Home » Posts tagged 'ugo bardi'

Tag Archives: ugo bardi

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

9/11, the Coup that Failed. The Role of the Memesphere

9/11, the Coup that Failed. The Role of the Memesphere

Octavianus Augustus Caesar (63 BC – 14 AD). Perhaps the most successful leader in history, he didn’t just become the absolute ruler of the Roman State, but took over the role of the highest religious authority (the “Pontifex Maximum”) and transformed himself into a living deity. Turning a democracy into a dictatorship is a pattern that was repeated many times in history, but that was not always successful. It was the case of the 9/11 attacks that did not lead to an absolute dictatorship in the United States. Here, I argue that it was because of the different structure of the memesphere in the 21st century.

In 30 BC, Octavianus, later to be known as “Augustus Caesar,” defeated his remaining competitors for the control of the Roman state, Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra, and took the title of “Augustus,” the absolute ruler of the Empire. The most fascinating element of this story is how Octavianus established the pattern of how a successful leader takes over the government and concentrates all power on himself. The recipe goes as follows:
  1. Obtain sufficient funds for the task
  2. Build up support among the poor and the disgruntled.
  3. Enlist your supporters in a para-military or military organization.
  4. Obtain a high-level government position using a mixture of intimidation and legal means.
  5. Exploit a dramatic event to scare everyone and obtain special emergency powers.
  6. Never relinquish your emergency powers, but always increase them.
This is what Augustus did: his money came initially from the inheritance he obtained from his grand-uncle, Julius Caesar, but surely also from the support of high-level people who wanted tight control of the Roman State. He used the money to acquire a military force that he used to intimidate the Senate and defeat his competitors…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Age of Exterminations: Who Will be Next Victims? 

The Age of Exterminations: Who Will be Next Victims?

Detail from the book, “England’s grievance discovered…” by Ralph Gardiner, 1655. Note, on the right, the scene described in the text as, “Witchfinder takes his money for his work.” The book was written when the witch-hunting age was already in decline and it emphasized how killing witches was good business for the hunters.

If you think of the story of the witch hunts of the 16th-17th century in Europe, you may be under the impression that the typical witch was an old hag living in a hut at the margins of the village, alone with a black cat.

But no, that wasn’t the case. Maybe this kind of marginal people were occasionally killed for being witches, but they were not the usual victims. In reality, witch hunting had a strong monetary component and it was often carried out with a view on making a profit on the confiscation of the assets of the victims. They were not poor and destitute women but, rather, members of the growing mercantile class in Europe.

The profit-making facet of witch hunting has been often ignored by historians, but it is being reappraised and highlighted in recent times, for instance by Johannes Dillinger (2021) and by Shmakov and Petrov (2018). Both articles are highly suggested and provide a remarkable wealth of data about the financial mechanism that led to witch hunts: in short, there was no (or very little) witch hunting where the government didn’t allow the assets of the victims to be confiscated. Killing witches, then, was just one of the many forms of legalized robbery in history,

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Change: What is the Worst that can Happen?

Climate Change: What is the Worst that can Happen?

A Brontotherium, a creature similar to modern rhinos that lived up to some 35  million years ago in a climate that was about 10 degrees centigrade hotter than ours. In this scene, we see a grassy plain, but Earth was mostly forested. We may be moving toward similar conditions, although it is not obvious that humans could fare as well as Brontotheria did, at that time (image from BBC).

As it should have been predictable, the IPCC 6th assessment report, sank to the bottom of the memesphere like a dead weight after just a few days of presence in the news. Put simply, nobody is interested in sacrificing anything to reverse the warming trend and, most likely, nothing will be done.

So, what’s going to happen? Technological innovation offers the hope to mitigate the pressure on climate, but we may well have passed the point of non-return and be in free fall toward an unknown world. The question can be frame as “what’s the worst thing that can happen?” Here, we enter a domain where models can’t help us too much. Complex systems — and Earth’s climate is one — tend to be stable, but they change rapidly and unpredictably when they are not stable anymore. So, the best we can do is to imagine scenarios based on what we know, using the past as a guide.

Let’s assume that humans keep burning fossil fuels for a few more decades, maybe slowing down, but still bent at burning everything burnable. The atmosphere keeps warming, the ocean does that, too. Then, at some point, the system goes kinetic and undergoes a rapid transition to a condition compatible with the high concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Collapse of Scientism and the Rebirth of Science

The Collapse of Scientism and the Rebirth of Science

The oldest image (1228-1229) we have of Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226). Not a portrait, but probably not far from the real aspect of Francis. He engaged in a bold attempt to reform the corrupt Catholic Church in Europe. He failed, but he left a trace in history from which we can still learn much. In our times, the corrupt organization that we need to reform is Science, turned now into a state ideology to oppress people and destroy nature. Maybe we need a new St. Francis to reform it, or maybe it needs to be dismantled and rebuilt from scratch in a new structure. Here, I discuss this story and I also reproduce a post by Luisella Chiavenuto (a little long, but worth reading) who has perfectly understood the situation and proposes that what we call “science of complexity” is a completely new kind of science, different from the old Galilean version.

With the turn of the 2nd millennium in Europe, the Catholic Church had gone through the involution that’s typical of all large organizations. It had become huge, bureaucratic, corrupt, and inefficient. A once idealistic and pure organization had been defeated by the arch-corrupter of everything human: money.

Earlier on, Europe had emerged out of the collapse of the Roman Empire as a lean, non-monetized society that had no impulse to grow and conquer outside lands. But the re-monetization of Europe started when rich silver mines were found in Eastern Europe with the turn of the millennium.

At that time, Europe was bubbling with a new wealth, a new assertiveness, a new way of seeing the world. Once you have money, you can have an army. Once you have an army, you can search for enemies…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Human Stupidity Explained: A Study Published on the Scientific Journal “Systems”

Human Stupidity Explained: A Study Published on the Scientific Journal “Systems”

The original representation (1976) of the four “quadrants of stupidity” according to Carlo M. Cipolla. Clockwise from the top left quadrant: the behavior of hapless, intelligent, bandits, and stupid people. According to Cipolla, stupid people are the most dangerous people in the world.

We (myself and Ilaria Perissi) just published a new study on human stupidity in the scientific journal Systems. It is an open-access paper and you can download it for free at this link. I had already announced this paper in a post this April as a preliminary version published on ArXiv. Now, it is a regular paper appearing in a regular journal.

Among other things, I can tell you that the experience of publishing this paper has been interesting (in the sense of the ancient Chinese malediction: may you live in interesting times!). It highlighted one of the many problems of the current system of scientific publishing: when you try to publish something that crosses the boundaries of established fields, you find yourself blocked by reviewers who find that it is their sacred duty to prevent your insults against orthodoxy from seeing the light of the day. But let me not harp on this.

So, what is the point of our paper? The paper is written in a light mood, but I think it makes an interesting point: what is the reason for human stupidity?

Let me explain: we all know that we are surrounded by stupidity: it truly pervades everything (the recent example of the end of the occupation of Afghanistan is just one of the many). This point had already been noted in the 1970s by Carlo Cipolla, an enlightened economist and historian. Cipolla had proposed “five laws of stupidity.”…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Lev Tolstoy on Afghanistan: “It Happened Because it had to Happen”

Lev Tolstoy on Afghanistan: “It Happened Because it had to Happen”

When an apple has ripened and falls, why does it fall? Because of its attraction to the earth, because its stalk withers, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing below wants to eat it? Nothing is the cause. All this is only the coincidence of conditions in which all vital organic and elemental events occur. (Lev Tolstoy, “War and Peace”)

Excuse me if I return to the Afghanistan story. I don’t claim to be an expert in international politics, but if what happened is the result of the actions of “experts”, then it is safe to say that it is better to ignore them and look for our own explanations.

So, I proposed an interpretation of the Afghan disaster in a recent post of mine, together with a report on the story of how the oil reserves of the region of the Caspian Sea were enormously overestimated starting with the 1980s. Some people understood my views as meaning that I proposed that crude oil was the cause of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. No, I didn’t mean that. Not any more than the story of the “butterfly effect” means that a butterfly can actually cause a hurricane — of course it would make no sense.

What I am saying is a completely different concept: a butterfly (or dreams of immense oil reserves) are just triggers for events that have a certain potential to happen. Take a temperature difference between the water surface and the air and a hurricane can happen: it is a thermodynamic potential. Take a military industry that makes money on war, and a war can take place: it is a financial potential. A hurricane and a military lobby are not so different in terms of being complex adaptive systems.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Consensus Building: an art that we are losing. The Case of Climate Science

Consensus Building: an art that we are losing. The Case of Climate Science

In 1956, Arthur C. Clarke wrote “The Forgotten Enemy,” a science fiction story that dealt with the return of the ice age (image source). Surely it was not Clarke’s best story, but it may have been the first written on that subject by a well-known author. Several other sci-fi authors examined the same theme, but that does not mean that, at that time, there was a scientific consensus on global cooling. It just means that a consensus on global warming was obtained only later, in the 1980s. But which mechanisms were used to obtain this consensus? And why is it that, nowadays, it seems to be impossible to attain consensus on anything? This post is a discussion on this subject that uses climate science as an example.

You may remember how, in 2017, during the Trump presidency, there briefly floated in the media the idea to stage a debate on climate change in the form of a “red team vs. blue team” encounter between orthodox climate scientists and their opponents. Climate scientists were horrified at the idea. They were especially appalled at the military implications of the “red vs. blue” idea that hinted at how the debate could have been organized. From the government side, then, it was quickly realized that in a fair scientific debate their side had no chances. So, the debate never took place and it is good that it didn’t. Maybe those who proposed it were well intentioned (or maybe not), but in any case it would have degenerated into a fight and just created confusion.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

The Truth About Décolletages: an Epistemic Analysis

The Truth About Décolletages: an Epistemic Analysis

This image represents the rape of Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess. It was 
probably made during the 5th century BCE (Presently at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Napoli, 2422). Note the partial nakedness of the figure of Cassandra: for the ancient female breasts did not have the erotic meaning that they have nowadays for us. Instead, it was a typical convention that when a woman was shown with fully or partly bare breasts, it was to be understood that she was in distress. Cassandra’s rape scene was almost always represented in this way, but it is not the only example. It is not easy for us to understand why our perception of this anatomic feature of human females has changed so much, but is not impossible to propose reasonable hypotheses. In this post, you’ll read about one of these hypotheses from the book “The Empty Sea” (Springer 2020) by Ugo Bardi and Ilaria Perissi. But I’ll start with some epistemological considerations.

Science is supposed to tell us what things really are. But is it true? In recent times, the prestige of science seems to be declining for various good reasons. An example: in his “Red Earth, White Lies,” Vine Deloria, Jr. starts with a citation from the 1973 series by Jacob Bronowski, “The Ascent of Man.

“Why are the Lapps white? Man began with a dark skin; the sunlight makes vitamin D . . . in the North, man needs to let in all the sunlight there is to make enough vitamin D and natural selection therefore favoured those with whiter skins.”

Deloria notes that “Lapps may have whiter skins than Africans, but they do not run around naked to absorb the sunlight’s vitamin D.” From this, he says that “my faith in science decreased geometrically over the years.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

When the Ice Will be Gone: The Greatest Change Seen on Earth in 30 Million Years.

When the Ice Will be Gone: The Greatest Change Seen on Earth in 30 Million Years.

An image from the 2006 movie “The Meltdown,” the second of the “Ice Ages” series. These movies attempted to present a picture of Earth during the Pleistocene. Of course, they were not supposed to be paleontology classes, but they did show the megafauna of the time (mammoths, sabertooth tigers, and others) and the persistent ice, as you see in the figure. The plot of “The Meltdown” was based on a real event: the breakdown of the ice dam that kept the Lake Agassiz bonded inside the great glaciers of the Laurentide, in the North American continent. When the dam broke, some 15,000 years ago, the lake flowed into the sea in a giant flood that changed Earth’s climate for more than a thousand years. So, the concept of ice ages as related to climate change is penetrating the human memesphere. It is strange that it is happening just when the human activity is pushing the ecosystem back to a pre-glacial period. If it happens, it will be the greatest change seen on Earth in 30 million years

We all know that there is permanent ice at Earth’s poles: it forms glaciers and it covers huge areas of the sea. But is it there by chance, or is it functional in some way to Earth’s ecosphere?

Perhaps the first to ask this question was James Lovelock, the proposer (together with Lynn Margulis) of the concept of “Gaia” — the name for the great holobiont that regulates the planetary ecosystem. Lovelock has always been a creative person and in his book “Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth”  (1979) he reversed the conventional view of ice as a negative entity. Instead, he proposed that the permanent ice at the poles was part of the planetary homeostasis, actually optimizing the functioning of the ecosphere.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Afghanistan: The Twilight of the Global Empire

Afghanistan: The Twilight of the Global Empire

Afghanistan: a ragged blot of land more or less at the center of the mass of Eurasia and Africa. Over a couple of centuries, it repelled invasions from the largest empires in modern history: Britain, the Soviet Union, and now the United States. Not for nothing, Afghanistan is called the “Graveyard of Empires.” It is possible to make an educated guess on what led the United States to invade Afghanistan in 2001 (oil, what else?), but now the time of expansion is over for the Global Empire. We are entering the twilight zone that all empires tend to reach and maintain for a short time before their final collapse.

In 117 AD, Emperor Trajan died after having expanded the Roman Empire to the largest extension it would ever have. It was a major disaster: the coffers of the state were nearly empty, the production of the mines was in decline, the army was overstretched and undermanned, unrest was brewing in some of the provinces. Trajan’s successor, Hadrian, did his best to salvage the situation. He abandoned the territories that could not be kept, quelled the internal unrest, directed the remaining resources to build fortification at the borders of the Empire. It was a successful strategy and the result was about one century of “Pax Romana.” It was the twilight of the Roman Empire, a century or so of relative peace that preceded the final descent.

Empires in history tend to follow similar paths. Not that empires are intelligent, they are nearly pure virtual holobionts and they tend to react to perturbations only by trying to maintain their internal homeostasis. In other words, they have little or no capability to plan for the future…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Collapse of Science: We Need a new Paradigm for the Third Millennium

The Collapse of Science: We Need a new Paradigm for the Third Millennium

I am not saying that all science is corrupt, but if images like the one above exist, it means that there is a serious problem of corruption in science. And note that it comes from “Scientific American” — not exactly your average tabloid! It may well be that Science is going the way many historical belief systems went: abandoned because they were not consistent with the needs of their times. And, as in ancient times, the decline of a system of beliefs starts with the corruption of its clerics — in this case, scientists.

If you read the “Decameron,” written by Giovanni Boccaccio in 1370, you will notice the slandering of the Christian Church as a pervasive thread. At that time, it seems that it was an obvious fact that priests, monks, and the like were corrupt people who had abandoned their ideals to fall into various sins, including avarice, gluttony, blasphemy, and carnal lust.

Boccaccio’s book would not have been possible a few centuries before, when the Christian Church still enjoyed enormous prestige. But something had changed in the European society that was gradually making the Church obsolete. It was unavoidable: ideas, just like empires, are cyclical, they grow, peak, and then decline.

Christianity had been born during the late Roman Empire when the European society had no use for the warlike ideals of ancient paganism. Christianity took over and created a system of beliefs that was compatible with a society that had no imperial ambitions. But, with the waning of the Middle Ages, Europe became rich again and the Church started to be seen as an obstacle to economic and military expansion. It would take more than a century after Boccaccio before things came to a head when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg in 1517.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Who is the Emperor of the World? The New Age of Epistemic Dominance

Who is the Emperor of the World? The New Age of Epistemic Dominance

King Kamehameha 1st of Hawai’i (1736 – 1819) practiced the art of gift-giving during his reign, as it is typical of kings and rulers. It is remembered  that he said, “E ‘oni wale no ‘oukou i ku’u pono ‘a’ole e pau.” “Endless is the good that I have given to you to enjoy.” In our times Google seems to have taken the same attitude: it gives us gifts in the form of free data. In view of the concept of “epistemic coup” proposed by Shoshana Zuboff, Google is rapidly becoming the Epistemic Emperor of the world.

In Roman times, it was a good thing to be the Emperor: you had gold, palaces, women, slaves, and lots of privileges, including the power to put anyone to death. Emperors were supposed to be semi-divine creatures, enthroned by the Gods themselves but, in practice, they would soon become balding old men (if they survived to old age, not easy given the competition). So, why would anyone obey them?

Not a difficult question to answer. The Roman Emperors practiced a game that all rulers practice. It is called “gift-giving.” It is part of the concept of sharing: something deeply embedded in the nature of human beings, ultimately a manifestation of empathy among humans.

Sharing naturally creates social bonds that generate the hierarchical patterns that allow society to structure itself. In a harmonious society, the leaders govern without the need for force. They rule by their prestige, in turn obtained by judicious use of gift-giving to develop social bonds. Of course, societies are never perfect and, in the real world, governance is a combination of positive and negative enhancements: the carrot and the stick. But the carrot is way more effective than the stick: for a leader, a live follower is much more useful than a dead enemy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Change and Resource Depletion. Which Way to Ruin is Faster?

Climate Change and Resource Depletion. Which Way to Ruin is Faster?

What could bring down the industrial civilization? Would it be global warming (fire) or resource depletion (ice)? At present, it may well be that depletion is hitting us faster. But, in the long run, global warming may hit us much harder. Maybe the fall of our civilization will be Fire AND ice.
The years after World War 2 saw perhaps the fastest expansion and the greatest prosperity in history for humankind. Yet, it was becoming clear that it was exactly this burst of prosperity and expansion that was creating the conditions for its own collapse. How long could humankind continue growing an economy based on limited natural resources? How long could the human population keep increasing?
The discussion soon split into two main lines: one focused on depletion, the other on pollution. Over the years, the “depletionists” concentrated on fossil fuels, the main source of energy that keeps civilization moving. Initially, the disappearance of fossil fuels was seen simply as a necessary step in the progression toward nuclear energy. But the waning of the nuclear idea generated the idea that the lack of fossil energy would eventually bring down civilization. The collapse was often seen as the result of “peak oil,” the point in time when oil production couldn’t be increased anymore. It was estimated to occur at some moment during the first 2-3 decades of the 21st century.
On the other side, the focus was initially on pollutants such as smog, heavy metals, carcinogenic substances, and others. Pollution was generally seen as a solvable problem and, indeed, good progress was done in abating it in many fields. But the emerging idea of global warming soon started to be seen by “climatists” as an existential threat to humankind, or even to the whole planetary ecosystem…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Dust thou art, and unto Dust shalt thou return. The Collapse of Concrete Buildings

Dust thou art, and unto Dust shalt thou return. The Collapse of Concrete Buildings

We don’t know yet what could be the causes of the recent collapse of the condo building in Surfside, Florida. But it is likely that the corrosion of the reinforced concrete was one of the main reasons that weakened the structure of the building. It is a subject that I described in one of the chapter of my book “Before the Collapse” (Springer 2018) that turns out to have been timely and, unfortunately, also prophetic. We may see many more of these collapses in the future

Extract from Chapter 3.1 of “Before the Collapse” (2019) by Ugo Bardi 

In the late morning of August 14, 2018, I was busy writing this book when I happened to open my browser. There, I saw the images of the collapse of the Morandi bridge, in Genoa, almost in real time. It was a major disaster: the bridge used to carry more than 25 million vehicles per year and it was a vital commercial link between Italy and Southern France. When it collapsed, it not only took with it the lives of 43 people who were crossing it, but it was nothing less than a stroke for the Italian highway system, forcing the traffic from and to France to take a long detour. It will take years before a new bridge can be built and the economic damage has been incalculable.

How could it happen that the engineers who took care of the maintenance of the highway could not predict and contrast the collapse of such an important structure? Much was said in the debate that followed about incompetence or corruption. Perhaps the fact that maintenance of the highway was handed over to a profit-making company was a recipe for disaster: profit-maximizing may well have led to cutting corners in the maintenance tasks…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Stereocene: The Future of  Earth’s Ecosystem

Stereocene: The Future of  Earth’s Ecosystem

During the “golden age” of science fiction, a popular theme was that of silicon-based life. Above, you can see a depiction of a silicon creature described by Stanley Weinbaum in his “A Martian Odyssey” of 1934. The creature was endowed with a metabolism that would make it “breathe” metallic silicon, oxidizing it to silicon dioxide, hence it would excrete silica bricks: truly a solid-state creature. It is hard to think of an environment where such a creature could evolve, surely not on Mars as we know it today. But, here, on Earth, some kind of silicon-based metabolism seems to have evolved during the past decades. We call it “photovoltaics.” Some reflections of mine on how this metabolism could evolve in the future are reported below, where I argue that this new metabolic system could usher a new geological era which we might call “Stereocene”, the era of solid-state devices.
An abridged version of a paper published in 2016 in 
“Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality”
The history of the earth system is normally described in terms of a series of time subdivisions defined by discrete (or “punctuated”) stratigraphic changes in the geological record, mainly in terms of biotic composition (Aunger 2007ab). The most recent of these subdivisions is the proposed “Anthropocene,” a term related to the strong perturbation of the ecosystem created by human activity. The starting date of the Anthropocene is not yet officially established, but it is normally identified with the start of the large-scale combustion of fossil carbon compounds stored in the earth’s crust (“fossil fuels”) on the part of the human industrial system…
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase