Thursday, July 19, 2018

We Are Collectively Aware Of The Parasite But Too Cowardly To Kill It...,


Edge |  I'm thinking about collective awareness, which I think of as the models we use to collectively process information about the world, to understand the world and ourselves. It's worth distinguishing our collective awareness at three levels. The first level is our models of the environment, the second level is our models of how we affect the environment, and the third level is our models of how we think about our collective effect on ourselves.

Understanding the environment is something we've been doing better and better for many centuries now. Celestial mechanics allows us to understand the solar system. It means that if we spot an asteroid, we can calculate its trajectory and determine whether it's going to hit the Earth, and if it is, send a rocket to it and deflect it.

Another example of collective awareness at level one is weather prediction. It's an amazing success story. Since 1980, weather prediction has steadily improved, so that every ten years the accuracy of weather prediction gets better by a day, meaning that if this continues, ten years from now the accuracy for a two-day weather forecast will be the same as that of a one-day weather forecast now. This means that the accuracy of weather prediction has gotten dramatically better. We spend $5 billon a year to make weather predictions and we get $30 billion a year back in terms of economic benefit.

The best example of collective consciousness at level two is climate change. Climate change is in the news, it's controversial, etc., but most scientists believe that the models of climate change are telling us something that we need to pay serious attention to. The mere fact that we're even thinking about it is remarkable, because climate change is something whose real effects are going to be felt fifty to 100 years from now. We're making a strong prediction about what we're doing to the Earth and what's going to happen. It's not surprising that there's some controversy about exactly what the outcome is, but we intelligent people know it's really serious. We are going to be increasingly redirecting our efforts to deal with it through time.

The hardest problem is collective awareness at level three—understanding our own effects on ourselves. This is because we're complicated animals. The social sciences try to solve this problem, but they have not been successful in the dramatic way that the physical and natural sciences have. This doesn’t mean the job is impossible, however.