Tuesday, April 30, 2013
independent | Over the next few years about a million individual components of the highly complex fusion reactor will arrive at the Cadarache site from around the world. They will be assembled like a giant Lego model in a nearby building which has a volume equal to 81 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Nothing is left to chance in a project that has defied potential Babel-like misunderstandings between the collaborating nations. The design, development and construction of a machine that will attempt to emulate the nuclear fusion reactions of the Sun is proving to be a triumph of diplomacy, as well as science and engineering.
“It is the largest scientific collaboration in the world. In fact, the project is so complex we even had to invent our own currency – known as the Iter Unit of Account – to decide how each country pays its share,” says Carlos Alejaldre, Iter’s deputy director responsible for safety.
“We’ve passed from the design stage to being a construction project. We will have to show it is safe. If we cannot convince the public that this is safe, I don’t think nuclear fusion will be developed anywhere in the world,” Dr Alejaldre said.
“A Fukushima-like accident is impossible at Iter because the fusion reaction is fundamentally safe. Any disturbance from ideal conditions and the reaction will stop. A runaway nuclear reaction and a core meltdown are simply not possible,” he said.
Conventional nuclear power produces energy by atomic fission – the splitting of the heavy atoms of uranium fuel. This experimental reactor attempts to fuse together the light atoms of hydrogen isotopes and, in the process, to liberate virtually unlimited supplies of clean, safe and sustainable energy.
Nuclear fusion has been a dream since the start of the atomic age. Unlike conventional nuclear-fission power plants, fusion reactors do not produce high-level radioactive waste, cannot be used for military purposes and essentially burn non-toxic fuel derived from water.
Many energy experts believe that nuclear fusion is the only serious, environmentally-friendly way of reliably producing “base-load” electricity 24/7. It is, they argue, the only way of generating industrial-scale quantities of electricity night and day without relying on carbon-intensive fossil fuels or dangerous and dirty conventional nuclear power.
theantlantic | Churchill fired the starting gun, but all of the Western powers joined the race to control Middle Eastern oil. Britain clawed past France, Germany, and the Netherlands, only to be overtaken by the United States, which secured oil concessions in Turkey, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. The struggle created a long-lasting intercontinental snarl of need and resentment. Even as oil-consuming nations intervened in the affairs of oil-producing nations, they seethed at their powerlessness; oil producers exacted huge sums from oil consumers but chafed at having to submit to them. Decades of turmoil—oil shocks in 1973 and 1979, failed programs for “energy independence,” two wars in Iraq—have left unchanged this fundamental, Churchillian dynamic, a toxic mash of anger and dependence that often seems as basic to global relations as the rotation of the sun.
All of this was called into question by the voyage of the Chikyu (“Earth”), a $540 million Japanese deep-sea drilling vessel that looks like a billionaire’s yacht with a 30-story oil derrick screwed into its back. The Chikyu, a floating barrage of superlatives, is the biggest, glitziest, most sophisticated research vessel ever constructed, and surely the only one with a landing pad for a 30-person helicopter. The central derrick houses an enormous floating drill with a six-mile “string” that has let the Chikyu delve deeper beneath the ocean floor than any other ship.
The Chikyu, which first set out in 2005, was initially intended to probe earthquake-generating zones in the planet’s mantle, a subject of obvious interest to seismically unstable Japan. Its present undertaking was, if possible, of even greater importance: trying to develop an energy source that could free not just Japan but much of the world from the dependence on Middle Eastern oil that has bedeviled politicians since Churchill’s day.
In the 1970s, geologists discovered crystalline natural gas—methane hydrate, in the jargon—beneath the seafloor. Stored mostly in broad, shallow layers on continental margins, methane hydrate exists in immense quantities; by some estimates, it is twice as abundant as all other fossil fuels combined. Despite its plenitude, gas hydrate was long subject to petroleum-industry skepticism. These deposits—water molecules laced into frigid cages that trap “guest molecules” of natural gas—are strikingly unlike conventional energy reserves. Ice you can set on fire! Who could take it seriously? But as petroleum prices soared, undersea-drilling technology improved, and geological surveys accumulated, interest rose around the world. The U.S. Department of Energy has been funding a methane-hydrate research program since 1982.
Nowhere has the interest been more serious than Japan. Unlike Britain and the United States, the Japanese failed to become “the owners, or at any rate, the controllers” of any significant amount of oil. (Not that Tokyo didn’t try: it bombed Pearl Harbor mainly to prevent the U.S. from blocking its attempted conquest of the oil-rich Dutch East Indies.) Today, Churchill’s nightmare has come true for Japan: it is a military and industrial power almost wholly dependent on foreign energy. It is the world’s third-biggest net importer of crude oil, the second-biggest importer of coal, and the biggest importer of liquefied natural gas. Not once has a Japanese politician expressed happiness at this state of affairs.
Japan’s methane-hydrate program began in 1995. Its scientists quickly focused on the Nankai Trough, about 200 miles southwest of Tokyo, an undersea earthquake zone where two pieces of the Earth’s crust jostle each other. Step by step, year by year, a state-owned enterprise now called the Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) dug test wells, made measurements, and obtained samples of the hydrate deposits: 130-foot layers of sand and silt, loosely held together by methane-rich ice. The work was careful, slow, orderly, painstakingly analytical—the kind of process that seems intended to snuff out excited newspaper headlines. But it progressed with the same remorselessness that in the 1960s and ’70s had transformed offshore oil wells from Waterworld-style exoticisms to mainstays of the world economy.
In January, 18 years after the Japanese program began, the Chikyu left the Port of Shimizu, midway up the main island’s eastern coastline, to begin a “production” test—an attempt to harvest usefully large volumes of gas, rather than laboratory samples. Many questions remained to be answered, the project director, Koji Yamamoto, told me before the launch. JOGMEC hadn’t figured out the best way to mine hydrate, or how to ship the resultant natural gas to shore. Costs needed to be brought down. “It will not be ready for 10 years,” Yamamoto said. “But I believe it will be ready.” What would happen then, he allowed, would be “interesting.”
Monday, April 29, 2013
NYTimes | Compare the current conditions in urban America with those in the early 1980s, when the nation saw a less severe recession, yet neighborhoods were deteriorating and violent crime was much higher. Cities were trying to overcome a range of economic and demographic transformations: the loss of manufacturing jobs, the migration of whites and middle-class minorities out of central city neighborhoods and declining tax revenues.
Meanwhile, cities saw their federal aid decline rapidly as the Reagan administration slashed programs like the Community Development Block Grant and public housing.
The consequences were predictable. Housing agencies were unable to maintain their complexes. Public schools crumbled, police forces were overwhelmed. Public transit deteriorated. It took two decades for many cities to recover.
There are many factors that help explain the difference between now and then, but I believe the primary one is the unpopular, $840 billion fiscal stimulus program in 2009, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
Many of the largest and most important investments made by the “stimulus” went to institutions and organizations that were essential to functioning communities. Abandoned homes did not become hot spots for crime because almost $2 billion went to acquiring, renovating or demolishing them.
Class sizes did not swell and police officers did not disappear from city streets because stimulus money was used to stabilize state budgets, improve underperforming schools and rehire officers for community-oriented policing.
The question is, what comes next, now that the stimulus is over? A historical perspective on urban policy reveals a cycle in which periods of major investment are followed by periods of neglect, disinvestment and decline. This pattern is in the process of repeating.
The early days of the Obama administration saw the announcement of a White House Office of Urban Policy, the unveiling of several high-profile programs to invest in urban communities, and the passage of the stimulus. But the Office of Urban Policy never took off, programs like “Promise Neighborhoods” have been diluted by the political process, and the stimulus money has been spent. In the cycle of urban policy making, we are entering another period of neglect.
To end this cycle requires a shift in the federal approach to urban policy. Our nation’s cities and suburbs do not need more initiatives that are unveiled with fanfare and then abandoned a few years later. Urban communities and the institutions within them need a sustained commitment from the federal government, a durable policy agenda with the capacity to generate change in America’s most disadvantaged communities.
Such an agenda does not require a vast influx of new money, but it does mean a shift of priorities. For example, the growing segregation of the rich from the poor could be slowed by a federal effort to counter the practice of exclusionary zoning, which allows localities to exclude low-income residents by restricting the types of housing that can be built.
The risks associated with growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood could be mitigated if money being used to imprison our young people went instead to re-integrating former prisoners into society, bolstering connections between the police and community groups and maintaining clean streets and safe parks.
dollarcollapse | When you have economic contraction you also have a substantial contraction of the trust horizon. This deprives political institutions at the national and international level of the trust that would give them political legitimacy. They become stranded assets from a trust perspective. People no longer internalize the rules that those institutions are attempting to impose. The response is typically surveillance, coercion, and repression. This picture basically suggests that it is pointless to look for solutions from the top down. It is not solutions that will come from the top down but more problems.
So politicians typically make a bad situation worse as expensively as possible. The systems that we have established have become sclerotic and unresponsive, hostage to vested interests with no ability to adapt quickly to give people abilities to cope with rapid change. I don’t look for solutions from them. The people who are part of that system are typically the people who have gained significant amounts from the status quo. These are the last people who are likely to change things, so I don’t look for political actions.
In many parts of the world, especially in parts of Europe, people always ask me if they should take political action, change their policies at a national level to solve these problems. And I tell them unfortunately not because there isn’t any mechanism for these large bureaucratic institutions to offer anything that would realistically help, and that they‘re far more likely to try to maintain their own existence by sucking even more resources out of the periphery in order to maintain the center.
This is a bit like when a body becomes hypothermic, not enough heat. It shuts off circulation to the fingers and toes in order to preserve the body temperature of the core. That’s what we can expect politicians and political systems to do. Unfortunately for us, we are the fingers and toes and we have to look after ourselves. Nothing is coming from the top.
My solutions, such as they are, are grassroots solutions. We have to build things from the bottom up. Our centralized life support systems will fail over time because they’re critically dependent on tax revenues that won’t be there and cheap energy that won’t be there. These centralized systems won’t be able to deliver the goods and services we’ve come to rely on.
What we need are alternatives that come from the bottom up. The reason these work is because they operate within the trust horizon. They don’t have to stay small. They can grow to whatever size the trust supports and that can be different in different places. The crucial thing is that they come from the bottom up, they’re small and responsive and not bureaucratic, they make the best use of very small amounts of resources because they don’t have enormous administrative overhead.
It’s amazing what can be done at a very small scale. It wouldn’t replace what the centralized services have given us, but we can cover the basics. The key point is that we have to do it right now because we don’t have much time before we start to see centralized systems failing to deliver what they have delivered in the past. The amount of money in the system can contract very quickly. That undercuts what these centralized systems are capable of delivering in the next few years. So we must start right now building grass roots initiatives, and community is crucial to that.
We need to begin at the individual level because if we are on a solid foundation ourselves we can then help others. If we are not then our attempt to help others is fundamentally weakened. So we have to get our own house in order but then we have to think much more broadly. We must build community. Relationships of trust are the foundation of society. So we need to work with our neighbors, we need to know our neighbors and we need connections with family and community so we’re less dependent on money.
In many parts of the world where people really don’t have any money anyway, their society functions on barter and gifts, working together, exchanging skills. This works as a model. It doesn’t get you a large fancy sophisticated industrial society because it doesn’t scale up that well. But it works very well at a small scale, and this is the kind of structure that we need to rebuild.
In some parts of the world there’s a lot more of that than in other parts. So it’s actually interesting to think that it’s not necessarily the places that are the wealthiest at the moment that will do best in the future.
The analogy I use is that if you’re going to fall out of a window how much it hurts when you hit the ground depends on how many floors up you were at the time. If you were on the hundredth floor and you do nothing to prepare before you fall it’s going to be fatal. If you’re much further down it’s less painful. If you fell out of a ground floor window you might not even notice. You just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and not very much has changed.
So the places that will do best are the places where there is already a lot of trust at the foundational level, where people are used to working together, where people are not that far removed from the land. Places where there’s an enormous disconnect between resources that are available in that area and what resources that are actually used, where societies are highly atomized and used to a very high standard of living, those places will see enormous shock to the system because those people don’t have any skills or connection to land or family to fall back on.
RollingStone | "It's a double conspiracy," says an amazed Michael Greenberger, a former director of the trading and markets division at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and now a professor at the University of Maryland. "It's the height of criminality."
The bad news didn't stop with swaps and interest rates. In March, it also came out that two regulators – the CFTC here in the U.S. and the Madrid-based International Organization of Securities Commissions – were spurred by the Libor revelations to investigate the possibility of collusive manipulation of gold and silver prices. "Given the clubby manipulation efforts we saw in Libor benchmarks, I assume other benchmarks – many other benchmarks – are legit areas of inquiry," CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton said.
But the biggest shock came out of a federal courtroom at the end of March – though if you follow these matters closely, it may not have been so shocking at all – when a landmark class-action civil lawsuit against the banks for Libor-related offenses was dismissed. In that case, a federal judge accepted the banker-defendants' incredible argument: If cities and towns and other investors lost money because of Libor manipulation, that was their own fault for ever thinking the banks were competing in the first place.
"A farce," was one antitrust lawyer's response to the eyebrow-raising dismissal.
"Incredible," says Sylvia Sokol, an attorney for Constantine Cannon, a firm that specializes in antitrust cases. All of these stories collectively pointed to the same thing: These banks, which already possess enormous power just by virtue of their financial holdings – in the United States, the top six banks, many of them the same names you see on the Libor and ISDAfix panels, own assets equivalent to 60 percent of the nation's GDP – are beginning to realize the awesome possibilities for increased profit and political might that would come with colluding instead of competing. Moreover, it's increasingly clear that both the criminal justice system and the civil courts may be impotent to stop them, even when they do get caught working together to game the system.
If true, that would leave us living in an era of undisguised, real-world conspiracy, in which the prices of currencies, commodities like gold and silver, even interest rates and the value of money itself, can be and may already have been dictated from above. And those who are doing it can get away with it. Forget the Illuminati – this is the real thing, and it's no secret. You can stare right at it, anytime you want. Fist tap Arnach.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
wired | The default mode network has been a hot topic in neuroscience in recent years. Scientists don’t really know what it does, but they love to speculate. One interpretation is that activity in this network may represent what we experience as our internal monologue and may help generate our sense of self.
Last year, British scientists reported that psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, like ayahuasca, reduces activity in the brain’s default mode network.
The researchers proposed that interfering with the default network could be how psychedelic drugs cause what users often describe as a disintegration of the self, or even a sense of oneness with the universe.
Robin Carhart-Harris, the neuroscientist who led the psilocybin study, reported new findings at the conference from a study that used a method called magnetoencephalography, which tracks brain activity with better time resolution than fMRI does. The results suggest psilocybin affects not only the default mode network, but also disrupts a certain type of rhythmic brain activity.
Individual subjects who experienced more of this desychronization while on the drug tended to report a greater subjective sense of disintegration. ”For me this is the most interesting observation of the lot,” Carhart-Harris said. “Our sense of self, the sense of being someone, really is a kind of an illusion. All we are is a product of our brain activation.”
Eroding the sense of self may be one way hallucinogens produce what many users experience as profound spiritual insights. In 2008 Griffiths and his team at Johns Hopkins reported that the majority of 36 ordinary people who took psilocybin for the first time in an 8-hour session in his lab still regarded the experience as one of the five most personally meaningful events of their lives more than a year later. Two-thirds of them rated it among their top five spiritual experiences.
“It seemed so improbable to me when we started that they’d compare this to birth of a child or death of a parent,” he said at the conference. Fist tap Arnach.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
sciencemag | For everyone who's looked into an infant's sparkling eyes and wondered what goes on in its little fuzzy head, there's now an answer. New research shows that babies display glimmers of consciousness and memory as early as 5 months old.
For decades, neuroscientists have been searching for an unmistakable signal of consciousness in electrical brain activity. Such a sign could determine whether minimally conscious or anesthetized adults are aware—and when consciousness begins in babies.
Studies on adults show a particular pattern of brain activity: When your senses detect something, such as a moving object, the vision center of your brain activates, even if the object goes by too fast for you to notice. But if the object remains in your visual field for long enough, the signal travels from the back of the brain to the prefrontal cortex, which holds the image in your mind long enough for you to notice. Scientists see a spike in brain activity when the senses pick something up, and another signal, the "late slow wave," when the prefrontal cortex gets the message. The whole process takes less than one-third of a second.
Researchers in France wondered if such a two-step pattern might be present in infants. The team monitored infants' brain activity through caps fitted with electrodes. More than 240 babies participated, but two-thirds were too squirmy for the movement-sensitive caps. The remaining 80 (ages 5 months, 12 months, or 15 months) were shown a picture of a face on a screen for a fraction of a second.
Cognitive neuroscientist Sid Kouider of CNRS, the French national research agency, in Paris watched for swings in electrical activity, called event-related potentials (ERPs), in the babies' brains. In babies who were at least 1 year old, Kouider saw an ERP pattern similar to an adult's, but it was about three times slower. The team was surprised to see that the 5-month-olds also showed a late slow wave, although it was weaker and more drawn out than in the older babies. Kouider speculates that the late slow wave may be present in babies as young as 2 months.
This late slow wave may indicate conscious thought, Kouider and colleagues report online today in Science. The wave, feedback from the prefrontal cortex, suggests that the image is stored briefly in the baby's temporary "working memory." And consciousness, Kouider says, is composed of working memory.
Friday, April 26, 2013
gregpalast | Like most lefty journalists, I assumed that George Bush and Tony Blair invaded Iraq to buy up its oil fields, cheap and at gun-point, and cart off the oil. We thought we knew the neo-cons true casus belli: Blood for oil.
But the truth in the confidential Options for Iraqi Oil Industry was worse than "Blood for Oil". Much, much worse.
The key was in the flow chart on page 15, Iraq Oil Regime Timeline & Scenario Analysis:
"...A single state-owned company ...enhances a government's relationship with OPEC."
Let me explain why these words rocked my casbah.
I'd already had in my hands a 101-page document, another State Department secret scheme, first uncovered by Wall Street Journal reporter Neil King, that called for the privatization, the complete sell-off of every single government-owned asset and industry. And in case anyone missed the point, the sales would include every derrick, pipe and barrel of oil, or, as the document put it, "especially the oil".
That plan was created by a gaggle of corporate lobbyists and neo-cons working for the Heritage Foundation. In 2004, the plan's authenticity was confirmed by Washington power player Grover Norquist. (It's hard to erase the ill memory of Grover excitedly waving around his soft little hands as he boasted about turning Iraq into a free-market Disneyland, recreating Chile in Mesopotamia, complete with the Pinochet-style dictatorship necessary to lock up the assets – while behind Norquist, Richard Nixon snarled at me from a gargantuan portrait.)
The neo-con idea was to break up and sell off Iraq's oil fields, ramp up production, flood the world oil market – and thereby smash OPEC and with it, the political dominance of Saudi Arabia.
General Jay Garner also confirmed the plan to grab the oil. Indeed, Garner told me that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld fired him, when the General, who had lived in Iraq, complained the neo-con grab would set off a civil war. It did. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld replaced Garner with a new American viceroy, Paul Bremer, a partner in Henry Kissinger's firm, to complete the corporate takeover of Iraq's assets – "especially the oil".
But that was not to be. While Bremer oversaw the wall-to-wall transfer of Iraqi industries to foreign corporations, he was stopped cold at the edge of the oil fields.
How? I knew there was only one man who could swat away the entire neo-con army: James Baker, former Secretary of State, Bush family consiglieri and most important, counsel to Exxon-Mobil Corporation and the House of Saud.
(One unwitting source was industry oil-trading maven Edward Morse of Lehman/Credit Suisse, who threatened to sue Harper's Magazine for my quoting him. Morse denied I ever spoke with him. But when I played the tape from my hidden recorder, his memory cleared and he scampered away.)
Weirdly, I was uncovering that the US oil industry was using its full political mojo to prevent their being handed ownership of Iraq's oil fields. That's right: The oil companies did NOT want to own the oil fields – and they sure as hell did not want the oil. Just the opposite. They wanted to make sure there would be a limit on the amount of oil that would come out of Iraq.
There was no way in hell that Baker's clients, from Exxon to Abdullah, were going to let a gaggle of neo-con freaks smash up Iraq's oil industry, break OPEC production quotas, flood the market with six million barrels of Iraqi oil a day and thereby knock its price back down to $13 a barrel where it was in 1998.
Big Oil simply could not allow Iraq's oil fields to be privatized and taken from state control. That would make it impossible to keep Iraq within OPEC (an avowed goal of the neo-cons) as the state could no longer limit production in accordance with the cartel's quota system..
The problem with Saddam was not the threat that he'd stop the flow of oil – he was trying to sell more. The price of oil had been boosted 300 percent by sanctions and an embargo cutting Iraq's sales to two million barrels a day from four. With Saddam gone, the only way to keep the damn oil in the ground was to leave it locked up inside the busted state oil company which would remain under OPEC (i.e. Saudi) quotas.
The James Baker Institute quickly and secretly started in on drafting the 323-page plan for the State Department. In May 2003, w ith authority granted from the top (i.e. Dick Cheney), ex-Shell Oil USA CEO Phil Carroll was rushed to Baghdad to take charge of Iraq's oil. He told Bremer, "There will be no privatization of oil – END OF STATEMENT." Carroll then passed off control of Iraq's oil to Bob McKee of Halliburton, Cheney's old oil-services company, who implemented the Baker "enhance OPEC" option anchored in state ownership.
Some oil could be released, mainly to China, through limited, but lucrative, "production sharing agreements".
And that's how George Bush won the war in Iraq. The invasion was not about "blood for oil", but something far more sinister: blood for no oil. War to keep supply tight and send prices skyward.
Oil men, whether James Baker or George Bush or Dick Cheney, are not in the business of producing oil. They are in the business of producing profits.
- Religion is a set of beliefs for which there is no
evidence: these beliefs include god, devil, soul, after-life, original
sin, heaven, hell, the 5000 year old flat-earth, and also can include
denial of evolution, climate change, and more. Some of it might be allegory, but many think it is literally true.
- Science is also a set of beliefs for which there IS
evidence: to verify the results there is a peer-review process,
continual refinement. Over the centuries we have learned a lot and
benefited in many ways: better medicine, smart technology. We are
poorer in that there is much more destructive war, and massive
pollution including massive additions of greenhouse gas to the
These are not the only basis for beliefs though:
- There are politicians, academics, and others who will
support any set of beliefs for pay. These are people who are responsible
for our dysfunctional institutions, including government. For want of a
term, we could call them schills. As Lawrence Lessig points out so well
in his book Republic Lost, Congress responds to money.
- There are many people who believe what they hear without verification: they trust what they hear from their neighbors, internet, news groups, mass media, or even from Fox news. Payment for belief is the basis for extreme expense in political campaigns. It can create grass-roots activists for the tobacco industry, the NRA, or even climate denialists. It is the reason for the existence of the very profitable advertising industry.
Reality will win. Science is our best view of reality and is usually our best predictor. The climate doesn't care what we think. Because we have burned too much fossil fuel, Earth will warm, the glaciers will melt, the arctic ocean will be ice free, there will no longer be fresh drinking water from the melt, the land will dry, fires will rage, forests will disappear, the waters will become acid, many species will go extinct, food will get too expensive for most. As a result, the economy will be destroyed. Population will have to shrink to a level the earth can support. This will be accompanied by mass migrations, social unrest, and most likely wars.
Using these definitions: Economics is a religion when there is no attempt to base it on facts. If, however, there are people who carefully study the evidence, and propose policy solutions based on the best available knowledge, I would argue that they aspire to be scientists and should be respected as such. Economics has both kinds of people. Voodoo or supply-side economics has long been discredited, but carries on as religion. Nobel prize winning economists, like Joe Stiglitz or Paul Krugman, deserve respect as scholars and scientists. To say this is also to take sides in the politics. It is usually best to side with people with deep knowledge of their subject, not the ones who can't accept science.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
realitysandwich | In Plato, Shamanism, and Ancient Egypt, the writer Jeremy Naydler argues that there is good reason to believe that Plato and other Greek philosophers journeyed to Egypt in order to receive some form of initiation. In Plato's case, according to Naydler, this led to his philosophy -- to which, as Alfred North Whitehead remarked, all subsequent western thought is merely a footnote, which suggests that a book on The Egyptian Roots of Western Philosophy remains to be written. Exactly what Plato and the others received may not be absolutely clear, but Naydler believes that by trying to understand Plato's relationship to Egypt, we can gain a firmer grasp, not only on Plato's ideas, but also on "that deep current of thought and spiritual practice known as the Hermetic tradition."
Naydler argues that some form of shamanism was involved in ancient Egyptian spiritual practice. Naydler points out that the central narrative in Egyptian mythology is the story of Osiris' dismemberment at the hands of his evil brother Set and his resurrection by his consort Isis, and argues that this is paralleled in the dismemberment motifs in shamanic initiation rituals. He also argues that the journey of the soul through the underworld -- what the Egyptians called the Duat -- as described in the Book of the Going Forth By Day, otherwise known as Egyptian Book of the Dead, can be found in shamanic ritual, as can be the idea of a spiritual ascent, which is another Egyptian theme. In both shamanic and Egyptian religious accounts, this ascent to the sky takes place via wings or a kind of ladder, and it should come as no surprise that a parallel idea appears in the Hermetic notion of a journey through the planets to the "Eighth sphere." That Plato described a version of this stellar ascent too, suggests for Naydler that his version and the Hermetic one stem from the same source.
Predictably, for 'official' Egyptology, Naydler's ideas put him the lunatic camp, as most mainstream Egyptologists reject the notion of Egyptian shamanism. They reject it because, Naydler argues, they are fixated on the funerary interpretation of Egyptian religious texts, such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Like the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Egyptian Book of the Dead is a collection of hymns, spells, incantations, magical 'power words,' and instructions used to guide the soul of the deceased in the after-world; unlike the Tibetan Book of the Dead, however, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which is much older, is an often wildly heterogeneous assembly of writings, gathered over millennia, and is not really a book at all, at least not in the modern sense. Its earliest 'chapters,' known as the Pyramid Texts, were written on the walls of the tombs of the pharaohs circa 2350-2175 BC, but originated in sources much earlier; the practice of mummification and concern for the afterlife can be dated to at least 3100 BC, and according to the occult scholar Lewis Spence, an inscription on the sarcophagus of Queen Khnem-Nefert, of the 11th Dynasty (circa 2500 BC) states that a chapter of the Book of the Dead was discovered in the reign of Hosep-ti, the fifth king of the 1st Dynasty, "who flourished about 4266 BC."
We may take Spence's remark with a grain of salt, but the fact remains that the material making up the Book of the Dead is at least five thousand years old. Later parts of it, circa 1700 BC, came from what are known as the Coffin Texts, writings found on the sides of wooden coffins, or contained in scrolls placed with the dead. Although originally reserved for the pharaohs, this sort of Rough Guide to the afterlife gradually became available to anyone who could afford a scribe to copy it out. Perhaps the most well known version is the Papyrus of Ani, a copy of the Book of the Dead made for the scribe Ani circa 1240 BC, which contains the famous illustration of the god Anubis weighing Ani's heart on the scale of Ma'at, the goddess of justice. Late versions appeared with blank spaces for the names of individuals not yet dead. Initially the privilege of an elite, the spiritual rebirth associated with the journey through the underworld became over time something more democratic.
Yet while the funerary aspect of the Book of the Dead was certainly made use of, Naydler argues that the text had another, more central use. It was, he believes, a manual on how to "practise dying," a method of learning how to experience the separation of the soul from the body, which normally happens only in physical death, while still alive. Naydler argues that as this was also the aim of Plato's philosophy -- the Phaedo famously argues that philosophy is a "preparation for death" -- there is good reason to believe that rather than merely picking up an idea that was 'in the air,' Plato learned it at first hand from the priests at Heliopolis. The belief that one's nous, or mind, was immortal while one's body was subject to death and decay was, as a central theme of the Hermetic teachings, and this suggests that, rather than repackaging Platonic ideas - as some have argued the Corpus Hermeticum does -- both it and Plato's philosophy originated from the same source.
forbes | We have been taught to think of entropy as a bad thing. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” wrote William Butler Yeats in the aftermath of World War I, in words that still ring true today. Yet Yeats was both a Romantic poet and a Modern one, and he followed up this couplet with a more counterintuitive one, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst /Are full of passionate intensity.”
These lines have always been a kind of zen koan for me. Lack of conviction would seem to lead to “mere anarchy,” but so often we find that it is fervent, fixed beliefs that lead us astray. Throughout history, poets, philosophers and heretics of all kinds have tried to express the kind of openness of mind that leads to reliably good outcomes. In the 70s Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics introduced a generation to the intersection of science and Eastern thought. Now, we can add a computational physicist to that crowd.
Alexander Wissner-Gross, a scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur associated with both the Harvard University Institute for Applied Computational Science and the MIT Media Lab, has proposed a theory of “Causal Entropic Forces,” that seeks to formalize the “deep connection between intelligence and entropy maximization.”
Put on your thinking caps here. Wissner-Gross completed a triple major—in Physics, Electrical Science and Engineering, and Mathematics—and graduated first in his class from the MIT School of Engineering. His idea is really very simple, but he has the mathematics (see link to paper above) and visualizations (see video below) to back it up. In short, everything in nature (our minds included) seeks to keep its options open. Instead of seeing entropy as a form of destruction (things falling apart) Wissner-Gross shows it to be a state of active play.
Wissner-Gross and Cameron Freer, a mathematician at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, “developed an equation that … describes many intelligent or cognitive behaviors, such as upright walking and tool use,” according to an article in Inside Science. They see “intelligence as a fundamentally thermodynamic process,” where any given system engages in a “physical process of trying to capture as many future histories as possible.”
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
realitysandwich | For most people, Philip K. Dick (hereafter known as PKD) is best known through films like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly, which were all based on his writings. Classic movies like The Matrix and Vanilla Sky also owe a great debt to PKD's work. What is not so well known is that PKD was a bit of a latter-day mystic, a man who spent the last decade or so of his life struggling to come to terms with a series of visionary experiences (not related to psychedelics) that befell him in the early 1970s. In these experiences, PKD felt as if some vast cosmic intelligence was communicating with him, as if a deity was slipping him secret information. Such was the impact of these theophanies that he chose to incorporate their thematic content into a number of novels as well as an eight-thousand-page exegesis. To the consternation of his peers, PKD began to be not a little obsessed with ideas of "divine invasion" and the like, his last books testifying to his escalating interest in theology and theistic philosophy (interestingly, his last novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, partly concerns the search for a sacred mushroom).
Since his death it has been speculated that PKD suffered from what is known as temporal lobe epilepsy -- a brain disorder that can lead to hallucinatory experiences -- and that this explains his mystical encounters. However, leaving aside the contentiousness of this claim, it does not deal with the burning issue of immediate mystical experience. To label an experience in order to explain it away is to avoid the very real nature of the mystical experience, however it should arise. In fact, as Huxley noted in The Doors of Perception, we should not be surprised if there is always unusual neuronal activity concurrent with a mystical experience, for, as we have seen, modified neuronal firing patterns are related to expanded forms of consciousness. Altered forms of awareness demand altered brain processes, and such a change in brain state can be achieved in many different ways, whether through psilocybin mushrooms, endogenous DMT, yoga, meditation, fasting, or spontaneous epileptic disturbances. Mystical experience is therefore not to be conveniently disposed of with a diagnostic label.
Even before his visionary experiences, PKD had long fought to discover the true nature of reality. It was his pet fascination. In a talk he delivered in the late 1970s, he admitted that for all the years he had thought about the question "what is reality?" he had gotten no further than concluding that reality was that which remained even if you stopped believing in it. Admittedly a thin definition, it is nonetheless indicative that the true nature of reality is not so easily pinned down.
PKD juggled with countless explanations for his mystical experiences. Some involved a Judeo-Christian God, others involved the Logos outlined in some of the Gnostic gospels (these are the "alternative" gospels dug up at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945), while others even opted for an advanced extraterrestrial intelligence. Whatever the case, PKD was certain that he had been "contacted" by some form of advanced transcendental intelligence-cum-Other.
One of his more enduring theories concerned VALIS, which is an acronym for "vast active living intelligence system," a notion that accords well with our intelligent Other. In the semiautobiographical novel of the same name, VALIS is a hidden entity of immense power and sentience that is in the process of infiltrating our reality by establishing communication with certain individuals. These disclosures are experienced as theophany. For our purposes, the key point is that VALIS is essentially outside of our dimension, but able to penetrate our world. The question arises as to the feasibility that a superior intelligence exists in another dimension with the capacity to move across into ours. This is one of our fanciful options concerning the Other.
realitysandwich | Although the concept of natural intelligence is pretty much unknown (a humble attempt by me to put up a definition of natural intelligence on Wikipedia was summarily rejected) and although the notion that evolution is bound up with intelligence might make some people uneasy, there is undoubtedly room for such a new way of thinking in the collective human psyche. After all, despite the passage of one and a half centuries since Charles Darwin first formulated the theory, evolution is still very much a hotly debated topic and of great interest to people from all walks of life. To be sure, the issue over the veracity of evolution as an explanation for the tree of life's existence has become markedly polarised of late. On the one hand you have the religious approach which either flatly denies biological evolution or else sees natural selection as being incapable of explaining certain complex features of bio-logic (the latter sentiments belong to the proponents of Intelligent Design, a growing movement in the USA which is basically Creationist at heart). Either way, supernatural forces are invoked to explain our existence (i.e. forces lying wholly outside of Nature). On the other hand you have the orthodox scientific approach as formidably evinced by people like Richard Dawkins. For Dawkins and his growing army of atheists, evolution and Nature are devoid of intelligence, purpose and design. Evolution just happens. Why Nature should be endowed with the potential to grow a tree of life to the point of conscious minds is not raised.
In light of this vociferous debate, I believe that the paradigm of natural intelligence represents a reconciling point of view. It does not deny what science tells us about living organisms. Rather it reinterprets the data gathered by science and views evolution as a clever and sensible process that weaves together clever and sensible systems of bio-logic. In this light, the biosphere is more than a simple label for all life on Earth. The biosphere can be seen as a global network of interlocking natural intelligence whose collective acumen has been honed over three and a half billion years. DNA can be seen as the means through which natural intelligence, in its bio-logical expression, is recorded, a gene pool being akin to a kind of organic hard-drive of learned information. The virtue of substances like psilocybin is that they allow one to directly perceive natural intelligence. Phenomena like living things that were previously overlooked, suddenly reveal their compliment of natural intelligence. Plants, for instance, come to life more under the spell of psilocybin. They are no longer inert bits of greenery but rather they radiate organic intelligence, organic purpose, organic design, and organic sophistication. The same thing happens with insects. An insect viewed under the influence of psilocybin transforms itself into a kind of futuristic micro-aircraft. In either case, intelligence of some natural yet highly refined kind is readily apparent.
So what happens once you begin to grok life in this way? What happens when you begin, as Aldous Huxley wrote, to perceive the world with non-utilitarian eyes? The answer is that you begin to see the tree of life in more objective terms, its branches and shoots made not simply of genes and cells but of natural intelligence. Just as we can view the human mind's intelligence as a flow of informational objects in mind/brain space, so too can we view natural intelligence as a flow of informational objects in 3D space. In this dazzling psychedelic light, a plant is like a living idea, or theory, underscored by DNA and constantly being tested by the rest of Nature so as to ascertain whether it makes contextual sense or not. A deciduous Oak tree represents a manifest expression of one kind of naturally intelligent theory, an evergreen pine tree represents an alternative theory. Both theories make good sense and both have withstood the test of time. The point is that life is clearly smart. Genes contain hard won wisdom, a genome being a library of such wisdom which is acted out through the medium of bio-logic. Thus, Nature authors life and Nature edits life and by so doing reflects itself, or mirrors itself, or knows itself, in evermore subtle ways. Nature is clearly not dumb and mindless as science might have us believe but rather the epitome of an ever-active intelligence. The trillions of frenetically metabolising cells that make up, say, the body and brain of Richard Dawkins, pay ample testimony to the orchestrational natural intelligence that must perforce be inherent in all living things as well as the natural forces that brought them into being.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
guardian | So for those of you keeping score at home – locking down an American city: a proper reaction to the threat from one terrorist. A background check to prevent criminals or those with mental illness from purchasing guns: a dastardly attack on civil liberties. All of this would be almost darkly comic if not for the fact that more Americans will die needlessly as a result. Already, more than 30,000 Americans die in gun violence every year (compared to the 17 who died last year in terrorist attacks).
What makes US gun violence so particularly horrifying is how routine and mundane it has become. After the massacre of 20 kindergartners in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, millions of Americans began to take greater notice of the threat from gun violence. Yet since then, the daily carnage that guns produce has continued unabated and often unnoticed.
The same day of the marathon bombing in Boston, 11 Americans were murdered by guns. The pregnant Breshauna Jackson was killed in Dallas, allegedly by her boyfriend. In Richmond, California, James Tucker III was shot and killed while riding his bicycle – assailants unknown. Nigel Hardy, a 13-year-old boy in Palmdale, California, who was being bullied in school, took his own life. He used the gun that his father kept at home. And in Brooklyn, New York, an off-duty police officer used her department-issued Glock 9mm handgun to kill herself, her boyfriend and her one-year old child.
At the same time that investigators were in the midst of a high-profile manhunt for the marathon bombers that ended on Friday evening, 38 more Americans – with little fanfare – died from gun violence. One was a 22-year old resident of Boston. They are a tiny percentage of the 3,531 Americans killed by guns in the past four months – a total that surpasses the number of Americans who died on 9/11 and is one fewer than the number of US soldiers who lost their lives in combat operations in Iraq. Yet, none of this daily violence was considered urgent enough to motivate Congress to impose a mild, commonsense restriction on gun purchasers.
It's not just firearms that produce such legislative inaction. Last week, a fertiliser plant in West, Texas, which hasn't been inspected by federal regulators since 1985, exploded, killing 14 people and injuring countless others. Yet many Republicans want to cut further the funding for the agency (OSHA) that is responsible for such reviews. The vast majority of Americans die from one of four ailments – cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease – and yet Republicans have held three dozen votes to repeal Obamacare, which expands healthcare coverage to 30 million Americans.
It is a surreal and difficult-to-explain dynamic. Americans seemingly place an inordinate fear on violence that is random and unexplainable and can be blamed on "others" – jihadists, terrorists, evil-doers etc. But the lurking dangers all around us – the guns, our unhealthy diets, the workplaces that kill 14 Americans every single day – these are just accepted as part of life, the price of freedom, if you will. And so the violence goes, with more Americans dying preventable deaths. But hey, look on the bright side – we got those sons of bitches who blew up the marathon.
kunstler | If the FBI can track down two homicidal Chechen nobodies inside of forty-eight hours of their Boston bombing caper, you kind of wonder how come the Bureau can't detect the odor of racketeering, insider trading, and wire fraud in this month's orchestrated smackdown of the gold futures markets, including the parts played by the Federal reserve, one or more too-big-to-fail banks, self-interested big money players such as George Soros, slumbering regulators at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, and tractable editors at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Of course, US Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversees the FBI, has done a fair imitation of a Brooks Brothers store window mannequin for four years, but surely somewhere in the trackless labyrinth of American law enforcement there exists some dogged rogue investigator with a filament of nagging curiosity who might piece together the clunky train of events that may amount to the financial crime of the century. For instance, it can't be so difficult to determine who was behind the several hundred ton mass dump of paper gold contracts a week or so ago. There must be a pretty simple record of the transaction, retrievable with a warrant or a subpoena. Whatever entity did it -- still ostensibly unknown -- knowingly generated losses in the neighborhood of a billion dollars for itself. Was this just the cost of doing business? Or a favor owed, say, from a bank to its godfathers at the Fed, carried out to make the dollar look relatively a lot less unsound than it really is? Or a ruse to allow the custodians of bullion in US depositories re-acquire at bargain prices gold that has been stealthily hypothicated into oblivion? Or just to divert attention from their inability to make good on contracted deliveries of actual physical gold.
No official has yet answered why the Federal Reserve Bank of New York told the German government a couple of months ago that it would take seven years to return that country's gold held in safekeeping (across the ocean from the Russians) since the Cold War. The NY Fed must have a vessel under contract that makes the proverbial slow boat to China look like an ICBM.
Doesn't anybody want some answers to these questions, including how come the two aforementioned major newspapers published front-page stories calculated to justify, if not provoke, the most extreme negative sentiment in the precious metals markets, seemingly coordinated with Goldman Sachs advisories to short those markets? And what about a glance at the trading records to see who executed massive naked shorts? Wouldn't it be interesting if they were the same parties as the dumpers? And why? -- other than a strenuous intervention in the markets to make those markets look unreliable? Does anyone even remember that the purpose of financial exchanges is to verify and authenticate the clearing of trades to provide confidence that markets are honest so that real business can be conducted?
Monday, April 22, 2013
counterpunch | Perhaps the most persuasive source cited by Sand on the proselyte origins of Ashkenazi Jewry is Tel Aviv University linguist Paul Wexler, author of The Ashkenazic Jews: A Slavo-Turkic People in Search of a Jewish Identity (and of The Non-Jewish Origins of the Sephardic Jews). Wexler argues that “the language known as Yiddish…developed in the bilingual Germano-Slavic lands in the 9th century as a Judaized form of Sorbian.” Sorbian is a Slavic language spoken today by about 50,000 people in southeast Brandenburg. “Yiddish is not a ‘form of German.’” The “tiny Jewish communities in the monolingual western German lands” cannot have been the basis of the millions of east European Jews. “Judeo-Sorbian underwent ‘re-lexification’…beginning with the 9th-10th centuries, but at the latest by the early 13th century.” “The result was…the grafting of [eastern] High German vocabulary…onto a Judeo-Sorbian syntax, phonology, phonotactics, and to some extent, morphotactics. Thus, despite its ‘German look,’ Yiddish remains a west Slavic language.” Modern Hebrew is also a Slavic language, not a “rebirth” of Old Semitic Hebrew, which is “impossible…because there are no native speakers to provide a native norm.” “Modern Hebrew simply embodies the syntax and sound system of the Eastern Yiddish language spoken by the first Modern Hebrew language planners in Ottoman Palestine, while its lexicon…was systematically replaced by Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew vocabulary.”
Wexler argues from linguistic and other evidence “that the Ashkenazic Jews must have consisted of a mix of Greek, Balkan Romance and Balkan Slavic, Germano-Slavic and Turkic (Khazar, Avar) converts to Judaism and their descendants and only a minority of ethnic Jews—many of whom in all probability came from other parts of Europe rather than Palestine itself.” Wexler rejects the Khazar mass migration hypothesis on linguistic grounds, arguing that there was more conversion in place than migration. “Hence, contemporary Judaism is best defined not as the continuation of the Judaism which served as an antecedent of Christianity and Islam, but as a newly Judaized variant of European (mainly Slavic) paganism and Christianity…most of the features of Old Palestinian Judaism and Semitic Hebrew to be found in Ashkenazic ‘Judaism’ and Medieval Ashkenazic/Modern Israeli ‘Hebrew’ were latter borrowings rather than original inheritance [original emphasis].” This thesis has been obscured by philo-German and anti-Slavic chauvinism among scholars, Jewish and non-, of Ashkenazi Jewry, by disciplinary blinders, and by inertia.
Sand also considers Zionist racialism, from proto-Zionist Moses Hess, who “needed a good deal of racial theory to dream up the Jewish people,” to kibbutz godfather Arthur Ruppin’s “ideas about the Darwinist struggle of the ‘Jewish race’,” including consultations with “experts” in Nazi Germany, to the discreet attempt of Israeli genetics after 1948 “to discover a biological homogeneity among the Jews in the world” while investigating Jewish diseases, which revealed east European carriers of Tay-Sachs, but also Yemeni and Iraqi carriers of favism. “Israel’s rule since 1967 over a growing non-Jewish population,” and concomitant need to “find an enclosing ethnobiological boundary” which highlights “the basic genetic similarities…and the small proportion of ‘alien’ genes in the genetic stock characteristic of Jews” led to “new findings” which “corroborated the literature about the dispersal and wanderings of the Jews from ancient times to the present. At last, biology confirmed history,” in the current pseudo-science of “Jewish genetics.”
Israel “became a world leader in the ‘investigation of the origins of populations’” even as “Israeli researchers…regularly blended historical mythologies and sociological assumptions with dubious and scanty genetic findings.” These included mitochondrial DNA purportedly showing that “40 per cent of all Ashkenazis in the world descend from four matriarchs (as in the Bible),” and a haplotype carried by 50 per cent of men named Cohen, which “proved” that “the Jewish priesthood was was indeed founded by a common ancestor thirty-three centuries ago.” This dreck appeared in publications such as Nature and the American Journal of Human Genetics, and was respectfully reported in Haaretz and elsewhere, but rarely skepticism or contrary findings. “Yet so far, no research had found unique and unifying characteristics of Jewish heredity based on a random sampling of genetic material whose ethnic origin is not known in advance…after all the costly ‘scientific’ endeavors, a Jewish individual cannot be defined by any biological criteria whatsoever.”
Sand’s account of Judaism, from exclusive Israelite genealogy, to Hellenic proselytizing, to proselytizing and conversion on the margins of Christianity, in Arabia, North Africa, Spain, and among the Khazars and the Slavs, to defensive introversion amidst the final triumph of Christianity, is the interesting and compelling story of a religious minority subject to normal historical forces.
The contrary view of the unitary Jewish people expelled from its homeland, and wandering aloof in exile for two thousand years, until beginning its return in the late 19th c., is a reactionary myth which Zionism has deployed to conquer Palestine and compel support for it. The myth prevails unchecked today not only in Israel but worldwide. Nothing “has challenged the fundamental concepts that were formed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” Advances in the study of nations and nationalism have not “affected the departments of the ‘History of the People of Israel’ (aka Jewish history) in Israeli universities.
guardian | In this second volume of his trilogy of Jewish studies, Sand explores how the 'Land of Israel' was invented, and debunks popular nationalist mythology. In 2009, Shlomo Sand published The Invention of the Jewish People, in which he claimed that Jews have little in common with each other. They had no common "ethnic" lineage owing to the high level of conversion in antiquity. They had no common language, since Hebrew was used only for prayer and was not even spoken at the time of Jesus. Yiddish was, at most, the language of Ashkenazi Jews. So what is left to unite them? Religion? But religion does not make a people – think of Muslims and Catholics. And most Jews are not religious. Zionism? But that is a political position: one can be a Scot and not a Scottish nationalist. Besides, the majority of Jews, including many Zionists, have not the slightest intention of going "back" to the Holy Land, much preferring, and who can blame them, to stay put in north London, or Brooklyn or wherever. In other words, "Jewish People" is a political construct, an invention. Now Sand tells us, in this second volume of what will be a trilogy, that even the "Land of Israel" was invented. Guardian readers who happen to be Jewish should brace themselves for the third volume: The Invention of the Secular Jew. All this takes considerable chutzpah.
The "Land of Israel" is barely mentioned in the Old Testament: the more common expression is the Land of Canaan. When it is mentioned, it does not include Jerusalem, Hebron, or Bethlehem. Biblical "Israel" is only northern Israel (Samaria) and there never was a united kingdom including both ancient Judea and Samaria.
Even had such a kingdom ever existed and been promised by God to the Jews, it is hardly a clinching argument for claiming statehood after more than 2,000 years. It is an irony of history that so many past Zionists, most of whom were secular Jews, often socialist, used religious arguments to buttress their case. Besides, the biblical account makes it quite clear (insofar as such accounts are ever clear) that the Jews, led by Moses and then by Joshua, were colonisers themselves and were commanded by God to exterminate "anything that breathes". "Completely destroy them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – as the Lord your God has commanded you." Imagine if the Amorites came back and claimed their ancient land. If they did, this is what Deuteronomy 20 has to say: "Put to the sword all the men ... As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else ... you may take these as plunder for yourselves." Today, such an injunction would take you straight to the international criminal court.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
jayhanson | The economist's political agenda is pretty simple: establish a global self-regulating economic system. In order to convert economic students into lifelong politicians, they are programmed via circular argument and "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" (after-the-fact) reasoning to believe the most flagrant violations of reality. Consider five of the most outrageous.
#1. Economists are trained to believe that people are "rational utility maximizers" (calculate decisions according to "Bayes' Theorem"; i.e., Bentham's old "Felicity Calculus" in a new bottle). Although this belief was common one hundred years ago, only economists are still taught it: "Neoclassical economics is based on the premise that models that characterize rational, optimizing behavior also characterize actual human behavior." (R. Thaler, 1987). This premise was shown to be false several years ago. [] Thus, the entire modern economic edifice is nothing but junk!
#2. Economists are trained to believe that "money" has nothing to do with politics and is simply a medium of exchange. But even the casual observer can see that money is social power because it "empowers" people to buy and do the things they want -- including buying and doing other people: politics. Money is, in a word, "coercion", [] and "economic efficiency" is correctly seen as a political concept designed to conserve social power for those who have it -- to make the rich, richer and the poor, poorer.
#3. Economists are trained to believe that people always "benefit" from free market transactions. Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman explains: "Adam Smith's key insight was that both parties to an exchange can benefit and that, so long as cooperation is strictly voluntary, no exchange will take place unless both parties do benefit." []
Since economists do not explicitly define "benefit", one wonders how Friedman could possibly know? In fact, he doesn't. Friedman is brainwashing his students to further his own personal political agenda. Economic professors like Friedman resort to meaningless, circular arguments to turn his students into robotic broadcasting devices.
Economists assume people make "rational" [] decisions but abstain from testing that assumption. Instead of testing, economists invoke "revealed preferences theory" which states that choices are rational because they are based on preferences that are known through the choices that are made. [] In other words, meaningless, circular arguments.
#4. Economists are trained to believe there are no "limits to growth". Because they abstract everything to money, even leading economists like William Nordhaus can't imagine an economy that is physically limited by energy. The best Nordhaus can do is to model increasing energy prices:
"The estimate is based on an energy model I constructed several years ago. To estimate the drag on economic growth, I calculated the difference between the economic growth rate with actual energy supplies versus a case in which current (low cost) fuels were available in infinite quantities. In the first case, energy prices would be rising, while in the second case of superabundence, relative energy prices would be constant. This study indicated that the resource-limited case would lower net output in the middle of the next century by about 10 percent." []
Although Nordhaus thinks he is modeling "energy", he is actually modeling "energy prices". There is a big difference! What would have happened if he had modeled declining energy inputs instead of rising energy prices? We already know the answer to that one:
"In late 1973 the first OPEC oil shock struck, as oil prices quadrupled and the general inflation indexes shot up to 11 percent. More important, gasoline lines appeared. Waiting in line to buy a basic commodity like gasoline is something that no American had ever experienced. Shock and irritation were high, but those lines were like the first small heart attack -- an indication of mortality. Maybe the American economy was growing old and becoming vulnerable. Maybe the American economic dream of an ever rising standard of living was over. Small may be beautiful, but if that phrase meant a lower standard of living, then the average American considered it a nightmare.
"The Nixon-Ford Administration responded with oil and gas price controls. As a vehicle for holding down prices, controls were bound to fail. For one thing, world prices would have to be paid on that part of consumption imported from abroad; for another, controls make it too easy for oil companies to hold oil in the ground or not to look for new supplies of oil until prices rose. When controls did fail, the public's feeling that the federal government and its economists were incapable of managing anything efficiently was further reinforced.
"What was worse, economists could pose no solution to the energy problem. Influential professionals, such as Milton Friedman, predicted that the oil cartel would quickly fall apart. It didn't. Other economists recommended that prices be allowed to climb to world levels, but that wasn't a solution to the problem faced by the average American. Higher prices would force him to change his life style. He might respond to higher prices with smaller cars and colder houses as economists predicted, but he liked doing neither and he could vote. No one considered a forced change in life style a solution.
"Once again, falling back on the principle that higher unemployment would produce lower inflation, monetary authorities tightened the rate of growth of the money supply in an effort to slow the economy, raise unemployment, and push inflation out of the economy. This time the policies produced a credit crunch. For six months in late 1974 and early 1975 the GNP fell at the fastest rate ever recorded. Even the rates of decline in the Great Depression had been less precipitous -- although of course longer and deeper. Anxieties quickly shifted from an unacceptable inflation rate to an unacceptable unemployment rate, and the term 'stagflation' was born.
"Stagflation was both a term and an indictment, since economists had taught that the phenomena -- slow growth, rising unemployment, and rising inflation -- could not all exist at the same time. Yet they did." []
#5. Economists are trained to believe that we will never "run out" of a commodity. This is because as prices increase, we will use less-and-less of it, but there will always be some available at some finite price. Practically every economics textbook teaches this. But every economics textbook is wrong because "energy" is fundamentally different from every other commodity. There is no substitute for energy. Energy is the prerequisite for all other commodities, so if we "run out" of energy, we will "run out" of everything else too.
By definition, energy "sources" must produce more energy than they consume, otherwise they are called "sinks". By definition, energy sources have "run out" when they consume more energy than they produce. This universal energy law holds no matter how high the money price of energy goes. Economists completely overlook this basic energy law and have misled government regulators all over the world.
Why is weed part of youth culture?
why are drugs part of common culture?
Kids aren't held down and force fed pot smoke until they are hooked. It's a great deal more than the simplistic label "peer pressure" implies. It is what we do, cultural norms. People want to get high together. If we saw that not as a sin but as a normal desire, why not educate ourselves, and educate our kids in what these chemicals do?
Not the reality-denying "no-no" negative emphasis, but the useful information required so that we could best enjoy the sought for pleasure with the least to no unwanted consequences. Why not be honest about what we want and who we are, rather than playing these horrific games of virtuous denial?
We are safest, sanest, happiest, truly dealing with these realities.
why are drugs part of common culture?
Kids aren't held down and force fed pot smoke until they are hooked. It's a great deal more than the simplistic label "peer pressure" implies. It is what we do, cultural norms. People want to get high together. If we saw that not as a sin but as a normal desire, why not educate ourselves, and educate our kids in what these chemicals do?
Not the reality-denying "no-no" negative emphasis, but the useful information required so that we could best enjoy the sought for pleasure with the least to no unwanted consequences. Why not be honest about what we want and who we are, rather than playing these horrific games of virtuous denial?
We are safest, sanest, happiest, truly dealing with these realities.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
energyskeptic | I doubt many Republicans are going to read this book. They ought to. Mooney is thoughtful and insightful. Compare his evidence-based book with the Republican counterpart, Ann Coulter’s “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d be Republican”. Some chapter titles:
- Teddy Kennedy: apparently fat, drunk, and stupid is a way to go through life
- Liberal “argument”: hissing, scratching, and hair-pulling,
- Liberalism and other psychological disorders
- Liberal tactics: distortion, dissembling, deception—and the rest is just run-of-the-mill treason
- Baby-killing: Abort liberals, not children
- Blacks: the only thing standing between the democrat party and oblivion
- Christians: must Reproduce More
- Communism: a new fragrance by Hillary Clinton
- Environmentalism: Adolf Hitler was the first environmentalist
- Evolution, Alchemy, and other “settled” scientific theories
Some good news: not everyone is equally biased. Many of us are capable of listening to others and changing our views. But this varies a lot from person to person, because people differ in their need to defend their point of view, in their need to have convictions that must not change, in their need to believe their group is right, and in their need for unity with their group. If you’re wired and strongly motivated to have unwavering convictions, it will be almost impossible to change your mind with any facts, logic, or reason. Mooney makes the case that this kind of person has a conservative mind, and is therefore likely to be a Republican.
Mooney likens someone with a strongly held opinion that’s being challenged to experiencing a physical attack, because these beliefs are physically embedded in the brain.
Which means you can’t expect to come up with undeniable, irrefutable facts and suddenly change someone’s mind, since their strongly held beliefs are literally wired into their brains.
Linguist George Lakoff, at the University of California, Berkeley, says that to think you can change someone’s beliefs with well-reasoned arguments is not only naïve, it’s also unwise and ineffective.
Reasoning is emotional, what psychologists call hot reasoning. We are not coldly rational. Not even scientists are immune. But what makes science the most successful way we have of testing reality is the scientific method, since peer review, experimental replication, and critiques from other scientists mean that eventually the best ideas emerge despite any individual’s biases. Within scientific circles, it’s considered admirable to give up cherished ideas when evidence shows you to be wrong.
Mooney believes this is a key difference between liberals and conservatives. Scientists are overwhelmingly liberal — they have to be, or they won’t get far in their profession. Please note this does not mean that their scientific discoveries are liberal or democratic. Scientific findings aren’t political, they’re reality, and only become “political” when spun that way. The opposite of a scientist is a religious, authoritarian, political conservative, because they tend to have a strong need to never modify their deeply held beliefs, or to ever appear to be uncertain and indecisive.
Since most of the most important problems that need to be solved require scientific literacy, which less than 10% of Americans have, here’s how Mooney says scientific news is interpreted by the other 90% of the public:
“When it comes to the dissemination of science—or contested facts in general—across a nonscientific populace, a very different process is often occurring than the scientific one. A vast number of individuals, with widely varying motivations, are responding to the conclusions that science, allegedly, has reached. Or so they’ve heard.
They’ve heard through a wide variety of information sources—news outlets with differing politics, friends and neighbors, political elites—and are processing the information through different brains, with very different commitments and beliefs, and different psychological needs and cognitive styles. And ironically, the fact that scientists and other experts usually employ so much nuance, and strive to disclose all remaining sources of uncertainty when they communicate their results, makes the evidence they present highly amenable to selective reading and misinterpretation. Giving ideologues or partisans data that’s relevant to their beliefs is a lot like unleashing them in the motivated reasoning equivalent of a candy store. In this context, rather than reaching an agreement or a consensus, you can expect different sides to polarize over the evidence and how to interpret it”.