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FQXi Administrator Zeeya Merali wrote on Jul. 8, 2014 @ 14:03 GMT
Rick Searle of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies has a post up about this year’s essay contest. Check it out here.

The essay contest is now closed for votes, but as you know, it is still open for debate.

Also, don’t forget that there is still time to enter and vote in our video contest, Show Me the Physics!.

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Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Jul. 8, 2014 @ 23:35 GMT
I thought Rick's own essay was a very important one, though I agree with Tejinder Singh that it would benefit from more practical, solution-oriented details. (OTOH, one can also successfully argue that understanding the problem is already half the solution.)

The time spent on the question of physical determinism vs. uncertainty is, I also think, largely irrelevant to the point that for every certain prediction, there is an uncertain outcome. And for every certain outcome, there exists at least one uncertain prediction. The quantum theoretical literature is all about that. Free will exists metaphysically independent of that physical argument -- as Searle's own hypothesis of Utopia as an impossible ideal, ably demonstrates.

It's nice to see a serious discussion of the issues.

(One slight error: If one hasn't caught it yet -- Cristi Stoica is of the male gender.)

Tom

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 20:55 GMT
Thanks for taking the time to talk about my post, Tom.

I wish I would have had the space and the time to discuss so many of the other essays in the contest- including yours- I loved what you did with the complexity theory of Bar-Yam.

Cristi, apologies for the gender confusion. I deliberately tried to avoid gathering information on authors before I posted because I wanted to blind myself to influence based on the author's authority rather than my own judgement of what they had to say.

I have made the change on my blog and will ask the editor at the IEET to do the same.

All the best,

Rick Searle

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Thomas Howard Ray wrote on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 22:13 GMT
Thanks, Rick. I was particularly happy to see Zeeya open this forum independent of the contest platform. It's a particularly apt theme for our age -- "Utopia or Dystopia: where past meets future" -- because it describes the most fundamental choice of trajectory that humankind can consciously make. (A separate issue, is whether the microscale physics of thermodynamics determines the trajectory...

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 12, 2014 @ 02:39 GMT
Hello again Tom,

I was happy that Zeeya opened up this discussion as well. "Utopia or Dystopia: where past meets future" is actually the name of my blog, and I’ve been trying to explore these sorts of question there for almost 3 years now.

Your idea that deterministic ideologies (including religious ones) suffer from an arbitrary selection of a starting point from which they...

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Jul. 12, 2014 @ 17:36 GMT
Hi Rick,

Please allow me to reply starting from the end. Though I know it is the normative view, I am not one who believes that science is morally neutral. That is, an objective morality never argues that the end justifies the means under any circumstances -- science as an objective, rationalist enterprise has many means of reaching moral ends, yet a rationalist is compelled to view ends...

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John Brodix Merryman wrote on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 03:16 GMT
Rick, Tom,

If I may join in, I would like to start by considering several concepts mentioned; Ideals, thermodynamics and self organization.

First off, I think the concept of ideals has to be examined. Essentially it is a set of desired characteristics. The problem is the extent to which desired is subjective. What is good for the fox, is bad for the chicken. While we like to hope...

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 04:03 GMT
Looking at the various religious conflicts openly flaring in the Middle East and brewing elsewhere, I would also like to comment that the grander the utopian vision, the more rigid the management structures which seem to emerge from them.

One views one's own mountain top as closer to the heavens than any other and cooperation with even closely related versions of the vision is viewed as heresy by the particularly closed minded sorts who find comfort in such solidly structured systems. They then become less a mountain top and more a vortex, as the gravitational feedback overwhelms all else.

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 15:12 GMT
John,

We've talked previously about the monetary system and have broad agreement on the problem. What I don't understand, is your logically contradictory solution: " ... in order to really direct the future of society, you need to rewrite the code by which it functions at a basic level, not expect to govern it directly." If there were a universal code, an algorithm, by which past and...

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 19:02 GMT
Tom,

I'm not talking universal code, but a cultural one.

Think for a moment what assumptions come to mind when I say 'commodity;' acquire, use, morally neutral.

Now what comes to mind when I say 'contract;' balance, obligations, rights, moral responsibility.

We, society, think of those pieces of paper, or cards in our wallets, as a commodity, something which we...

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Lawrence B Crowell wrote on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 15:14 GMT
Why do I get this sense that this is a preliminary announcement of the winners?

The essay question was for me disappointing at first. I did manage to come up with what I thought was an interesting twist on the question.

The main problem with this is that we are no more able to see our future or steer it than we ever have been. The following little clip about what fashions of the year 2000 would be like from the year 1939 illustrates this some. You don’t see people ordinarily dressed this way, even though it is somewhat on the mark with how celebrity women dress or with intimate dressing. History is filled with those who had great visions of how humanity should be organized, and their biggest contribution to their future is to take up real estate with their graves.

At best we can say that our species is very good at exploiting its environment. We are masters at being able to remove constraints upon us and increase the positive feedback of energy and material in our direction. The unfortunate result is that we are the ultimate terminator species that converts everything into garbage. We are on an exponential trend in this direction. Where it goes is a bit hard to see, but we are probably running into the ultimate limit of exhausting our environment and terminating our life support system on this planet. Whether we can work around that is anyone’s guess.

LC

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 16:16 GMT
Lawrence, I think you have succinctly illustrated why historicism is a poor to useless predictor of future events.

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Jeffrey Michael Schmitz replied on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 13:47 GMT
Lawrence,

I thought some of the essays that were off topic were the most interesting. There was one essay that linked thermodynamics with economics that I thought was impressive in that it fit with the topic and had a totally new perspective. I did not have time to read all the essays. I am interested in what the winning essay looks like. As for steering the future, I think caveman had more power to steer the future than we do today.

Jeff

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 16:05 GMT
Hello Tom,

Again an interesting take: though I have not heard it stated that way, I completely agree with you that science, in order to remain rational must maintain moral ends. I suppose the problem arises when the pursuit of a good end causes unintended and bad consequences. Examples are legion- we can’t seem to get out of the world of Greek tragedy. Another problem might be distinguishing what exactly those rational ends are given that every actor using science for the purpose of power will try to present themselves as seeking just ends.

Perhaps I have misunderstood Tegmark. My understanding was that the Mathematical Universe was the biggest Russian doll of the multiverse theories containing all the others including multiverse theories at the classical and quantum levels which are far from rectified. If he has a non-deterministic theory of human action I do not find it in a developed form- at least in his book.

“For Utopia to be a rational ideal in a multiverse of possibilities, we have only to see that utopia -- as a mathematically complete model of sustained cooperation built on physical self organization at every scale....”

I love this!

Rick

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John R. Cox replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 16:18 GMT
Rick,

yer sounen chust a bit lak une autzider tume me, nahw. Gude fvenzes mak guden neighbors yah? Longst evyboden cuts der mustard soen it dasn spred en joke oucher own cropen daten yer neighbor. jrc

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 16:28 GMT
John C,

Your Pennsylvania Dutch is impeccable. Autzider, ya.

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 19:29 GMT
Rick, thanks -- I think our ideas intersect in important ways.

"I suppose the problem arises when the pursuit of a good end causes unintended and bad consequences."

Yes, I agree. That's why I assign the same meaning to "rational" and "good." While what one personally considers good may not be rational, the rational good is always the objective good. Then the means of the...

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 16:22 GMT
Hello John,

“First off, I think the concept of ideals has to be examined. Essentially it is a set of desired characteristics. The problem is the extent to which desired is subjective. What is good for the fox, is bad for the chicken. While we like to hope for utopia in the abstract, the reality is that while casting the dichotomy of good and bad as a cosmic dual between the forces of righteousness and evil is a useful narrative device, the fact is they are the elemental biological binary code of attraction to the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental. And there is no clear line where the chicken ends and the fox begins, as not just shades of grey, but all the colors of the spectrum exist between black and white. The fact is the spiritual absolute would necessarily be the source from which we rise, not an ideal from which we fell.”

I’ve been looking at the history of utopia broadly defined (covering both religious and secular aspects) as research for a book. I really started out as a skeptic of the idea of utopia, but the more I looked, the less crazy or dangerous the idea seemed. What I saw was that the idea of utopia was a sort of unfolding of human moral consciousness or the discovery of rational ways of living. Sometimes there are intellectual attempts to jump over the very subjective relativism as to moral ends you identify hence the lions lying down with the lambs or pain Abolitionists such as the philosopher David Pearce today.

But you are right, competition between sentient creatures always stands in the way and upends these attempts. Yet though we know this as the eventual outcome progress is made by continually moving towards a shore we will never reach.

I really like your use of plate tectonics as a way of understanding human society. In a similar vein you might enjoy this piece I wrote a while back:

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2013/06/05/capitalism-evolu
tion-and-the-attack-of-the-giant-fungus/

Rick

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 18:36 GMT
Rick,

Thanks and I will get around to reading that.

The point I think needs to be made is not that utopia is naive or wrong, but that it is an aspect of a deeper cycle of expansion and consolidation.

Ancient cultures had the shaman and the chieftain roles, which correspond to religion and government. One is the vision and the other is the management. Visionaries are normally poor managers and good managers are more about keeping everything moving in a forward direction, even when the direction seems cloudy.

A society needs to have some cohesive sense of itself, whether moving forward, growing in place, or withstanding the elements, otherwise it will come apart. So there has to be some wholistic sense of hope.

The problem now is that humanity has become so successful at overcoming all obstacles, we are to the point of being our worst problem. The response now has to be to look inward and try to clean up our act. While we are naturally loath to do such housecleaning, occasionally the time comes when it has to be done and one of those times is fast approaching.

Regards,

John M

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 02:22 GMT
John,

Let me restate your argument in a way that makes sense to me. To the extent this restatement diverges from your view please let me know...

We are in a situation where the financial sector has become disconnected from the real economy and this disconnection leads to boom and bust cycles including the "infection" of other economies with the inflationary bias of the advanced economies. Addressing both of these concerns is a way to a more sustainable future for everyone.

If this is close to your view, then here are my thoughts:

It seems to me that there might be emerging natural barriers to continued economic growth in the advanced economies. This has been the situation in Japan for a generation and is now the condition in Europe. Central banks are fighting this "new normal" through loose currencies but all this is doing is creating a larger gap between the financial sector and the actual economy. Even Japan is in on the inflationary game now with "Abe-nomics".

It would seem the best thing to do would just get used to a level of maturity and low growth. Such a plateau would actually be good for long term sustainability. The problem I see is once again the developing world where the growth dynamic is natural and not finance driven. Where is their natural plateau and can the earth sustain them reaching it?

Rick

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John R. Cox replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 03:09 GMT
John M. and Rick,

I think you are correct in the macro economic sense. It has seemed to me that the epoch of corporate capitalism that really got going in Europe five to six hundred years ago with the newly minted concept of Zero discovered by Chinese mathematicians only about 800 years ago, and which made compounding interest relatively easy, has run its course. (Show me how to compute compound interest using Roman Numerals!) The Medici and subsequent Dutch Masters had discovered 'small is not good for making money out of money', and the corporate model was intentionally designed to concentrate wealth to have an advantage to compete to go global. It succeeded in producing technological globalism, eventually, but doesn't have a model for what to do once being global.

My worry is that the population explosion in sub-tropical countries is creating megacities cheek by jowl, and in the not to distant future we could see a return to an era of warring city states like that of post-Roman Italian principalities, but with high tech weaponry. That's another reason this fabricated conflict between U.S.-E.U. and Russia is a dangerous Cold War hang-over.

Good night, jrc

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 16:34 GMT
Lawrence,

"Why do I get this sense that this is a preliminary announcement of the winners?"

Oh, I wouldn't take it that way. I did a write up at the IEET and Zeeya linked to it. Nothing more.

I share your pessimism, but you must agree that we have choices to make? In terms of climate, existential risks, development of technology. Whether we have the will to make them, or can gather up the capacity is the real open question.

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Lawrence B Crowell replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 17:16 GMT
I think this little video what we are goes pretty far in explaining a lot.

Here is the thing about choice. If every elementary event is the reduction of a quantum state, or apparent observation of such, then all possible outcomes exist. In this MWI perspective all probabilities exist, but we just happen to observe one of them as they occur. In fact so many are occurring every second that we are not aware of them. However, this means that each of us exists in a vast number of lifelines, and indeed we have a sort of quantum immortality as a result. Consequently, all of our choices are just probable outcomes, and all other outcomes also exist. Consequently if we face nuclear Armageddon tomorrow, well most worldliness managed to avoid this. This is just as our current worldline avoided a nuclear war in October 1962 over missiles in Cuba. Others of us who were born before then faced a grim world, and doubtless none of us born after then exist in any of those worldlines. So in the end it appears that what ever outcome we observe we really do not choose it so much as it happens by accident. If we should end up in a climate maelstrom of ruin before long, then I suppose we also exist on other worldlines where before around 2000 we took a serious grip of the climate bull by the horns.

I make a brief reference to this in my essay.

LC

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 18:32 GMT
" ... if we face nuclear Armageddon tomorrow, well most worldliness managed to avoid this."

How does one know? Perhaps all wordlines include nuclear Armageddon, or none do.

Historicism is no predictor. In any form.

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 19:20 GMT
Lawrence and Tom,

Your view of past and future in multiverse theories is what I see as well. But these theories aren't scientific fact yet, and perhaps could never be even if they were at root true- they maybe outside the realm of scientifically discernible truth. Although I think it's necessary to take them seriously as scientific hypothesizes it's quite premature use them to understand meaning, or its absence, or history.

I agree with Tom that what happened in the past cannot be extrapolated to give one a view of the future. "History doesn't repeat, it rhymes".

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 19:30 GMT
"History doesn't repeat, it rhymes".

Nice!

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 02:21 GMT
Tom,

In response to your prior comment:

"Yes, I agree. That's why I assign the same meaning to "rational" and "good." While what one personally considers good may not be rational, the rational good is always the objective good."

I think this is spot on and a hold roughly the same view.

"If the MU is the set of all sets that is not a member of itself, we have no hope of comprehending it."

That's an interesting take that I'm not sure Tegmark addresses. If I understand the MUH there are a not infinite but very large number of universes that are each distinct mathematical structures, but there's not a lot of discussion, at least as far as I can remember, on the set of all possible universes. His idea is meant to be hopeful in terms of our quest for knowledge in that even though we can't physically observer these universe we can get an idea of what they might look like through inductive reasoning.

Thanks for you excellent clarifications of determinism in physics- both classical and quantum- very helpful and thought provoking!

Rick

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 09:47 GMT
Rick,

Nobel was noble; he was not an utopist. I see you and many others as sinner against humanity (in the sense of mankind) in good company. Pope Franciskus the first recently blamed in particular Europe for its shrinking size of population.

Those whose strive for profit need economic growth which means selling as many "goods" as possible to a hopefully going on to rapidly rise population of Christian, Muslim, or other costumers on which their power rests.

We have a saying: "Little sins are immediately punished by God." Indeed, the pope's nation's soccer team was defeated. ;-)

More seriously, I maintain that ethics must be subordinated below the premise that, from the perspective of mankind, avoidance of serious risks in time has the highest priority. Don't feel it a destructive attack on your institute. I am just suggesting permanently analyzing; to what extent seemingly eternal ethical principles are still appropriate from the perspective of mankind as a whole?

Eckard

Eckard

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 11:15 GMT
Hello Eckard,

I will try to clarify. I do not represent the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology, I am merely a member of it. The IEET has a diversity of thinkers, but one of their primary concerns is existential or catastrophic risks to humanity, and I share that concern.I would like to address one statement of yours, however, directly. You said:

"I maintain that ethics must be subordinated below the premise that, from the perspective of mankind, avoidance of serious risks in time has the highest priority."

I think this is dangerous. One can always argue that one is violating ethical principles to "save" mankind. Ted Kaczynski (the Unibomber) did this, the totalitarian movements did this. It is precisely the unpredictability of the future that makes ethical principles a better guide to action than acting in the name of humanity or anything else.

Rick

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 12:07 GMT
Well said, Rick. No rationalist can successfully argue that the end justifies the means.

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Eckard Blumschein replied on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 22:34 GMT
Rick, Tom,

I understand your arguments, and in a discussion in connection with my last essay I criticized Bertrand Russell's suggestion of a preventive atomic war against where I lived. Nonetheless I disagree.

While I don't deny the hypothetical value of consequently respecting ethical principles, I suggest Alfred Nobel's legacy might guide us to a more appropriate perspective. He did never claim saving mankind. When I read such phrase in an essay, I was amused.

Instead of condemning glorification of those who killed people, today exactly 100 years after the begin of WWI veterans of both sides were honored in Paris instead of blaming the irresponsibility of those who were responsible for non-obedience of rationality and the belonging ethic principles. As usual in the history of wars the hawks were no rationalists but failed for revisionism, nationalism, or religious reasons.

Rationalism did not justify WWI; nobody had something to defend. Even the winners lost too much.

It's irrational belief, in particular of religious parties that justifies the means with their purpose.

Shouldn't a foundational question institute take a rational, i.e. responsible point of view, even if Malthus-bashing seems to be more profitable to a minority?

Eckard

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 23:38 GMT
Eckard,

I don't want to speak for Tom, but I think he would agree as well that the First World War was irrational. Or perhaps I should clarify, the war may have started as instrumentally rational to the states that launched it under what proved to be the false assumptions that the war would be short and easy. It became instrumentally irrational when it should have been clear that whatever victory could be had was in no sense worth the human and economic cost, yet the war was ALWAYS irrational in the sense that deeper rationality seeks a morally coherent world in which war would play little if any place.

It's not always purely irrational fanaticism religious or other wise that threatens us. See the recent book by Paul Erikson et al "How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality" for an example.

Rick

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John C Hodge wrote on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 15:56 GMT
Lawrence Crowell and THR:

“The unfortunate result is that we are the ultimate terminator species that converts everything into garbage.” History is instructive to compare (a scientific method) the failed and successful societies sustainability of environmental resources. I like Jared Diamond’s “Collapse: how societies choose to fail of succeed”. I particularly like his notes on Japan’s forest management. Societies have sustained themselves for thousands of years with limited resources.

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 20:46 GMT
John H,

You may well know of this, but the classic book on the subject of organic farming in Japan isOne Straw Revolution, by MasanobuFukuoka.

Regards,

John M

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Jason Mark Wolfe replied on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 03:11 GMT
I suspect that in a million years, our garbage and sewerage will be turned to dust. If humans are still around, they'll probably be low tech theocracies, dictatorships and some democracies. Human population will probably reach some equilibrium of about 500 million. Industries and corporations will be a thing of the distant past. In the absence of some revolutionary technology that takes us to the stars, the only other place we can go is back to religion, back to the old ways. If there are space-faring aliens, then we'll probably go with them. If not, then we'll probably slip back into our old habits. The Abrahamic religions might outlive everything else.

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John C Hodge wrote on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 15:59 GMT
The essays Rick Searle has chosen fail to satisfy the “Evaluation Criteria” parameters of the contest – each in their own way.

I think the statement “Many of these changes have been difficult to predict or control—but not all.” and the idea of a foundational question implies the essay is seeking the method interpretation of “How” rather than the direction interpretation.

Lastly, I think the question is beautifully and fundamentally (few words) crafted to ask physics and physics philosophy to contribute to humanity beyond the obvious. However, the question seems to have invited fortunetellers and environmental conservationists to predict the future.

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 16:26 GMT
JCH,

I like the work of Jared Diamond and find his historical method informative as well. As to Evaluation Criteria- this was not my call to make. I assumed if they were in the contest they met the criteria as those holding the contest deemed fit. It seemed right and good if essays were available here they should be available elsewhere as well. I did openly state that the essays I discussed were the ones I personally found the most interesting and that there were many, others to read besides.

Rick

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 02:47 GMT
John M,

"Each person, each generation, each age, has its tasks and obstacles. The ones our generation must deal with are to change course from a philosophy of growth that has served humanity from time immemorial, to one of stability and balance. From; 'Go forth and multiply,' to; "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.'"

I completely agree with this assertion, but in the attempt to get really smart people at FQXi such as yourself out in force on these sorts of questions: the problem is the developing world. We have billions of people with a just desire to join the middle class.How do we manage this while not completely destroying the environment? Are people seriously doing the numbers? How much energy we will need etc? What are the upper limits? For example, I've read that in order to just move forward at a growth rate of 2.3% we'd have to encase every star in the galaxy with Dyson spheres within 2,500 years.

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2014/02/16/the-earths-inex
plicable-solitude/

I would love for physicists to tease out numbers such as these and see what they imply regarding our long term future.

Rick

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Robert H McEachern replied on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 13:18 GMT
"the problem is the developing world."

A problem (Ponzi scheme) that we created, for our benefit.

"I would love for physicists to tease out numbers such as these and see what they imply..."

Here is one such number to think about: 1%.

Like most of the people associated with this web-site, I am in the top 1% of the world's population, as far as any "reasoned" measure of being "well-off" is concerned.

Is this because we are "really smart people at FQXI"? Or is it because we, and our progenitors, just happened to be lucky enough to get in early, on a global Ponzi scheme?

"a philosophy of growth that has served humanity"

Actually, it has only ever served a small fraction of humanity. The remainder have been the servants.

Rob McEachern

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 15:26 GMT
Rick,

I don't seem to have much luck getting many people to follow the logic of my essay, but one of the basic conclusions is that social organisms mirror many of the functions of the biology of their members. In that while government functions as the central nervous system of the society, finance is very much the circulation system. So when one society effectively highjacks the monetary medium of another, in order to extract value from it, it really is little different than seizing members of that society to use as slaves.

Since the result siphons large amounts of value out of these subservient societies, as well as the environments in which they live, it is a massive cause of the environmental and social destruction occurring around the world.

Given the difficulty in getting members of FQXI to even recognize, as Robert does, this dynamic, it would seem even more difficult to consider the many add on effects caused by this. But if we really do want to try steering humanity towards a more sustainable future, it is one very large and obvious issue to be addressed.

Then there might be a greater sense of equilibrium in which other issues might be more objectively considered.

Regards,

John M

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Eckard Blumschein replied on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 19:01 GMT
"developing world... for our benefit" - on condition WE take a perspective that is different from that of mankind.

Eckard

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John C Hodge wrote on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 18:13 GMT
JMW on Jul. 16, 2014 @ 03:11 GMT

I expected several more essays to make the point(s) you make during the essay contest. Only one, A. M. Kadin “Just Too Many People” suggested a much-reduced population. The only method that mankind has found is to butcher people in a genocide such as in Rwanda. Nature has diseases that flourish in dense populations. Past societies have achieved...

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 02:02 GMT
JCH,

"The only method that mankind has found is to butcher people in a genocide such as in Rwanda."

Well, this has been true until it was no longer true, which is now. Populations are declining in Japan, China, South Korea, Europe, Russia, and Iran and in none of these places is this decline accounted for by mass murder.High fertility rates are a consequence of agricultural societies + low mortality- the shift to urban/industrial societies is doing Malthus' work without any need for bloodshed.

I am a huge fan of Joseph Tainter -

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2013/03/10/immortal-jellyfish-a
nd-the-collapse-of-civilization/

But his point was that collapse isn't necessarily bad, it's just reorganization at a lower and more sustainable level of complexity. If you do believe such a reorganization is necessary, my question is how do you see us getting from here to there in a way that minimizing the suffering of human beings and preserves what is best from our culture?

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 02:26 GMT
Oh, one more thing:

"Humanity is limited to the Earth for the next thousand years at least."

This sound like "fortune telling" to me. We can make a pretty good guess about our movement beyond earth over the next few decades, but none of us have a good enough crystal ball to baldly predict the next millennium.

Rick

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Eckard Blumschein replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 04:11 GMT
"War and famine are nature’s corrective mechanisms". I blame not just the pope and Boku Haram as sinners against humanity because responsibility for mankind requires substitutes as to maintain peace and sustainability. Their irrationality fits to profitable economic growth.

I am surprised Iran's population is declining. Dictionaries mention in 1951 19.1 in 1976 33.6, and in 2014 80.8 millions. Iran's supreme leader has recently called for a population increase, in an edict likely to restrict access to contraception. I supported Kadin, and I would like to add that the increase of demand follows after the increase of birth rate with a delay of decades.

In all, I reiterate the corollary (9) of my essay: Globally ideal direction (in the sense of Nobel) faces resistance.

Eckard Blumschein

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 01:45 GMT
Robert,

"Actually, it has only ever served a small fraction of humanity. The remainder have been the servants."

In the sense that the overwhelming majority of people work for wages whereas a small minority own the capital, yes. But do you not think that modern life is much better in aggregate than anything that came before? One simply has to look at statistics on longevity, violent death, death from contagious diseases, famine to see that progress has been general over the long duree rather than limited only to elites. And I say this acknowledging the levels of inequality are obscene and rising and something we need to deal with.

How can we exit the ponzi scheme while leaving the gains intact?

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Robert H McEachern replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 13:13 GMT
A typical wage earner in the U.S, makes about 100 times the wages of a person working in an isolated, rural community in the third world. It's not just wages versus capital.

About 90% of the increase in longevity, comes from simple improvements in sanitation. It was never hard to do. Most people just never knew how important is was to do it. It is rather instructive, to observe how long...

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 13:42 GMT
Robert,

"About 90% of the increase in longevity, comes from simple improvements in sanitation. It was never hard to do. Most people just never knew how important is was to do it."

I agree with this- which is why I think extending these improvements in the developing world is so important. I simply do not find population to be as troubling as you do- the rate of population growth is slowing and we can expect this to be the case everywhere once urbanization has played out. The key for me is making this urban world sustainable and its living conditions human.

"...the Physics World might learn something from archaeologists. The latter no longer excavate an entire site, because they have come to realize that their own personal career achievements, are less important than the rest of humanity. They know that future generations will have better technology and knowledge, to do the same work that they might presently do, but with higher benefit and lower cost, if it were to be done in the future."

I love this. I suppose the problem is choosing which projects should be done now in order to maintain progress otherwise we'd delay everything with the thought that it will be cheaper in the future and progress itself might seize up.

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Robert H McEachern replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 16:38 GMT
"I suppose the problem is choosing which projects should be done now..."

You suppose correctly. It is all about (multi-generational) balance; the very thing evolution tends to optimize.

"I simply do not find population to be as troubling as you..."

Possibly because you are more partial to the human condition, as opposed to the condition of other species, than I am. Multi-Species balance is also required. The task before us, is to make it desired.

Rob McEachern

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Akinbo Ojo wrote on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 08:54 GMT
May I just make a comment, although ethics may not be a physical science. Why is it that poor immigrants are being turned back at the US border but the highly skilled in athletics or science and those that have financial capital are being lured and enticed with special visas to enter the US from those same poor countries? You bet if there was someone at that US-Mexican border with a very rare skill the border will be thrown open. Is it ethical to share in someone's success and avoid the person's failures? Will such attitude make those poor countries even poorer or richer? Half of the trained doctors in developed countries have emigrated to the developed countries to the extent that most hospital visitors either get to see an Indian, Pakistani or Nigerian doctor. The result is that life expectancy is low in developing countries and high in the developed countries.

If all factors of economics must become borderless, capital moves across borders, entrepreneurship moves across borders, information moves across borders, why is labor made restrictive in its movement? I am for a borderless society. Call it Utopia if you want.

Regards,

Akinbo

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John C Hodge replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 17:45 GMT
I suggest part of the topic of this contest was how can science influence ethics?

I, also, am for a borderless society. It is not Utopia. Such was the condition in the early US. I think the only freedom people can truly have is the ability to vote with their feet – to move.

The problem as noted by Friedman (and Keynes too I think although I’m hard pressed for the reference) is that our society’s support services that are paid by productive citizens are being spent to support the poor immigrants. Such payment is then reducing the support for education, etc for their own children. Note the recent interview on TV from Masschutes (I think). The more skilled immigrants can contribute to society. Of course they are welcome.

If you could support a program that requires the immigrants to become productive and taxpaying or to remove the taxing for social support, you would have my vote. But given the situation, the immigrants are unwelcome.

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 18:49 GMT
JCH and Akinbo,

The current situation with children on the US border is tragic. These kids are refugees from gang wars in Central America and should on that account be extended the traditional rights of refugees.

Open borders, however, is another question. JCH is right that US immigration was once open, but he’s incorrect when it comes to why we were able to have open borders in the past and not now. The reason isn’t welfare, but the frontier- the US used to have so much free land it literally gave it away (how’s that for welfare?) Thus, migration pressures could be relieved by people moving West.

Internal migration (within the US) is very different from open borders. The problem, once again is inequality between societies. Even though there are wide differences between US states they are nowhere near differences between countries. Only when conditions between countries are at some parity could you have truly open borders without causing extreme disturbances and shocks in the recipient country which it may not be able to absorb, A fact that makes possible forced migrations from climate change a very scary prospect indeed.

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 17:52 GMT
Robert,

"Possibly because you are more partial to the human condition, as opposed to the condition of other species, than I am. Multi-Species balance is also required. The task before us, is to make it desired."

The best way to help the rest of nature is to raise the status of human beings and concentrate our impact in the cities. Places where there is generally wealth find it possible to preserve and enjoy the environment.A decline of human sprawl and inefficient farming means that much of the world can be re-wilded.

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Robert H McEachern replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 21:05 GMT
"The best way to help the rest of nature is to raise the status of human beings and concentrate our impact in the cities"

That has been precisely our strategy, since cities were first formed, 10,000 years ago.

It has not worked, as far as "the rest of nature" is concerned. Time for a change.

Rob McEachern

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 21:22 GMT
Robert,

We only crossed the 51% urban mark over the last couple of years. For the majority of our history we have been dispersed and had an extended impact on the natural environment. Even hunter gatherers reshaped the landscape in radical ways. There is reason to believe that the American Great Plains and the Bison herds that greeted Europeans were the product of massive and deliberate burning of forests.So, no urbanism hasn't been tried yet and if we do it right we could give the majority of the earth's surface back to the wild.

Rick

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Robert H McEachern replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 23:45 GMT
"hunter gatherers reshaped the landscape in radical ways. There is reason to believe that the American Great Plains and the Bison herds... "

Hunter gathers lived in that landscape. Sustainably. For thousands of years. Then the Urban dwellers came. To exterminate the bison. Systematically wiped-out millions of bison. In just a few years. In order to wipe-out the hunter gatherers themselves. By obliterating the environment they depended on.

So no, urban dwellers are not the saviors of the environment.

Read Gilgemesh. The oldest surviving literature. Builder of the great city walls of Uruk. Five thousand years ago. First great exploit: Kill the protector of the great forest. All for fame and glory. From the city dwellers.

So no, urban dwellers are not the saviors of the environment.

The environment was never in need of being saved. Until the urban dwellers came. And began to kill all the protectors of the forests.

So no, urban dwellers are not the saviors of the environment.

Rob McEachern

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John Brodix Merryman wrote on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 19:13 GMT
Rick,

Economics and how monetary systems are used to manipulate it are important factors and I tend to bring them up because people are willing to discuss them, but I think there are far deeper issues which will eventually have to be addressed. Some of which I hinted at in my entry.

We are often creatures of habit and these are as much functions of our assumptions, as our needs,...

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 21:16 GMT
John M,

Thanks for the clarification of your views.

"We all see things from different points of view and there is no purely objective frame of reference. What we think of as objectivity, especially in the western mind, is simply abstraction to the point of nebulousness. Such as dimensionless points, lines and planes, overlooking the fact that basic math argues they don't exist. Even...

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 02:35 GMT
Rick,

I certainly agree we all want to smooth some of the more rough edges of life. I think though, that in order to do that, we need to better understand reality, including that which we find objectionable.

Several of the ideas I've mentioned a fair number of people do have objections too, such as a bottom up spirituality, including good and bad as elemental biological binary...

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 19:32 GMT
John M,

I re-read your essay. I really liked this:

"This is the immediate crux of our current problem; How do we maintain levels of social complexity, all of which insist on multiplying and creating conflicting interests. Otherwise known as the Tower of Babel syndrome.

The current panacea is supposed to be the burgeoning information and technology

industries, yet it speeds up the processes, rather then resolving the underlaying conflicts. Our ability to overwhelm our finite environment has become more efficient and implacable. While we progress linearly, nature responds non-linearly."

I don't think I fully grasp your proposal. Are you suggesting we adopt an alternative to money? If so, what should that be?

I'd also be interested to know your thought on how money has become digital and how this relates to "speeding up the process". Also your thoughts on this:

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2012/08/10/pandemonium-king
dom-of-the-quants-1/

We may be saying very similar things only in vastly different keys.

Rick

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John C Hodge wrote on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 03:14 GMT
My objection of an open border is TAX based. The support of the immigrants depends on taxes. A relatively open border existed until the 1930s(When did the limitations become burdensome? But it wasn’t too long ago.) excluding disease and criminals. Church or family voluntarily funded the immigrating people.

Most of the southern immigrants are catholic. The church is supporting some (few?). Why is the church asking non-Catholics to pay for their members? Why don’t people who support the immigrants pay and support them?

If taxes were not used, I would prefer open borders except for disease and criminals. The people are voting with their feet.

I think Tainter is suggesting less complexity not necessarily smaller. A nation along my suggestion would provide the simplicity while maintaining larger size. Japan’s history (Diamond’s “Collapse”) shows how it can be done which is a stepping off point for my essay.

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 11:09 GMT
JCH,

If you mean "Taxes" as in money for access to social services then that doesn't make sense. The immigrant unemployment rate is 8.1% the same as for the rest of Americans. Indeed, they have come here to find work that pays well relative to their home country, so it wouldn't make much sense to come here and not work. An illegal immigrant would be less not more likely than an American citizen to use social services because they do not want to draw attention to themselves.If you're worried about taxes not being paid, they certainly pay sales tax which in many states is a major source of revenue and wouldn't pay property taxes in any case because they don't own any (illegals that is).

If you're looking for tax evaders you should go after people with actual money such as Apple that paid zero effective taxes last year.

Granted, that less complexity does not mean smaller. Indeed, one can go from a very large structure to an as dispersed but less complex network. The middle ages did this they went from the Roman Empire to what we call the Catholic Church.

Rick

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John C Hodge wrote on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 15:29 GMT
Rick

The children and others in the detention centers are not paying taxes. Should we close the detention centers and release the people onto the streets? Maybe that is what the government should do. These people will need support until they become taxpayers. The church and other volunteers will have to step up.

Yes, I know some of the illegal immigrants are paying taxes from payroll deduction with little chance of collecting. But there are others getting society’s social benefits without the tax. So, trying to make laws in a one size-fits-all mode is damaging. Opening the borders and releasing the immigrants to find their own way is the way. Certainly, the humanitarian element would object.

I think the Roman Empire collapsed rather than reorganized. The population declined and knowledge was lost for over a thousand years. That is, the complexity was reduced by becoming much smaller. The challenge is to reorganize from complexity to simplicity WITHOUT LOOSING POPULATION AND KNOWLEDGE

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 18, 2014 @ 17:55 GMT
JCH,

There has been a right of refuge since the middle ages and we should continue to adhere to that right. If you were being hunted in your own country for your political views or the safety of your own children were in jeopardy you would certainly ask other to grant you the same right. This is what civilized countries do.

"But there are others getting society’s social benefits without the tax."

Okay, but what does this really matter. My taxes go to a lot of things I don't support, but I have to pay them anyway. I personally am only offended when people don't pay their fair share - I do not care that the poor do not pay taxes or the elderly, disabled etc. I do care that the rich avoid paying through loop holes and tax havens, that is our real revenue problem.

To convince me of your position you need hard numbers not just assertions that immigrants aren't paying taxes and are milking public services. Where are your numbers?

"I think the Roman Empire collapsed rather than reorganized. The population declined and knowledge was lost for over a thousand years. That is, the complexity was reduced by becoming much smaller. The challenge is to reorganize from complexity to simplicity WITHOUT LOOSING POPULATION AND KNOWLEDGE."

Tainter, as I recall thought of the "dark ages" as a reorganization. Did population actually fall or just population density? In any case, they preserved what knowledge they could and also managed to extend at least some elements of it, Latin etc, in to areas not formerly integrated into the Roman Civilization- that is deep into western Europe and the British Isles setting the stage for an era of complexity, knowledge and population even greater than that under Rome.

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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 19, 2014 @ 02:39 GMT
Robert,

"Almost all parasites do that."

"If they did not, they would exterminate their own food supply; not a good survival strategy."

Agreed, but is there any other species that deliberately protects another that is of no reproductive/survival value? That very fact should give you hope that we will ultimately be wise enough not to destroy ourselves by destroying the rest of nature. We are smarter than Cyanobacteria in The Great Dying. Your very argument proves that.

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Robert H McEachern replied on Jul. 19, 2014 @ 14:37 GMT
We are indeed a lot smarter.

But going back to my original post, about the nature of reason, being rational only gets you so far. One cannot prove a premise.

If we had more empathy, we would not have to be taught the reasons. We would not have to keep trying to teach people that you ought to, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

I do have hope. All we have to do is give back some of the living space we took from others. There is only one sure-fire way to do that, without having to first take it away from other humans - voluntary population reduction. Hopefully, we will be smart enough to adopt that premise. That premise cannot be proven. But one can learn to empathize with it.

Rob McEachern

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 19, 2014 @ 16:12 GMT
Robert,

I agree with you in this sense: there is no way we can environmentally sustain current population levels, especially if one assumes Western patterns of consumption are to be gradually adopted globally.

Thankfully, in my view, the decline in population growth levels appears to be already happening in east Asia, Europe, Russia, and even to an extent North America. Where we differ perhaps is merely on the matter of the mechanism of decline. We ae thus less far apart than it may seem.

All the best,

Rick Searle

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Thomas Howard Ray replied on Jul. 21, 2014 @ 16:04 GMT
" ... being rational only gets you so far. One cannot prove a premise."

Rob, I think you confuse formal logic with rationalism. Two different things:

Logic -- mathematical or philosophical logic -- operates on the assumption that true statements derive from a set of axioms; nothing can be shown true outside of the set. Godel showed, however, that true statements are guaranteed to exist independent of any set of axioms. No axiom set is strong enough to prove its own existence.

A rationalist may use logic; however, rationalism is not identical to logic. A rationalist is concerned with the correspondence between a true statement and an event. For example, Newton's gravity demonstrates that the same force governs an object in free fall whether an apple near the Earth or the moon far from it. Logic alone would not get that far, as the application of Aristotelian logic would show. Rationalism extends as far as science itself -- science is a wholly rationalist enterprise.

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Jul. 20, 2014 @ 03:55 GMT
Hi Rick,

After reading your essay for the first time tonight, I'm prompted to share some comments from Pete Seeger here, putting the industrial revolution in perspective. I'll paraphrase, a bit, for brevity.

"The agricultural revolution took thousands of years. The industrial revolution took hundreds of years. Now the information revolution is taking decades, but if we use our brains there is a revolution that must come - if humanity is to survive. I call it the non-violent revolution, and some have called it the love revolution or the willingness to communicate revolution..."

He goes on to say that if this does take place, maybe our grandchildren will be around in the 22nd century to tell the story, on the album "At 89" Track 30. I was lucky to convince Pete to leave the entire recorded comment in, in a phone conversation, after he had already given the producer David Bernz instructions to edit his words for brevity. In my opinion, none of them were expendable.

Regards,

Jonathan

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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on Jul. 20, 2014 @ 04:21 GMT
I'll go on to tell you...

Pete Seeger had quite a lot to say on the subject of utopian ideals and how to avoid dystopia. I got to hear some of it from him personally, but there is a fair amount of his wisdom preserved. He told me the story of how his father had always been happy go lucky, but became terrified late in life by the destructive power unlocked by Science - and placed in the hands of despotic world leaders (printed in 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone' pp. 282-283). But Mr. Seeger said he thought his dad was wrong to feel that way.

Pete was more upbeat than his dad, about Science, but he insisted that I need to remind the scientists I encounter (I was headed to FFP10 that day) that they should work to assure their discoveries are used for the good of mankind. Pete believed that we need to learn more still, if we are going to solve today's problems, and that Science is likely to yield solutions much more quickly than politics. He had a lot of useful and practical ideas about how humanity can avoid dystopia, as well as a fair amount of utopian idealism, so I'm glad I got to spend some time with him.

All the Best,

Jonathan

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Member Rick Searle replied on Jul. 21, 2014 @ 17:58 GMT
Jonathan,

Ah, Pete Seeger. Back in January right after he passed away I put a playlist of his songs together and spent the next month listening to it on a pretty regular basis. At some point it struck me, that, if there’s still something recognizably human around in a few centuries hence that many of Seeger’s songs, such as “Flowers” or songs he had made his own since “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream” or wisdom he had put to song like “Turn, Turn, Turn” will be some of the few pieces of popular music that will still make sense, that he was reaching out and touching truths about the human condition that are as true in their own way as the truths of mathematics. In my view this demand that we live up to our own deeply held ideas, not as an individual so much as how we chose to structure our society, and no matter how much social forces try to impress upon us the idea that things could not be different ,is what being a utopian means, and therefore Pete Seeger belongs to the utopians.

Rick

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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on Jul. 21, 2014 @ 21:23 GMT
Thanks Rick, for your kind reply.

I think that a lot of Pete's music has that enduring quality, where the message will still be relevant for years to come. But I think the most inspiring thing about Pete was that he walked the talk. When there was work to be done, he would pick up a hammer, saw, or axe - to pitch in - and would often do more work than people half his age. Not only that; he was an especially careful and accurate worker, who paid attention to details, and did the job well. So for me; his legacy is somewhat of a challenge for all of us to be willing to put in some time and effort personally, to make the world a better place.

I think it's about individuals taking the responsibility to do some things themselves, rather than only rallying in support of change, or contributing to worthy causes - and otherwise being uninvolved. So in that regard; Pete is a tough act to follow.

All the Best,

Jonathan

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