20090529

We Must Not Lose the Propaganda War

In a speech before the convention of the veterans of foreign wars in new york, Nixon also said opposition to the war in this country is the greatest single Weapon working against the u.s.

Propaganda lies in an ethically grey area. It can be used to justify both noble and ignoble causes. We are engaged in an environmental propaganda war which has persisted since the 1960s. This war pits wealthy, powerful, job providing, and ultimately destructive corporations against the poorly organized and underfunded environmental grassroots organizations.

This afternoon I witnessed some truly strange anti-green propaganda as I drove from New York to Pittsburgh. I am certain that this propaganda was paid for by powers representing the interests of the Pennsylvania coal mining industry, and not the interest of Pennsylvanians themselves.

The first item of interest is a billboard advocating clean coal, depicting a green incandescent lightbulb on a black background. They could have at least used a compact fluorescent bulb to pretend to mask their hypocrisy, but I doubt the citizens of buttfuck Pennsylvania will notice. There is no such thing as clean coal, and all information associated with "clean coal" is an effort by existing coal mining corporations to persist in their inefficient and destructive enterprise.

Having lost the moral high ground by attacking the citizens of central PA, I proceed to the next billboard of interest, which reads ( near as I can remember )

"Obama's clean energy plan is a war on the poor"

The billboard cites a projected $5 per gallon for gasoline as evidence of this war, and urges citizens to call their senators. This billboard must have been paid for by either the coal companies, the oil companies, or both. This one is complicated. Assume for a moment that Obama's policies will lead to $5/gallon gasoline, and ignore the fact that the oil market has more control over the price of gasoline than any government. If Detroit were to double its gas milage on all vehicles, this increased cost would be nullified, and we would all be breathing a little bit easier. I can only assume that the inertia with respect to fuel efficiency is due to intellectual laziness or intellectual insufficiency in America's engineers and auto company CEOs. Complaints about the jobs lost as the coal and oil companies collapse miss the point that our current coal, oil, and gas enterprises are destructive and lazy solutions to our energy needs. If properly executed, the green energy economy can replace the role of fossil fuel corporations in the American job market.

Many of you may be familiar with fast breeder nuclear reactors. These reactors can meet our energy needs with existing nuclear fuel, and should give us more than enough carbon-free years to transition to purely sustainable energy source. After some discussion with other authors of this blog, we suspect that fast breeder reactors can be done properly and need not pose a national security risk. There is widespread concern that the plutonium produced by fast breeder reactors may find its way into the hands of a rouge state or terrorist group. This would require cooperation between some part of a major nuclear power and a dangerous terrorist group. Now, this is not to say that this is unlikely or that this hasn't happened before, but wouldn't we expect existing sources of plutonium/uranium to pose a similar risk ? If the plutonium fuel produced is stored on site, and we limit the number of stations to a few tens or a couple hundred, we should be able to keep the fuel secure. Additionally, it is possible that the small risk of a rouge state acquiring the plutonium fuel is much less than the risk of widespread political instability caused by global climate change. I hope that somewhere, some think tank is analyzing these risks right now, and has found a way to overcome the security concerns surrounding fast breeder reactors.

As for the propaganda war, the best I can think of at the moment is to hold an internet photoshop contest for pro-green propaganda, and display the best on billboards in prominent locations, and in online advertisements. The only idea so far : playboy model next to a nuclear stack, captions "one of these curves can save the world" ... or something like that. Getting churches in this country on the bandwagon may do some good, but that is a hard beast to control.


20090523

Technosphere/Biosphere

An excellent and imaginative post from Everett.

The upcoming climate/energy crisis is the product of a clash between two competing ecosystems, the biosphere and the technosphere. This is not to say that machine and animal are automatically in opposition, the issue is that the biosphere is unable to react to the technosphere fast enough to maintain equilibrium. Evolution is a process that affects all entities with heredity. The biological process of evolution is an established fact. Evolution in machines is a more radical idea, but one espoused by many STS theorists. To summarize, technologies are built on previous technologies, that is to say they express a heredity. The course of technological development is guided by selection pressures of technical possibility, and the desires of human actors.

The biosphere and technosphere are incompatible, because technical evolution occurs on a time scale orders of magnitude faster than biological evolution. Without protection, the biosphere will be forced back by technological artifacts that occupy the same macro-niches, in terms of land and resources. The technosphere, areas substantially altered by human technology, now occupies most of the land area of the planet. With its speed enhanced efficiency, without external pressures, it will expand to cover the entire world.

I cannot predict the state of the post-crisis equilibrium. The biosphere will survive, as the rocks and seas that existed before life remain. But as Mike's post postulates, we may see a convergences between biological and technological. Biology will take place on technical substrates rather than physical ones. Genetic technologies will decrease the timescale of biological evolution, perhaps providing a method for the biosphere to compete with the technosphere. Of course, a genetically engineered organism is a technical process, so this is another means by which the biosphere is being rendered obsolete.

Timescales: Expect mankind to become extinct when posthuman evolutionary timescales significantly outpace human evolutionary timescales by an order of 5-10.


20090521

Progress

Human progress : first it was exponential, then climate change brought it down to linear, until our energy capture capacity brought everything to a slow and final halt. It took hundreds of years past the third world war to finally reach our carrying capacity. It is a state in which we let all go to waste. We re-engineered the entire planet to support our ever increasing population. The mass extinction is old news, but don't worry, we've digitally preserved their DNA. You can enjoy the new holographic virtualization of ecosystems lost. It is as good as the real thing, except they never reproduce the smell quite right, the older people say. We lost the medicinal wealth of the tropical ecosystems, but thats ok, we aren't really biological anymore anyway. Life is not dead: vast orbiting supercomputers simulate the hypothetical evolution of a planet without us.



20090518

There are 1.2 billion people alive today who were born before the molecular basis of life was discovered

This is for those who claim that some of the questions we ask today will never be answered.

(Population data from here. Using the central dogma of molecular biology, articulated in 1958, as a somewhat arbitrary cutoff point.)


20090514

Notes on Practical Construction of Desert Compounds

(thanks to friends)

Tunnel garderns
Adobe based construction
Clever use of more conventional construction
What to tell the county
What to do with the poop
Its not that unreasonable

A more private version of hippie desert science land
Not the institute of mental physics
The simple construction option
Using local building materials

And of course, a few of these


Brains at DARPA

The gnomes at the Pentagon are always pushing the limits of science, and these days they're looking into brains. A leading DARPA initiative investigates the possibility of telepathy. I can't say that faster communication between soldiers is the wave of the future. While it'd be useful to be able to communicate well in a squad that was split up, there are probably easier ways to do this. While I'm fairly sure general emotional states could be transmitted, the only one that seems useful militarily is 'danger.' Extracting enough information out of an EEG to allow tactical command seems like a major challenge. For a good look at how a developed system of this type would work, see Scalzi's The Ghost Brigade.

Where I see this coming in handy is in therapy, negotiations, and relationships. If these machines allow better interpersonal emotional understanding, i.e. empathy, they offer a path to peace. By becoming more in tune with our emotions, we can better understand ourselves and each other, reducing tension in this world.

BONUS LINK:
Techer could be new DARPA chief.


Penetrabit: Slime-Temples

by Rob Hardin

Life is a disease of matter.
--Goethe


I
30 cm. of creeping protoplasm,
absently gibbering spirals, hexahedrons, hillocks, trills
may indicate an autocatalytic reaction.
And the hypnotic figurations of nerve axons-

Receptive, active, quiescent-
turn like scrolls of electrolyzed plasma.
Both substances reveal a talent for spatial organization:
their dead thrashings trace patterns of cerebral complexity.

Similarly, the contractions of human heart muscle
resemble a wave spreading outward.
When the wave is broken, heart fibrillations
exhibit persistent patterns. And, often

these autocatalytic spirals of disease
are attended by failure and death.

II
The surface of the brain
may also erupt in a necropolis of spirals.
Reverberating cortical depression
brings with it a pattern of self-propagating forms.

Even a disc galaxy follows this rococo pathology:
its tentacles of stars are ragged whorls.
A parahuman architect is endless sketching cochlear temples to its own vacant energies.

If god is dead, he is dressed as a tendrillar Louis XIV,
and his fingers are twitching.


20090513

Five Principles for Productive Debate

If two parties can not agree to the following five principles of debate, then the debate is unlikely to reach a correct and reasonable conclusion. Even with these principles in place, a debate may be unsolvable, as evidenced by apparent paradoxes in the perfectly logical and rigorous framework of mathematics.


1 : Both parties must be open to convincing by rational argument

2 : Both parties must argue for both sides of the debate

3 : Sloppy logic will lead to 'reasonable' but useless or incorrect results

4 : All evidence must be considered with equal statistical weight and fact-checked

5 : No Faith except that which is common to both parties



If these principles can not be agreed upon, then a productive resolution of the debate can not be guaranteed.

If principle 1 is violated, then the debate becomes a pointless exercise in contradiction.

If principle 2 is violated, then the debate may be decided based on who has more charisma or better rhetoric, not on which side is more correct. Adhering to principle 2 also ensures that both parties have respect and understanding of the opposing viewpoint.

Principle 3 is impossible to attain absolutely ( except in math ), but both parties should be disciplined and adhere to as rigorous of reasoning as is possible.

If principle 4 is violated then your debate has no firm ground to stand on, and it will devolve into an exercise in manipulating the truth rather than finding it.

If principle 5 is violated, principle 1 is automatically violated simply by use of contradictory axioms : the union of your reasoning frameworks automatically contains a contradiction, and no sound resolution is possible.

Some debates or arguments are too poorly defined to meet these five criteria. Some debates may contain within them an inherent contradiction to these five criteria.


Catastrophic Futurism

A brief overview of current futurism shows that most of it is predicated on a notion of catastrophe. Global warming, energy, finance, radical terrorism, the Singularity, all of these concepts have at their core the idea that mankind is held hostage to unpredictable events beyond our control. Taleb's influential Black Swan theory posits infrequent, large scale events as the causal driver of history. There is of course a large degree of validity to this point of view. We undoubtedly do face major problems, but is catastophism a useful futurist model?

Futurism's obsession with the catastrophe has distracted us from the real goal of the discipline. The job of a futurist is not to predict the future, his job is to create the future. If a visionary is right, it is only by accident. Instead of aiming for correctness, we should aim for visionary impact and power. Mankind wants to hope. We must be allowed to dream.

Forget predictive power, these are the axioms we must build on:
1) Which human values are important?
2) What technological means are available?
3) What does a world that embodies our values and means look like?


20090510

The seventh (and most paranoid) possible reason why serious people no longer write about hallucinogens

A variant of [4] below.


Mutual Disrespect

"Do you have anything besides... existential destruction of all attempts at reasoning this evening?"
"... Yeah, it's a bit bleak isn't it."
"Can you articulate what if anything is problematic with religion?"
"The usual response is that it's the enemy of reason, etc., but then you have to argue that reason is a good thing.
I would be more inclined just to state that religions are groups of replicators which manifest a great deal of power and use it in ways often contrary to the interests of 'humanity,' and other replicator-groups with the same power and the same human-orthogonal utility functions are much more readily criticized, e.g. nationalisms, political ideologies, secular traditions, technologies, 'globalization', but religion is uniquely sacred, and 'respectable' members of society are obliged to pay lip service to it.

We act like the solution to religious strife is some kind of limp 'mutual respect', where a rabbi and a priest and an imam sit in the same room and say nice things about each other. I'd prefer mutual disrespect. I'd prefer that they sit in that room and argue about total nonsense until they turn blue, and let the rest of the world see how utterly silly it is."