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Posted: 24 May 2005 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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I've been running through a number of these "scenario" threads.  Ironically, the two that were at the top of the stack at the time I post this have much in common. Both suggest that something is fundamentally wrong (or lacking) with the human species that, without some kind of intervention, will lead to destruction of the species and possibly the world!  One of the threads, Where will evolution take humanity offers a possible solution! I'll get back to this later.

Just a bit ago I was listening to the NPR show To The Point about embryonic stem cell debates and the bill currently before congress. One scientist being interviewed suggested that if federal funding is not forthcomming for this research, many of the "best" researchers may move abroad to countries where the funding is available.  Got me to thinking.

What if all of the secularist scientists/mathematicians/engineers/doctors etc. were to migrate to Canada, set up a university (or several) and charge an arm and a leg to Americans who want to study the sciences, etc.???  They could literally give education away to the Canadians. The growing anti-intellectual attitude in the US is making that option increasingly attractive.  It would serve the non-secular, evolution-hating, science-ignorant, SUV-loving (put in your favorite US lifestyle surrogate for ignorance) right!  Think about it. The greatest nation in the world drained of its intellectual capital.  That capital organized in another country and able to charge whatever it wanted for its products.

Especially, what if the geneticists, neuroscientists, developmental biologists, evolutionists and whatever, organized to research the kind of solution to the problem with human nature that the guest, signed George, is proposing.

Maybe the solution is to abandon this ship, find the solution, then wait out the crash while creating the next species of humans sans the kinds of built-in problems George and Matt (in A Thesis ) refer to.

Well, from these two threads it seems we need some wild ideas!!!!

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Posted: 24 May 2005 10:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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[quote author=“Mystery Guest”] Think about it. The greatest nation in the world drained of its intellectual capital. 

While I share your frustration with anit-intellectualism, I would suggest that the quote above is indicative of an even bigger problem. The US is not the greatest nation by many relevant criteria. In any case, thinking about the issue as a competition in which one nation has to demonstrate its superiority over others is unlikely to be helpful to mankind. It just fuels more violence, oneupmanship and jealousy.

It’s time the US got over itself and developed some humility. A more humble US administration would solve a lot of tension in the world.

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Posted: 25 May 2005 02:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“Nietzsche”][quote author=“Mystery Guest”] Think about it. The greatest nation in the world drained of its intellectual capital. 

While I share your frustration with anit-intellectualism, I would suggest that the quote above is indicative of an even bigger problem. The US is not the greatest nation by many relevant criteria. In any case, thinking about the issue as a competition in which one nation has to demonstrate its superiority over others is unlikely to be helpful to mankind. It just fuels more violence, oneupmanship and jealousy.

It’s time the US got over itself and developed some humility. A more humble US administration would solve a lot of tension in the world.

Nietzsche

What is in bold is the track we (world) is on now.

You seem to have missed the point entirely.  And how realistic do you think it is that the US administration is going to get humble?

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Posted: 25 May 2005 02:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I think Nietzsche’s point is sound—it’s the tribalistic/nationalistic mentality that faith tends to enable and encourage that presents most of the larger problems. Faith is the mechanism, but tribalism/nationalism is one of the uglier, more problematic manifestations.

Byron

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Posted: 25 May 2005 03:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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What if all of the secularist scientists/mathematicians/engineers/doctors etc. were to migrate to Canada, set up a university (or several) and charge an arm and a leg to Americans who want to study the sciences, etc.???

Sounds like a neat “what if” scenario, but I think as soon as you bring “charge an arm and a leg” into any such theory means that its use as a solution becomes self-defeating. I think any “wild ideas” would have to be ones that involved action not for money or fame, but for sole purpose of saving the species/planet.

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Posted: 25 May 2005 03:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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[quote author=“SkepticX”]I think Nietzsche’s point is sound—it’s the tribalistic/nationalistic mentality that faith tends to enable and encourage that presents most of the larger problems. Faith is the mechanism, but tribalism/nationalism is one of the uglier, more problematic manifestations.

Byron

Perhaps his point is sound.  He should start a thread.  He didn’t address what I was suggesting which is not about establishing competition.  Its about survival of the fittest!

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Posted: 25 May 2005 04:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“fencesitter”]

What if all of the secularist scientists/mathematicians/engineers/doctors etc. were to migrate to Canada, set up a university (or several) and charge an arm and a leg to Americans who want to study the sciences, etc.???

Sounds like a neat “what if” scenario, but I think as soon as you bring “charge an arm and a leg” into any such theory means that its use as a solution becomes self-defeating. I think any “wild ideas” would have to be ones that involved action not for money or fame, but for sole purpose of saving the species/planet.

Now thats a good point.  I guess I was thinking these guys and gals would have to eat and buy research equipment and such.  Not sure how the financing could be handeled.  Perhaps selling services to the world (not just the US) at a reasonable rate.  RIght now, millions of people from all over the world seek to come to a US university for study because of the perceived quality.  If you took all that makes that quality and put it somewhere else, would they flock there instead? 

Just some out loud thinking.  Nothing serious of course.

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Posted: 25 May 2005 08:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Creating schemes to “fix” the world’s problems is a fun pastime, but I believe that the course is more or less set.

There are any number of voices who have been preaching about the impending demise of capitalism for some time now.  Most of these voices also spout socialist nonsense, but that does not mean that their criticisms of capitalism are without merit.

Capitalism, (well, specifically free market capitalism), has proven to be woefully inadequate when it comes to placing proper values on things like the environment or human rights differentials.  Similarly, capitalism tends to encourage people to lead unhealthy lifestyles (work too much, socialize too little).  Finally, it would appear that true free market capitalism is fundamentally impossible.  The US - supposedly the world leader in capitalism - has so much government regulation (much of it sponsored by business interests) that all sorts of “unnatural” things happen in the US business sphere.

So, where am I going with this?  My point is that when, as human beings, we go looking for a good political system, we need to be honest with regards to human nature.  Every political system works, given a noble enough set of people to populate it.

Sure, we could engage in genetic modification, and pre-natal chemical conditioning to try to make ourselves more noble, but I believe that we are a long way out from that being viable, and even when it is, I question that it would actually be desirable.

In the meantime, what the world needs is the “next thing”.  The good news is that it is on its way.  The bad news is that the “next thing” almost certainly requires the collapse of the current system in order to emerge.  The looming environmental problems, economic problems, oil shortages, holy wars, and on and on and on are, in my opinion, the forces that will bring about this change.

So what is the next system?  I don’t know.  I suspect that in many respects it will look like capitalism, but will have stronger intrinsic safeguards with regards to resource management and human rights.

In the meantime, the best we can do is try, within the constraints of the current system, to do the best that we can.  The news, like life, is bittersweet.  Humanity will continue, but the road is long and hard, and too many people will be lost along the way.

-Matt

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Posted: 25 May 2005 08:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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psi, thanks, well said

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Posted: 25 May 2005 10:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“psiconoclast”]In the meantime, what the world needs is the “next thing”. The good news is that it is on its way. The bad news is that the “next thing” almost certainly requires the collapse of the current system in order to emerge. The looming environmental problems, economic problems, oil shortages, holy wars, and on and on and on are, in my opinion, the forces that will bring about this change.

So what is the next system? I don’t know. I suspect that in many respects it will look like capitalism, but will have stronger intrinsic safeguards with regards to resource management and human rights.

But don’t you think this is going to be very problematic. The oil shortages that are going to be meaningful are because we’re using up the easy to get stuff.  After a collapse, where will the energy come from to rebuild?  It takes conventional energy sources to extract the materials and build the equipment for renewable sources.  Solar cells aren’t made without a sizable input of energy.  The natural resources that are currently being used up or degraded will not be available to future generations.  What will they use to bootstrap with?  Any collapse will have to be massive, with literally billions of people dying in order to get to a low enough population so that bootstrapping based on burning what wood is left is feasible.

I really think you are working on the belief that things will be the same but different.  Not sure that is a reasonable assumption given how far we are along the path to self-destruction, as I see it. 

Is anyone here familiar with the concept called self-organized criticality - related to chaos theory and fractals?  Avalanches, earthquakes and mass extinctions (the frequency of magnitudes) seem to follow an inverse square law.  Lots of little ones, a few medium-scale ones from time to time and then a rare but devistating one.  You can’t predict what size event will occur at any time, you can only say what the relative distribution of magnitudes will be.  Anyway, the collapse of global society seems to be a candidate for this phenomenon.

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Posted: 25 May 2005 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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But don’t you think this is going to be very problematic. The oil shortages that are going to be meaningful are because we’re using up the easy to get stuff.  After a collapse, where will the energy come from to rebuild?  It takes conventional energy sources to extract the materials and build the equipment for renewable sources.  Solar cells aren’t made without a sizable input of energy.  The natural resources that are currently being used up or degraded will not be available to future generations.  What will they use to bootstrap with?  Any collapse will have to be massive, with literally billions of people dying in order to get to a low enough population so that bootstrapping based on burning what wood is left is feasible.

I think basically one of two things are going to happen.
1.  this “next thing”  will happen with safeguards in place and we will successfully adapt and modify.
2. A collapse will occur and indeed billions will die. Dire but necessary.

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Posted: 25 May 2005 12:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“Mystery Guest”]But don’t you think this is going to be very problematic. The oil shortages that are going to be meaningful are because we’re using up the easy to get stuff.  After a collapse, where will the energy come from to rebuild?  It takes conventional energy sources to extract the materials and build the equipment for renewable sources.  Solar cells aren’t made without a sizable input of energy.  The natural resources that are currently being used up or degraded will not be available to future generations.  What will they use to bootstrap with?  Any collapse will have to be massive, with literally billions of people dying in order to get to a low enough population so that bootstrapping based on burning what wood is left is feasible.

Don’t underestimate the resourcefulness of human beings.

Oil isn’t the only source of power, and current “alternative” methods of generating power are not the only possible methods.

I suspect that biotech holds the answer to truly sustainable power, but time will tell.

Ultimately, unless radically new physical laws are discovered, the only energy crisis that the earth really needs to worry about is Sol burning out, which isn’t happening any time soon.  Thus, the total energy consumption of humans on earth must be at parity with the amount of energy that Sol delivers (plus any other imports from space that we might develop) less the requirements of the ecological systems that we do not consume for energy, adjusted, of course, for waste.  If people consume more energy than that (regardless of the technique) they are on a fundamentally unsustainable path.  If they consume less, then, at least in theory, it is possible to balance the books, so to speak.

Currently, the US (and most of the world) relies on petrochemical fuel to power vast sectors of the industrial engine.  Alcohol is a biologically derivable alternative which, for all intents and purposes, can be a drop in replacement.  The current problem, of course, is that alcohol is not practical to produce in sufficient quantities to replace petroleum.  However, alcohol is produced by biological means now, and with a little work, it should be possible to create tailor made “critters” to enable large solar powered alcohol production facilities (which makes me think of GVI’s tag line).

I really think you are working on the belief that things will be the same but different.  Not sure that is a reasonable assumption given how far we are along the path to self-destruction, as I see it.

I am operating under no such delusion.  Things will be different.  They will, however, have some things in common with the way things are now.  IE, whatever comes next will bear the marks of its heritage, including capitalism. 

Is anyone here familiar with the concept called self-organized criticality - related to chaos theory and fractals?  Avalanches, earthquakes and mass extinctions (the frequency of magnitudes) seem to follow an inverse square law.  Lots of little ones, a few medium-scale ones from time to time and then a rare but devistating one.  You can’t predict what size event will occur at any time, you can only say what the relative distribution of magnitudes will be.  Anyway, the collapse of global society seems to be a candidate for this phenomenon.

Possibly, but humans are more intelligent than the constituent parts of those systems, which means that I would need to see more supporting evidence before assuming that people cannot escape the implications of self-organized criticality.

-Matt

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Posted: 25 May 2005 02:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“psiconoclast”]Don’t underestimate the resourcefulness of human beings.

Oil isn’t the only source of power, and current “alternative” methods of generating power are not the only possible methods.

I suspect that biotech holds the answer to truly sustainable power, but time will tell.

Resourcefulness of human ingenuity has very often been channeled to new ways to consume more quickly.  We are very clever - as some guest named George pointed out -  but we are not wise enough to know how best to channel that resourcefulness.  I hate to say this, because you are one of the most rational people on this board, but that really sounds like a statement of faith to me. History is repleat with more examples of cultures screwing up with their cleverness than making everything work.  And in the few cases where they have made it work for themselves it has been generally at the expense of some other cultures (empires, slavery, etc.) Personally, I trust humans to go on being clever, but I doubt that cleverness is going to help much when the fuel runs out.

If not oil and current alternatives, what then?  The thermodynamic facts are that you need high density energy to do significant work. Nuclear is the highest density energy source we have, but it takes so much attendant technology (containment, waste disposal, etc.) that the overall efficiency isn’t that great.  Other alternative energy sources are much less dense in energy per unit of area (e.g., solar influx, wind cross section, etc.)  Oil is still the most dense energy source with the highest overall efficiency (delivery of BTUs to work). Coal in incomprehensibly dirty and most of the easy to get to stuff has been mined or striped.  Natural gas is running out as is oil.

Realistically, where is the energy going to come from?  To maintain an energy-use lifestyle even 1/10th what we use in the US today would require the population to diminish to as few as several hundreds of millions of beings.  The current energy-ecological footprint of humans, globally, has been estimated to be about 3 Earth equivalents.  And that doesn’t leave room for any other species! An ideal footprint would be more like 1/20th of an Earth so as to provide a balanced set of ecological services and biodiversity. Either 8 billion people are going to starve and freeze or 6 billion will live by burning the equivalent of 1/2 a medium-sized tree for their entire lives and never see another animal or blade of grass (we’ll be eating gruel from microbes), or 1 billion will be able to live in a single-room hut, or… Well you get the picture.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]Ultimately, unless radically new physical laws are discovered, the only energy crisis that the earth really needs to worry about is Sol burning out, which isn’t happening any time soon.  Thus, the total energy consumption of humans on earth must be at parity with the amount of energy that Sol delivers (plus any other imports from space that we might develop) less the requirements of the ecological systems that we do not consume for energy, adjusted, of course, for waste.  If people consume more energy than that (regardless of the technique) they are on a fundamentally unsustainable path.  If they consume less, then, at least in theory, it is possible to balance the books, so to speak.

Currently, the US (and most of the world) relies on petrochemical fuel to power vast sectors of the industrial engine.  Alcohol is a biologically derivable alternative which, for all intents and purposes, can be a drop in replacement.  The current problem, of course, is that alcohol is not practical to produce in sufficient quantities to replace petroleum.  However, alcohol is produced by biological means now, and with a little work, it should be possible to create tailor made “critters” to enable large solar powered alcohol production facilities (which makes me think of GVI’s tag line).

The Earth, yes, humans no.

I don’t think it is a drop-in.  I’d have to look it up but I’m betting the BTU per pound of alcohol is way less than oil. Total energy density coupled with the efficiency of production and the efficiency of use is what counts. If I’m wrong sorry.  But what is the process to produce alchohol, or bio-diesel?  I bet it takes energy somewhere in the process.  So here is a question.  How many BTUs of energy does it take to produce 1 BTU from alcohol?  You need to count up all of the energy inputs from production of the facilities to growing the stock to transporting the stock and the finished product, and so on.  There is no free lunch anywhere in the energy game.

Biological energy fixation takes a lot of time to concentrate a fairly diffuse energy source (sunlight) into a high enough density to drive useful engines.  That is what happened with the creation of oil and natural gas.  It took millions of years of photosynthesis and then millions of years of compression/heat, not to mention the gravitational energy put into the compression.  The rate of accumulation in a fixed, usable form is very low for biological processes (e.g., photosynthesis).  It takes energy to concentrate energy.  The second law of thermodynamics means that there are no simple energy solutions.

The only source of energy that could be used to bootstrap a new civilization is nuclear, and then only if we had the foresight to build an adequate number of plants (using the remaining energy savings in the oil left in the ground that we can pump at a net gain) and set up the infrastructure for distribution and waste disposal.  What is the likelihood that we are going to solve the related problems and build safe, efficient plants in time to avert a major collapse?  Or even to do so to seed the new civilization after the collapse?

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]

I really think you are working on the belief that things will be the same but different.  Not sure that is a reasonable assumption given how far we are along the path to self-destruction, as I see it.

I am operating under no such delusion.  Things will be different.  They will, however, have some things in common with the way things are now.  IE, whatever comes next will bear the marks of its heritage, including capitalism.

I’d really like to know on what basis you can make this claim.  Do you think there is something universal about capitalism?  I would go so far as to say that a market system is universal, but capitalism?  Why? Aggregating and organizing production inputs in the form of material, energy and labor surely is a universal, for exactly the reasons I mentioned above, you need high densities of resources to get useful work done.  But why capitalism? You couldn’t imagine some other form of rewarding the organizers other than stealing from the workers and the commons to enrich the already rich???

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]

Is anyone here familiar with the concept called self-organized criticality - related to chaos theory and fractals?  Avalanches, earthquakes and mass extinctions (the frequency of magnitudes) seem to follow an inverse square law.  Lots of little ones, a few medium-scale ones from time to time and then a rare but devistating one.  You can’t predict what size event will occur at any time, you can only say what the relative distribution of magnitudes will be.  Anyway, the collapse of global society seems to be a candidate for this phenomenon.

Possibly, but humans are more intelligent than the constituent parts of those systems, which means that I would need to see more supporting evidence before assuming that people cannot escape the implications of self-organized criticality.

-Matt

It was just an ineresting conjecture. Meant to make one think a bit.

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Posted: 25 May 2005 03:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“Mystery Guest”]Resourcefulness of human ingenuity has very often been channeled to new ways to consume more quickly.  We are very clever - as some guest named George pointed out -  but we are not wise enough to know how best to channel that resourcefulness.  I hate to say this, because you are one of the most rational people on this board, but that really sounds like a statement of faith to me. History is repleat with more examples of cultures screwing up with their cleverness than making everything work.  And in the few cases where they have made it work for themselves it has been generally at the expense of some other cultures (empires, slavery, etc.) Personally, I trust humans to go on being clever, but I doubt that cleverness is going to help much when the fuel runs out.

I certainly do not dispute that humans are often less than wise.  I would, however, gently point out that adversity and percieved threats have, in the past, drawn the best out in us, though.  My point is not that a happy healthy “high energy” future is gauranteed, merely that it is premature to discount human creativity in the analysis.

If not oil and current alternatives, what then?  The thermodynamic facts are that you need high density energy to do significant work. Nuclear is the highest density energy source we have, but it takes so much attendant technology (containment, waste disposal, etc.) that the overall efficiency isn’t that great.  Other alternative energy sources are much less dense in energy per unit of area (e.g., solar influx, wind cross section, etc.)  Oil is still the most dense energy source with the highest overall efficiency (delivery of BTUs to work). Coal in incomprehensibly dirty and most of the easy to get to stuff has been mined or striped.  Natural gas is running out as is oil.

Realistically, where is the energy going to come from?  To maintain an energy-use lifestyle even 1/10th what we use in the US today would require the population to diminish to as few as several hundreds of millions of beings.  The current energy-ecological footprint of humans, globally, has been estimated to be about 3 Earth equivalents.  And that doesn’t leave room for any other species! An ideal footprint would be more like 1/20th of an Earth so as to provide a balanced set of ecological services and biodiversity. Either 8 billion people are going to starve and freeze or 6 billion will live by burning the equivalent of 1/2 a medium-sized tree for their entire lives and never see another animal or blade of grass (we’ll be eating gruel from microbes), or 1 billion will be able to live in a single-room hut, or… Well you get the picture.

There are many places that the power can come from:

1. Solar power satelites - The yield of solar panels in orbit is much greater, and it can be beamed to the earth via microwave.

2. Engineered organisms - Sure, current biological techniques for producing things like alcohol are not up to snuff to meet our needs, but the fact that it is, in theory, possible to grow a self replicating alcohol production factory holds tremendous potential.

3. Space based nuclear power - This will take a bit more work, but there is absolutely no intrinsic reason to believe that tremendous amounts of nuclear power couldn’t be generated in orbit - and far more safely than planetside.  Space is already a radioactive nightmare, so. . .

4. Conservation - Tremendous progress has been made with regards to reducing the power consumption of any given implement.  People are not engaging in a net conservation, only because the pressure to do so is not currently sufficient.  As the pressure mounts, people will consume less energy per capita.

5. Brand new ideas - I’m quite certain that I don’t know everything about possible alternatives.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]Ultimately, unless radically new physical laws are discovered, the only energy crisis that the earth really needs to worry about is Sol burning out, which isn’t happening any time soon.  Thus, the total energy consumption of humans on earth must be at parity with the amount of energy that Sol delivers (plus any other imports from space that we might develop) less the requirements of the ecological systems that we do not consume for energy, adjusted, of course, for waste.  If people consume more energy than that (regardless of the technique) they are on a fundamentally unsustainable path.  If they consume less, then, at least in theory, it is possible to balance the books, so to speak.

Currently, the US (and most of the world) relies on petrochemical fuel to power vast sectors of the industrial engine.  Alcohol is a biologically derivable alternative which, for all intents and purposes, can be a drop in replacement.  The current problem, of course, is that alcohol is not practical to produce in sufficient quantities to replace petroleum.  However, alcohol is produced by biological means now, and with a little work, it should be possible to create tailor made “critters” to enable large solar powered alcohol production facilities (which makes me think of GVI’s tag line).

The Earth, yes, humans no.

I don’t think it is a drop-in.  I’d have to look it up but I’m betting the BTU per pound of alcohol is way less than oil. Total energy density coupled with the efficiency of production and the efficiency of use is what counts. If I’m wrong sorry.  But what is the process to produce alchohol, or bio-diesel?  I bet it takes energy somewhere in the process.  So here is a question.  How many BTUs of energy does it take to produce 1 BTU from alcohol?  You need to count up all of the energy inputs from production of the facilities to growing the stock to transporting the stock and the finished product, and so on.  There is no free lunch anywhere in the energy game.

What I mean by “drop in” is that it is a liquid, and thus the current fuel transport and distribution system (IE gas stations) could be retrofitted to work with an alcohol derivative.

In terms of energy efficiency, current commercially available fuel that is alcohol derived is in the 25% to 50% range in terms of energy density which isn’t great, but certainly workable.  Presumably these desnities can be improved upon.

Biological energy fixation takes a lot of time to concentrate a fairly diffuse energy source (sunlight) into a high enough density to drive useful engines.  That is what happened with the creation of oil and natural gas.  It took millions of years of photosynthesis and then millions of years of compression/heat, not to mention the gravitational energy put into the compression.  The rate of accumulation in a fixed, usable form is very low for biological processes (e.g., photosynthesis).  It takes energy to concentrate energy.  The second law of thermodynamics means that there are no simple energy solutions.

If it were easy, then everyone would be doing it!  Seriously, though, the fact that it is hard does not mean that it is impossible.  As long as our energy needs do not violate the laws of physics, there is hope.

The only source of energy that could be used to bootstrap a new civilization is nuclear, and then only if we had the foresight to build an adequate number of plants (using the remaining energy savings in the oil left in the ground that we can pump at a net gain) and set up the infrastructure for distribution and waste disposal.  What is the likelihood that we are going to solve the related problems and build safe, efficient plants in time to avert a major collapse?  Or even to do so to seed the new civilization after the collapse?

I think that you overestimate the rapidity of the collapse of oil.  Everyone quotes Hubbert, and rightly so, without truly realizing what the second half of his curve really means.  We are not on the verge of oil running out.  We are simply on the verge of a permantly upward trend in oil prices, which is a very different thing.  Natural economic laws will force money into diverse alternatives as oil prices go up.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]

I really think you are working on the belief that things will be the same but different.  Not sure that is a reasonable assumption given how far we are along the path to self-destruction, as I see it.

I am operating under no such delusion.  Things will be different.  They will, however, have some things in common with the way things are now.  IE, whatever comes next will bear the marks of its heritage, including capitalism.

I’d really like to know on what basis you can make this claim.  Do you think there is something universal about capitalism?  I would go so far as to say that a market system is universal, but capitalism?  Why? Aggregating and organizing production inputs in the form of material, energy and labor surely is a universal, for exactly the reasons I mentioned above, you need high densities of resources to get useful work done.  But why capitalism? You couldn’t imagine some other form of rewarding the organizers other than stealing from the workers and the commons to enrich the already rich???

No, no, no!  I don’t think that there is anything universal about capitalism per se, but capitalism has shed light on “fundamental” economic laws.  The market concepts that you mention are exactly what I meant.  I think that, in 100 years, economics instructors will talk about the various “contributions” that the capitalistic era contributed to “modern” economic theory.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]

Is anyone here familiar with the concept called self-organized criticality - related to chaos theory and fractals?  Avalanches, earthquakes and mass extinctions (the frequency of magnitudes) seem to follow an inverse square law.  Lots of little ones, a few medium-scale ones from time to time and then a rare but devistating one.  You can’t predict what size event will occur at any time, you can only say what the relative distribution of magnitudes will be.  Anyway, the collapse of global society seems to be a candidate for this phenomenon.

Possibly, but humans are more intelligent than the constituent parts of those systems, which means that I would need to see more supporting evidence before assuming that people cannot escape the implications of self-organized criticality.

-Matt

It was just an ineresting conjecture. Meant to make one think a bit.

And it does.  If humanity can, in fact, be described in that way, it is a sad commentary on us.  What an irony, if, in all of our hubris, we ignored the fact that our demise was mathmatically indistinguishable from the demise of otherwise inanimate particle systems.

-Matt

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Posted: 26 May 2005 04:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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I quite like the idea of a self-replicating alcohol production factory. Where can I get one? Do they come in different varieties - I’d prefer a gin & tonic one.

Or maybe you’ve been visiting the alochol production factory a bit too often?

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Posted: 26 May 2005 04:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“psiconoclast”]I certainly do not dispute that humans are often less than wise.  I would, however, gently point out that adversity and percieved threats have, in the past, drawn the best out in us, though.  My point is not that a happy healthy “high energy” future is gauranteed, merely that it is premature to discount human creativity in the analysis.

Psi,

I don’t think I do discount human creativity.  But there is just so much that you can create and it can not be done overnight.  The rate at which the problems are accumulating is increasing.  This was Voice’s point in the thread “A Thesis”. Take global warming as an example.  The rate of increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere appears to be picking up.  With the Chinese and Indian economies gearing up (and this has an impact on the oil situation which I will address later) there seems to have been a measurable increase in the rate of emissions.  Now CO2 stays in the atmosphere for years (residence time) and is slow to be absorbed by the oceans.  That slowness of absorbsion and the increased rate of emission couple to produce a rapid increase in the concentration of the gas.  Now, couple this with the lag between the CO2 concentration buildup and our noticing any appreciable change in the climate (this has been part of the debate on this forum over this issue) and you have to imagine that when the alarm is finally heard (as seems to be happening now) we may respond, yes, but will it be in time to avert catastrophe?  That is the main problem.  No matter how creative we are, we might not be able to generate solutions at the rate needed to turn this tanker ship around.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]
There are many places that the power can come from:

1. Solar power satelites - The yield of solar panels in orbit is much greater, and it can be beamed to the earth via microwave.

2. Engineered organisms - Sure, current biological techniques for producing things like alcohol are not up to snuff to meet our needs, but the fact that it is, in theory, possible to grow a self replicating alcohol production factory holds tremendous potential.

3. Space based nuclear power - This will take a bit more work, but there is absolutely no intrinsic reason to believe that tremendous amounts of nuclear power couldn’t be generated in orbit - and far more safely than planetside.  Space is already a radioactive nightmare, so. . .


I’ve been seeing these kinds of predictions for over 30 years, mostly in Popular Science. There are a number of “neat” ideas but lets look at the numbers.  Take your space-based solar conversion station.  And remember in all of this what kinds of technical and operational problems we are having with the International Space Station right now.

How many ergs does it take to lift one kilogram of mass 43,452.288 kilometers (geosynchronous orbit)?  How efficient do you think our rocket-based delivery systems are? 20%, 40%, 60% - you pick. Now how much mass do you think this solar conversion satelite has? You pick the number.  What is it made of? How much energy did it take to extract the raw material, transport, process, manufacture, and deliver to the launch pad.  Remember, you have to take into account all the energy consumed, meaning also the energy used by workers (food) which itself required energy to produce and get to their mouths.  You also have to account for the energy used to convert the various manufacturing processes to work on this new project.  But that isn’t all, you need to account for the construction of power receivers and converters (to electricity). How much energy did that take to build and maintain.

What is the maximum efficiency of conversion from microwave (and here we’ll assume absolutely no deliterious effects of microwaving the atmosphere since the gasses in our atmosphere are “nearly” transparent to the most efficient band of microwave) to electricity? 10%, 20%, 50%, again you choose.

OK. Maybe you get the idea.  These kinds of analyses have been done many times and the fact is that the numbers just don’t add up.  There is no net energy gain in any space-based scheme that has been cooked up to date.  The costs to execute these ideas, in energy, is greater than the energy produced. 

As for the biological solutions.  At best, what is the maximum rate of sustainable production of a toxic material that any living system can manage?  Suppose current bacteria-based production can output 100 grams of ethanol for every kilogram of bacteria (and we’ll ignore the equipment needed to maintain the bacterial colonies and all the energy it takes to produce and maintain that equipment).  How much more do you suppose you can get?  Remember, alcohol is a waste product of the bacteria, they need to get rid of it and it needs to get flushed from their local environment.  If they produce at a higher rate, even assuming we know how to make them more tolerant of higher concentrations of the stuff, at what level will they be poisoned, or how much faster do we need to extract the product to ensure we don’t poison the bugs?  But if we need to extract faster, that means more energy used to run the equipment faster.  And on and on.

Psi, there just isn’t any magic bullet or wowy technology that is going to save the day.  We are clever.  We can come up with nifty tricks.  That was never at question.  The question is, which of those tricks is going to beat the second law of thermodynamics? We have been living on borrowed energy assets.  We can’t sustain anything like the current level of consumption with renewable sources no matter how clever we are.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]4. Conservation - Tremendous progress has been made with regards to reducing the power consumption of any given implement.  People are not engaging in a net conservation, only because the pressure to do so is not currently sufficient.  As the pressure mounts, people will consume less energy per capita.

5. Brand new ideas - I’m quite certain that I don’t know everything about possible alternatives.

Conservation will help, certainly, and needs to be advanced no matter what else.  But again, think through the need.  How efficient are we now?  What is the upper limits imposed by the laws of nature (2nd law specifically)? Suppose we are 40% efficient overall in using all forms of energy in doing useful work (I won’t even include the “non-useful” work that is done in the name of war, entertainment, etc.)  How much more efficient do you think our engines (all kinds) could be?  Two times?  If so, does this mean we actually have twice as much energy???? No.  Increases in efficiency translate into marginal increases in the work accomplished or the energy available to do useful work. 

The idea that there are new ideas out there possible is missplaced.  The point is you can’t overcome the 2nd. Law.  No technology is going to overcome the degradation of useful energy when we do real physical work. 

The cleverness, and resourcefulness you claim for our species will be directed at how best to kill off rivals for the remaining resources. It saddens me to have to say it that way, but I just don’t see any way out of this mess.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]What I mean by “drop in” is that it is a liquid, and thus the current fuel transport and distribution system (IE gas stations) could be retrofitted to work with an alcohol derivative.

In terms of energy efficiency, current commercially available fuel that is alcohol derived is in the 25% to 50% range in terms of energy density which isn’t great, but certainly workable.  Presumably these desnities can be improved upon.

I don’t know what a percentage energy density means, weight, volume.  The key question is how many BTUs per pound do you get from the stuff burning it in a conventional engine?  The next question is how much power does it produce (energy per unit time)?  If it is less than gasoline or diesel (for automotive applications) then you will go marginally less far on the same expenditure of fuel.  And that doesn’t take into account how much energy it took to make the stuff to begin with.  Is it net more or less than gas of diesel per unit weight or per BTU?

[quote author=“psiconoclast”][quote author=“me”]Biological energy fixation takes a lot of time to concentrate a fairly diffuse energy source (sunlight) into a high enough density to drive useful engines.  That is what happened with the creation of oil and natural gas.  It took millions of years of photosynthesis and then millions of years of compression/heat, not to mention the gravitational energy put into the compression.  The rate of accumulation in a fixed, usable form is very low for biological processes (e.g., photosynthesis).  It takes energy to concentrate energy.  The second law of thermodynamics means that there are no simple energy solutions.

If it were easy, then everyone would be doing it!  Seriously, though, the fact that it is hard does not mean that it is impossible.  As long as our energy needs do not violate the laws of physics, there is hope.

But that is exactly what you want - something that violates one of the most fundamental laws of physics - the second law of thermodynamics.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]I think that you overestimate the rapidity of the collapse of oil.  Everyone quotes Hubbert, and rightly so, without truly realizing what the second half of his curve really means.  We are not on the verge of oil running out.  We are simply on the verge of a permantly upward trend in oil prices, which is a very different thing.  Natural economic laws will force money into diverse alternatives as oil prices go up.

By a growing number of estimates we may be looking at the peak in world production of oil sometime in the next ten years (or by some estimates it has already happened).  I agree, this doesn’t mean that there is no more oil, and that the per unit cost will rise and, indeed that will force us to move to alternatives more rapidly in a last-ditch effort to stem the loss of energy.  But realize what you are really saying.  The cost of production (exploration, drilling, pumping, refining, transporting, etc.) is based on how much energy it takes to get one unit of useful energy from underground to the pump.  Prices reflect net energy, and just switching to an alternate (or increasing the uses of alternatives as the price of oil goes up) doesn’t mean things get cheaper.  The only reason we would switch to alternatives is because their actual costs (which will only marginally decrease due to somewhat higher mass production savings) are marginally less than oil. Everything will be more expensive.  Including the equipment needed for the alternative energy production.  For example, how much energy does it take to produce a solar panel?  Where will that energy come from? The more expensive oil of course!

The natural economic laws you speak of will indeed re-channel our capital resources, but not make that capital any more productive.  In fact, by the 2nd law, which trumps economic “laws”, that capital will be less productive.  We will be on a downward spiral, behind the power curve literally.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]

I’d really like to know on what basis you can make this claim.  Do you think there is something universal about capitalism?  I would go so far as to say that a market system is universal, but capitalism?  Why? Aggregating and organizing production inputs in the form of material, energy and labor surely is a universal, for exactly the reasons I mentioned above, you need high densities of resources to get useful work done.  But why capitalism? You couldn’t imagine some other form of rewarding the organizers other than stealing from the workers and the commons to enrich the already rich???

No, no, no!  I don’t think that there is anything universal about capitalism per se, but capitalism has shed light on “fundamental” economic laws.  The market concepts that you mention are exactly what I meant.  I think that, in 100 years, economics instructors will talk about the various “contributions” that the capitalistic era contributed to “modern” economic theory.

The light needs to be shed on fundamental physical laws.  Economist have mostly gotten it wrong on a number of fronts and there are a number of new generation economists (newly tenured!) who are saying so.  That would be a whole ‘nother thread though!  Check out subjects like “bionomics” and Eco-economics to see what I mean.  100 years from now there won’t be any economists to reflect on the contribution of capitalism to our understanding other than the ecologists (if any survive) that recall how capitalism coupled with sapiens lack of true wisdom nearly destroyed the planet.

[quote author=“psiconoclast”]

my comments on self-organized criticality

And it does.  If humanity can, in fact, be described in that way, it is a sad commentary on us.  What an irony, if, in all of our hubris, we ignored the fact that our demise was mathmatically indistinguishable from the demise of otherwise inanimate particle systems.

-Matt

Don’t forget the mass extinctions (they have a 1/f distribution too!), so we’re not just talking about inanimate systems.  Take a look at John Gribbon’s new book, “Deep Simplicity”. Its an eye opener!

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