Difference between revisions of "Gods or Goats - David Jennings"

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"We are as gods and ''have'' to get good at it," says Stewart Brand, the self-styled eco-pragmatist.<ref>''Whole Earth Discipline'' Atlantic Books, 2009</ref> Planet Craft, as he calls it, involves choosing among potential geo-engineering levers and pulleys, which could buy us some time to rethink our way of life before billions of homeless climate refugees change it for us. Actually, it's not a question of levers and pulleys; it's more aerosols in the upper atmosphere and making the clouds over the ocean shinier so that they reflect light and absorb less heat. Still, this is a classic Newtonian clockwork view of a universe that we can keep running smoothly with some judicious hacking of our planet's physics and governance.
  
Author: [http://alchemi.co.uk/ David Jennings]<br />
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Do you feel like a god? No, me neither. Do presidents and prime ministers feel like gods? No? Then what about Branson or Gates, the oligarchs and the world's many secret billionaires? Some of them may have the means - like Bond villains - to undertake unilateral geo-engineering projects with global consequences.
Body of article: 880 words (yes, I know: I will cut it, this is a draft)<br />
 
Discussion page for this essay: [[Talk:TheFWD_davidjennings]]
 
  
= Gods, Fools and Goats: Learning our place in the world =
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Such gods as these are fallible and potentially vengeful, closer to those of Greek and Norse myth than to the kind to whom all hearts are open and all desires known. As individuals, they are prone to well-documented psychological biases - biases that no amount of study or reprogramming can reliably unlearn.<ref>"I still don’t understand... why I often succumb to well-documented psychological biases, even though I’m acutely aware of these biases" David Buss, Professor of Psychology http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2009/10/david-buss-overcoming-irrationality.html</ref>
  
== I ==
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With that in mind, you can see why scientist, Gaia theorist and planet hacker James Lovelock suggested, "We are as incapable of saving the planet as a goat is of being a gardener."<ref>
 +
http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2009/10/does-copenhagen-matter/</ref>
  
<blockquote>
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One problem is that it's hard for us to imagine our collective behaviour getting less dysfunctional without us becoming individually smarter and more god-like. The one does not necessarily follow from the other.
"We are as gods and HAVE to get good at it" Stewart Brand <ref>
 
''Whole Earth Discipline'' Atlantic Books, 2009
 
</ref> <br />
 
"I still don’t understand... why I often succumb to well-documented psychological biases, even though I’m acutely aware of these biases" David Buss, Professor of Psychology<ref>
 
http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2009/10/david-buss-overcoming-irrationality.html
 
</ref>
 
</blockquote>
 
  
Stewart Brand is a self-styled ecopragmatist. If rolling up our sleeves and tinkering with the forces that regulate life on earth might save us from war and famine, we'd better get on and learn how to do it. Become masters of our destiny. David Buss has devoted his career to studying how, individually and collectively, we remain locked into behaviour patterns that we know are dysfunctional. Yet even he  can't find ways to unlearn these patterns. So we're gods, and fools. Can they both be right?
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Kurt Vonnegut understood that in his post-collapse parable ''Galápagos'', "Human brains back [before the collapse] had become such copious and irresponsible generators of suggestions as to what might be done with life, that they made acting for the benefit of future generations seem like one of many arbitrary games which might be played by narrow enthusiasts - like poker or polo or the bond market, or the writing of science fiction novels..."<ref>''Galápagos'', Jonathan Cape, 1985</ref> Fortunately, natural selection, after the collapse, favours those who can swim best, with streamlined heads and thus smaller brains.
  
The final chapter of Stuart Brand's ''Whole Earth Discipline'' is called Planet Craft. It's a quick tour of potential geo-engineering levers and pulleys that could buy us some time to rethink our way of life before billions of homeless climate refugees change it for us. Actually it's not levers and pulleys: it's more like aerosols in the upper atmosphere and making the clouds over the ocean shinier so that they reflect light and absorb less heat. Still, this is a classic Newtonian clockwork view of a universe that we can keep running smoothly with some judicious, godlike tweaking.
+
Our science and engineering do not have to go back to the Dark Ages (though that would be one way of reducing their carbon footprint). Massive data sensing and number crunching may be cornerstones of astute Planet Craft, yet mastery of this craft may not be the preserve either of an elite of technocratic magi or of a new super-smart citizenry.
  
Do you feel like a god? No, me neither. Do presidents and prime ministers feel like gods? No? Then what about Branson, Gates, Buffett, the oligarchs and the world's many secret billionaires? Some of them may have the means unilaterally to undertake geo-engineering projects with global consequences - like Bond villains of old. Like Bond villains, their psychological tics and vanities may be more extreme versions of our everyday biases. And these may ultimately be their undoing.
+
In terms of simple capacity, and maybe raw processing power, we actually passed "peak brain" tens of thousands of years ago. But we've been able to evolve smaller, more efficient brains by externalising intelligence in our tools, words and the design of our habitats - and in each other.
  
The gods they/we are remain fallible and vengeful, closer to those of Greek and Norse myth than the kind to whom all hearts are open and all desires known.
+
Being as gods doesn't mean evolving into Master Craftsmen of planets, but evolution in a different direction. A direction where, like brain cells, we are individually not all that smart, but our patterns of "activation" describe a grander intelligence - one which neutralises our individual biases. Could it be that being collectively as gods, we are individually as goats?
  
== II ==
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The secret to realising how we may be as gods is to understand that this is not the same "we" that we are used to. The frame of our collective cognition and action has to change. Long Now thinking encourages us to think in longer time frames.<ref>http://www.longnow.org/about/</ref> We need a Connected We that encourages us to think in wider relationships.
  
<blockquote>
+
As with the contributions to this book, the wisdom and mastery that gives us power is to be found in the links between us, not in the individual nodes.
"Human brains back then had become such copious and irresponsible generators of suggestions as to what might be done with life, that they made acting for the benefit of future generations seem like one of many arbitrary games which might be played by narrow enthusiasts - like poker or polo or the bond market, or the writing of science fiction novels..." Kurt Vonnegut <ref>
 
''Galapagos'', Jonathan Cape, 1985.
 
</ref>
 
</blockquote>
 
  
Planet Craft sounds like something you might learn at a vocational college, topped up through a work placement or apprenticeship.
+
<references/>
 
 
We have to get good at it. Hold the question of who this "we" is, for a moment. What does it mean to "get good at" something? The way we talk about learning is almost always focused on achieving mastery.
 
 
 
When a furniture maker learns to craft a piece of wood, she must learn a degre of humility: when to work with the grain. Planet Craft will require a different order of humility.
 
  
What if it requires us to put aside the very thing that we think has led us to the limited understandings of the planet that guide our craft - our individual intellects, and the sense of mastery and agency that they give us?
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[[Category:TheFWD]]
 
 
The solution to our dilemmas probably doesn't lie in evolving bigger brains. In the spirit of Vonnegut's ''Galapagos'', can we entertain the idea that throwing ever more analytical brainpower and a wider variety of creative solutions - ''pace'' my fellow contributors, and indeed myself - may not be the way out?
 
 
 
In terms of simple capacity, and maybe raw power, we actually passed "peak brain" tens of thousands of years ago. But we've been able to evolve smaller, more efficient brains by externalising intelligence in our tools, words and the design of our habitats.
 
 
 
Cognition comes with constraints. What if, for us collectively to become as gods - and get good at it - we need individually to become as fools? Or at least to live in a fuller, closer relationship with our foolishness, as well as the wisdom that's engraved in our environment.
 
 
 
== III ==
 
 
 
<blockquote>
 
“We are as incapable of saving the planet as a goat is of being a gardener” James Lovelock <ref>
 
http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2009/10/does-copenhagen-matter/
 
</ref>
 
</blockquote>
 
 
 
As and when things get bad enough for us to have to take geo-engineering options seriously, perforce we will learn some important things about who "we" are. The we that deserve a future, the we who become as gods. That lesson will come through finding out what governance and what risk profile we are willing to accept for these godlike acts.
 
 
 
As experiments go, this one's going to bring a whole host of political, environmental and philosophical chickens home to roost. Like our place in nature. This engineering will show us the limits of engineering. Pursuing the cognitive path will teach us the limits of cognition.
 
 
 
To go along with Long Now thinking, and the Big Here, let's create the Encompassing We. As goats we may never master gardening, but we just may come to recognise our goatness and embrace the complementary contributions of our fellow inhabitants in the garden.
 
 
 
<references/>
 

Latest revision as of 17:12, 11 March 2013

"We are as gods and have to get good at it," says Stewart Brand, the self-styled eco-pragmatist.[1] Planet Craft, as he calls it, involves choosing among potential geo-engineering levers and pulleys, which could buy us some time to rethink our way of life before billions of homeless climate refugees change it for us. Actually, it's not a question of levers and pulleys; it's more aerosols in the upper atmosphere and making the clouds over the ocean shinier so that they reflect light and absorb less heat. Still, this is a classic Newtonian clockwork view of a universe that we can keep running smoothly with some judicious hacking of our planet's physics and governance.

Do you feel like a god? No, me neither. Do presidents and prime ministers feel like gods? No? Then what about Branson or Gates, the oligarchs and the world's many secret billionaires? Some of them may have the means - like Bond villains - to undertake unilateral geo-engineering projects with global consequences.

Such gods as these are fallible and potentially vengeful, closer to those of Greek and Norse myth than to the kind to whom all hearts are open and all desires known. As individuals, they are prone to well-documented psychological biases - biases that no amount of study or reprogramming can reliably unlearn.[2]

With that in mind, you can see why scientist, Gaia theorist and planet hacker James Lovelock suggested, "We are as incapable of saving the planet as a goat is of being a gardener."[3]

One problem is that it's hard for us to imagine our collective behaviour getting less dysfunctional without us becoming individually smarter and more god-like. The one does not necessarily follow from the other.

Kurt Vonnegut understood that in his post-collapse parable Galápagos, "Human brains back [before the collapse] had become such copious and irresponsible generators of suggestions as to what might be done with life, that they made acting for the benefit of future generations seem like one of many arbitrary games which might be played by narrow enthusiasts - like poker or polo or the bond market, or the writing of science fiction novels..."[4] Fortunately, natural selection, after the collapse, favours those who can swim best, with streamlined heads and thus smaller brains.

Our science and engineering do not have to go back to the Dark Ages (though that would be one way of reducing their carbon footprint). Massive data sensing and number crunching may be cornerstones of astute Planet Craft, yet mastery of this craft may not be the preserve either of an elite of technocratic magi or of a new super-smart citizenry.

In terms of simple capacity, and maybe raw processing power, we actually passed "peak brain" tens of thousands of years ago. But we've been able to evolve smaller, more efficient brains by externalising intelligence in our tools, words and the design of our habitats - and in each other.

Being as gods doesn't mean evolving into Master Craftsmen of planets, but evolution in a different direction. A direction where, like brain cells, we are individually not all that smart, but our patterns of "activation" describe a grander intelligence - one which neutralises our individual biases. Could it be that being collectively as gods, we are individually as goats?

The secret to realising how we may be as gods is to understand that this is not the same "we" that we are used to. The frame of our collective cognition and action has to change. Long Now thinking encourages us to think in longer time frames.[5] We need a Connected We that encourages us to think in wider relationships.

As with the contributions to this book, the wisdom and mastery that gives us power is to be found in the links between us, not in the individual nodes.

  1. Whole Earth Discipline Atlantic Books, 2009
  2. "I still don’t understand... why I often succumb to well-documented psychological biases, even though I’m acutely aware of these biases" David Buss, Professor of Psychology http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2009/10/david-buss-overcoming-irrationality.html
  3. http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2009/10/does-copenhagen-matter/
  4. Galápagos, Jonathan Cape, 1985
  5. http://www.longnow.org/about/