it -- as long as there are practical problems to be solved, there'll be a need for engineering techniques. I'd point out, though, that Roman and Chinese engineers (among many others) accomplished impressive technical feats without any sense that they were in the business of conquering nature; doubtless the engineers of future ecotechnic societies, as they tighten the screws on renewable-energy technologies we can't even imagine yet, will be equally free of the delusion that nature exists so humanity can tell it what to do. Ed, and that's exactly why -- or one of the reasons why -- I'm so concerned about making sure that science survives as a living tradition. If people still know how to ask nature questions and get replicable answers, it's less likely that the achievements of the present age will turn into the fairy tales of the far future. Karl, excellent! Many thanks for the links. Kyoto, and a happy solstice to you, too! To my mind, the problem with the current climate debate is precisely that nobody's interested in asking what actually happens -- a subject about which paleoclimatology has a lot to say -- because the answers to that question advance nobody's agenda. David, yes, that's fair enough -- it makes sense of things to me thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 30/72
  31. 31. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science that other forms of thinking don't. I suspect the reason I find Wolfram's work fascinating is that his cellular automata are morphologically equivalent to a great many other things in nature, and can be understood in similar ways. Robo, Wolfram got there well ahead of you. Fractal selfsimilarity is one of the things that cellular automata readily produce; they also produce chaotic phenomena, and most interesting of all, they produce complex systems that combine chaotic behavior and order in ways remarkably reminiscent of phenomena in nature. Librarian, a fascinating point! 12/19/13, 1:43 PM Joseph Nemeth said... @41fa - I wasn't intending to ridicule science. My point was that it doesn't generate a coherent, consistent picture over time. If I were to phrase it mathematically, I would say that science does not demonstrate globally convergent behavior. It is, at best, locally convergent within a particular historical and social milieu. Thomas Kuhn explored this in considerable length in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions and various other essays, and it was most pithily stated by Max Planck's quip that "science progresses one funeral at a time." I perfectly understand that the scientific picture is incomplete, and always will be, and that's fine. But it is a matter of faith -specifically, faith in progress -- that science is leading in any particular direction, such as "toward a deeper and truer understanding" of the universe. I brought up the profound difference between 19th century cosmology and 21st century cosmology as one illustration of this. You say you believe that we know more now than we did in the past, but I would respond (as in the old Lone Ranger joke), "Who 'we', white man?" I suspect that *I* know a bit more about celestial mechanics than your average iron-age Druid. I'm pretty sure he knew a lot more about pretty much everything else relevant to his world, tied together as a more-or-less coherent whole in something not unlike the Renaissance ideal of mastery of all knowledge. All I can say about most subjects is, "Well, I'm sure someone knows the answer to that." We may have a larger volume of "knowledge," but is it really knowledge if it isn't known by anyone? Or if it is so fragmented that nothing fits with anything else? I would argue that this represent less knowledge, not more. 12/19/13, 1:43 PM Justin Wade said... Alexey, thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 31/72
  32. 32. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science You should check out evolutionary algorithms and their applications to engineering problems. Also, see the work of Reginald Cahill in physics, in some of his research he used a neural network to model/predict an iterative, recursive function that intentionally has noise at each iteration/generation of the function. The neural network 'learned' how to predict this function by modelling space and time, that is a dimensional search space to predict the noise and its range and a linear time to track the sequence of generations. Sometimes it may not seem to be so, but it is. Science and logic don't always play nice. 12/19/13, 1:50 PM jt said... I think many things in this post are conceptually seriously wrong. For example: "Thus mathematical equations provide one set of models that can be used to fit our minds around some of the ways the universe behaves. Wolfram’s discovery is that another set of models can be derived from very simple rule-based processes of the kind that make cellular automata work. This additional set of models makes sense of features of the universe that mathematical models don’t handle well" But Wolfram's models are also mathematical. There is no conceptual difference between "mathematical equations" and "Wolfram's models". Wolfram didn't invent cellular automata. They were made famous by Conway's game of life in 1970. "It requires an unfashionable degree of intellectual modesty to accept that the map is not the territory, that the scientific model is merely a representation of some aspects of the reality it tries to describe. " I think all people who do research in natural sciences know and simply take it for granted that the "model" and "reality" (whatever the definitions of these words) are different things. For example Wigner's article "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in natural sciences" is very well known. Finally it can be argued that scietific revolution happened already 2000 years ago. It was just "forgotten" (or destroyed), see Lucio Russo: The forgotten revolution. 12/19/13, 1:58 PM Joseph Nemeth said... @JMG -- There's another good use for science: part of a healthy lifestyle, like getting enough fiber. :-) I'm not sure I'll buy that. I've not noticed that scientists are particularly happier or better-balanced than other people. They thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 32/72
  33. 33. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science get depressed, divorced, drunk, and suicidal right along with everyone else. As the institutions of science crumble and they start losing their livelihoods, I'm not at all sure that science will do for them what philosophy did for Boethius. Of course, the scientific method is extremely useful for solving certain kinds of problems. But what kinds? Primarily, practical problems in the natural world. That takes us back to the faith that science begets technology begets comfort. But I think the causality is reversed. A practical problem inspires us to seek solutions that resolve the problem and bring comfort. One class of solutions contains technological solutions. Seeking a technological solution to a practical problem then inspires use of the scientific method to help create the technology. This is, however, something that humans have always done. I have a hard time believing that Archimedes didn't use some form of the scientific method when he was building devices for his hometown of Syracuse. The Egyptians would have used this kind of science to build pyramids. The proto-Celts would have used this kind of science to erect megaliths. This is fundamentally different from the desacralizing, conquest-oriented science of Francis Bacon, which is the thing we do that wasn't done by the Romans, et. al. For this latter kind of science, we now have art, and fiber. And conquering nature. Is there anything else? 12/19/13, 2:38 PM Enrique said... John Michael, One of the thoughts that came back to me as I was reading this essay was the vague sense of unease that I felt in many of my social sciences classes at university. It seemed to me even back then that there was a serious disconnect between the theoretical models that were being taught by many of my professors and the way things actually work in real life. I have also long believed that one of the reasons why politics are so dysfunctional both in the USA and the EU is because so much of political and bureaucratic decision making is based on what I call “ideological thinking”, that is to say thinking based on theoretical and abstract models of how things should work which are based in turn on a particular set of ingrained ideological biases rather than on how the world actually works. A good example of this in action has been the disastrous consequences of trying to put neo-liberal economic policies and neo-conservative foreign policies into action. Far too many politicians, bureaucrats and judges seem to live in an ivory tower, and have no idea how things work in the real world outside the bubble they live in and don’t have to deal with the real world consequences of their decisions. This is one of the major reasons why Obamacare turned out to be such a fiasco. thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 33/72
  34. 34. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science The other is all the corrupt bargains that Obama, Pelosi, etc had to make to get that particular monstrosity passed. As for your and Andy’s exchange about the so-called healthcare system, that is why Charles Hugh Smith insists on calling it the sick-care system, and I think he entirely correct. 12/19/13, 3:32 PM Enrique said... Alexey, The biggest problem with automatic weapons and modern firearms in the Long Descent is that you have to be able to produce parts consistently to very high tolerances and levels of precision. That sort of thing is very difficult to do without the kind of elaborate infrastructure possible in a fossil fueled industrial economy. Still, given the importance of weaponry and military defense, especially given the rising tide of violence and disorder that the breakdown of the modern world will produce, I would imagine this will be a very high priority for national governments, warlords and the like. I don’t expect firearms to go away entirely, but it’s a good question what the highest feasible level of firearms technology will be in an ecotechnic society. Will it be automatic weapons, bolt-action rifles, rifled muskets or flintlocks? Societies that retain or can re-discover the ability to make assault rifles and machine guns could have a decisive military advantage over those that can only make bolt-action rifles, muskets or crossbows. Incidentally, Russia could have a major head start in this category since its modern firearms like the AK series assault rifles and PK series machine guns are simple, rugged and very reliable. That’s one thing I have long respected about Russian weapons designers. They develop weapons that are competitive on the world arms market and effective on the battlefield, but are designed to be simple, cheap and easy to maintain and operate. This is true whether we are talking about the T-34 tank, the AK-47 rifle or Sukhoi fighter jets. I recall we had an extended discussion thread on this very subject a while back on the Archdruid Report, but can’t remember which essays. Leo also has some good discussions on this subject on his blog A Melburnians Response to Overshoot, which I highly recommend. http://amelburniansresponsetoovershoot.blogspot.com/ 12/19/13, 3:36 PM Darren Urquhart said... (off topic) Meanwhile, in Australia a black swan event is unfolding. http://youtu.be/YCat9UXhZpU?t=11s 12/19/13, 3:50 PM Cherokee Organics said... Hi JMG, thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 34/72
  35. 35. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science Thanks. The other baffling yet obvious question that is overlooked is: "Is X of higher quality than Y?". If I was really being cheeky, I'd also suggest that this question can be rephrased as: "Is it in our collective interests that X be done?" Science seems incapable of addressing (or perhaps unwilling to address) these issues and it appears to me that society as an entirety also overlooks them. An example of the above quandary (well a quandary for me anyway) is comparison of industrially produced food versus organically produced. Obviously they are substitute products, but issues such as quality seem to be largely ignored even at the expense of people’s health. This is on my mind because I'm picking sun ripened strawberries most days now. Yum! Most purchased strawberries are usually picked green and then gas ripened so that they can travel distances. This means that they usually have little to no flavour (little to no sugars), despite the fact that they look like strawberries. Most techno geeks (and I'm a self-confessed plant, soil and water geek!) would rather see investment in Internet technology than see high quality food available more widely. Regards Chris 12/19/13, 4:00 PM Cherokee Organics said... Hi JMG, As an interesting aside. I just happened yesterday to pass by a poster for a conference in 2014: Marxism conference in Melbourne 2014 Tried, failed, yet the idea keeps coming back - just like a zombie and to about the same effect. You're good. The poster gave me a weird goose bump feeling of recognition. It is quite sad that we can't seem to learn from history. Respect. Chris 12/19/13, 4:16 PM Cherokee Organics said... Hi Joseph, Ugg the caveman and nematodes! hehe! thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 35/72
  36. 36. 1/19/14 The Archdruid Report: An Old Kind of Science Well done. Chris 12/19/13, 4:25 PM Cherokee Organics said... Hi JMG, One last thought for today. The heat has kept me inside the house. Quote: "understand the internal logic that determines what they do when left to themselves." Yeah, this is exactly the process that I follow here when trying to provide optimal conditions for the living systems (chooks, bees, fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and wildlife). Following this methodology is easier and less work really than tinkering with the systems all of the time. It is just slower and requires more resources. The bees are a really good example. I've set them up and just observe what they do and try to get a feel for their cycles - if left to their own devices in optimal conditions (they're pretty happy at the moment with all of the flowers here). Most of the advice and books for bees is geared towards maximum / efficient production. Very little advice and practice is geared towards resiliency of the colony. It is little wonder that colony collapse disorder is so widespread. Such a moniker is really another name for: water stress, food stress, predators, disease, environmental stress and finally my favourite relocation stress. It is hardly any wonder why bees have such a hard time of it across the planet! Regards Chris 12/19/13, 5:44 PM dragonfly said... So, I've had some actual hands-on experience with cellular automata. Fascinating stuff. Some years ago, I embarked on an interactive art project, a major component of which was the simulation of waves moving on the surface of a body of water. It turns out that cellular automata is rather well-suited to this end. The math is simple, and requires no calculus, to my continuing amazement. Further, the simulation exhibited realistic refraction and reflection of waves, which confounded me for the longest time, given that the underlying model knows *nothing* of such phenomena. I didn't program it to do that ! Two things that really stuck with me from that project are how very simple rules can give rise to amazingly complex, beautiful, thearchdruidreport.blogspot.no/2013/12/an-old-kind-of-science.html 36/72

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