Our success is killing us

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coberst
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Our success is killing us

Postby coberst » Thu Nov 08, 2007 4:36 pm UTC

Our success is killing us

The aims of technology are achieved and our chances for survival are fatally diminished. The fault is not in our technology but in us. The fault lies within human society.

McLuhan made us aware of the fact that technology is an extension of our self. I would say that we and also our ecosystem are both gestalts, a whole, wherein there are complex feedback loops that permit self healing and various means that protect us from our self.

The dictionary defines gestalt as meaning a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts. When we interfere with the gestalt, i.e. our ecosystem or our self, we are changing some one or some few of the feedback loops that help us maintain equilibrium. Such modifications, if not fully understood, can send the gestalt into a mode wherein equilibrium can no longer be maintained.

In 1919 Ernest Rutherford announced to a shocked world “I have been engaged in experiments which suggest that the atom can be artificially disintegrated. If it is true, it is far greater importance than a war.” Today’s stem-cell research could, in my opinion, be considered as more important than a war and also more important than Rutherford’s research success.

The discussion regarding the advisability of continuing stem-cell research primarily focuses on the religious/political factor and on the technology but there is little or no focus upon the impact that could result to our society beyond its health effects.

We are unwilling or unable to focus on the long-term effects of our technology and thus should put much of it on hold until we gain a better means to evaluate the future implications of our technology.

What do you think about this serious matter?

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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Gunfingers » Thu Nov 08, 2007 4:40 pm UTC

Neither humanity nor our ecosystem has ever been in a state of equilibrium.

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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Maurog » Thu Nov 08, 2007 4:45 pm UTC

I don't understand the question. Why is our success killing us? Are you saying we advance too fast? The steam cells example actually suggests technology advances slower than it should. Also, there is a claim that technology can severely affect environment. Why is this bad? We are capable of fixing the environment with technology just as well as harming it. If you are saying that we should become better humans to "deserve" the advanced tools we develop, think again. That will never happen, tools or no tools.

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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby 22/7 » Thu Nov 08, 2007 4:47 pm UTC

That's a lot of long words for this here simple pirate?

But in all seriousness, I think you're absolutely right, that we as a society (globally, probably, but certainly nationally) are far too focused on what we can do and not at all interested in what we *should* do. Of course, you've kind of oversimplified things. For one, who's going to work their asses off getting into power so that they can make an unpopular decision (as any decision that tells the masses that they can no longer have the conveniences they've come to know and love is bound to be) just to be booted out on the street for making that decision, and then probably have his predecessor undo his work? Of course, said decisions would not only be unpopular because of the direct consequences to the population, but also the less direct ones. Failure of the economy would probably be frowned upon. The inability to communicate and or travel quickly over large distances would be hard for most people to give up. And the list goes on. So I guess my (answering a question with a) question to you would be, what exactly should be *done* about it?

Edit:
gunfingers wrote:Neither humanity nor our ecosystem has ever been in a state of equilibrium.

What I was thinking but was not poetic enough to express concisely.
Last edited by 22/7 on Thu Nov 08, 2007 5:41 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Live » Thu Nov 08, 2007 5:36 pm UTC

We are in a position where we can't afford to stop the development of new technologies, because the current ones are too detrimental to keep, and society has advanced beyond the production capabilities of the old ones.

Also, it's very difficult to look ahead and plan the development of new technologies based on need. For one thing, one can't accurately predict what research will produce (or the effects of serendipity). Similarly, one can't accurately predict the need.


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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Infornographer » Thu Nov 08, 2007 5:50 pm UTC

I agree that we do not spend enough time thinking about the ramifications of science.

I disagree that we spend too much time working on science.

Rather, we need to focus on inventing that science and technology and at the same time evaluating its uses and implications. We should not interfere with the progress of science, but rather the applications of science (all to the extent we morally can). I feel that we need to readjust our priorities as a society (even as a species) and commit ourselves further to these intellectual pursuits.

Of course I realize the idealism built into this proposition, and that it could never feasibly work anytime in the near future. Regardless, if you find yourself thinking that we don't worry enough about our technology causing harm and war, I think you should also ask the question of why should we put up with living in a society which would use technology for those reasons? If we ever manage to accomplish a paradigm shift and get our priorities straight, I can't even begin to imagine the marvels of science and technology we'd see...
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby thoughtfully » Thu Nov 08, 2007 5:51 pm UTC

Gunfingers wrote:Neither humanity nor our ecosystem has ever been in a state of equilibrium.


Actually, I would qualify that with "since the dawn of agriculture". Sure, aboriginal folks can be hard on their environments, and do wipe out their own support systems now and then, but typically they find a new equilibrium point and get along reasonably well, until those silly europeans show up and crash the party. Really, no manners at all!

I've been reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It got an award from Ted Turner for advancing the environmental cause in a fictional format. It's really a very fresh and intriguing take on a familiar topic.

Of course, there's no fundemental difference between aboriginal folks and the people of the near east six to ten thousand years ago. If the local conditions favored it, they would probably get themselves into the same bind we have. That is basically what Jared Diamond says in "Guns, Germs, and Steel".

Que flame war concerning cultural distinctions, hehe :)
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Indon » Thu Nov 08, 2007 6:03 pm UTC

coberst wrote:We are unwilling or unable to focus on the long-term effects of our technology and thus should put much of it on hold until we gain a better means to evaluate the future implications of our technology.


I would postuate that no significant new technology (as opposed to, say, innovation or an improvement in existing technology) can have its' long-term effects predicted with any accuracy, and often even the short-term effects are unpredictable.

Furthermore, I would think that as our ability to predict the impact of our technology increases, our ability to produce profoundly different, harder-to-predict technology increases in proportion.

We can postulate the long-term consequences of mastery of our own genetics; not only no disease but profoundly biologically different individuals, as the technology is inevitably turned from survival to simple self-improvement. A new generation of retroviral weapons and superweapons and defenses against them. Mad, dystopian superman cultures.

But beyond our vague, science-fiction imagining, we have nothing. In order to understand the concepts beyond the ones we are learning, we must learn those concepts, which is tantamount to developing the technology in question and just not employing it... and I just don't think that can happen.
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby EdgarJPublius » Thu Nov 08, 2007 8:27 pm UTC

thoughtfully wrote:
Gunfingers wrote:Neither humanity nor our ecosystem has ever been in a state of equilibrium.


Actually, I would qualify that with "since the dawn of agriculture". Sure, aboriginal folks can be hard on their environments, and do wipe out their own support systems now and then, but typically they find a new equilibrium point and get along reasonably well, until those silly europeans show up and crash the party. Really, no manners at all!


Woolly Mammoths were hunted to extinction long before there was either Agriculture or Europeans to screw things up, since the dawn of humanity (and before) Humans and the Environment have been at a dynamic equilibrium, ever changing
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Yakk » Thu Nov 08, 2007 9:20 pm UTC

Dinosaurs died, the entire world was poisoned by mass oxygen production... humanity is not key to breaking the equilibrium of the planet.

It is true that there is no guarantee that we won't wipe ourselves out. But there is a guarantee that if we just wait around and be cautious we will be wiped out. A rock will come from space and sterilize the planet of all higher life forms within a handful of million years. Civilization will fall under the crushing ice age that will come even if we never built a single coal mine within a few 10s of thousands of years. All that mankind is, was and will be will die, frozen, crushed to dust, and eventually swallowed in flame.

Unless we stop it.

Now, I'm not saying that we will win. I'm saying that the only path that involves victory over time involves taking over the god damn universe via science and technology.

No, not interstellar fleets blasting planets to rubble -- but that'll happen along the way. I'm talking about figuring out the rules of the universe and bending them to our will. Building a legacy that will last longer than the mere flicker our star is alive for. We can build a legacy that out lives life itself.

If we stay at home, fearing change, and lock the windows against the dark, that won't stop the dark from swallowing everything. Only by striding out and shining a light into the dark do we stand a chance against the coming of the night.
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby BurntCornMuffin » Thu Nov 08, 2007 10:29 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:Now, I'm not saying that we will win. I'm saying that the only path that involves victory over time involves taking over the god damn universe via science and technology.

No, not interstellar fleets blasting planets to rubble -- but that'll happen along the way. I'm talking about figuring out the rules of the universe and bending them to our will. Building a legacy that will last longer than the mere flicker our star is alive for. We can build a legacy that out lives life itself.

If we stay at home, fearing change, and lock the windows against the dark, that won't stop the dark from swallowing everything. Only by striding out and shining a light into the dark do we stand a chance against the coming of the night.


Indeed. I've always felt that that humanity is doomed unless we start living beyond this planet. Once that happens, then there's no need to worry about global warming, over-crowding, lack of resources, or some random asteroid bumping into us causing human extinction.
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Belial » Thu Nov 08, 2007 10:35 pm UTC

Once that happens, then there's no need to worry about global warming, over-crowding, lack of resources, or some random asteroid bumping into us causing human extinction.


Well, yeah, there is a need to worry about those things, because it will still suck for the people on earth. I doubt we're ever going to have a realistic way to get everyone on the planet *off* the planet.
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Nath » Thu Nov 08, 2007 11:04 pm UTC

Besides, even an overcrowded, warmed, starved, asteroided earth would probably still be the most habitable place we know of. Spreading to other planets might provide some insurance from a sudden, unforeseen disaster, but may not provide any long term answers. If we can build a self-sustaining civilization in space, we can do that on earth. Figuring out how to do so is the big question.

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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby VannA » Thu Nov 08, 2007 11:15 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:If we stay at home, fearing change, and lock the windows against the dark, that won't stop the dark from swallowing everything. Only by striding out and shining a light into the dark do we stand a chance against the coming of the night.


Technology is not really the problem.

Not the pace, not the lack of foresight.

The problem is the lack of scientific principles to the supposedly soft sciences.

Morality, Group Morality, Sociology, Economics.

The things that control the mechanics behind out communal and cultural activities.

We need axioms, we need postulations, and we need steps to reach those goals.

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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Yakk » Thu Nov 08, 2007 11:26 pm UTC

The soft sciences are soft not for lack of trying, but because they are hard.

We can do statistical mechanics on a few billion nearly identical particles of air. We lack the brain power to build even half-assed models of individuals in groups of a few million.

We are trying. Look at cognitive science -- they are using the studies done by the psychologists (who are busy proving that "red rooms make people angry"), and building computer models that attempt to functionally model the internal brain-bits that generate the effect. This isn't easy, but they have had some successes. As imaging becomes exponentially better and computers exponentially faster, we'll be able to do more and more along that direction.

Then once we can model individuals with a reasonable degree of accuracy, we'll be able to throw supercomputers at masses of individuals and build social models. Next, they can run experiments on these simsocs, and see if they can build easier to grasp rules of social dynamics from the reasonably accurate detailed simulations.

Or that is one path.

...

And no, not everyone is going to get off of the planet. But, honestly, everyone on the planet is still doomed. The best people on a planet can reasonably hope for is that lots of their intellectual/physical descendants will leave the earth before all higher life on the planet is wiped out, in the long term.

If your moral scope is limited to your own individual life, then global warming really isn't that large of an issue compared to, say, earning a few million dollars. Global warming is relatively slow, and a few million dollars will probably insulate you from the negative consequences.
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Nath » Fri Nov 09, 2007 1:09 am UTC

VannA wrote:The problem is the lack of scientific principles to the supposedly soft sciences.

Morality, Group Morality, Sociology, Economics.

Morality is not a soft science, because morality is not a science. You can't run morality experiments, because the results are a matter of opinion.

Sociology and economics are another matter. They can be studied somewhat scientifically, and there are a few people out there who do so.

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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby VannA » Fri Nov 09, 2007 1:17 am UTC

Nath wrote:
VannA wrote:The problem is the lack of scientific principles to the supposedly soft sciences.

Morality, Group Morality, Sociology, Economics.

Morality is not a soft science, because morality is not a science. You can't run morality experiments, because the results are a matter of opinion.

Sociology and economics are another matter. They can be studied somewhat scientifically, and there are a few people out there who do so.


I'd argue that Morality and Ethics can both be treated as sciences.

But the results of particular ethical and moral systems can be tested scientifically.
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Nath » Fri Nov 09, 2007 1:23 am UTC

VannA wrote:
Nath wrote:
VannA wrote:The problem is the lack of scientific principles to the supposedly soft sciences.

Morality, Group Morality, Sociology, Economics.

Morality is not a soft science, because morality is not a science. You can't run morality experiments, because the results are a matter of opinion.

Sociology and economics are another matter. They can be studied somewhat scientifically, and there are a few people out there who do so.


I'd argue that Morality and Ethics can both be treated as sciences.

But the results of particular ethical and moral systems can be tested scientifically.

You could conceivably figure out whether moral system A or moral system B yields a higher standard of living, or lower crime, or whatever. You'd need two groups of people in similar circumstances, but with one group following system A and one following system B. However, what would that really tell you? It would tell you which system is more useful according to some particular metric. That would be interesting information, but the choice of metric is still subjective.

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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby malarkie » Fri Nov 09, 2007 1:30 am UTC

Morality and ethics are not sciences. If only because study over which particular moral system is better comes down to opinion, not quantifiable things. Much like philosophy and whether this author is better than that one.

It is near impossible to see the effects of a new technology until it has been around for a while. And at the rate that we are increasing our technological level, the effects are lagging behind what is most advanced.

(If that is unclear, let me know. I just had a rockstar and my brain is a little scattered.)
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby VannA » Fri Nov 09, 2007 1:38 am UTC

malarkie wrote:Morality and ethics are not sciences. If only because study over which particular moral system is better comes down to opinion, not quantifiable things. Much like philosophy and whether this author is better than that one.



Well, no.. Like Nath said, (and I intended) you can measure the effectiveness of any given system against any given goal.

Defining that goal is ultimately (to me) a question for sociology, psychology and neuroscience to answer.
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby aleflamedyud » Fri Nov 09, 2007 1:48 am UTC

Funny, because morality is the usual instrument for defining goals.
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby malarkie » Fri Nov 09, 2007 1:51 am UTC

Let's say that the goal is no more violence at the end of the process.
One person will say that the key is education and general niceness. Another will say punishment of the bad. And yet another would say kill all the people dispositioned to badness.
All of those people will reach the same goal according to their logic.
And it's likely that each of the groups will have very smart people with them, making it hard to prove which is better (based on the assumption that being smart makes you good at justification).
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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Nath » Fri Nov 09, 2007 1:54 am UTC

VannA wrote:
malarkie wrote:Morality and ethics are not sciences. If only because study over which particular moral system is better comes down to opinion, not quantifiable things. Much like philosophy and whether this author is better than that one.



Well, no.. Like Nath said, (and I intended) you can measure the effectiveness of any given system against any given goal.

Defining that goal is ultimately (to me) a question for sociology, psychology and neuroscience to answer.

Then it's not a question of morality. It's simply a question of utility. The two overlap, and in some moral systems are identical, but this isn't generally true.

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Re: Our success is killing us

Postby Enigma90825 » Fri Nov 09, 2007 3:17 am UTC

It's a question of basic economics. Just as a "private sector" will put more effort into a product because they have more to gain than a neutral company with no possible profit. People work harder when there is something in it for them. Technology is not going to go to the area which is most "morally correct" or "ecologically friendly," it will go to the place which offers the most profit, or utility. If people want to divert technology, they need to figure out and successfully implement a way to make the diversion more profitable for people. That way, people will be willing to channel their ingenuity into that specific area.
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