Monday, March 14, 2011

The Gold Standard Oil for Complexity

Global Warming! That explains the earthquakes. I wonder if anyone who would know how to do it has calculated the shift in tectonic pressures caused by rising sea levels. Or the damming of the Yangtze or the lowering of the water level in the underground sea which waters our oil-glutted agriculture. Or the loss of shock and heat absorption from sucking out the oil, or or.

We do know that building in enough complexity, the way it's done with nuclear powerplants which can fail even when it's statistically near impossible for that many systems to fail at once, pretty much assures disaster according to how much is riding on it.

We do know that when there's a choice to play against the fates, we always take it. It's a moral imperative, such as when there's a medical test which causes little harm but might reveal something wrong that should be fixed. And there has to be a really really big lottery pay-off before we throw in our lot with the roulette wheel.

Whatever our economic arrangements or the ideologies behind them, we seem to have found an effective way to balance efforts such that more and more cars can run and people can eat and have potable water. Tall buildings get built, and good writers write and thinkers think even though there's always all that hand-wringing about ain't it awful and things are going to hell in a handbasket.

One ought to render amazement where amazement's due. Broadly speaking, something very similar to what people think when they think capitalism has got the globe in its grip. And it works pretty well. Except for the problem with limited resources and complexity which we seem capable to build beyond our ability to stay on top of it. And then we wish we'd left things where we'd found them.

No one of us, individually, wants to push our earth to its edge. But collectively, that's how all our individual desires get rendered. There will be blood.

Increasingly, our desires can be translated to energy costs. Money and oil are fungible, except that oil has come so freely and easily that we have been allowed to spend it almost without any thought. And in the expenditure, we ourselves, conscious humans, have become the equivalent of that asteroid which caused the extinction of the otherwise robust dinosaurs.

It turned out that the universe of dinosaurs was nowhere near diverse enough to have a branch which fitted to a new niche in the cataclysmically shifting environment. Well, maybe the feathered sort, but it was the warm-blooded mammals which evolved through the asteroid winter and the rest, as they say, is history.

No scientist will touch the asteroid story as having any cosmic significance except for its representation of random processes. Stuff happens, and thankfully there must be other pockets of life in the infinite cosmos.

But such an event is surely significant for its formative nature relative to us. No consciousness without it. Which leaves the goddists a loophole big enough to drive a civilization through. But for the scientific community, there's nothing left to chance. To assign meaning of the sort I mean to the random happenings of the cosmos would be to abdicate any responsibility at all.

Fools rush in!

Aside from global warming, our contemporary economy makes it very difficult to credit those chance events which, were we honest, have made each of us who we are. It would be a dronish person indeed whose every personal triumph was planned and prepared for. Who never took an accidental opportunity when it was on offer. But the jobs to be filled call for precisely such drones: people whose enthusiasms have been properly channeled since birth. Without credentials and experience, no-one need apply.

Who did we marry, what happenstance allowed us to take the job or career which has kept us going our whole life long? Even though now I couldn't even dream of applying for jobs I once successfully accomplished, because I never did have the proper resume in the first place. And I'm too old to go back to school for it. Which would be humiliating anyhow since I'd already know most of what my callow classmates were only beginning to understand.

Ah, the indignity of chance's being closed out!!

This is not good. It makes us brittle. And so accidents will or must happen to shuffle us up and redistribute the efforts so that random types can take over responsibilities for which they are manifestly under-qualified. That's how consciousness advances, at least by analogy to evolution. Which is a stretch, but still. I don't think we should all be held in jobs by fear. I don't think we should buy the argument that we're collectively broke, when there's never been so much wealth by any measure.

I don't know how consciousness works, but I'm satisfied that I wouldn't have any if it weren't for the collective sort. I know it makes no sense to say that my consciousness is "in" my brain, and more than it makes sense to say that the meaning of words is in them. These words, these tools, bind me to my fellow man. They crystallize or not according to sense and style and how they guide desires.

I have no trouble allowing that my mind is not so much bounded as centered, and that qua Dennett, the I that is me is a fictional abstraction at the center of my emotive gravity. Were I not cared for, I surely wouldn't exist. And were I not somewhat abused, I'd have no safe compartment into which to pour my standby self, the emergency self-sufficiency generator which runs on rationality. Were I more abused I'd be a drone. I'd be a machine. I'd have no feelings.

Collectively now we render up our rationality, or so we suppose it is, to a collective irrational howl into the blankness of space and it would seem to end there. Nothing propagates in nothingness.

But for the repose of random, which is nothing other from the innering of patterns originated elsewhere from my conscious or our collective conscious desires. Random means other-ordering, not meaninglessness. Meaningless is suicide. Meaningless is pushing emotion out of the cosmos by supposing that only human minds can feel it. Other minds, not earthly, can feel it too, and they already know the accidents in our future. That's what intention means.

But this is stuff and nonsense and not worthy to be written down. I'll grant that. It's free.


John said...

Thankfully animals have feelings too.

On the other hand, attendees at the recent South by Southwest conference pledged to not purchase the new iPad and donate the money to tsunami victims instead.

One feels sympathy for both the recipients and the donors, no?

Lex said...

. . . and I feel sympathy for the yacht owners. Sort-of.