Search FQXi

If you are aware of an interesting new academic paper (that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal or has appeared on the arXiv), a conference talk (at an official professional scientific meeting), an external blog post (by a professional scientist) or a news item (in the mainstream news media), which you think might make an interesting topic for an FQXi blog post, then please contact us at with a link to the original source and a sentence about why you think that the work is worthy of discussion. Please note that we receive many such suggestions and while we endeavour to respond to them, we may not be able to reply to all suggestions.

Please also note that we do not accept unsolicited posts and we cannot review, or open new threads for, unsolicited articles or papers. Requests to review or post such materials will not be answered. If you have your own novel physics theory or model, which you would like to post for further discussion among then FQXi community, then please add them directly to the "Alternative Models of Reality" thread, or to the "Alternative Models of Cosmology" thread. Thank you.

Contests Home

Current Essay Contest

Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Previous Contests

What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fnd.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

Forum Home
Terms of Use

Order posts by:
 chronological order
 most recent first

Posts by the author are highlighted in orange; posts by FQXi Members are highlighted in blue.

By using the FQXi Forum, you acknowledge reading and agree to abide by the Terms of Use

 RSS feed | RSS help

Thomas Ray: on 8/20/14 at 22:13pm UTC, wrote Forget the announcement drama -- I'm predicting a first prize for you. :-)

Wilhelmus Wilde: on 6/13/14 at 15:28pm UTC, wrote Dear sabine, Congratulations with your high community score and admittance...

Kevin O'Malley: on 6/13/14 at 3:07am UTC, wrote I played around with Excel last night and came up with a way to predict the...

Thomas Ray: on 6/8/14 at 12:38pm UTC, wrote Last was mine.

Anonymous: on 6/8/14 at 12:37pm UTC, wrote David, Since Sabine is apparently preoccupied at the moment, with your and...

David Wiltshire: on 6/6/14 at 22:47pm UTC, wrote Dear Sabine, Some interesting points. But what I miss in your argument is:...

Don Limuti: on 6/5/14 at 22:23pm UTC, wrote Hi Sabine, I find your thesis... how should I say... Scary. If plastic in...

KoGuan Leo: on 6/5/14 at 0:03am UTC, wrote Dear Sabine, To lower the cost of relevant information and lowered the...


Candy lol: "Good post. I find out something new and difficult on personal blogs I..." in DNA Dust

harry lone: "This article clears my mind. Writer has done great job. Best thing about..." in Baez on Quantum...

harry lone: "Wow. This is some thing very amazing. I was in search of such a beautiful..." in Help Fight Negativity!

Georgina Woodward: "Excluding 'Big crunch' un-creation ending from the eternal category." in The Sudoku Universe, Why...

Phuloo Nikola: "I really appreciate you for this article. It's very useful information...." in The Disintegration of the...

Phuloo Nikola: "Good post. I find out something new and difficult on personal blogs I..." in Koalas, Quantum Mechanics...

Shazi Shiz: "Thanks for your marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you happen..." in Out of Plato's Cave?

Shazi Shiz: "I was looking for something like this…I found it quiet interesting,..." in Deferential Geometry

click titles to read articles

The Complexity Conundrum
Resolving the black hole firewall paradox—by calculating what a real astronaut would compute at the black hole's edge.

Quantum Dream Time
Defining a ‘quantum clock’ and a 'quantum ruler' could help those attempting to unify physics—and solve the mystery of vanishing time.

Our Place in the Multiverse
Calculating the odds that intelligent observers arise in parallel universes—and working out what they might see.

Sounding the Drums to Listen for Gravity’s Effect on Quantum Phenomena
A bench-top experiment could test the notion that gravity breaks delicate quantum superpositions.

Watching the Observers
Accounting for quantum fuzziness could help us measure space and time—and the cosmos—more accurately.

December 12, 2017

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: How to save the world by Sabine Hossenfelder [refresh]
Bookmark and Share
Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Author Sabine Hossenfelder wrote on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 11:55 GMT
Essay Abstract

If you knew how humanity should steer the future, what difference would it make? The major challenge that humanity faces today is not that we lack ideas for what to do, as I am sure this essay contest will document. No, the major challenge, the mother of all problems, is to convert these ideas into courses of action. We fail to act in the face of global problems because we do not have an intuitive grasp on the consequences of collective human behavior, are prone to cognitive biases, and easily overwhelmed by data. We are also lazy and if intuition fails us, inertia takes over. How many people will read these brilliant essays? For the individual, evaluating possible courses of action to address interrelated problems in highly connected social, economic and ecological networks is presently too costly. The necessary information may exist, even be accessible, but it is too expensive in terms of time and energy. To steer the future, information about our dynamical and multi-layered networks has to become cheap and almost effortless to use. Only then, when we can make informed decisions by feeling rather than thinking, will we be able to act and respond to the challenges we face.

Author Bio

Sabine is an assistant professor for high energy physics at Nordita in Stockholm, Sweden. She works on quantum gravity and physics beyond the standard model and blogs at

Download Essay PDF File

John C Hodge wrote on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 18:34 GMT
Thanks for your insights. I think your essay will score high.

“No, the major challenge, the mother of all problems, is to convert these ideas into courses of action.” Agree. Yet, most of the essays leave out the “how” of the topic.

“The root of the problems that humanity faces today is that our adaptation as a species has fallen behind the changes we have induced ourselves. “ Yes. Therefore, any suggestion that begins with change our attitudes or morals is bound to fail. The time required for a morals change is too long. For example, the morals of marriage are still hampered by promiscuity of the stone age.

“We have no intuitive grasp on the collective behavior of large groups …” and “…the adaptation of our systems by trial and error is too slow …” because we depend on the nation the do it one trial at a time. This system can be faster if there are many trials at the same time competing. This has been the history of science development as a result of better communication in the last 200 years. With no intuitive grasp and poor predictability what method is available other than luck?

Part of the problem of humanity going forward is how we address the relative weight of problems. For example, ecology vs. industry (economic). Certainly, everybody wants to solve all our problems. But that is not going to happen. Some problems should be solved before others. Many times some want to solve problems using means that worsen other problems. Most socially addressed problems today are done through taxation. High taxes are a problem, also. What is the optimun mix?

I would have liked to see your essay before I finished mine.

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 10:19 GMT
John: I accidentally posted my reply as a separate comment, see below.

Lawrence B Crowell wrote on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 22:51 GMT
Your essay reflects ideas that I used to think about and voice. I was an organizer of the Green Party. I use the past tense, used not use, as an average. I occasionally say things similar. However, in the last decade I have become a bit jaded about these things. The problem as I see it is that we humans are stone aged creatures that by their ability to learn new ways to exploit their...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 10:31 GMT
Hi Lawrence,

I find myself agreeing with much of what you say. It is also interesting in that I used to be active for the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and that is what taught me just how hard it is to get people to change anything. People are by default conservative, not in the political sense, but in the sense that they do things 'like we've always done it'. They'll not move until change is in their face and impossible ignore. I proposed back then eg a 'right of information'. That was in the mid 90s. I am still waiting for them to come around to see it's necessary...

In any case, I'm not quite as pessimistic as you in that I don't think we're 'engineering' the next mass extinction. That seems possible, but unlikely. What worries me much more is that the progress we've gotten so used to will turn to regress and we'll fail to act exactly because there's no hard hit that propels us into action. Do you know anybody who has a serious problem with drug or alcohol addiction? It often takes a traumatic experience that makes addicts realize they have a problem and must change their ways. I am afraid that climate change will just slowly put strain on our resources and that not much time and energy will be left for anything else. In practice this just means that things we are now very used to (say, affordable internet) will become prohibitively costly and/or start breaking down. I don't want my children to grow up in a world where they expect tomorrow to be worse than today.



Lawrence B Crowell replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 13:33 GMT
I think the critical set of events surround the timing of what might be called the “oh shits” report. I think that in another decade the climate problem will become too big to ignore and the denialists will be swept from the public forum. That will be good news of course, but then the question is one of comprehensiveness of the response and timing. The response will be best if it takes a...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 08:02 GMT

I'm not at all sure that we'll have our oh-shit moment regarding climate change in the next decade. That's what I thought 20 years ago... I've come to the conclusion that we simply do not have the means to react to problems on that time and distance scales. It is interesting if you read the 'limits of growth' report from 1972, that it basically pointed out exactly this problem. But back then we didn't have the tools to solve the problem - now we have them, we just have to use them smartly. That's where my hope is today & that's what my essay is about. Best,


George Gantz wrote on Apr. 15, 2014 @ 23:29 GMT
Thanks for a great essay and for your effort to tackle the "how" question about shaping human behavior in ways that will support better long term decision-making. I think this can help, but I'm not sure how much the proposed solution will be able to accomplish. Priority maps and personal preferences are not, at least not yet, based on hard science - as I understand it they can be measured through surveys relative to community norms, but I'm not sure they are useful in shaping community norms. As I discuss in my essay the Tip of the Spear, a community (networked as an institution) needs to sustain shared moral values and cooperative behaviors....

On a different note, how do we protect individual data from being "mined" for commercial purposes rather than social ones? The internet started as an academic initiative - but is not longer subject to those community norms. Moreover, immense volumes of data on social media, personal preferences in entertainment and purchasing practices are being collected and used to tailor what we see (or buy) without our knowledge or informed consent. How could the very valuable data from priority maps be collected and shared without becoming additional commercial fodder?

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 10:39 GMT

Your comment is interesting because you assume that commercial purposes are not in the interest of individuals. That is a very common attitude of course, but reflect for a moment how disturbing this is. The free market economy is supposed to work *towards* our interests, how did we end up in this situation? Well, the reason is that we're not taking into account all of people's priorities...

In any case, for what the protection of individual information is concerned, this is a political problem that requires a solution that balances suitable privacy protection with economic interests. Maybe the balance we presently have is somewhat off, alright, but the real problem is that the way how we aggregate people's opinions and convert them into regulations and policies is slow and works badly. If you want better privacy protection you first need to better know people's priorities about privacy protection. That brings me back to the priority maps... You see why I say it's the mother of all problems?



George Gantz replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 17:53 GMT
Thanks, Sabine - Agreed, the market economy does work efficiently to satisfy individual wants but it does NOT take all priorities into account - including the priority of being left alone. Moreover, I some market interests are better than others at influencing the political process and the accepted "rules of the game" - in order to maximize the interests of certain individuals.

I think there is a larger issue here, one that I address in my essay "The Tip pif the Spear". The institutions that we are seeking to influence, including markets, governments, media, social movements, religions, and science itself), have evolved to the point of exhibiting autonomous behaviors. By analogy to the human body, the system (markets) bends the behaviors of component units (us) to its ends, not the other way around.

That said, universal priority maps would provide improved "signaling" between component units and increase efficiency in institutions - but this is not the same as shaping community norms and the shared moral framework they represent.

Thanks - George

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 08:13 GMT

I think what you are saying is closely related to my point, though you use a different vocabulary. The institutions that 'we are seeking to influence' is what I call 'the systems that govern our lives'. They are not of course autonomous, but their behavior is so complex that we fail to comprehend it. It doesn't do, basically, what we 'want' (what our priorities are). The function of the priority maps is to enable this comprehension. Thanks for pointing me towards your essay, which I will read with interest. Best,


John Brodix Merryman wrote on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 00:14 GMT

It seems you start out with trying to save the world and conclude by arguing for better scientific networking. At the dawn of western civilization, with the story of Adam and Eve, it was recognized that knowledge is a double edged sword. Will expediting the increase of knowledge save the world, or speed up the rate of its consumption? Complexity tends to increase until it becomes...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 10:54 GMT

I carefully avoided to get into a discussion of economic theory in my essay. Yes, the current economic system has its flaws, even the theory of it is flawed. This has been pointed out by a lot of people for decades, but what difference has it made? That brings you to the starting point of my essay...

You write "if you understood those pieces of paper were simply notational chits from the broader community and any value assigned them was entirely dependent on the economic well-being and general long term health of said community, you might be happy with just having enough to get by"

You are making a big assumption here about human behavior and I don't think that it is true. I wrote a paper some while ago on the problem of aggregating the utility function in economics:

and I argued there that what people really want to maximize in their life are possibilities. They want money because money is future options. Now the problem is that we have limited resources and that means we have to distribute them in a way that most people agree on is 'fair' in some way. For this we presently use the economic system, and how we think about money will change very little about that. Best,


John Brodix Merryman replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 11:44 GMT

Unfortunately the way the monetary system functions, it naturally accumulates and coalesces these obligations in fewer hands, almost as a gravitational process and historically there have been a variety of ways this build up is resolved; inflation, debt jubilees, social break downs, war, etc. Our mathematical and information technology resources are being put to the purpose of creating history's largest such creation of financial obligations. So I can understand why any reasonable person would want to just stay away from it and frankly I usually do. That's why I frequent the science blogs and forums, such as yours on occasion, and only read economic ones, but the topic of this contest asks how to best steer the future of humanity. In which case, trying to figure out how to unravel the financial conundrum seems unavoidable.


John M

report post as inappropriate

John Brodix Merryman replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 12:09 GMT

In your essay, you do go into how best to link scientific ideas and that does go to how we categorize and process ideas and concepts, so basically what I'm saying is that money needs to go from the commodity category, to the contract category. If someone gives you a piece of paper that says, 'IOU one ounce of gold,' is that really a commodity, in itself, or is it a contract? This system certainly treats such obligations as commodities and goes out of its way to manufacture as many as possible. Right now there are something like 900 trillion dollars worth of derivatives contracts alone, which amount to a form of parimutual wagering, based on a 60 trillion dollar world economy. Obviously those most able to pull the strings in this world would prefer most people not bother themselves thinking about these things and none of us, even those actually riding this wave, can really do anything about it. Eventually though, this wave will crash up on the shores of a larger reality and those of us left to pick up the pieces will need to ask themselves if they really want to repeat the process, with far fewer resources, or is there a lesson to be learned.



report post as inappropriate

Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 08:41 GMT
I was struck by this sentence at the bottom of your abstract:

`Only then, when we can make informed decisions by feeling rather than thinking, will we be able to act and respond to the challenges we face.`

Yes, we are lazy, at least relative to the huge and growing amount of information that we would like to be able to digest daily (and, ehm, I still have to read your essay :-) You seem to imply that `feeling` is faster, more efficient, less costly, and transparent to laziness, than `thinking`: feeling and intuition at the basis of decision making, in place of `traditional` thinking. I suspect that that feeling and intuition may play a stronger role than thinking in several contexts, for example in educating children, or even in scientific investigation, but always at the level of a single person's individual decision. When cooperation is necessary, for handling problems at a more global level, then you need to communicate, and thinking / speaking / writing (increasingly slow and laziness-vulnerable processes) become necessary. Or not?

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 10:45 GMT

Yes, they become necessary - but we don't make sufficient use of them, that's my point. Most people do not handle problems on a global level with thinking/speaking/writing. They do not handle them at all. I basically try to take humans at face value. There's many things we should be doing, but we don't. Why is that and what can we do about it? That's the question my essay addresses. Best,


Member Dean Rickles wrote on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 09:41 GMT
Hi Sabine,

Your essay contains contains very similar diagnoses of the problems to mine (so, naturally, I liked it a lot!). Especially:

"We reached this gridlock because the human brain did not evolve to understand the consequences of individual actions in networks of billions of people. We are bad in making good long-term decisions and do not care much what happens in other parts of the planet to people we have not and will most likely never meet. We have no intuitive grasp on the collective behavior of large groups and their impact on our environment, and what little grasp we have is prone to cognitive biases and statistical errors, many of which are now subject of new scientific areas like game theory, behavioral economics and decision science."

and "We solve them by bringing close that what is far away."

My essay focuses exactly on what to do to close the gap when what is far away is in the future:



report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 10:18 GMT
Hi Dean,

Thanks for the pointer, I left a note regarding your essay in your comment section. Regarding the future: I believe in the block universe. I agree that how we think about the future is presently not very helpful to 'steer' it, but even in the (rather unlikely event) that people would change their way of thinking because some physicists have a funny new interpretation of quantum mechanics that wouldn't make much of a difference.

We all have conflicts between our short-term and long-term priorities. Try to imagine for a moment these priorities belong to different people, then we'd go and weigh them both in some aggregation mechanism, may that be our economic system or a political one. But the problem is, if these conflicting priorities belong to the same person, he or she can take only one action. That's what the economists call 'revealed preferences'. Now our political systems are a sloppy way of taking into account that these economically revealed preferences neglect part of the story - you could say, the part of people's thought that did not transfer into a monetary revelation. But it works badly, to say the least, because it's too complicated. That brings you to the starting point of my essay. Best,


Author Sabine Hossenfelder wrote on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 10:01 GMT
John C Hodge,

I agree on your pov regarding stone age thinking. It is a shame, really, that evolutionary psychology has produced so much nonsense, because now it's hard to take any of it seriously.

I try not to use the word 'moral', it is too ambiguous. Morals, in my opinion, are an emergent phenomenon, codes of behavior, much like, but stronger and more universal than, social norms. In any case, people tend to misunderstand my use of the word, so I try to do without it.

I don't think that competition is necessary provided that we find a way to scale and transfer social phenomena, but it is arguably very efficient. It seems to me though that our present societies already put too much emphasis on competition. Take eg the whole discussion about privacy of information and nations spying on each other - that's all due to competition. Right now I think we'd need more collaboration, that would free much needed resources. In the long run, we need a way to better balance competition with collaboration. Best,


John C Hodge wrote on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 16:27 GMT

Thank you so much for your note. Now I see your comment “No, the major challenge,…, is to convert these ideas into action.”

I have “The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization” but have only scanned it. The same with his “Environment, Scarcity, and Violence”. I omitted a reference to them because he makes things a bit more complex than they are, in my opinion. That is why I went with Tainter. For example, I agree with Friedman that the Federal Reserve was a big mistake. I suppose he would call me a “neo-Malthusisn”. I did like his stages of denial, some of his income gap comments, and the chapter of “why don’t we face reality”. You can see examples of the latter in these essays.

All his tectonic stresses and conditions in Tainter are present today and have been for a long time. The limited space left me with commenting, “However, the collapse is a failure of the society’s organization to adapt to nature and to the changing conditions.” That is, he is only describing some of the natural conditions imposed on humanity all the time.

Let me take this opportunity to address another idea I think you are tending toward. Almost all the essays have suggestions with little chance of happening. My last comment “The barons are organizing.” suggest the required action is already happening. Look at the conditions that forced the barons to action. They are all present in the US today. Many today are already taking action toward a thing like the Magna Carta that I suggest is a new constitution. The TEA party (they want a smaller Federal Government) is becoming stronger. The secession movement is small but growing. Many are writing books and article s suggesting constitutional amendments (Friedman, M. R. Levin, R. E. Barnet, etc.). The path toward the kind of constitutional change is already happening. I hope the leaders of today are as smart as the leaders in 1787.

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 07:07 GMT
Hi John,

Yes, I agree, most of the suggestions in this essay contest will never happen, they will not even be tried. I think the basic reason that the forces in the US do not propel people into action is that they still have bread and games, as the Romans put it. Best,


Gbenga Michael Ogungbuyi wrote on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 23:25 GMT
Fellow Comrade,

Your article is an intellectual knowledge base. Special appreciation must be given to every author for creating time to share their thoughts. Many time it is not the reward that is attached to this contest that interest me but ability to reason out facts in solving problems. And this is one of my hobbies!

However, I will like to point out some point in your high...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Gbenga Michael Ogungbuyi replied on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 23:11 GMT
Dear Prof,

I observe you have not commented on my post. I will be glad you comments and also try to read my article and possibly leave a comment- Perhaps some statement were not clearly stated in my previous post. There was electricity failure (power cut) in my area and the PC battery was almost empty and so the post was sent in hurry!

In my article, the hypothesis is hinged on "No natural disaster" which appears to be constant since humanity cannot interfere with this. As you know, certain assumptions could be made while conducting academic research; should we therefore put the “side criticisms and restrictions” on gamification has explained in my previous post as variables to be kept constant? I am a little familiar with your model of gamification that is why I have raised this point. Could you also check up with the researchers at the University of Hamburg Germany if possible? Thank you.

You wrote about human’s action matching his reaction. Likewise his “intuitive feeling matches with decision”. This is similar to some of my outlooks in my article and really be glad if you can read it. I based my philosophy of human’s actions on Newton laws. Please kindly find time to read it and leave a comment behind.

Thank you.


report post as inappropriate

Stuart Marongwe replied on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 15:16 GMT

I think you addressed the author as comrade. This salutation has some political connotations. That's just my thoughts.

report post as inappropriate

Domenico Oricchio wrote on Apr. 16, 2014 @ 23:34 GMT
A beautiful essay.

It is interesting the acceleration of the idea change approaching far away events with close backreaction, there is an analogy with an accelerated biologic evolution with radiation, or chemical mutagen (on the dna), or an accelerated change in cultural memes (with many innovators that break the knowledge system): it seem that environments that have too fast changing must have a faster cultural change, but there is a limited teaching capacity; a kindly cultural manipulation is natural for a teacher, but I see the futuristic prevision of probable brain implants like a nightmare (the television advertising like an anticipation).

I am not interested to the current practice of publication, that I see like a nonsense, but if a group of researchers in a scientific field, would vote in a manifest way an open article that it is read, and understood (and this essay contest is an example that sometimes work), then everything would be more democratic, and interesting (no referees, no style, no restriction, only good readers of a successful article).

I am thinking that any limitation (not due to ethical reasons) in scientific papers, and in the exploration of the frontiers of the knowledge, limits our capacity of adapt to the environment, along the same road, without variety.

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 07:10 GMT

See, your vision of researchers 'democratically' voting on papers suffers from exactly the problem I discuss: It's a good idea, in principle, but it doesn't work, in practice. It's been tried, repeatedly, and it failed. People do not take the time to participate in such a rating. Most papers never get read. You do not change people's behavior by telling them what would be good if *everybody* did it, but by giving them something that is good for them individually. That's a variant of the collective action problem. Best,


Domenico Oricchio replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 23:14 GMT
Thank you Bee.

Yes, I think that the idea is too simple, but an arxiv with (a possible) vote after reading could work, with a different impact factor (so that there is a double impact factor to compare).

The problem is that now if there is a good research line, then each search to publish in this research topics, because there are citations on the topics, so that it is interest in the Universities to product the same research (with no diversification and no velocity in the adaptation); so that I think that if someone work in a field, and someone has the possibility to indicating that some research is interesting, with a different method, with a different line of research, with a different impact factor (this is the nonsense, to focus the research in winning political strategies), then there is a better use of the resource.

report post as inappropriate

Eckard Blumschein wrote on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 08:17 GMT
Dear Sabine,

You wrote: "I may be naïve and I may be wrong." Yes, perhaps. This makes you cute. May I ask you how your job in HEP contributes to rescuing the world? Voting for SPD or Greens and limiting the number of own children is perhaps not enough.

I hope you will not mistake me.



report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 07:12 GMT

I wrote about this here:

Which is think will answer your question.

Eckard Blumschein replied on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 04:53 GMT

You wrote "we still build on the new ground discovered by physicists a century ago", "There MUST be more to find than we have found so far", "occurrence of singularities in unquantized gravity", "I don't believe in the non-deterministic part of " [quantum mechanics], "all the rest ... is perfectly fine", "We know the theory MUST exist", "Causality depends on the metric structure of space-time", "A superposition is a state in the Hilbert space like any other state", "It evolves unitary and causally like everything else". Did I get the essence? Good luck.

Being much older, I need no complaining about rejected research proposals. I am merely collecting arguments that may question some of the basics your hopes are built on. Sharing some of your doubts, my approach is more basic. I question any singularities and absolute infinities in physics. I enjoy how Roger Schlafly destroyed spacetime: Time is what distinguishes the past from the future.


report post as inappropriate

Vladimir F. Tamari wrote on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 11:36 GMT

It is clear that much thought and a sincere wish to find the right way to solve the looming questions facing humanity has gone into the writing of this essay. You may be quite right in your assessment how much effort an individual is willing or can spend towards solving problems beyond his or her immediate experience.

With the tools available now or will be available soon the implementation of your priority map feedback scheme may well be possible. My iphone priority app will warn me "do not buy that," when its camera sees my hand reaching out for an environmentally harmful product at the supermarket.

I feel though that you have left out a large part of the problem and the solution: the collective organization of society and educating it to act in the right way. This has been traditionally the role of religion and politics - good governance is necessary for solving our global problems. Scientists need not be the only source of new ideas - artists of all kind are essential to translate our inner hopes and fears into a form that can be fed into your priority maps.

Best wishes


report post as inappropriate

Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 14:36 GMT
Dear Professor Hossenfelder,

Your essay was beautifully written and held my interest throughout. I do hope that it does well in the competition.

With regards,

Joe Fisher

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 06:38 GMT
Thanks :)

Wesley Wayne Hansen wrote on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 18:49 GMT

In 1995, shortly after my honorable discharge from the U. S. Marine Corps, I graduated from commercial dive school and have primarily worked in the petro-chemical and energy sectors ever since. Based on this experience, I find the idea that humans can self-regulate their way to a sustainable future somewhat naive. Don't get me wrong, I feel your Priority Maps would make for an...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Roger Schlafly wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 00:26 GMT
Do you have any example where greater communciation or feedback loop would be useful? You mention some things like plastic in the ocean, but in my experience, people think that there is much more plastic in the ocean than there really is. What will be accomplished by better info about plastic in the ocean?

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 06:37 GMT
Hi Roger,

They would know how to best dispose of garbage so it does not end up in the ocean, if they care about this. The information that I mean that people need is not the amount of plastic in the ocean - that's pretty useless. I mean, what's that number good for? People have a 'priority' about how relevant it is for them to keep the ocean clean, prevent birds from dying, keep trash of the beaches, etc etc. The question is how do they know how well their own behavior contributes to the problem? That's what you need the feedback loop for. It would contain, for example, information about where a wrapping or empty bottle is likely to be shipped and how likely it is to end up in the ocean on its course etc. Keep in mind though that this is not to convince people that they should buy this or separate their garbage like that - it simply tells them what will happen if (with a certain probability). It's up to them to decide how much it matters to them.



Anonymous wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 03:57 GMT
Hi Sabine,

I enjoyed reading your essay. I like the way you have focused on the problem of implementing solutions. Bringing the problems close and feeding back relevant information to allow good decision making are two very important points you raise.I agree that having solutions and being able to implement them to give significant change do not currently go hand in hand. Breaking it into a 5 point plan makes it seem more achievable.

I am 'creeped out' by the idea of brain implants to help people 'feel' what is 'right'. It seems a slippery slope to fully automated mind control where people are given what to think but feel it is the product of their own mind. I'm quite creeped out by the whole idea of transhumanism, merging with the machine and in the future AI. I think the suggested brain implant is the first step that crosses the boundary of what it is to be human. I agree it might make life easier if information did not have to be gathered , evaluated and then utilized for good decision making but freedom of thought and being able to find alternative viewpoints and think differently is also important for progress. If we already 'feel' that we have the necessary information there will be no drive to seek further or alternative information.

Would the brain implants be compulsory? Or just marketed as a very cool, socially responsible, time saving technology? Would there be peer pressure from those with implants on those without? Would those with implants consider themselves superior, more responsible people?

Sorry for dwelling on that 'creepy' aspect, which is only a small part of your enjoyable, relevant, very well reasoned and presented work. Good luck, Georgina

report post as inappropriate

Georgina Woodward replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 13:20 GMT
That Anonymous Apr. 18, 2014 @ 03:57 GMT was me.

report post as inappropriate

Georgina Woodward replied on May. 13, 2014 @ 04:32 GMT
The future of brain implants, Wall Street journal An interesting article on one of the themes of your essay.

It ends, Quote "Will these devices make our society as a whole happier, more peaceful and more productive? What kind of world might they create?It's impossible to predict. But, then again, it is not the business of the future to be predictable or sugarcoated. As President Ronald Reagan once put it, "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.""

"The augmented among us-those who are willing to avail themselves of the benefits of brain prosthetics and to live with the attendant risks-will outperform others in the everyday contest for jobs and mates, in science, on the athletic field and in armed conflict. These differences will challenge society in new ways-and open up possibilities that we can scarcely imagine."

report post as inappropriate

Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 12:48 GMT
Bee, I don't always agree with you in the details; however, I find that all of your writing has a palpable honesty and fearlessness that commands the respect of any rational thinker.

Here, I agree with you heartily: "The root of the problems that humanity faces today is that our adaptation as a species has fallen behind the changes we have induced ourselves."

My own essay, submitted and not yet published, identifies the same problem and the consequences of the feedback loops it engenders.

Looking forward to stimulating dialoque.

Good job!

All best,


report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 06:31 GMT
Hi Tom,

Thanks for the kind words, I will watch out for your essay :) Best,


Thomas Howard Ray replied on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 00:55 GMT
It's posted now.

report post as inappropriate

Turil Sweden Cronburg wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 13:10 GMT
“humans don’t care what somebody or some thing thinks they should

be doing. They’ll do whatever they please.”

I WISH that were true! If so, we’d be totally functional. Instead humans are easily brainwashed by governments/corporations/media to behave in ways that go against their very nature, making them do self-harming behavior, and turning them into miserable,...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 06:29 GMT

You have it upside down. You can't make people behave 'against their very nature' - that's an oxymoron. Yes, governments and corporations (via the media mostly) exploit human nature to their own advantage. That too, is human nature... You write:

"Once we start a social trend of focusing on taking good care of ourselves..."

How do you want to start such a 'trend'? See, that's what I mean. There are plenty ideas of what we should do or could do, but in practice nothing happens because you don't generate 'social trends' by telling people it would be good if they did xyz. That's exactly the problem my essay latches on. Best,


Turil Sweden Cronburg replied on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 14:57 GMT
As I said, I WISH it were true that you can't make people behave against their nature. But that's just not the way humans work. We have the ability to consciously choose to not breathe, or eat, for example, and that's just the very beginning of what we tend to do that is unnatural and against our body's needs.

Though I understand that you might want to include everything we choose to do as "natural". (Which is reasonable in a certain way, but sort of meaningless from a discussion point of view!) My point is that people are often given terrible information about what they should do to be happy and healthy, and it makes them make poor choices that harm everyone. The quality of information needs to change if we are to attain a healthy system that moves us forward in evolution (more adaptability).

And how to start a movement? Well, as with all movements, it starts with a small group of committed folks! As my essay suggests, we can start by telling people that they have a right to invest the time and energy in coming to some understanding about what is truly meaningful in their lives, and asking them what they believe they need, in order to be able to reach their highest goals of what they want to contribute to the world (and beyond!).

Also, of course, change always starts within, so asking ourselves what we find most meaningful in our lives, and looking to understand what we need, in order to accomplish our ideals of what we want to contribute to our lives, is where it all really starts. I've done that for myself (and it is the basis for much of my work already, including my blogs and books and artwork and workshops). Perhaps you also have explored what you most want to contribute to the world, and what you are most in need of, for that to happen most effectively?

report post as inappropriate

Neil Bates wrote on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 16:49 GMT
Good meta-point, Sabine. My own submission, I hope in the pipeline, also deals with the framing issues rather than specific suggestions. Yes indeed, the human mind and will is flawed. I offer some insights and possible avenues regarding those problems, as well as grounds for optimism that our minds are capable of more than we have thought possible. In particular, in regards to "will power" to get things done (although being able to "stop doing" - and resume - is the key to understanding that the faculty exists.)

Neil Bates

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 06:25 GMT
Hi Neil,

Glad to hear you like my essay, I have put yours on the reading list :) Best,


Lawrence B Crowell wrote on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 22:40 GMT
I decided to respond to your reply above here.

The argument by those in economic power is that we must grow the economy further in order to have the economic capacity to work on environmental problems. “Tomorrow we will address the environment,” and of course tomorrow we will be saying the same. The climate issue as a social debate, propped up to look like a scientific debate, will transition into a political and policy issue of whether the economic cost warrants solutions to the problem. It will again be “Tomorrow we will …,” and there is always tomorrow where the problems of today, debts, pollution, population and so forth, can be swept into. Largely if you think about it, the big problems of the 1960s such as drug addition, pollution, nuclear weapons and so forth, are still with us. We have in fact over the years solved very little with respect to these types of problems.

As I say in my essay the MWI of quantum mechanics tells us there are a myriad number of worlds with various outcomes. In our past there are worlds where Napoleon won, Hitler won, General Lee got the better of Meade at Gettysburg and so forth. The same holds for the future. I thought about writing an essay on whether we actually steer anything, or whether our conscious decisions alter either the probability distributions in the MWI branching of the world, or by some means weight the selection of these worlds. Maybe consciousness is just an illusion whereby we observe a certain eigenbranching of the world. Of course then again MWI as an interpretation may not be testable and all of this amounts to metaphysics.

Everything is easy to predict except the future --- Yogi Berra


report post as inappropriate

Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Apr. 20, 2014 @ 23:09 GMT
Dear Sabine,

I found several of the ideas expressed in your text quite interesting and original.

We humans are smart in changing the rules of adaptation: we quickly adapt the environment to ourselves, rather than waiting for darwinian evolution to slowly adapt us to the environment, as it did with the rest of the biosphere. But now our adaptation as a species has fallen behind...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Michael Allan wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 00:36 GMT
Hello Sabine, I'd like to critique your essay a little. Would you be able to reciprocate?

report post as inappropriate

Anselm Smidt wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 17:07 GMT
Emotionen sind ein schlechter Ersatz für FleiB.

report post as inappropriate

James Lee Hoover wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 17:42 GMT

Your 5 step plan is like a science-aided process. Processes are something common in our corporate world, something that doesn't require thought, only action. Fortunately your steps don't involve just external actions but engaged brains as well.

Your "gamification" is a recognition of the short-term gratification enhancing long-term goals. Certainly it is a recognition of how short-term solutions run rampant in government and corporations, something contributing to long-term needs like climate change being ignored.

Great ideas for a daunting problem


report post as inappropriate

James Lee Hoover replied on Jun. 1, 2014 @ 03:48 GMT

Having had rating problems with my Firefox browser and with some 5 days remaining, I am revisiting essays I've read to see if rated. I find that I rated yours on 5/12.

Your given the opportunity, I would like to see your comments on my essay:


report post as inappropriate

Member Rick Searle wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 03:43 GMT

A really well written essay which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. One question I have which I would appreciate your response to: you seem to be more focused on individual or social decision making, but don't really get into political decisionmaking. Isn't it in some sense the job of political institutions to take the long term view and structure society and incentives with that in mind? Of course, in many places they are failing miserably at this long view- is the reason for this the same as with the rest of us?

I would love your feedback and vote on my own essay- even if it might be negative Such is the only way we learn anything. Thanks again for your enjoyable piece.

Rick Searle

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 12:32 GMT

Well, 9 pages isn't much space. You're right that I didn't get into political decision making. Political decision making basically means aggregating individual values to convert them into systemic changes. The political systems that we presently have don't do this very well. One major problem with them is that they are too slow compared to the speed at which the economic and financial system reacts. In any case, the mechanism to update the political system is the same again, you need to enable simple feedback about its status combined with knowledge about the system. I certainly hope that we'll see a major reconstruction and update of western democracies in the soon future. I'll have a look at your essay, but I presently have a lot on my reading list already, so it might take a while. Thanks for your feedback,


Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 15:16 GMT
Sabine --

A very fine essay... like your blog, clear and sensible and fun to read. I think it should win, if only because it might be the only entry with a practical approach. I agree, it doesn't make sense to try to change people, but we can change the informational environment in which they operate. In fact, that environment is changing quite radically, now -- which is the...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 12:27 GMT
Hi Conrad,

Thanks for the kind words. I have actually tried to avoid the word 'complexity' though I wasn't entirely successful. It's such a vague expression that people cannot really agree on what it means. Forget about the word for a moment, it remains the fact that humans lack the skill to anticipate large-scale and long-term trends in global systems, systems consisting of people and their environment, of financial and economic transactions, of media influence and political corruption. These problems are solvable if the system is adaptive, but it can only adapt if information about its status is feed back in, leading to a change in behavior. Now the behavior of all these systems is routed through humans, meaning the information has to go through the humans. That's why the priority maps. Best,


Robert de Neufville wrote on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 02:36 GMT
Thanks for sharing this essay, Sabine. I think you're right that humanity's greatest challenge is social rather than technological. I think you're also right to say that we could do a lot—both technologically and institutionally—to improve our collective decision-making. If we made choices more rationally and on the basis of better information it would go a long way toward improving our future prospects.

But in my view better information-processing isn't enough. I don't believe most of our problems stem from an inability to reason through the consequences of our actions (although we could certainly do a better job of reasoning through the consequences of our actions!). In my view—this is what I argue in my own essay—the more profound issue is that there is no single neutral best course of action.

We're not fighting over the steering wheel just because we are stupid, but because we want to go to different places. This makes simply designing an impartial information processing framework a political problem as well as a technological problem. Not only do we have competing visions for the future—I doubt even individuals have stable, well-defined sets of priorities of the kind you seem to imagine—but we disagree over who should receive the benefits of and who should bear the costs of the choices we make. We disagree, in other words, over what's fair.

My own view is that we also need to create institutions that do more align the interests of individuals more directly with the interests of humanity as a whole. Otherwise we may be in danger of steering humanity off a cliff.


Robert de Neufville

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 12:22 GMT

You are right of course that better information routing isn't sufficient, but it is necessary. Of course we do not agree on what to do and also need means to aggregate people's vlues and convert them into action, but for people's opinions to be taken into account they first need to have the information to be able to form an opinion. I will put your essay on the reading list, it sounds interesting :) Best,


Mark Avrum Gubrud wrote on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 10:53 GMT
This is still my favorite essay for its informality and straightforward realism. But I'm not seeing the five-step program to save the world. What is new about identifying goals, other than calling this "priority maps (TM)"? OK, everybody should get clear about what they want. And we should all be more efficient and consistent in ordering our priorities and pursuing them effectively. Maybe use some advertising and management techniques on ourselves to keep ourselves on track. What else? I'm seeing some big problems in this world, and maybe small thinking is the best we can do, but...

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 12:18 GMT

We are failing to solve problems that affect mankind on a global scale, problems that have many layers, are interrelated, and require that we act in a coordinated way. We are presently unable to solve these problems because we do not, as a collective, have a way to route the necessary information to the actors, that is, individual people. The priority maps are the routers of this information. This is what is necessary to be able to solve the problems. I am not claiming it is sufficient, but without a mechanism like this, I don't think mankind will fare very well in the long run. Sooner or later, this ability to correctly anticipate collective action and its consequences on large scales might develop by natural selection. But I don't think we have the time for this. Best,


Neil Bates wrote on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 00:55 GMT
I think it would be a good idea to offer the organizing and reward services you describe in the essay. It comes across as ethically acceptable due to the voluntary nature of these "apps" (should they be called brain apps or etc?) However we can wonder, if the presumed easier access of elites to these apps would give them even more advantage. I wonder if, instead of just reflecting back each individual's preferences, the app could be engineered or even required in regulations, to present at least some portion of global priorities etc? Something to think about at least.

PS, my essay is up at: Flashlights, Mirrors, Real Brains and Willpower: Steering Ourselves to Steer Our Future.

report post as inappropriate

Robin Hanson wrote on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 13:01 GMT
People have for many decades worked to create automated tools where users express their preferences and then get decision recommendations. There are even a number of such sites for political recommendations. In general these are not popular, and they are mostly just not good. Most useful decision recommendation tools, like Google or Auto GPSs, don't vary much at all with the person, and so don't bother to collect personal preferences. The useful tools that do vary more by person tend to base their recommendations on a dataset of prior decisions by that person, instead of on explicit abstract expressions of preference.

If our tools are this weak for concrete problems where we have a lot of data and feedback, I don't see much hope for them giving much assistance anytime soon on the big hard problems of how we can each help humanity's future. Datasets of previous decisions by a person aren't very useful, most people don't much understand the relevant abstract concepts, the decision problems are very hard, and there are far more reasons to be concerned that claimed sources of advice are really pushing some agenda.

Really, this isn't a problem that is ready to be handed off to smart robots. We'll have to actually *think* about it ourselves.

report post as inappropriate

Robert de Neufville replied on Apr. 28, 2014 @ 00:14 GMT
I agree, Robin. I think Sabine is right to argue that better decision-making tools would help. We could certainly improve the tools we have now. But it's not clear humans actually have the stable, well-defined sets of preferences we like to imagine we do. Nor is it clear any set of decision-making tools can really be neutral. How we make decisions inevitably becomes the source of political and ideological conflict.

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 03:58 GMT

You are right that these tools exist. I see this as a beginning of a development that we just have to push to its conclusion.

You are also right on your other points. People's preferences aren't stable over time and they are in addition contradictory. That doesn't matter though, the priority maps can be adjusted and that preferences are contradictory just means there is no decision that works towards all.

Regarding the information sources pushing agendas. That is true, but look, this problem is self-correcting once the system is set up properly. So some information provider pushes some agenda. Do you like this agenda? Do you share their values? Are you skeptic about their motives? Do you care about what other people think about them? Which sources do you trust? What do other people think? What is the track record of these information providers?

People aren't stupid. They are influenced by sources 'pushing their agenda' because these sources make their information cheap and because this is allowed in the present system. Now I believe that this is a failure of democracy because people don't want to be influenced this way but don't have the means to express this. If that is so, then giving them the means to express this should address the problem. Best,


Wilhelmus de Wilde wrote on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 15:01 GMT
Dear Sabine;

You wrote : "some think that quantum computers will solve our problems" and you mention that they will not be able to do so.

My proposition is that quantum computers are not limited by the "black OR white" solution but can also reach all the tones of grey in between the black and white. Once we will have created a quantum computer with 1,000 qubits and control its "decoherence" there will be 10^300 possible configurations, which is more as all the atoms in our visible universe, so we have stocked 10^300 solutions for problems that can occur. Of course this does not mean that any question can be answered, but maybe every question is already answered the moment we achieved this quantum state, even putting on the "power" may not be nececerry...

When we will be able to couple this quantum "computer" to the brain microtubules and so create an entanglement between the available solutions in the "machine" and the quantum coherence in our brain in these microtubules we will have "available" all the answers and maybe able to steer our causal "future".

see my essay :"STEERING THE FUTURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS ?"[:link] Thnak you for putting it on your reading list, maybe you will leave a comment on my thread and rate it in conformity with your appreciation.

best regards


report post as inappropriate

Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 00:33 GMT
Dear Sabine Hossenfelder,

Thanks for your excellent essay, appreciated by many judging from your score and the number of comments. You acknowledge "inborn knowledge", a topic James Putnam's essay deals with.

You also note that our political, economic, and social systems that govern our lives are presently adaptive by trial and error, concluding that this is too slow to solve current...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 03:43 GMT

Thanks for your comment. I agree with what you say. I see that my sentence about trial and error can be misunderstood. You need a system that provides feedback which tells people whether a decision was working towards or against their goals. I think that is what you mean with 'many local trial and errors' though I think the word 'local' is misleading here. I would call that a small variation and learning. With 'error' I basically mean complete failure that may lead to a breakdown, which is what you want to avoid. Example: You want a feedback that stabilizes the financial system (reaction to small variations) rather than one which only kicks in if things have gone dramatically wrong (error). I can see though that I didn't make this very clear.

In any case, I will have a look at your essay which sounds very interesting. Best,


Member Tejinder Pal Singh wrote on Apr. 30, 2014 @ 07:00 GMT

Yours is an extraordinary, beautifully written essay, whose philosophy and proposal I readily support. Towards the end of your essay, you appeal to the goodness of all humans, without which, as you say, making information inexpensive will by itself not be of help. Unfortunately, as we know, in the current scenario, conflict of interest often makes powerful individuals act in a manner which is more suited to fulfilling personal / nationalistic ambitions, not keeping in mind the good of humanity at large [war for instance being an ugly consequence]. Such individuals could be classified as `not good humans’ and are a serious bottleneck. I do not wish to use this space to advertise my essay, but I have tried to make a case that humans can be `trained’ to be `good’. I cannot prove that this will work, for this too requires goodness of political will, but perhaps if we build from grassroots [catch them young] there is some hope that future leaders might begin to act differently, and collectively think of the planet, and not just of nations. One hopes.



report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 10:46 GMT

I am philosophically very much with Leibnitz who was ridiculed for his argument that we live in the 'best of all possible worlds'. I tend to think it is tautologically true that people are 'good' and try to do the 'best', it's just that they disagree on exactly what that entails. Another way to say this is to notice that the phrase 'pursuit of happiness' in the US constitution is entirely meaningless. Happiness is pretty much by definition that what people pursue. If somebody wanted to pursue unhappiness who are we to decline him his wish if that makes him happy? Or wait, does not make him happy. See the issue? Same thing with being 'good'. Everything everybody does is 'good' for something or somebody. Maybe they are good at being bad? Maybe they just don't care about the 'good for humanity at large' and who are you to tell them they should? Would that make you bad? Would that be good if it made you bad? And what does any of that mean anyway?

Having said that, I don't want to get hung up on a word too much as I think I can extract the essence of what you are saying and I like the sentiment. Best,


Thomas Howard Ray replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 14:10 GMT
Well said, Bee!

report post as inappropriate

Anonymous replied on May. 8, 2014 @ 14:13 GMT

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, not Leibnitz, was born two years after the end of a war that lasted for thirty years and decimated the population in the sense that just about every tenth survived. Leibniz died in 1716 before in 1756 a war begun that lasted for seven years. Parts of Germany were occupied by France and Sweden. The chance for a peaceful period, the best of all possible ones, was about the same as for Germany after WWII. I don't like using sentiment when dealing with basic questions of science.

I explained to Mohammed Khali what I meant when I wrote: "Neither Philip Gibbs nor Sabine Hossenfelder will save the world."

Any objection by anyone?

Sabine, please don't take my bluntness amiss. I nonetheless very much acknowledge your absolutely best intentions.



report post as inappropriate

Anonymous wrote on May. 2, 2014 @ 08:19 GMT
Hi Sabine,

And thank you for your nice essay! Your ideas would be the silver bullet in the ideal world. Problems arise when we are trying to find out the right actions and priorities. We can't be even sure if our every (major) selected priority or goal does any good in a long run (poor data, poor theories, biases, fabricated data, manipulation, lobbying etc). Anyway, your ideas would be a big leap forward if ever implemented!

So, big hand from me :-) I bet that you don't buy my ideas on antimatter. But let's pretend that I'm right, how would you handle the situation with your suggestions? I'm listening.

report post as inappropriate

Kimmo Rouvari replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 08:20 GMT
Nice system :-( That was my comment.

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 10:36 GMT

It is not the case that every particle can be its own antiparticle. I really do not think it is a problem that we have to worry about. Having said that, it is true of course that every new technology brings risks and that these risks have to be properly studied and assessed, preferably before the technology spreads. This is a difficult problem because the question what risk is acceptable is not a scientific one. This risk assessment also must take into account the question of how likely the theory is to be correct, and I am afraid that your theory is almost certainly incorrect, so the risk seems to me very small. In this context however, I recently read about the origin of the word 'megadeath', maybe your worries are worth some gigadeaths then. Best,


Kimmo Rouvari replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 12:36 GMT
But IF my theory is right then the outcome might be catastrophic. Can you ignore my chances of being right? I hope not.

report post as inappropriate

Anonymous wrote on May. 2, 2014 @ 12:43 GMT

Beautifully argued analysis and ideas. I just can't help thinking; a) They can't be effectively implemented (and who draws prejudice free maps!?) And; b) If implemented they'll fail due to how brains work. I agree about attention span, but feedback to a database (lobes) has scant connection to the front cerebral cortex which takes the fast intuitive decisions, often wrong despite...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Peter Jackson replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 15:58 GMT
T'was I. Why do we let computers lie to us? Let's ban all deception.

I omitted an intended comment on gamification. I agree entirely, and it's an excellent way to inspire and motivate, essential components for implementation.

I also note your comment; "the academic system too isn’t able to learn". Indeed the root of the problem, from Infant age upwards. We do have the means, but so few seem to have the ability.


Peter Jackson (just in case it's lying about login again!

report post as inappropriate

Laurence Hitterdale wrote on May. 5, 2014 @ 19:09 GMT
Hi Sabine,

You are right, I think, that distribution and application of available information is often a greater problem than acquisition of additional information. I also agree that providing people with better means to achieve their goals will be more productive than trying to persuade people to change their goals. As I understand the requirements of the question, we were asked to make suggestions for concrete action, and you have done that very well. It is a natural question, then, whether some group or institution will start implementing your five-step plan. I would think that a good start would be to set up a step-one process for a group of scientists. They might be in a particular geographical area, or they might work in a particular field. This would be a substep of step 1. We might think of it as step 1.1. After that, it would be possible to implement further substeps of step 1. Before completing all of step 1, we could begin with the appropriate substeps of step 2. At least this seems to me a reasonable approach.

Laurence Hitterdale

report post as inappropriate

Ajay Bhatla wrote on May. 7, 2014 @ 21:28 GMT

We are in agreement that "science matters for steering the future of humanity" and that "we just have to make it easier for them to convert caring into action." We also agree that the primary initiative lies with scientists.

Where, I believe, we differ is in what we can ask or force individual people to do. Your approach and mine differ (in your five step approach) in step 3. I contend that converting "caring into action" is a very personal and individual thing. While scientists, or others, can rank and prioritize from a BIG picture perspective, the BIG picture is generally not meaningful for the general public or even many countries and institutions. e.g. China and India give lip service to global warming because they see it ranking below economic development.

Please read my essay here and tell me if you agree with our only real difference in thinking.

- Ajay

report post as inappropriate

Chidi Idika wrote on May. 8, 2014 @ 10:32 GMT
Dear Sabine,

You operate the thesis that “Only then, when we can make informed decisions by feeling rather than thinking, will we be able to act and respond to the challenges we face.”

I see the possibility that someone instead invents a technology by which we may “feel” (or ask questions of) ourselves and cumulatively of our collective consciousness. That thing will then represent a kind of oracle/real life virtual community. You call it “systems that are able to learn and in return help let us learn about the system. ”

I foresee in my own approach that this technology may even replace governments! Don’t think it is too farfetched. Once we can properly read/calibrate the individual human (so it represents an individual computer/ip address i.e. a “personal priority map” ) then the de facto “government”, “god” or collective us would be same as what we call now the internet (the individual being an “intranet”).

This situation seems to me sure to come by but it may not be entirely rosy as you imagine. Remember how we used to be all proud of an “industrial revolution” that saved us from servitude to nature? Many years down the line we are now faced with environmental concerns.

Of course in your essay you expressly do not pretend to tell humanity WHERE to steer to but rather HOW to steer. Now I ask you what of that possibility of the “how” getting in the way of the “where” (replacing it) and creating a system of zombie humans?

This is because our intuitive/free will abilities must be like our muscular abilities (I suppose); the less you actually use your muscles, the more you lose them. What do you say about us loosing that critical “liberty” that also makes us human?


Chidi Idika

report post as inappropriate

Preston Estep wrote on May. 8, 2014 @ 16:27 GMT
Dear Sabine,

Tommaso Bolognesi suggested we read your essay since he saw many similarities between yours and ours. In a standard cop-out that you obviously will recognize, we only wish we had the time to devote to our essay to make it is clear as yours, although, we still are likely to have fallen short of your compelling and passionate (and at times very funny!) proposal.

We agree...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Anonymous wrote on May. 9, 2014 @ 02:43 GMT

I am still waiting for your objection. Let me check whether or not you are ready to answer questions that I consider foundational ones. English is not our mother tongue. Therefore I looked into my dictionary for the meaning of the word humanity and found:

#1 "Humanity is the same as mankind." All essays I got aware of understood humanity in this sense which corresponds to...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Tihamer T. Toth-Fejel replied on May. 13, 2014 @ 03:58 GMT
Dear Eckard,

Most essays considered the context of the word "humanity" in the contest question and it fits your definition #1 (mankind), though many also thought that our future would be brighter if we all acted more like definition #3 (show kindness).

You wrote: "To Muslims the doctrine "as many (Muslim) children as possible" is a value in the sense of #3, and when I lived together...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Member Marc Séguin wrote on May. 11, 2014 @ 02:39 GMT
Hi Sabine,

Thank you for a very entertaining and thought-provoking essay!

I really like your idea of personal AI assistants that know your values and suggest the right actions for you to take --- in fact, I want one right now, not just to help me make the right choices concerning the future well-being of the planet, but also to help me plan my day to day routine in order to be more...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on May. 13, 2014 @ 05:08 GMT

I don't think we actually disagree. You are right in that better education can and will make a difference. It is just that this difference is too little too late to help us overcome the problems that we have already created. Best,


William Amos Carine wrote on May. 11, 2014 @ 14:35 GMT
Hi Hossenfelder,

A very relevant essay here! An age where people are well enough to base decisions off of their feelings is indeed something to strive for! The mind ought to be updated in the way we use it. I wonder what all a brain can really do. Neuroscience does have a lot o explore, it seems. Your main first argument that we have simply done to much to change the world and can't seem to catch up goes along with the notion that the progressions and paradigm shifts people as a whole have experienced change at a greater rate today. They seem to be speeding up, and humans are caught with the tough task of jumping from treadmill to treadmill, each faster yet. So I would like to emphasize that that point is valid from what i see and have read elsewhere. It is important to note the issue because it means that something about us has to update quicker, or differently. Tech booms info past what our brains can incorporate into our ways of living. The internet informs everyone about everything, but nobody does or has experienced the majority of what the now know so much about. So some feedback would be appropriate to the sudden influx of info, and of cousre, some paving needs done to reach the day when humans are even more attached to the internet, like brain downloads or what-have-you. A good read that brought up many valid points, this essay also just had a bit of spark to it. It was presented with a personal touch that was refreshing to read. I hope people read this batch of essays in general. Read, and then do a little differently.

With warm wishes,


report post as inappropriate

Author Sabine Hossenfelder replied on May. 13, 2014 @ 05:06 GMT
Hi Amos,

Indeed, I have been wondering if it may be possible to make the argument about the different time scales scientifically precise, to turn it into something measurable. So far however nothing has come to my mind. I do actually believe that reading can change the world :) And many of the excellent essays in this contest have given me something to think about. Best,


Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on May. 13, 2014 @ 10:50 GMT
Recap. The human species has created a complex hybrid environment/system X (technology, politics, economics, etc., on top of the natural system/biosphere) that has somehow changed the rules of the evolutionary adaptation game to our advantage. But the accelerating complexity growth of X is bringing it out of our control, making it hard to close the feedback loop between individual human actions...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Anonymous wrote on May. 14, 2014 @ 16:55 GMT
Dear Sabine

Scientifically lay people are certainly not lazy and indifferent... They may not be scientists, scholars, or academics, but you would be surprised how much they might know about relevant things concerning life... And in general, the less influenced by irrelevant values of the society - the wiser they are. The reason why they may not be interested in science is in "science", not...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Andrej Rehak replied on May. 14, 2014 @ 17:03 GMT
for some reason, I was signed as Anonymous :)

andrej rehak

report post as inappropriate

Don J Chisholm wrote on May. 15, 2014 @ 12:42 GMT
Hello Sabina

I just read your essay and can see why it is doing well. You make a good summary of good summary of the human predicament in this paragraph:

“No, the biggest challenge mankind faces today is not the development of some breakthrough technology. The biggest challenge is to create a society whose institutions integrate the knowledge that must precede any breakthrough technology: The knowledge about the systems themselves that is necessary for the realization, adaptation and use of technologies . All of our big problems today speak of our failure, not to envision solutions, but to turn our ideas and knowledge into reality. We have a social problem, not a technological one.”

Indeed, our problem is social and not technical. You speak of a “priority map”. In my essay, ‘Our journey to the next paradigm’, I deal with this as an envisioned future that uses existing tools of science, psychology and social management to guide the future rather than today’s form of governance, highly influenced by corporate interests, all based on a flawed economic system.

Hope you continue to do well in the ratings.

Don Chisholm

report post as inappropriate

Israel Perez wrote on May. 17, 2014 @ 01:44 GMT
Dear Sabine

Your essay is well written, organized and at the same time controversial. It has enough material for long discussions. Although I agree with some points in your essay I also have some disagreements.

You mention that: the mother of all problems, is to convert these ideas into courses of action.... we are also lazy and if intuition fails us, inertia takes over

I don't think this is the problem. I also wonder who is "we" because in current societies, people have different functions. There are those who are in charged of ruling, those who develop science and technology, businessmen, teachers, workers, etc. Therefore, I would not expect from a worker to take actions against global warming or waste disposal. So each person has a function in this society and each person has to do what they have to do. In my view, politicians and businessmen as well as scientists are in charged of driving humanity and they should be responsible for the consequences of their actions. This is also related to this comment: It’s just that in practice it takes too much effort to look into the details. And they actually do not want to know the details.

I don't think we are lazy, I think those who lead and steer countries have other interests, such as supremacy, hegemony, economy, etc. I discuss a little of this in my work and I'd like to invite you to read it and leave some comments.

All the best for the contest!

Best Regards


report post as inappropriate

KoGuan Leo wrote on May. 17, 2014 @ 09:47 GMT
Dear Prof. Sabine,

Excellent essay indeed. To lower the cost of relevant information needed by the decision maker is key to humanity. Yes, I concur. I like this one most out of five you listed: "Upgrade priority maps to brain extensions. In the long run, we should avoid using the visual cortex as pathway to display matches with priority maps. The potential of cheap information will be fully realized when information about our social systems is directly fed back into our brain and we can truly feel the consequences of certain decisions."

Good luck!


Leo KoGuan

report post as inappropriate

KoGuan Leo replied on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 00:03 GMT
Dear Sabine,

To lower the cost of relevant information and lowered the cost of that information needed by the decision maker to make correct decisions for the survival, peace and prosperity humanity. I scored a full score ten (10).

Good luck,

Leo KoGuan

report post as inappropriate

Hoang cao Hai wrote on May. 20, 2014 @ 02:20 GMT
Dear Author Sabine Hossenfelder

Perhaps your solution is not enough to "save the world" but I liked the goals that you set out to be "How to save the world" ?

10 points for thing that - Hải.CaoHoàng

report post as inappropriate

Ross Cevenst wrote on May. 22, 2014 @ 10:43 GMT
Hi Sabine,

I really enjoyed the central theme of your essay. Your comments about scientific people overlooking the cost of information issue for regular people is a great one. I also think your ideas concerning priority maps is very interesting. A priority map would sure be handy even for this contest!

For me, your priority map resembles something sales and advertising people get that science often doesn't. In a sense, an advert is a priority map like you describe - associating the purchase of a product with a desired outcome such as hedonistic, sexual or social advantage. One core difference is that the objective is to sell the product using any means rather than provide accurate information. In a sense this is my only gentle criticism of your paper - isn't this space already occupied, wherever possible, by advertisers? Perhaps they might actively discourage or intefere with accurate priority information? Do you think encouraging this method of human decision making might actually increase the power of advertisments on people if they begin to neglect the capacity to research and think complexly?

Criticism aside I thought your ideas were very enjoyable to read with some very precise points. I hope you make further progress exploring this great topic. If you get a chance I'd love for you to view my own entry (mine draws on science fiction to make its point) and rate it! Thanks again, best regards,


report post as inappropriate

Luca Valeri wrote on May. 25, 2014 @ 21:36 GMT
Dear Susan,

I past your essay to my wife, that is working in the marketing of carbon offsetting company. She was very inspired and started a new discussion on marketing strategy.

So it seems already reading your essay might bring us to a better future.



report post as inappropriate

James A Putnam wrote on May. 25, 2014 @ 22:24 GMT
Sabine Hossenfelder,

I like your essay very much; however, I have held off rating it. Here is one reason why? Could you please say more about your analysis of the mortgage crisis with respect to measuring emotions?

"Moreover, emotions can capture problems that do not result in actions at all (are not “revealed”). Take the 2008 mortgage crisis as an example. If you read reports...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Janko Kokosar wrote on May. 28, 2014 @ 16:28 GMT
Dear Mrs Sabine Hossenfelder

The future of our world is very dependent from knowledge of phenomena, from which we are dependent, thus from knowledge of correlations of these phenomena. I wrote about this also in my essay. You also write about similar things. Your idea about chips in heads is cruel, but I am afraid that it will be necessary for survival of humanity. For instance, number of people will soon be to large, thus migration in the universe will be necessary. Until then the problems on earth should be solved, and this should be done very effective, or it will be very painful.

Besides your solution, development of artificial intelligence should be also necessary.

I was thinking something similar for jobseekers. Recruiters sometimes have 500 candidates, but they do no choose the very best candidates. Recruiters only needs a few seconds for one candidate. However, if the candidates files in questionnaires, it would then be statistically processed by the recruiters. So they can obtain more information from the candidates. This is a similar principle as that which you are requesting.

Besides, our contest is also is an example of what you write. We cannot read all essays, I would need chips in the brains. At the same time, I wish that others read and comment on my essay. I would be very grateful for this, including the comments of old essays. Also I read your essay. : )

p.s. In your old essay I gave that your model disagrees with Duff's paper. You do not answered me. :)

report post as inappropriate

Ray Luechtefeld wrote on May. 29, 2014 @ 18:47 GMT
Hi Sabine,

Thanks for your interesting essay. I think there are corollaries with the "dialogic web" I discuss in my essay on computationally intelligent personal dialogic agents. It is like a "virtual conscience" that can guide us through our interactions with others and the world. I have developed a prototype as part of a "CAREER Award" grant from the US National Science Foundation, and studies indicate that it can "nudge" people to more effective actions by providing feedback and guidance in their everyday actions.

I'd appreciate a rating on my essay, if you can do that, since I am a bit short on ratings. Also, if you know of anyone that might be interested in collaborating on the further development of the dialogic web, please give them my contact info. My gmail username is my first name, then a period, then my last name.


Ray Luechtefeld, PhD

report post as inappropriate

Member Flavio Mercati wrote on May. 29, 2014 @ 21:29 GMT
Dear Sabine,

thank you for your interesting essay!

Today I stumbled upon this gallery of `awareness-focused' ads:

and it made me think of your essay. Is this the sort of strategy you would use to trigger an emotional response in the public, right there where they are taking the decisions that matter (e.g. throwing a plastic bottle or something...)?



report post as inappropriate

Mark P Aldridge wrote on May. 31, 2014 @ 18:27 GMT
Hello Sabine,

I enjoyed your essay and thought it identified a major problem our species currently has and proposes an interesting (and more importantly, implementable!) solution. This solution ultimately seems to hinge upon mental/cognitive enhancements that would allow us access to and processing of a vast amount of data which has been heretofore, beyond our capabilities. I find this suggestion to be in alignment with my own proposal of a general program of cognitive enhancement, or the development of an intelligence greater than our own.

Thank you for a very insightful read and I hope your work is communally judged appropriately for it's merits.

Thank you,


report post as inappropriate

Don Limuti wrote on Jun. 5, 2014 @ 22:23 GMT
Hi Sabine,

I find your thesis... how should I say... Scary. If plastic in the ocean is bad (and it is), then we should wire humans (a minor brain implant) so that their faulty brains would respond appropriately when they attempt to put garbage into the ocean.

There have been historical political leaders who have tried to get OTHERS to do the right thing on reflex without the "neat" technology of brain implants (think torture chambers and Chinese collectives). It does not work.

I do not find this essay up to your excellent scientific standards. Tell me this is not what you meant.

Don Limuti

report post as inappropriate

Member David L. Wiltshire wrote on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 22:47 GMT
Dear Sabine,

Some interesting points. But what I miss in your argument is: (1) how are individual priority maps to be translated into collective action?; (2) what happens when group think drives collective action to a disaster?

The 2008 financial crisis you mention is an example of a system where there is de facto collective action, because we now have a system of rapid international...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Anonymous replied on Jun. 8, 2014 @ 12:37 GMT

Since Sabine is apparently preoccupied at the moment, with your and her forgiveness please allow me to barge in.

First, you said something very important and relevant to these FQXi discussions, on your home page, in disputing John Horgan's idea of 'ironic science' (I share your view):

"John's use of the term 'ironic science' belies the fact that despite all those books...

view entire post

report post as inappropriate

Thomas Howard Ray replied on Jun. 8, 2014 @ 12:38 GMT
Last was mine.

report post as inappropriate

Kevin O\'Malley wrote on Jun. 13, 2014 @ 03:07 GMT
I played around with Excel last night and came up with a way to predict the contest winner. Basically, by downloading all the data pertinent to this contest such as the title of the essay, how many posts, the community rating, the public rating, how many community ratings and how many public ratings, and one more column for a combination of all the ratings and how the essay judges are likely to weight all the columns with respect to eachother, it spits out an answer.

With all those numbers, I sorted on each column and changed the color of the top 10 essays in each column. Then when it was all done I just looked for the "most colorful essay".

And the winner (will likely be)...

Open Peer Review to Save the World by Philip Gibbs

#2: Recognizing the Value of Play by Jonathan J. Dickau

#3: Bohr-like model for black holes: the route for quantum gravity by Christian Corda

#3 wins the slot because the contest judges will want to be science-minded. That's why Corda will likely win out over the Honorable Mention

How to save the world by Sabine Hossenfelder

because #3 is very science-y and #4 is a bit more of a preachy title without as much of a hint towards what the essay is about.

Well, there's my prediction. It was enjoyable to participate in this contest. By my own criteria, my essay wasn't "colorful" at all. Maybe the judges will score highly on ease of understanding and practicality? Nahh, the guys who are at the top of this list still do very well in such categories.

Good luck to you all.

Kevin O

report post as inappropriate

Wilhelmus de Wilde wrote on Jun. 13, 2014 @ 15:28 GMT
Dear sabine,

Congratulations with your high community score and admittance to the finalists pool.

I hope that the discussions continue so I have the pleasure to sent you a link to my contribution : "STEERING THE FUTURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS" and hope for your comment on my thread.

Good luck with the "final judgement" and

best regards


report post as inappropriate

Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Aug. 20, 2014 @ 22:13 GMT
Forget the announcement drama -- I'm predicting a first prize for you. :-)

report post as inappropriate

Login or create account to post reply or comment.

Please enter your e-mail address:
Note: Joining the FQXi mailing list does not give you a login account or constitute membership in the organization.