Sunday, March 08, 2009

The And of the World as We Know It

The other day I got an email asking for permission to reprint a figure from one of my papers on black hole evaporation for a forthcoming popular science book on “Endings”.

Endings have been fashionable for more than a decade now. We all know that we are allegedly approaching The End of Science, The End of History, The End of Faith and have reached The End of Theory, or generally The End of the World as We Know It. The Internet too has an end - been there, done that, what's next?

So let me share with you an ancient German proverb: Everything has an end, only the sausage has two*. Or to put it differently, what all these folks proclaim as an end is actually a sign of beginning.

I read yesterday in Kevin Kelly's Speculations on the Future of Science: “This will be a century of biology. It is the domain with the most scientists, the most new results, the most economic value, the most ethical importance, and the most to learn.”

Well, I totally disagree with him. This won't be the century of biology, it will be the century of the social sciences or there won't be no next century. Our social systems, political systems, economic systems have reached a level of so high complexity we are constantly faced with emergent phenomena that are beyond our individual understanding. Unfortunately, they are also beyond the understanding of current scientific research. This is pretty much disastrous. We either figure out how to deal with that, or we won't be able to keep up this high level of complexity and tumble back down towards a lower level.

As Homer-Dixon masterfully argued out in his book The Ingenuity Gap, we need two types of ingenuity: Technical ingenuity to find new scientific insights and develop applications. But that alone is not sufficient. We also need the social ingenuity to not only implement these insights in a practical and timely manner, but also to foster an environment that is supportive to their development to begin with.

It is important to realize these both types of ingenuity are not only necessary for improvement. They are necessary to simply to remain on the level where we are, for we constantly cause new problems that we have to solve. When we fall behind in either category, we will eventually be overrun by problems. Thus, it is about time we finish the scientific revolution, and realize that for sustainable progress we need insights from both the natural AND the social sciences.

* It is in fact a seasonably popular song by Steffen Remmler Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei that is dusted off annually for Carnival and ranks in the same category as Klaus und Klaus' An der Nordseeküste and the unavoidable, ugh, Polonäse Blankenese (don't get scared when the audience jumps at him, that's the point). So much about German “culture” ;-p


  1. ...and, perhaps, the connections between biology and human social behaviours will be further elucidated, making this the century of both biology and social sciences. But advances in biology will certainly have the strongest direct impact on our lives.

  2. Hi Jorgon,

    But advances in biology will certainly have the strongest direct impact on our lives.

    What I was saying is a) without a properly working academic system there won't be no advances and b) without a properly working political and economic system these advance won't have no impact on our lives.



  3. These conversations are always very interesting. Bee, I wonder if you've read Alfred Korzybski's works. He addresses many issues with science, society and philosophy with some math along the way. Most of his work is from the first half of the 20th century and he has some really good clarity on these topics.

  4. Hi CoffeeCup,

    No, never heard of that person. Thanks for mentioning it, I will check this out! Best,


  5. * It is in fact a seasonably popular song by Steffen Remmler
    Hello Bee,
    I heard this "proverb" for the first time
    about 1960 from a latin teacher.
    Together with "Ich glaab, daß de Schwaademaache die dickschd Worschd is!"
    this statements are typical for
    philosophical and religious attitude
    here in the Palatinate.

  6. So if the new and superior, both rigorous and realistic social science, the true hope of this century, will scientifically demonstrate that human civilisation can only continue and flourish if it changes completely its unitary social systems getting rid of its big boss oligarchies and other parasites destroying the world in exchange to diverging and absolutely unmerited personal profits, then the grateful humanity will immediately implement that great discovery in practical life and will prosper forever. The big bosses and related parasite mafia will acknowledge that they must go and let the humanity progress towards the next level of intelligence-based civilisation. And that includes, of course, all high priests of today's science who are different from now obvious financial frauds in all “top” institutions only by a much higher degree of vanity power abuse in science where the real public control is totally absent. They will acknowledge their evident abuses and will leave place to new, problem-solving and directly useful science naturally accessible to wide public understanding and direct participation.

    That is the essential difference between everything “social” and other kind of knowledge: direct involvement in the former of major personal (and collective) interests, which dominate definitely and desperately any kind of other considerations, even as strong as civilisation survival (let alone any “scientific” conclusions). No science can be stronger than intelligence level of those who are supposed to implement it. And today we have a major conflict and impasse of that “killing” level: no way to propose any “better” science to those who are unable to understand its advantages and think, on the contrary, that they are just in the best position at the existing level of knowledge and social structures. And the dominating level of consciousness doesn't change overnight only because there is a “practical need” for it. Ask for your “advanced” study bosses to change in the “obviously necessary” direction, if you want to see another evidence for it (and don't let them feed us with infinite bullshit-science imitations of “gauge invariance” application to economic problems and “quantum theory” of social processes: enough is enough!).

    By the way, the causally complete, totally rigorous and realistic (rather than “modelling”) social applications of exact-science methods, corresponding to the best expectations exist. And by the way, in order to understand their “rigorously derived” conclusions (including those mentioned above) one doesn't need to be a professional researcher. Many hard-working “ordinary” people, creating the true, “problem-solving” values arrive at similar conclusions with the help of their natural intelligence, even without corrupting it with any establishment science dogmas and closely related ideological “isms”. And by the way, in order to advance some “brand new” projects of the “next level” of knowledge, one should have at least a working, provably efficient concept of that new knowledge, rather a mere “motivation” to have it. Because otherwise one always obtains the same old shit, just destroying (now definitely) the existing science and civilisation where those self-assumed “top managers” who have the power to decide are just unable to create anything useful themselves and therefore cannot properly understand and manage the details of “novelties” they pretend to “ensure”. It's always the power of parasites instead of the power of creators that can alone underlie any further progress in science and society in the whole: to everybody according to his/her real merits as demonstrated by real problem solutions (rather then “intentions”, “promises”, “motivations” and “research efforts”). It's also called fair competition and is behind all the successes of the Western civilisation (now compromised precisely because of essential deviations from the fair competition principles).

    “Random Thoughts” is a telling classification of these “scientific” efforts to save it. Precisely, we are well within the “21st century” and “third millennium”, with their long-known “social” problems and all the related super-ambitious “top initiatives”, many of them just in the allegedly “advanced”, new and “interdisciplinary” science and around it, with very generously supported institutes, projects and propaganda efforts. And it all gives what it gives, during decades already: growing chaos and destruction, in science and real life. Need more “random thoughts” by our “officially great” scientists? Non, merci.

    This time something very different is needed, much less random and selfish and much more provably useful. Then maybe the indeed increasingly real end of the world can be replaced by a more interesting “and...” (as it is in the original title of this post).

  7. The And of the world as we know it.
    This is how the world ands.

    Is and the new end? Or did i miss something

  8. Hi George,

    To add another related piece of wisdom which I learned from Stefan and one should keep in mind now that tough economic times are ahead: In der allergrößten Not schmeck die Wurst auch ohne Brot ;-) Best,


  9. This I have learned. Never to my knowledge
    did you, all-preseving gods, like mortal masters, lead me providentially along a straight path. Holderlin, The Course of Life. Prometheus is rising slowly these days, learning to speak diplomatically. He and others are waiting for their Hercules, though others will say, "Here comes Kronos." Well, if I undersand Lovelock right, it's already too late. And so we will be like children startled in the middle of our prayers, wondering what we're doing, who we are praying to.

  10. Bee:
    "As Homer-Dixon masterfully argued out in his book The Ingenuity Gap, we need two types of ingenuity: Technical ingenuity to find new scientific insights and develop applications. But that alone is not sufficient. We also need the social ingenuity to not only implement these insights in a practical and timely manner, but also to foster an environment that is supportive to their development to begin with."

    I.e., the "social engineering" component (in the bigger picture) is the main bottleneck.

    Back in 2001, I was working on a self-initiated project on Interdisciplinary Science (which requires horizontal communication amongst the vertical "discipline threads"). The current Academic Infrastructure is hopelessly Vertical, there is not a BUILT-IN means to do horizontal cross-pollination.
    I posed the question to 1 of your German brethren (Dr. Bertram Herzog, working @Fraunhofer Inst at the time) & he told me:

    "FORGET IT! [ as far as trying to change current Academia ]..they won't change"

    His solution of choice was with a 3rd party (Fraunhofer), to help Academia-Industry cooperation (a form of inter-agency cross cooperation).

    I just noticed that you had a recent Twitter post "is fighting bureacracy". I just ran into this NY Times article

    "They [ quants ] Tried to Outsmart Wall Street"
    [ note: L. Smolin/PI is quoted in this article ]

    where UIUC physics prof stated:

    "compared the financial meltdown to the Challenger space shuttle explosion, saying it was a failure of management and communication.[ Curse of Bureacracy ]"


    Funny thing, the same conclusion was reach after the Columbia disaster:

    "The physicist [ Douglas Osheroff/Stanford ], who won the Nobel in 1996, was named late to the Columbia board after the chairman decided he wanted some heavyweight scientists. Osheroff was a student of the late Richard Feynman, another Nobel-winning physicist who was an outspoken NASA critic when he served on the Challenger commission."

    "``Look, I think it's been clear for a long time that what has to change is not NASA's policies and procedures or management structure. I suppose they have to change as well, but it's culture,'' he said. ``Culture is a very funny thing, of course. It is the way people intuitively behave to a situation.''

    "``I was at Bell Laboratories at the time of the breakup of the Bell system, and they had industrial psychologists come in trying to change the culture,'' he said. ``I don't think it was at all successful, at least certainly not in the research area where I was.''"

    ``No matter how good the report looks, if we don't do something to change the way NASA makes its decisions, I would say that we will have been whistling in the wind,'' Osheroff told The Associated Press in a telephone interview this week.

    ``At the moment, I'm in a state of depression,'' he said from his office at Stanford University.

    As the saying goes:

    "You can't fix STUPID"

    Take a look at some insider comments (Caltech alumni) about Caltech:

    "As a former Caltech student, I can tell you that 'family' atmosphere is gone. It is run like a business. This change is noted with sorrow by many current and former students. It began when they lost so much money in the stock market after the dot com bust and the 9/11 attacks. When money rules, people suffer.

    When Caltech's student body threatened to boycott dining services to protest pricing and availability changes, the administration said they would fire employees to compensate for the lost income.

    Professors don't care about mentoring students as much as they care about consulting for industry and making $$$. My graduate adviser prevented me from moving forward with an idea because it would have conflicted with his private company's financial interests.

    Currently, they're cutting loose and graduating many graduate students because they can't afford to keep them on, even as cheap labor.

    They take $$$ from the NIH and NSA, and who knows how they spend it? How many hours do you think Caltech professors and students spend looking at internet pornography?

    Hint: there are about 4 men per 1 woman on campus.

    It's pathetic to see this institution go through these changes."
    -- Former Caltech Student

    "Caltech has one of the richest endowments in the nation for a school of its size. This is despicable. As an alum, I think I will redirect my charitable donations this year to something else. No doubt professors (some of whom are horrible and have no business teaching or being at Caltech) will be spared while the people who truly work and make sure that the students are taken care of will be affected the most. I truly question whether this new president values anything other than "name" professors. He certainly doesn't care about the students' experience and the people that take care of the students. The students are the raison d'etre of the University and he seems to have forgotten that."
    -- CaltechAlum

    "By the way, alum donations also go way down if students don't have a meaningful and awesome experience. Unhappy students = unhappy alums. Get rid of deadbeat professors who do nothing for the students. Keep the staff who take care of the students."
    -- CaltechAlum

    I'm on top of a MAJOR SCANDAL involving Caltech, Stanford, Harvard, U. of Arizona (& probably others), mainly Astronomy. I have to goto the Caltech President (he was colleague of Georgia-Tech Vice President, the latter who was my office-mate in grad-school) & tell him of an impending disaster.

  11. Like Qubit, I am "sort of waiting," as to why you might purposely do this?:)


    Bee:Thus, it is about time we finish the scientific revolution, and realize that for sustainable progress we need insights from both the natural AND the social sciences.

    I looked further to try and see what it's applicability may be, as if, a "multiple choice question" about "and" as a possible ending?

    Depends, if such a position can be introduced "in both cases" that it may end, as one? This then leads as to the most likely causative linked probability, that is linked by coherency, and thusly, leading to the substance offered for further speculation of that "And."

    Still unpredictable?

    There always has to be a forming apparatus inherent, as to be recognized, and leads to the matters at hand? That "historically" leads to the matters at hand. As if, the professor crosses the room. What gathers around him/her? Not the students, but the "body of thought."


  12. Plato: In case that's what you mean, the And in the title in on purpose, yes.

  13. There is a path through the current difficulties in physics which plainly lies before us. It is a path that leads to things wonderous. A simple question needs to be asked based on the statement "2 negatives do not make a positive" template this against our understanding of gravity and you should understand what I mean.
    Also the social sciences can not and will not help because their application is governed by those without the ability to understand the lateral implications of their application like children playing with toys they will take centuries to learn. This may not be a difficulty as there are other forces at work which will change all.
    For Chimpanzee look beyond the literal learning environment.


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