Are we lost?

A Persian mathematician and astronomer by the name of al-Khwarizimi (died 850AD) spent his career working in the House of Wisdom; a fantastic mathematician from which we derive the algorithm. His tireless efforts in translating and writing mathematical texts popularised numerals and arithmetic in Europe, a raging intellectual fire burning across the globe. The House of Wisdom, founded by the caliph to promote the intellectual advancement of the sciences. The Greeks, drenched in philosophical thought who looked at the world and postulated that these messages from the God’s may indeed be physical phenomena. The Babylonians, whose sexagesimal (base 60) study of numbers we pay homage to each time we look at the clock. Throughout history time and time again we have societies who understood the power of science and mathematics, and gave mankind advancement which we use today with so little thanks.

Indeed fast forward to the year 1851; Crystal Palace London, and one of Britain’s most anticipated technological exhibitions organised by Prince Albert. Charles Darwin is among hundreds and thousands of onlookers, dying to see the latest inventions of the day. Today; if an ancient Babylonian were to walk among us; or al-Khwarizimi rose from the dead they might be forgiven for thinking that society has more interest in keeping up with the Kardashians than keeping up with the advancement of the human race. Could it be that we are on a course of decreasing scientific progress to the detriment of mankind? How have we come to live in a world where spending on defence often outstrips science? If my study of history has taught me one thing it is that a solid defence against the future is a deep investment in science.

The low hanging fruit

The low hanging fruit is the first to be picked; and appeals to the greatest number of people. It can be picked with the least skill and reaps equal benefits to the fruit of higher branches. Perhaps we have a problem that all of the low hanging fruit has been picked. When we woke up on this world we were blind. We did not know anything; we did not know where we were or why we were here. Indeed an omnipotent being putting a holey blanket over the sky seemed far more plausible that the rotation of the Earth about its axis – an idea that seemed more alien to our ancestors than aliens do to us. Wizardry.

Now we live in a world where a good undergraduate degree in Physics does not give you all the tools you need in order to understand the forefront of modern Physics. In order to get stuck in, postgraduate study is wise; and even then there is no clear point where you can say your classroom education is “done”. The simple fact stands that if you want a chance of making a difference in modern Physics you probably, assuming you are not a natural prodigy, need to devote your entire life to it. When you consider that; it is far easier to understand why fewer people might wish to throw their hat into the ring; and in turn why fewer governments would offer wide-scale funding given the smaller percentage of the population represents.

We need to adjust the fruit metaphor. Now the low hanging fruit is large, juicy and attractively colored, but the fruit at the top is small and potentially not even edible. Not only do we need to persuade people they should harvest the fruit that is harder to reach, there is the added issue that it is potentially not even edible. This is the problem we face in Physics today. I am a loud and proud lover of topology; as you may have guessed from my recent post. I think it is fascinating as it embodies the union of mathematical construction and the physical world-  the very heart of Theoretical Physics; this is why it exists as a separate discipline, to construct something from theory and then apply it to the universe in front of us. But with a heavy heart I have had to come to accept it just does not have mass appeal, because the truth is it seems far removed from the everyday experience. This is the situation we have been in for many years now. Indeed our Newtonian description of gravity has remained good enough for the every day, and still does. Yet we know this not to be the truth since Einstein; however I dare say little is actually known of gravity in special relativity with people being rampantly seduced by ideas of time dilation.

The less attractive something is the bigger the problem of generating interest. Modern physics is tough, making it less and less accessible and the problems within it become further and further removed from the quotidian experience; requiring greater and greater imagination.

The ever decreasing increment

Back in 2009, when I received my formal Economics training the first lectures were around utility; moreover marginal utility. It is dressed up with wonderful complex words, to ensure onlookers are suitably impressed with your notes but in actuality it is very simple. If I give you an Oreo you will be very thankful and eat it. If I give you another you will be fairly thankful and eat it. Another you will be thankful and eat it. Another you will eat it. Another you start to feel a little nauseous. Another and you’re really questioning my motives. But you see each time I am giving you the same item; and yet your reaction, or your utility derived from the item is decreasing.

Do we have the same in Physics? Of course throughout history we have had paradigm shifts; particle revolutions and super-string bonanzas but in general progress through time follows a utility curve no different to the Oreo. The first big discoveries are huge; but today a seemingly small advancement in a field could be enough to win you a Nobel prize. It’s not that our sites are lower, it’s just that we already have a few thousand years of human thought behind us. Save those little flurries of human genius, we have to feed the machine a lot more to get a lot less out. This isn’t a problem; it is a natural feature of a progress curve but perhaps this is why we struggle to get the fuel the machine needs today. We are asking for more and offering less in return; everyone knows the investment looks less attractive.

The hardest thing in the world to understand is income tax

Money has always defeated me. I can understand why money is the most important thing on the mind of someone who does not have enough; but not to a man who has enough. How does one define enough? It’s personal of course – but for me “enough” allows me to study freely and experience Earth alongside my nearest and dearest. Beyond that? I have no real interest. The reason I know what enough is is because I know what makes me happy; you know it is often said that a rich man is a poor man with money. This could not be more true. It is a dangerous path to embark on, the accumulation of wealth without knowing what makes you happy because you begin to define your happiness on the accumulation rather than the benefits the accumulation brings. This is a great way to die beneath the life expectancy, with a large amount of  these made up credits that eventually get left to a donkey sanctuary.

An issue with attracting investment in science today is it is only profitable on the grandest of scales. To attract investment you need to think thousand of years into the future. How can we even conceive doing this, when the world is too short sighted to recycle?  Today we need to persuade governments to invest in science – an in turn that really means persuading the population. It is very hard to win the fight for the future of mankind against the people of today. The cake of today seems tastier than tomorrows.

The rose-tinted spectacles

Of course we must consider the final option, which is that my perception of the world is wrong. When you look back over all of human history it is easy to choose times of great progress because, well you have all of human history to cherry pick from. Yet if I was a blogger in the Dark Ages, perhaps I would be crying the end of scientific progress and doomsday for mankind. It is possible that we are just in a small but natural quiet patch in theoretical physics that is soon to come to an end. The curve of progress could yet be smooth, just over a timescale my little human life cannot appreciate.

The conclusion

Personally I think we are lost. Just as I said it is dangerous for a human to accumulate wealth before they know what for, I fear the planet as a whole has done the same. Science is becoming more and more of an elite discipline with fewer investment and interest from the outside. Up to now I seemed to have blamed the faceless populous but there is a role of science to play here. Mekhi wrote about Elon Musk’s talk in Mexico and I could not agree with the conclusions more – this could have been a rallying cry to the world to throw their support behind a huge advancement for mankind. The content of the speech got me interested – but I was already interested. The delivery was about as interesting as a lecture in the history of tax (of which I have sat in many). If I was a floating voter, unsure if I even cared about such an endeavor I would at least expect my persuader to look enthused.

If scientific progress is to survive we need to come out the bunker. We cannot huddle together in groups, in dingy basement laboratories, or at conferences where only people from within the industry participate. We need to be a louder voice in politics, in education and society in general. We need to infect others with the very same enthusiasm that got us interested in the first place; the world needs science but moreover science needs the world. It would be wrong to think otherwise.

127 responses to “Are we lost?

  1. Hi! madam and sir your blog content is so amazing I wonder if I could contribute for articles for free I would love to engage new niche…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi! Thank you very much for your visit I am glad you have enjoyed it! If you have any related posts I would be more than happy to take a look at them and reblog if they fit within the site – although generally we do post very specifically… Me and Mekhi have a very focused vision for the site!

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  2. LOL – wot-a-blog! Have returned from a break and busily catching up with a stuffed in-tray and find eml alert of this post at top and refers to very topic I want to refer to in back-to-blogging item – WISDOM !!

    AND, your posts on mathematical beauty refers to what I was reading about on holiday!

    In view of voluminous tray am running off hardcopies of best ‘stuff’ for reading asap, but just have to comment on yours before blogging. Clearly the Lord is working through you Jo.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Richard, great to see you back and I am glad you have enjoyed the recent blog activity! Mekhi who I used to reblog from is now my co-author which is all very exciting and we were recently featured on discover – all good things! Will look forward to reading your future posts

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      • Yes I’ve noticed and makes a terrific team – congratulations to you both. I’ve wanted to quote/reblog from both for acquainting my readership with more science, as I’d given brief tit-bits on quantum mechanics and time, but various constraints prevented me from doing so at present.

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  3. Pingback: A word, or two, of wisdom – ‘coincidentally’, of course! | Richard's Watch·

  4. Interesting provocative thoughts and, in view of ‘A’ level double-maths, physics and chemistry & under-grad physics in 1960s I recall global expectations of a forthcoming wealth of scientific advances for the benefit of mankind. Although taken in a completely different direction I’m remain even more excited about what physicists and astronomers are at the edge of learning. It’s been fascinating watching theories get ditched and replaced by newer insights. More lately, I’ve even thought some are moving towards almost agreeing with – if not catching up with – Judeao-Christian scripture!

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    • It is very interesting how two totally different directions can lead to appreciation of the same thing. If we can get more people to appreciate the beauty and the power of mathematics and physics then there might yet be hope for us all!

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  5. You’re a fabulous writer. Obviously dedicated to the practice of Richard P Feynman’s quote above. Your blog bends my mind. Exciting for sure!

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  6. Amazing work! To the standard of the people of which you speak of (if that makes any sense). Half I didn’t understand , but that was due to the quality that this piece is at! LOVE IT!!!

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    • Thank you very much for your visit, and for your kind words – very grateful to have a visit from someone who does such honorable and worthwhile as yourself. I look forward to reading your blog.

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  7. lol! Yes do come out of the bunker Love! We need a blending of science and the fruit from the higher branches! Today’s earthlings need both mind’s science and mind’s higher inspirations from the wisdom of the heart!
    Light and Love, Portia

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  8. An inspired article, Joseph. I think the next big advancement will have to be interplanetary civilizations, unless you physicists come up with a way to time travel.
    You have a way of writing about science that never makes the reader bored. It’s a rare quality to have.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you very much! I am glad you enjoyed the post; I am very passionate about trying to make science a little more interesting, because honestly I find it fascinating. Have you read my co-writers recent posts on time travel and on interplanetary advancements? I agree with you completely!

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  9. Hmm…So is your suggestion for the advancement of the community for scientists or those in the scientific community to become better at communicating the need for science, or to bring in those who have the ability to convert the populous in general to the cause?

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    • In a nutshell: yes! I am not claiming the idea to be original, there are outreach programs everywhere; but in my opinion as the ambitions of science become grander so does the need for funding and support. Science, on the human timescale is not profitable – in Economics terms it is a public good and therefore needs the support of the public. I think there is far more likely to be support for science when there is excitement around the benefits it can bring

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  10. I have lived through a time when our universe was doubtful about the existence of other galaxies, when Mars, perhaps, had canals, when this was the only solar system and the possibility of travel to the Moon was most probably, centuries away. Einstein had indicated that tremendous energy was captured within each atom but there was no magic way to release it. Amazing things might be possible as indicated in John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction but hand held telephones only appeared in those Saturday science fiction series for kids. A few guys were fooling with TV as a concept but Buck Rogers and Wilma and Killer Kane was a radio series along with Jack Armstrong, the all American boy and Little Orphan Annie. I got to be an army radar technician in WWII but we worked with huge components that are now microscopic. Genetics guessed that somehow living cells operated but when I graduated Stuyvesant High in Manhattan it was pretty theoretical and Abraham Penzer’s bio-shop course gave me a peek into Gregor Mendel’s thinking by raising generations of Drosophila melanogaster flies but the concept of reconstructing genes like Lego blocks was too weird to contemplate. The things that they are doing with monomolecular films is barely cracking open possibilities. Dark matter and dark energy and quantum entanglement are splitting open everything we considered solid. That’s not low hanging fruit, the stuff is all over the ground. I’m not a scientist, jut an interested artist and half assed poet and science has grown immensely even in my short lifetime. It’s the politicians and the economists who haven’t a clue and transformed into gibbering clowns ripping apart human decency and respect for this very unique planet.

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    • Hi and welcome to the blog – I am so enthused to hear someone who is so interested in science; I do of course wholeheartedly agree with you. It is the advancement of modern science and the sheer excitement this brings which is why I am here. My fear (which I could be wrong about) is that the majority do not share the belief; and majority in time will rule. That is why I think it is such a worthwhile cause not only studying science but promoting the benefits of it with the broadest appeal possible. On your last point I totally agree. For me the issue is rooted in perspective. Selfish humans can see into their future. Forward looking humans may think to their children… grandchildren or even great grandchildren; but how do we persuade people to invest and prepare for much grander timescales beyond the human experience. That is a challenge for society, not just science.

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  11. Brilliantly written. And i agree the society is largely indifferent to the fact that scientific advancement has tremendous implications on their lives. This ignorance is explicit in our everyday mundane political narrative. I believe we need to follow a two-pronged strategy in this regard– subtly nudging people, so that they are able to appreciate what scientific research has done for them, and a radical change in the policies.
    I liked the fruit metaphor. 🙂

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    • Thank you so much and welcome to the blog! I am glad you enjoyed and that some of the sentiments resonated with you. I agree with your analysis entirely. Far too often do you look at the front pages of the news and the most important things are just not there.

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  12. Very well written ! 🙂

    I feel we have a problem of plenty and we are losing focus. Society is increasingly taking science for granted and does not even have a basic curiosity towards why things are the way they are. We have to hit the trough before next peak 🙂

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    • Thank you very much – I am so glad you agree. If we cannot have a natural curiosity then I do hope we can create an artificial one; because being curious about the universe is essential

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    • I wonder where the focus of these scientific neglects seem to be. No doubt in the USA there are great numbers in the population who have lost confidence, not only in the miserably funded educational system but in the capabilities of all sections of the government who have proved unqualified to organize the population for a satisfactory life economically and culturally but have shorn away opportunities outside producing subservient supplies of workers to work in whatever industries have not been shipped overseas. The cost of higher education has impoverished the student population to the extent that a large sector of their adult life is devoted merely to get them out of debt if that is even possible. Even a brief glance at leading scientists indicates that a huge and growing sector of them are foreign born. Competent and experienced engineers are scraping by flipping hamburgers to make a meager living. And native born technically trained people are forced to train foreign replacements who demand lower pay scales. Why go for a PhD when there is little if any reward?

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      • I think it is a phenomena that is present in the UK too – our tuition fees recently went up, so in USD an average undergraduate degree will set you back US$50,000. Even a distance learning degree costs a heavy US$7,000 per year of study – so it really is quite a large expense. With the right people and the right funding anything is possible (within the laws of science!) but it is a spiraling problem – the less funding, the less people there are and hence the less attractive science seems

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  13. Another point that should not be neglected is that every scientific advance that displaces the necessity for human workers to make more economic production also impoverishes those people who are replaced by intelligent machines. This is an insidious destruction of the whole basic economic framework where the market requires well paid customers to buy industrial production. Production machinery does not buy anything so the whole system is undermined.

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    • I agree with you there – and perhaps creates a need to re calibrate our efforts. I suppose the economy needs to be flexible enough to support those within it whilst making sufficient advances

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  14. Very well said. And the science that you mention “…becoming more and more of an elite discipline with fewer investment and interest from the outside” is applicable to all the creativity necessary to keep science moving and evolving. It is absolutely imperative for science to be leading the way of our future. Not further spending on defense, isolationism and politics around world and even the vast billions spent on escapism (sports and reality TV ~ even though I am a huge sports fan…). Thought provoking post. 🙂

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    • Science has progressed through the ages from the general speculation in the ancient Greeks through the gentlemanly phase of the early awakening of observing nature and classifying observations into its marriage with the utilities of practical modifications of technology so that it has become an integral specialization for profit. This endowed even straight science of abstract conceptions with the wealth to manufacture basic investigation machinery now securely welded to the military and and information control of modern life which is subjugation of populations to political ends. Although abstract science pushes the envelope into radical rethinking of basics it is very quickly diversified into complex and powerful technology which feeds back into basic ideas. Independent isolated thinkers of great power rarely operate alone but are provided with teams sponsored industry to feed rapidly their discoveries into profitable ventures. Science is, in no way, divorced from the essential economics of society. It may not have popular appeal but it is highly muscle powering the whole economic social machine.

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      • I agree with you and as I was reading your post I perhaps thought of a useful split. When I say science isn’t generally profitable; I predominantly mean for example research into dark matter… the discovery of new particles. They have no economic application. On the other had modelling aerodynamics for fighter jets can be big business. So allow me to rephrase; the science mankind needs as a defence to the future is not profitable. I completely agree with you that science cannot be removed from social economics; perhaps there is a deeper imperfection not only in the level of funding but also the allocation. Thank you for your comment – a very interesting and thought provoking one

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    • I completely agree with you. If you notice, educational collaboration in any discipline seems to always pull together nations which politics cannot. There is something so human and so unifying about finding out new things in our mutual home.

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  15. Here I am, late to the party again!

    I’m going to try for absolute positivity and believe that, just as with many other stagnant issues in life, science (or rather the acute interest in…) has quite simply reached a plateau of complacency – I fervently hope that this will eventually slide right back into a renewed cycle of interest.

    It’s sites like this that might be just the “noodge” another student may need to find new focus towards this fascinating and exciting field…and keep people like me learning, far into old age!

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    • Welcome to the party Pearl! To reuse one of my old post titles – I would rather be late to the party than not arrive at all. I totally agree that we need people learning right across the spectrum; I wouldn’t be bold enough to say just about science, but learning for the joy of learning. Far too often people get their graduate degree and then don’t learn anything that isn’t within the confines of a career. This just isn’t good enough; there is a huge pleasure from learning things for no reason at all. I do hope you are right, and I can be around for a surge of scientific progress – how exciting that would be!

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      • Well, when that eventually DOES happen, if you turn around and see some toothless old hag leaning on a cane, grinning at you, you’ll know it’s me being happy right along with you!!

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  16. There is no question in my mind that science which is based on observing the universe and abstracting basic principles out of this study has done wonderful things for all of humanity and bestowed huge powers in every human direction on utilizing these understood principles for the benefit of Earth’s creatures. But there is a dark side to this almost magical conquest. The fundamental drives to control through understanding has also conferred these powers on social forces which have the potential destroy the delicate balance of natural forces which are basis of of human existence. The rather naive trust that the scientists possessed in those in ultimate control of nuclear power was totally betrayed in the unnecessary destruction of a huge number of helpless helpless civilians at the end of WWII. Both generals Eisenhower and MacArthur proclaimed there was no military need for that horrifying use of science and Einstein confessed he felt his life might have been better spent as an ordinary plumber.
    Even today the misuse of science in promoting genetically modified organisms to promote the sales of patented seeds and poisonous chemicals for profit and no real benefit (see http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/05/cornell-faculty-refuse-to-defend-gmo-crops/ ) spells out great dangers for the planet and civilization. There is no doubt that knowledge can be used badly and this only re-enforces unfortunate doubts about science as a real threat.

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    • I agree with your thoughts here; and to use the words of spider man – with great power comes great responsibility. We are fundamentally aqueous sacks of organic matter, of a size that does not even register as a speck of dust in the cosmic scale. If the Earth is the pale blue dot, what does that make us? When very small things tackle forces of immense power there is as you rightly suggest an inherent danger that they can be used against us; and what is even more dismaying is often this is done through the mechanism of a democratic leader. We need to be careful; because the balance between human salvation and human destruction through the progress of science rests of a knife edge. I of course believe science must progress; but you raise some very interesting points which I am not sure I have a good answer to – except for complete agreement that we need to make sure safeguards for society progress at the same rate

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  17. Interesting and provocative.

    Thank you for taking the time to visit http://www.rivenrod.com. Much appreciated.

    I am fascinated by the marvels our tiny planets offers, as well as the glorious and outrageous antics its inhabitants get up to, so you can be sure I’ll catch up with what you’re doing as often as I can.

    I look forward to our next encounter.

    RR

    Psssst. My latest novel, Swell, click here for reviews http://wp.me/PXk9K-259

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    • Thank you very much! As do I; I shall take a look at your latest novel for sure! And I agree with you; whilst we don’t always do the right thing it is invariably interesting!

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  18. You are right about the Kardashians but you misjudged human nature the vast majority of humans beings wish to use technology not learn about it. Science is advanced by the few but used by the many and it has always been that way.
    My second point is that science has greatly contributed to our present perilous situation , just think of the damage done by the internal combustion engine. Science is also driven by profit hence mobile phones but not antibiotics ; plans to go to Mars at enormous expense as the climate worsens. Heart transplants while five hundred million Indians defecate outside.

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    • I agree with your first point; although I wouldn’t say it has always been so clean cut. That is not to say at any point more than a minority would be in the camp of “doing” the science; but I feel the percentage was once larger. When the comets were seen in the sky, or the eclipse of the sun the layman wanted to know why; not just to use it because to reuse my own metaphor the fruit was low. I do agree that there probably has been quite a while that the balance has tipped – my fear is that it is worsening. On the second point I largely agree; in fact if you look at the comment up there was a very similar comment and I think you are spot on to point it out. Although I would caveat with Mars, and a lot of space work that this is being driven by SpaceX which is a privately funded company; therefore it isn’t really a fair comparison. It would be like me saying why am I eating out at a restaurant when people are homeless; it isn’t like for like. Overall though; I agree. I don’t think science is perfect by any stretch, just that it is the best hope we have.

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    • There is nothing wrong with the internal combustion engine. What’s wrong is a society that destroys the atmosphere by proliferating the immense use of it. Fire also is vitally useful but burning up the world entirely is insane. The problem comes down to a gross misapplication of what science offers. That’s not science’s fault. The business and government people are too idiotic to use science wisely and are destroying what the planet offers.

      The Mars thing is another piece of odd activity. Mars is a horrible environment with a useless atmosphere and negligible water. It would be more practical to inhabit Antarctica or the Sahara desert than Mars and a hell of a lot more available and livable.

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      • I agree with you – and agree that it is a societal and not a scientific issue as to how things are controlled. I think the key point with Mars isn’t that Mars will be a more comfortable environment than Earth; we have evolved for Earth but the issue is if we are going to survive on the grandest of scales we have to be multi-planetary. Whilst Antarctica or Sahara are easier they offer no more safety in a doomsday event. Mars is the obvious candidate for the first step on this journey; but it will be a huge journey which will be ultimately necessary.

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      • The Mars thing is, no doubt, spectacular and somewhat SF mythological but the hair raising problem here now is reversing the damage to this, our home planet, and stopping the obviously insane rush to initiate nuclear war. It is already apparent that spending time on the space station has long term damaging physiological effects. This planet created us and every aspect of our bodies and minds which reflects our accommodation to its gravity and other basics. No doubt we are getting a handle on manipulating genetics to create humans that can live on other planets but it’s likely they will differ considerably in energy generation and other basic qualities from Earth humans. No doubt there is some possibility of an astronomical catastrophe to this planet but it is not particularly pressing. The collapse of basic systems here still offers a much more manipulable situation than fleeing to a totally different planet and if the whole species does not very soon recognize the threat and start energetically to face it and handle it, a few adventurers on an alien planet has very little chance to even survive. Humanity has the idiotic ego to dismiss how deeply every aspect of our lives integrates with multiple microscopic and all other life on the planet and to move to another we will have to transport not only ourselves but massive other living things to make even a feeble attempt to exist there.

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      • It is impossible to say that it is not particularly pressing; what you mean is it is unlikely to happen in the lifetime of you, or a few generations on therefore it isn’t particularly concerning. You are right that the task is seemingly impossible to move to another planet; that is why we MUST start now. Trust me, when the problem is known to be “pressing” we will need a lot more time than one human generation to solve it; by which point it will be too late.

        I don’t accept the logic that we shouldn’t look to make scientific advancements in multi-planetary expansion because there are problems in our home planet; why have such a single lens on the world? We spend more on tackling global warming than on any of the scientific endeavors that you mention; but the problem is a social attitude. It makes no logical sense to stop investing in something that we need in the future because there is a more pressing issue; we simply need to do both. If we constructed our lives that way we wouldn’t accomplish anything at all! As a species we can work on more than one worthwhile cause at once

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      • Admittedly this subject is somewhat off topic and I agree it is a problem worth solving but when your house is burning down is not the time to start building a swimming pool. At my age I will miss the worst of the massive miseries now building. In a decade or two the few million fleeing the Middle East will be seen as a minor matter when several billion will be rushing to save themselves. If Earth is under threat from astronomical disaster one must assume Mars is equally in danger.
        I don’t know how science will be able to handle the incredible poor management of human relationships but if anything is pressing it is how to bring good logical sense to a species that seems wildly out of control. The same problems that underlay ancient Greece are growling and flashing their claws and if we don’t learn to tame the beast of our own species I doubt Mars will be much help.

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      • But the example you raise you have a problem: you are one, so no you would not do anything to your swimming pool. But if you had the human race; then you would not need them all to extinguish the fire. It is the same here – we do not need everyone to work on the same problems; too many cooks. It is perfectly acceptable to apportion your workforce: the fact that there are not the desirable results in the present day issues is not because of work on visiting Mars; it is a reflection on the work performed in that area. That is a totally separate issue to the advancement of science.

        I agree that all of the points you raise are terrifying ones for the human race; but they are not arguments to do less in science, just more in those areas.

        In terms of doomsday events; yes many scenarios would hit Mars too but it is the first step of many that are needed. It isn’t the final solution it is the start.

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      • You are, of course, correct in the Mars business and I frequently get a bit hysterical to watch my wonderful world tossed in the trash bin. I am no animal trainer and doubt I could manage a mere tiger. The human race is totally beyond me. But if you do have a spare tiger I would be interested in giving that a try. Any efforts I have made with humans has no effect.

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      • Yes I agree with you on the Mars issue. We cannot thrust the blame entirely on governments or business remember many scientists carry out their activities for the money like us all , and business knows it can manipulate scientific expertise. Also people will not vote for a government that tackles anything that upsets their life-style. At this moment Europe is closing its borders to protect its own.
        To whom would you deny a motor car ? Who would you limit to less travel. Everyone wants everything and especially when they look around.

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      • Many people, especially Americans, worship the myth of freedom to the point of complete irrationality. Nobody is absolutely free to do whatever may satisfy any personal desire. The whole judicial system is constructed to disperse whatever freedoms make society functional and prevent whatever is harmful. And, of course, the legal system is bursting with arguments over what may be permitted. That the power of money has damaged how this is done is a major illness of current society. If the proliferation of carbon dioxide is much more dangerous to life on the planet than the worst that an insane terrorist can do then the many billions spent on terrorism prevention must be redirected to atmosphere protection. Governments today are horribly perverted and hugely mismanaged and billions of people suffer immensely out of this vicious disarray. This has always been a central problem with central society throughout history but humans have never had the power nor the population to trash the planet that they do today. The last feeble effort to set things right, the United Nations, is a total joke controlled by those who prefer chaos. This is the central problem of human survival and good science on social rationality may be our last chance to remain in existence. I don’t see it happening.

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      • I quite agree that we have freedom within the boundaries decided by the population; I suppose total freedom an anarchy are basically the same thing. Although I don’t think the problem is the governments I have to admit; I am a believe in democracy and a government is only as good at its people. Just look at the US election race at the moment; of course I want Hilary to win, but it is a lesser of two evils. Hundreds of millions of people and that is the two. When you watch the interviews on the news as to why certain people have been picked the reasons are rarely around the most important ones pressing the planet. If the competition isn’t there to get leaders in place who do the best for mankind we cannot sit back and be surprised at the fall out

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      • Although personal experience is vital in making making sensible decisions, it is fundamental that proper information is a component of that decision and to an overwhelming extent the ownership of information media in the USA is almost totally corrupted by money. Democracy cannot function and is not functioning under those conditions. Beyond that the Supreme Court decision to support political bribery from wealthy sources also defeats democracy. I prefer to discuss science here.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Hello sir
    Amazing blogof yours!!
    I am new into blogging.I want to write my thoughts in a beautiful way how you expressed them.
    I would be glad to get some suggestions from you regarding blogging..
    How to be a good blogger ?
    I will be greatful for your response.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! Welcome to the blog, I am glad you like it. Quite simply pick the topic you are most interested in and don’t be afraid to write passionately about it. Have patience, interact with other blogs and followers will come who will help to shape your future content

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  20. Looked at objectively the problem is progress. It has enabled a huge population increase and produced unprecedented living standards for many. Now we see the dangerous side effects . We thought penicillin had done away with most infectious disease only to find bacteria are becoming immune. With hindsight we would be better off without the industrial revolution but human intelligence inevitably led us there.
    Now determinists would say we had no choice in fact some already deny freedom of will. SAM Harris the well known atheist states that freewill and the self are illusions.
    Could it be the Catholic Church was right in its determination to stop scientific progress.
    ‘ Where ignorance is bliss
    Tis folly to be wise’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stephen Hawking had a wonderful quote – find a determinist and they will still look both ways when they cross the road. The problem with the Catholic church, like many is they were sciences early supporters; they threw their weight behind it. But when the discovery did not tell the story they wanted to tell they frowned upon it. I don’t think we are wrong to try; given we won’t always get it right. It is so abundantly clear to me humans are born with a natural curiosity to learn more about the universe. If you are a non-believe like me you accept is as part of your biology. If you are a believe it is part of your design. The fact remains it is human to progress and find out more; I whole heartedly agree however that we must manage it at all times and not be afraid to admit where we are wrong

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  21. It seems to me that the moral conscience in mankind is generally pushed into the background by selfish ambition. There are largely moral people but the main thrust of human activity is a selfish life-style. This could be taken to be the out working of survival of the fittest, in which case we are still largely driven by our animal instincts.

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    • I think it is primarily the inability to invest in things much beyond our own lifetime. You can persuade people (just) to take out a pension, but life insurance remains generally unpopular. Those with children tend to think +1 generation; or +2 with grandchildren. Sometimes +3. To be honest even at +5 you are still thousands of years away from the investment timescales needed to get the payback we need

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  22. Sir Martin Rees thinks we only have a 50:50 chance of surviving this century. He forgets that we survived the Black Death without medicine and our animal bodies are built for survival . Civilisation may well fragment and return to the dark ages but remnants will survive. The niceties of life which a third of the globe share will be swept away , but in time we will rise again . I do not think we will be any the wiser and the cycle could well repeat itself. Interestingly our arch enemy the rat is doing well without our intelligence.

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    • I think life will survive in some form or another; life as we know it is less certain and that is something I have a vested interest in protecting. For all the human race’s faults, if someone offered me a switch with a rat it would be a fairly easy decline! I think it depends on if you define survival as doing well; or seeking to appreciate the process of living as more than a means to continuation

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    • The economic system of allocating all wealth to a small sector of humanity with no benefit to the majority and small response to the elemental necessity of respecting the health of the ecology is inevitably destroying current civilization. If there is a nuclear interchange which Clinton and her associates indicate are their goal in an attempt to control the world even the rats may not survive. I know a good deal about rats, both domesticated and in the wild and they are no worse than any other species in their efforts to survive. In their contribution to biological understandings in physiology and medical research they probably have saved many more human lives than died in the past. Whether or not humanity itself survives, life itself is very resilient stuff and probably can evolve to maintain even the worst that the irresponsible current leadership can devise. Current research indicates intelligence is far more widespread in other forms of life than humanity has realized and humanity may prove a dead end but other forms will continue.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The issue is it is capitalism that does that. We do have systems to allocate money back to the poorest – it is called the tax system. I am ALWAYS in support of fairer systems; but a lot of times in history when something “fairer” has been forced on the people it has been at the detriment to the whole of society. That said – I would happily pay more tax if it was properly allocated.

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      • I have no simple solution to economics but I have great suspicions. Social value, these days is pinned closely to financial acquisition and there is no doubt that financial power has twisted whatever democracy exists in the country (and that has always been oddly exaggerated) so the original concept of a proper government wherein the fundamental needs of proper nutrition, health, living quality and opportunity direct where the power of wealth is applied is pretty nearly totally sacrificed to the delights of a small sector of the population. This is a fundamental violation of the mechanics of a working government. In a very rich country that children in the millions are poorly fed, miserably educated and offered no prospects of a decent life, aside from the gross mistreatment of the rest of the population, it is obvious that huge changes are necessary. I just look at the total mess and can only conclude that whoever or whatever is in control is totally incompetent. Fiddling with taxes is not the essential problem. There is something essentially totally out of whack with priorities as to what must be changed and if there is not some basic changes made quickly I am afraid the social explosions will be violently destructive and horribly immense.

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  23. Yes us westerners love our easy going democracy but the level of contentment constantly increases. Who could do without a hot shower these days. What about a colour TV with five hundred programmes?
    Fast broadband and groceries delivered to your door. Holiday brochures to peruse at leisure. I’m 75 and my father used to tell me how his mother would bath the family in a tin bath by the fire . Being the oldest he got the clean water then his numerous brothers and sisters followed.

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    • But that is indeed what progress is all about; it is about making our lives better sos that we can have more. I don’t think it is a bad thing; I certainly want my children to enjoy a higher standard of living that me

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  24. Joseph if you look at Limits to Growth or the club of Rome kicked off by the book published in 1972 you will see many of its predictions have been vindicated.
    I know exactly how you feel and millions feel just the same but that is the knub of the problem. The system has bred dissatisfaction into us we have become avid consumers.
    The gospel of limits is as hard to press home as the Christian gospel but it seems to be the only salvation. It’s a nasty one to try and halt progress, but let’s be light -hearted while we can and imagine green party members flying to conferences to cut greenhouse gases.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Jiisand it’s not the economic or any other system that distributes wealth it’s human nature . Wealth has always been a great pyramid with the elite at the top and poverty at the bottom. If we redistributed wealth within a hundred years we would be back as we now are.
    It’s good to hear you speak up for that much maligned animal the rat after all its in the battle for survival as we are. The seagulls is another favourite of mine it has adapted to us very well as it turns over our rubbish tips.
    Leadership is holding the reins as the great ship of state grinds on. It has its advantages in being well paid with many perks. In democracies it has to enlist the media to jump the hurdle of election. In dictatorships it has to eliminate any opposition that may wish to hold the purse strings.

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    • I once had the wonderful experience of raising three baby seagulls when their mother was shot by a vicious human. I set them free after they matured enough to fly and I feel like a foster father whose children may be flying over distany foreign seas.

      Human nature is the standard excuse for criminality that should be properly suppressed. President Clinton freed the criminals that caused the 2008 financial crash to perform their destruction and his wife is now the beneficiary of that. FDR properly reined them in but their ferocity is now released upon the world. To be civilized is to choose among human capabilities which ones work for humanity and which must be controlled. The world is now thoroughly uncivilized.

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    • I once had the pleasure of raising three baby seagulls after a vicious human shot their mother. They flew away after they matured and I feel like a foster father whose children now fly over distant foreign seas.

      Human nature is often used as an excuse for criminal activity but it is the function of civilization to discern which human tendency is acceptable and which is intolerable for civilized life. FDR controlled criminality with the Glass-Steagall legislation and President Clinton whose wife benefited from his action released the criminals to cause the 2008 financial disaster. The world is quite a lot less civilized today.

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  26. It was a praiseworthy moral act of which some humans are capable.
    We must not forget nature is red in tooth and claw as well as being blameless and amoral. My wife gets upset when the cat kills a bird but he is a predator and cannot be blamed. Way back possibly in the old stone age or earlier man developed self -awareness and with it self judgement. We carry a huge evolutionary baggage but we have a conscience. As Freud so neatly said we are at war with ourselves.
    More often than not our survival instinct rules but sometimes the conscience says no that is not the right action.
    I must mention Julian Haynes who believes we did not become self aware until about three thousand years ago. He believed ancient man was bicameral. The problem of meta-consciousness is still in great debate and Professor Penrose believes computers can never be conscious.
    I think you should say Human nature is the cause not the excuse of criminal activity but without morals there are no criminals.

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    • Perhaps I take a rather distant standpoint insofar as human morality since, when I walk off path in the woods I am even careful to gently push aside tree branches not to break them as it takes considerable sunlight to reconstruct even minor damage for an innocent tree. Morality for the individual dealing with his or her needs and preferences is something quite different from morality within a cooperative society as any honeybee will whisper gently in your ear. The human problem of society concerns working out the necessities of preserving one’s self as a member of a group that must also be protected. Currently and in past societies humans regard each other as inherently valuable or as means to an end to a degree that could warrant total disposability – a wide spectrum of values and within society where that point of judgement may reside varies considerably. Within the army or a functioning business or a religious group or the mafia or a family that point is widely different. And, despite Kant, cultures and individuals within cultures also judge differently. And even within individuals, this point varies with time and age and other interactions. A stable society must set standards to permit it to function or it will disintegrate. My experience with people indicates great caution is required on assumptions in the matter.

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      • You are right about reconstruction taking time but your approach to nature is a Buddhist one and nature does not follow Buddhist rules. She cannot be guilty or innocent those are moralistic human values. Nature is a gigantic battle ground which has forged and is forging itself moment by moment . Richard Dawkins always amuses me for he has this almost religious reverence for nature yet he knows she is a blind watchmaker. The cooperation of many swarming insects is not a moral process but a survival mechanism.
        In his book ‘ The Better Angels of Our Nature ‘ Steven Pinker makes his case for claiming we are living in the most peaceful time of history.
        He goes on to say that is not because we have changed but simply due to the fact that war does not pay. A stable society does set standards but it can still break down.

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      • When Pinker can clearly see the incipient mobilization of current military force with horrifying nuclear capabilities in the hands of, what appears to me as rather idiotic and power driven immoral leaders, I can only shudder at his shallow optimism.

        Liked by 1 person

  27. Yes the fact is true that people are leaving behind science. But then I also see the budding interest in science in today’s generation. I personally am a science student and looking forward to doing something new.
    Technology is replacing man with bots and animals too. This is wrong, advancement should be made for the good of man and not to destroy themselves and run them bankrupt….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do hope you are correct in ration to a budding interest in science in today’s younger generation – my experience is not so positive bit that could be simply environmental!

      Liked by 1 person

    • There is a fundamental flaw in human society that cracks and crumbles much of decency in inherent humanity. Out of practical necessity basic values in what is good and needed has been displaced by the raw violence and strange fantasies of finance which corrupts science, art, government, and much more to lead humanity astray in all sorts of frightful ways. I am not foolish enough to believe that this eagerness for profit can be simply wiped away as it has deep roots in much that is essential to make civilization functional but its inherent destructive power is undeniable. I have no solution.

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    • What is fascinating to me is the incessant motivation to replace human labor with automatic machinery. And yet, very little is being done to find an alternate system for humans to earn a living without performing this labor. Although the assumption is common that the workmen replaced by machinery can find better jobs, this does not seem to be coming about. Just today I read that Google is not hiring workers who are over forty years old, These people have trained for and have experience in this type of work but cannot find decent employment with a living wage. This is not a difficult problem to understand but nothing is being done to solve it. As with many non-whites, if a person cannot find legal employment then, to stay alive he or she something else to eat and have a place to live. Something must be done to help these people or great trouble will arise.

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  28. Pingback: Are we lost? — Rationalising The Universe – we for u·

  29. Pingback: Peeking out of blinds | True Blue Monk·

  30. Jiisand there has always been a fundamental flaw human nature has not changed what changes is technology. Attila the hun fought on horseback with swords there was far less destructive potential.
    Science has given us the hydrogen bomb and the drone and more weaponry is being invented all the time.
    The religious community keep saying things are worse and people are worse than ever but close examination shows this view is incorrect.

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  31. The rather odd concept that a sword is somehow equivalent to a hydrogen bomb strikes me a most peculiar. The planet Earth and all its inhabitants were not under total destruction from swords. Hydrogen bombs are a totally different matter.

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  32. I agree with you that most people are to lazy to reach for the higher concepts of physics. I was that way until I started reading your blogs, and now I’m interested in physics!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lazy is a lazy word, the kind of large black plastic bag one uses to gather the mysteries of the misunderstood and toss all small annoying mysteries therein to get rid of them. Perhaps the old Greeks had the proper idea and made gods of those concepts that activate the mind that is ready to examine new horizons. When you are ready, Physics will appear.

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    • Unfortunately, at least at the moment, the budget for defense spending is far beyond that for pure science. Over half the total US budget goes to the military and, very strangely, much of it is unaccounted for. This is a delight for those industries who develop and sell weapons to the US government and the rest of the world. But there is another side to this spending. Exploration of new materials and techniques requires a good deal of basic research to advance weaponry and associated military operations. A fairly large sector of the current explosion of the digital world is directly the outcome of military expenditure and almost all of the advances in space technologies had their origin with the military. The inception of the original electronic computer dealt with breaking the German code systems in WWII. This has more or less been true down through history since humans seem genetically motivated by conflict and it may, at end, end civilization when short sighted politicians decide to utilize available ultimate military weapons.

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