I have the pleasure of introducing a new contributor to The Rubber Wall:
-El Hombre Nuevo-
Human Destiny and the Truth About Oil
Oil has allowed the greatest economic expansion in all of human history. Our blind dependence upon it might cause the greatest economic collapse in all of human history. Walking the fine balance of irony is part of what it means to be human. If the human brain were a claw, it would be 10 feet long, razor sharp and impossibly nimble. It’s a good thing we have this ‘claw’ because compared with other animals we are not well suited to survival. We are weak, slow, blind, soft and lack sharp implements in our jaws or on our limbs. In the past we learned to build spears, plant crops, and weave fabrics. We learned we could pump a certain black substance out of the Earth, set it on fire and greatly improve our standard of living by doing so. It’s been a great ride but we now need to use our cranial Swiss Army knife to arrange for the next energy disaster. We will be caught with our pants down. The first step to take to prevent this disaster is to gain a proper understanding of the ideas and concepts involved. I hear so many ignorant comments on the subject that it is clear a better understanding is needed.
Price Determines Supply. The Bronze Age did not end for lack of bronze, and the Oil Age will not end for lack of oil. We will never run out of oil. If you are willing to pay $50 per gallon for gas, it will always be available. I hear so many people ask “when will we run out of oil?” The real question should be “when will we run out of oil that can be obtained at a price people are willing to pay?” Our goal here is to determine the magic threshold point. Below this point (price), people are willing to pay. Above this point, people will say ‘screw it.’ Are people willing to pay $5 per gallon? Experience suggests that we are. The Europeans have been paying this price for some time now. However, relative to North America, cars in Europe are small and efficient, ownership rates are low, and distances traveled are short. Would North Americans be willing to pay $5 per gallon? Maybe. We could adopt smaller cars and use more public transportation, but nothing will change the fact that North America is huge and the distances traveled are vast.
The problem with trying to peg down this threshold price is that it is not fixed in stone. It is a moving target. My car gets 30 mpg. At this level, would I be willing to pay $5 per gallon? Basically, no. I would not sell my car, but I would not drive it more than once a week or so (I am lucky, I can walk to work). If my car got 60 miles per gallon, would I be willing to pay $5 per gallon? Sure. The point is clear. The efficiency of our vehicles determines the threshold point. We can greatly expand the supply of affordable oil by increasing the efficiency of our cars and trucks. However, this is not a long term solution. Why? There is an upper limit to the efficiency of the internal combustion engine. Setting something on fire to extract its energy is still cave-man technology, even if it does come in a shiny red package with a satellite navigation system. We can do better. Understanding that a threshold point does exist and that its location depends upon the efficiency of our vehicles is the first bit of information needed to prevent the above-mentioned pants and ankles situation. What lesson does this bit of information teach us?
Build more efficient cars and we will buy ourselves time.
New efficiency laws would speed this process, but the market solves most problems on its own. (Message to Detroit: the Japanese are kicking your butts in this department. Stop investing all your money in developing the newest, biggest, 400 horsepower machine. Market forces will destroy you. You are already losing the quality battle with the Japanese, you cannot afford to lose the efficiency battle too.)
Oil Production. The rate of oil production has been increasing since the first day of production. So has the rate of consumption. The fact that BOTH of these graph lines have been upwardly slopping means that the price of oil has been basically stable for a very long time. The problem we now face is that the production line will not always have an upward slope. There will come a day when production can no longer increase. This does not mean production will decrease right away, only that it can no longer increase. Oil Production will flatten out in the near future, but consumption will continue to increase. One need only attend the first 10 minutes of the first day of Economics 101 to understand what this means. Prices will skyrocket. It is at this point that the Oil Age effectively ends. With the combined populations of China and India (1/3 of humanity) now actively bidding against North America and Europe on the world oil market, the stakes and consequences of this production problem are enormous.
So, why will the production line flatten? Most of the cheaply gotten oil has already been pumped, is already being pumped as you read this, or is already mapped out. Drilling technology will continue to improve and this will delay our day reckoning somewhat. Again, however, this is not a long term solution. Why? There is an upper limit to drilling technology. Pulling things out of holes ripped into the Earth’s crust is still cave-man technology, even if it is aided by ground-penetration radar. We can do better. Understanding that oil production will level off is the second bit of knowledge we need to have. Understanding that this leveling off point is the end of oil for all practical purposes is the third bit of knowledge we need. What lessons do these two bits of information teach us?
If we do not have a replacement in place or near when the Oil Age ends, we will be in serious trouble.
Talk about being caught with our goods hanging in the breeze. The best ‘belt’ in the world will not keep our pants around our emaciated hips. We need to start investing in the replacement NOW…YESTERDAY.
Action. We need a worldwide ‘Manhattan Project.’ We shall build a huge complex somewhere, give the project an unlimited budget, give it the best scientific minds from all over the world and let them work. It doesn’t matter if it costs 500 billion dollars or double that. Whatever it costs, the alternative is worse. Whatever it costs, the investment will be paid back 1000 fold. Why? Oil is and always has been inefficient. However, human ingenuity has allowed us amazing economic expansion, even with this inefficient energy source. The alternative to oil will be vastly more efficient. Imagine the economy we could build with that. So what does this new energy source look like? What is it called? These questions remain to be answered, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s call it: The Free Energy Machine (FEM).
Now, I just lost a certain percentage of readers. These are the naysayers. Now that they are gone, I can say mean things about them. These are the people who said humans will never fly. These are the people who, after the invention of the airplane, said that humans will never fly faster than sound. These are the people who, after the sound barrier was broken, said that humans would never leave the Earth, or walk on the Moon. There are many basic laws of humanity. One of them is: There will always be people who lack the imagination to grasp the true potential of human imagination. Another is: There is no limit to human imagination, creativity, or technological potential. This does not mean that certain technological paths are unlimited (fire, drilling), only that technology, in general, is unlimited. To those who say the FEM is a Star Trek fantasy, I would say that the weight of human history is against you. Could a person from the 18th century imagine a modern laptop computer? Could the Wright brothers have imagined that less than 69 years after their first flimsy flight humans would fly to the Moon? There is an unbroken chain of human ideas and knowledge leading from a roughly chipped stone tool to the remote control robots we have on Mars. Is there any reason to believe this chain is at its end? Another basic law of humanity: With all problems, imaging a solution and believing that it can be done is 90% of the work, actually doing it is only 10%. We are blessed to live in interesting times. We are cursed to live in interesting times. The Oil Age is coming to an end. Humanity either invents the FEM or slips into a nightmare situation. With 90% of the work already done on the FEM it would seem silly to choose the alternative. I understand that getting the international community to agree on anything is difficult. Steadily rising oil prices will spur both the international community and private research dollars to take the problem seriously. It is all a question of timing.
FEM & Human Destiny. Another basic law of humanity: Humans are explorers. Failure to explore results in psychological and physical degeneracy. People are endlessly curious about ideas and places. People need to see what is around the next corner. This is not a human hobby. This a human requirement. For the first 99.999% of human history, the need for exploration was easily satisfied. The Earth was a giant, unexplored wilderness. Humanity has always had a frontier, a place to send our young, restless souls and satisfy our need to see new things. Sometimes this frontier was already occupied and conflict resulted, but this is not the time for that story. Now, in the 21st century, what physical frontier is there? Every square inch of Earth’s surface is satellite mapped and GPS navigated. The limited exploring left is available only to those lucky scientists who can reach the ocean depths or the polar expanses. The rest of humanity is stuck. This problem is not merely an academic curiosity. It is real and must be addressed. It is the paramount crisis of our species. Where do we send our restless souls? Down to the corner for drugs? Drugs have nearly lost their original spiritual applications. They are now an escape device. Where to go to satisfy our human need? We have few things we can do to let off our explorer-steam pressure. We can go backpacking and pretend to explore. We can watch a nature show on TV and pretend even harder to explore. We can explore ideas through science and creative pursuits. These options are only band-aids.
The most basic law of humanity: You cannot change human nature. It is not logical to believe that the human need to explore would simply evaporate once the Earth was filled with our kind. We need space to explore. We need new SPACE. The human path has always led to the stars. Space is the great enzyme of human imagination and has been for all time. Our exploration of the Earth was but practice for the real game. We have made the first tenuous steps. The FEM will mark the real beginning. The FEM will do more than solve our Earth-bound energy needs. It will end our status as Earth-bound. The FEM will exist. The only question is how it comes about. Do we get it the easy way or the hard way? Do we hit the ground running relative to the end of the Oil Age, or do we suffer through harsh and ugly times first?
What do you think? What will you do? What is your part in our destiny?
Heehhehe, check this song out too. It musically illustrates the point.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Yes, yes, we know. I'm a space freak. I admit it. For reasons in my heart, in my head, and from deep instinct... I believe in space and see the human species there.
Now to this most recent story on the emerging space-tourism industry.
August 10, 2005
Private Company Plans $100 Million Tour Around the Moon
One day after NASA brought the shuttle Discovery back from low Earth orbit, a private company plans to announce a more audacious venture, a tourist trip around the Moon.
Space Adventures, a company based in Arlington, Va., has already sent two tourists into orbit. Today, it is to unveil an agreement with Russian space officials to send two passengers on a voyage lasting 10 to 21 days, depending partly on its itinerary and whether it includes the International Space Station.
A roundtrip ticket will cost $100 million.
The space-faring tourists will travel with a Russian pilot. They will steer clear of the greater technical challenge of landing on the Moon, instead circling it and returning to Earth.
Eric Anderson, the chief executive of Space Adventures, said he believed the trip could be accomplished as early as 2008. Mr. Anderson said he had already received expressions of interest from a few potential clients.
The Soyuz vehicle to be used does not have the power to reach the Moon on its own, so the Russians have devised a plan to send up a booster. The Soyuz would dock with the booster, either in low Earth orbit or at the International Space Station.
The booster would take the passengers the rest of the way. The price of the two tickets, Mr. Anderson said, would pay for the costs of the Moon shot. His company's demographic research, he said, suggests that 500 to 1,000 people in the world can afford to do this.
"It's the same number of people who could afford to buy a $100 million yacht," Mr. Anderson added. Two people who have already paid Space Adventures to go into orbit, at a reported $20 million apiece, applauded the new initiative though they said they were not sure they would try the Moon orbit.
Dennis Tito, a financier who in 2001 became the first space tourist, said that he found the idea fascinating but added that he doubted he would make such a trip. Having just turned 65, and with the Moon orbit at least a few years away, he said he might be too old for the rigors of the voyage.
"I would be considering it if I were younger, and I had that kind of money to spare," Mr. Tito said.
Another Space Adventures client, Greg Olsen, who made millions in the sale of his camera technology company, Sensors Unlimited, is preparing to visit the space station for several days in October. Of the Moon trip, he said, "It's certainly intriguing, and it's something I'd like to do."
Will he buy a ticket, then? "One trip at a time," he replied.
The trip seems feasible, said Dr. John M. Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. "As a nontechnical person, I don't see any technical showstoppers," Dr. Logsdon said, "if people are crazy enough to do it."
And, he added, it would make "a lot of money for the Russians."
Christopher C. Kraft, a former director of the Johnson Space Center, said his feelings about the enterprise were mixed. "I think it would be a fantastic journey," he said. "I could see why, if I had the price of the ticket and could use the money that way, that it would be tempting to go."
But Mr. Kraft added that the flight would be cramped and probably extremely unpleasant. With three people in a small Soyuz craft for an extended trip, he said, "I imagine that you could endure that, but, man, it would be tough."
Mr. Anderson of Space Adventures said the craft had about as much room as a sport utility vehicle. "Will it be cramped? Yes," he said. "But will it be doable? Yes."
He noted that the Gemini capsule was smaller than the Soyuz, and that the astronauts James A. Lovell and Frank Borman orbited the Earth for 14 days in the Gemini 7 mission in 1965.
But Mr. Kraft, who was the flight director for that mission, recalled that Mr. Lovell and Mr. Borman were miserable. They complained bitterly that the trip was like "14 days in a men's room," and Mr. Kraft said that he had to talk them out of ending the mission early. "They wanted to get out of there," he said.
Mr. Anderson said the timing of the announcement was not meant to tweak the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "We believe private space flight and space exploration can go hand in hand, and can coexist and benefit each other," he said. Government, he said, should focus "on things that private companies cannot do," like exploring other planets. His company's system, he said, could eventually be a subcontractor, offering transportation services to a government Moon base.
"I just love the idea of demonstrating that things can be done for less money than people thought, and paradigms can be shifted," he said. "Space flight can be opened up."
Link to original story by some unknown newspaper
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
If you have two hours, and want to hear something fascinating and kind of scary...
Windows media (asx file)...this one seemed to have better sound quality though win-annoying
Fast forward the time index to 34:30 or so, where the interview begins.
Play it on your speakers, put it on the mp3 player for the plane flight, whatever.
The interview ranges from computer programing to economics to philosophy, and of course, the predictive qualities of the webbot reports.
Cliff is the genius behind:
Monday, August 01, 2005
Here's an interesting read I found posted at http://urbansurvival.com/week.htm...
and never forget to "watch the skies!"
I've been thinking lately about the pull that religion had over people's lives in the past (and continues to do so in many places in the world). How could humans (with no genetic changes) abandon their ancient attraction to religious belief suddenly during the few centuries? Are we really smarter than earlier cultures? Or have we applied our bent to religion to a set of new targets?
My current idea is that widespread belief in often absurd "conspiracy theories" has sopped up people's religious impulses. I'm not talking about rational inquiry into alternative causes, but uncritical belief. Nobody is actually an athiest. We have a new religion - but it is based on the behavior of powerful humans rather than unseen gods. These mysterious "evil" humans have corrupted an initially perfect world of the past for their own ends. Everything bad is caused by them.
I've been driven by this thinking recently by several experiences. First, I teach students at a local college. I teach a lot of entry-level computer classes, as well as a "general studies" Biology class. The reactions of the supposedly sophisticated, non-religious students demonstrate a clear "retargeting" of their religious impulses.
Second, a conversation I overheard in my apartment building a few days ago crystallized my impulse.
Here's the conversation from my apartment: I think it's fair to say that many people in the US today do not see the lightning bolts that struck hapless scoutmasters this week as the result of a specific, conscious decision of an angry god. We all know they are physical phenomena, which operate without intelligence. This is one of the differences between religion and non-religion - intent. If lightning bolts strike due to various tumblings of matter and energy, it isn't religion, despite what the "science as religion" crowd says. The scouts are electrocuted for no reason, which means no human values need be applied to the event.
But, if the lightning bolts happened "for a reason" then religion is involved - there is a moral intent bound with the event.
Imagine my surprise yesterday hearing my neighbor talking with friends about the second scouting electrocution. This neighbor works in the entertainment industry, is frantically anti-Bush, and hates "the religious right."
Speaking to her friends, this neighbor pointed out that said lightning bolts slammed down just prior to a "Bush visit." She noted that "they" - the radical religious right - must be very upset that a lightning bolt hit prior to a Bush visit - I suppose they would interpret it as a bad omen.
But then my neighbor (who normally seems reasonable) broadly hinted to her friends that there was "something behind" this electrical event. A secret, which she did not clarify, was the REAL reason for the lightning bolt. What was it? She didn't quite say - we were left to imagine the CIA manipulating the weather, a secret weapon tested on the American public, a warning to Bush from his "masters" - you name it.
Here's the fascinating part. In the same speech, she made it abundantly clear that she was an "athiest" and hated "religious" people. But here she was imagining hidden causes, meaning, and purpose behind the event. She was doing EXACTLY what she thought "the religious right" would do - ascribe meaning to a random physical event!
Frankly, it doesn't really matter whether the lightning bolt actually from a flying saucer - despite herself, this woman believes in higher powers, and in miracles. I listened for an hour as she darkly hinted at the sinister implications of the lightning strike - never exactly saying that it was "meant" to happen - but implying this very thing over and over.
Who is "god" in her religion? People. Instead of a big thunder-being up in the sky making the rain come, sneaky people are in a vast conspiracy. Like the unseen the god, "they" cannot be touched, uncovered, or even seen by lowly mortals. Yet the believer knows that they are there - no mater what the physical evidence is. In their faith, the believer triumphs over those who have not been enlightened.
I believe (with my degree in Biology) that the religious impulse is partly innate. Rather than moving beyond religion, as Marx, Skinner, and others hoped we would do, we have simply directed our prayers to a different object. Instead of classical gods, our new gods are people - people with vast, mysterious godlike power.
There are several reasons for the change in our civilization from a "god" - worshiping culture that one that worships mysterious humans in conspiracies. These changes challenged the old gods, but replaced them with equally supernatural new ones. These have led to a set of non-rational beliefs about the world which characterize our "conspiracy" religion.
In short, here is a summary:
1. Everything is controlled by a higher power - there are no random events. But this power is human, and human only. 2. Secret groups of people with this power cause everything to happen. 3. They have this vast power because absolutely anything is possible. As long as I imagine it, it can and will happen. There are no limits except human ones. 4. Since there are limits in my life, they can only have been created by humans. 5. If not for the conspiracy, we would be in a Paradise. All bad things in the world were caused by humanity - there is nothing outside humanity. Before humanity had godlike powers, everything was perfect.
Below, I've laid out the logical steps that have led to this belief system:
Belief #1 - "Thou shalt accelerate your technology forever faster"
At one time, technological innovation was seen as just that - a better way of doing things. This was characteristic of the 19th and early 20th centuries, in which much of the real "heavy lifting" of technological took place. People celebrated the ability of the human mind to discover things.
But now, technological advance is an unstoppable force int its own right, independent of humanity itself. It isn't that we manage to discover new technology - instead, an unstoppable spiritual force force us to advance technology ever-faster.
One of the clearest examples of this religious belief is the so-called "Moore's Law" which says that computer speeds double every 12-18 months. When Moore originally published his paper in the 1960s on compute speed increase, he presented it as an empirical study of the semiconductor industry. At this point, no religion was evident.
But now we have moved to a new idea - Moore's Law is a rock-solid given and computer makers "must" continue to to speed up computer because Moore's Law requires them to do so. It is moved from a statement of being to a moral law!
Consider the difference in the following statements:
a. Computer speeds are doubling every 18 months due to shrinking transistors (~1965).
b. Computer speeds ALWAYS double every 18 months. Any company that doesn't double the speeds of its computers is "not upholding" Moore's Law. But will someone double those speeds - Moore's Law cannot be stopped (~2000). But never, fear, Moore's Law is being upheld in the latest gadget.
In fact, computers are not following Moore's Law anymore. PC speeds topped out at about 3 GHz clockspeeds a few years ago, and Intel announced in late 2004 that they were NOT going to produce a 4GHz cpu for the indefinite future. True to the religious aspects of Moore's Law, writers in the tech industry ignored this challenge to their faith. They take the rise of 64-bit computing as "proof" that Moore's Law is still active - despite the fact that 64-bit computers are not faster - though they can more RAM.
"Multicore" processing is also taken as proof for Moore's Law "making" something happen just as we can't increase clockspeeds. In other words, Moore's Law "acted" and a new way to increase computer speed automatically appeared. This is despite that fact that for most non-server applications multicore systems give minimal speed boosts. It's similar to the faith that every time humanity use up one energy source (wood, coal) another, better energy source "automatically" appeared.
Even though the tech writers know there are limitations at some level, they remain confident that "somehow" Moore's Law will be upheld and computers will get faster forever.
Their faith that mysterious forces also ignore the fact that the utility of computers (their real value) have not increased with speed. The 2004 Macintosh G5 computer is about 1000 times faster than the 1984 Macintosh in hardware terms. But go back and look at the 1984 Mac. Running at 1/1000 the speed, it sported a useful word processor using full window/mouse/graphical systems. It also had a drawing program that looks very much like Adobe Photoshop today.
True, the word processor didn't have a spell check, and the paint program was in black and white. But are today's word processors and paint programs really 1000 times better than 1984? I would guess they are 10-20 times better. Even if computer speeds are rising, their utility to society is rising at a much slower rate!
Yet, Moore's Law is now a true LAW that all tech companies must uphold or face destruction. Any time there's an announcement of a change in memory, processors, etc, the tech industry assures that the new innovation ensures that they are keeping the faith - that Moore's Law will be kept, no matter what. Today, even though computers are leveling out in speed and utility, a stubborn faith in endless speed increases persists.
This belief system reaches its extreme stage in those beliving in the "singularity" - a sort of technological Rapture. These people believe that Moore's Law is accelerating, and that computer power will literally become infinite about the year 2040. The basis for their belief? "Moore's Law". But it is not a law, it is an observation, at best a hypothesis - not a unstoppable force.
Moore's Law forms one of the new pillars of faith among the general public as well. Outside the techies (hoping to be transported to the divine by the multi-pentahertz machines of 2038), the average person firmly believes that "technology always gets better". Tell someone that technology can halt, even reverse its advance, and you are met with disbelief. You've challenged a tenet of their new religion - the god Technology will always get better despite us.
In my mind, this is why it is so hard for many people to believe that we might have some real problems coming in permanently higher energy prices, loss of oil, degradation of the environment, etc. Try telling someone that computers won't be that much faster in 10 years, and they shake their head. They "know" they will be, even if they know absolutely nothing about how computers work.
A similar faith surrounds economics. People simply won't believe that prosperity always increases - things can only go up. There can be no economic waves or cycles. If they happen, "they" made them happen.
If we aren't richer this year, it must be a conspiracy.
Belief #2 - Anything is possible if you "wish upon a star" I've adapted this idea from James Kunstler's excellent writing. The belief in Moore's Law, along with increasingly detailed fantasies in movies and games has made people believe that "anything" is possible. The fact that technology has improved means it will improve infinitely.
This goes beyond believing that more will be possible in the future - it is the belief that absolutely anything is possible, or will be shortly.
This belief is qualitative, and ties in with the decline in quantative thinking. If someone imagines something in their head, it must therefore be possible. There can be no limits, even quantative, physical ones. It's like the miracle of the loaves and fishes - if I can imagine bread, then it follows that everyone can be fed from one loaf.
Case in point: I've tried repeatedly to explain to my students that a purely solar-powered car can't be like cars today due to the laws of thermodynamics. In full sunlight a few thousand watts fall on a car, and if this was 100% converted to energy the car would have a few horsepower at best.
But even after this discussion, students still insist that "someone will figure something out." The laws of nature aren't relevant - "they" will of course solve it and make a solar car that goes 300 miles an hour. (In fact, they already have and are suppressing it). The students don't reason out of any understanding of physics or technology. When pressed, students essentially say that since we can imagine solar cars and they are neat, they "must" be possible.
There's a similar touching belief in "air cars" beloved of science fiction - despite there being nothing remotely practical in this area. When I ask students why we don't have air cars, they typically say that that the "auto companies" don't want us to have them. No mention of the fact that there is no anti-gravity needed to make a silent, easily driven, Jetson's style machine. If I point this out, they are sure that "they" will discover a way to float air cars.
It's not that we might discover something in the future - it's that it is impossible for us NOT to do so!
This uncritical belief that anything is possible is why nobody seriously believes that energy will become scarce. Anything is possible, so it will happen. Energy might exist, so it will. If I note that oil reserves are dropping, students say that there could be undiscovered oil. That's enough for them - if we can imagine "oil not discovered", it must be there! Again, no knowledge of geology and physics goes into this argment - only a belief that anything is possible.
Belief #4 - There is nothing outside human experience. Humanity is everything, and anything I hear about MUST have been caused by humans.
If you believe that anything is possible, then the reason it hasn't happened yet is not any limits placed by Nature. Instead, any barriers, limits, boundaries to infinite personal freedom and power MUST be due to people. By extension, this means that people are responsible for everything that exists in the world.
True, in the past people might have believed in "anything goes" reality. For example, many believed that immortal beings that could fly. But they would have thought they were a "supernatural" being outside of humanity.
Today, people feel that immortality "must" be possible simply because I can think it. Therefore, it HAS happened, or is about to happen. The only reason it hasn't is due to humanity. Humanity is the only source of boundaries in the world.
This idea has been greatly spurred along by advances in entertainment technology. Movies today have computer-generated characters, objects, and machines that defy physical reality. Advances in animation have allowed us to give these impossible creatures and devices disturbing aspects of realism. The trend is even stronger in videogames, which virtually everyone under age 35 plays today. Today, the typical teenager has replaced outdoors unstructured play with play in virtual worlds, obviously constructed by people. If you belive the videogame is "realistic" then stuff in the videogame could easily happen in our world.
We see the ultimate fusion of virtual worlds, conspiracy, and a belief that anything is possible in "The Matrix" movies.
As a result, adherents of the new religion reject the notion that any barrier to their wants (read consumerism) is due to outside forces. They can only be human-caused.
Belief #5 - Since anything is possible, the only barriers are human will. So, if something has not happened that should, it is due to an evil "conspiracy" of humans.
I recently saw this belief when I asked my students to weight the pros and cons of AIDs virus being created by the US military. I provided evidence from both sides - in particular recent discoveries of AIDs cases reported in the 1930s and 1940s from European sailors visiting West Africa. I asked the students to use the evidence to justify their position, pro or con.
The result? Most completely ignored evidence both for and against. Instead, they assumed a conspiracy, and assumed that all the evidence I provided has been doctored. When they read about old AIDs cases from the 1930s and 1940s, they immediately postulated that the old cases were "planted" to support the conspiracy. When I noted that our ability to engineer viruses was primitive in the 1960s (when AIDs is supposed to have been created), the students immediately postulated that a "secret lab" stumbled on the techniques of advanced genetic manipulation. When I pointed out that plagues have attacked people for thousands of years, one student even suggested that this was "disinformation" - in other words, we were disease-free until the late 20th century.
Only a very few students suggested rational ideas - e.g., that we should look closely at the RNA structure of AIDs for signs of manipulation, check published papers from the 1960s and 1970s, etc. and use this evidence to make a decision on the question. These students were the only ones who are not part of the new religion.
The rest, like all zealots, ignored all the facts to support their belief: anything is possible, so AIDs MUST have been created. Since it is bad, it was created by evil people, since people are responsible for everything. This was not a hypothesis that could be falsified - it was religious certainty impervious to contrary information.
Belief #5 - Everything was perfect until "they" took over In our culture today we have largely isolated ourselves from anything outside the human sphere. We no longer have the direct, daily contact with the natural world that our ancestors did. We have moved from being isolated from the harsh aspects of nature to believing that nothing happens outside the human sphere.
I see this frequently when I ask students about the physical world - they're just as likely to believe that earthquakes are caused by someone with earthquake machines as that physical properties of the Earth cause them. In fact, the latter seems less likely to them - after all, they can imagine an earthquake machine, and they saw a movie with one once.
Because people do admit that humanity had less power in the past, they accept that earthquake machines could not have existed long ago. But, instead of concluding that earthquakes may be natural, they apparently believe that there were no earthquakes back then. In fact, there is a widespread belief that nothing bad happened in the old days - simply because humans couldn't make bad things happen yet.
As an example, I've described to students how we eradicated polio from the US in the 1950s and 1960s. Many students are surprised to discover that diseases existed back then! When asked, they apparently believe that the world used to be disease-free, and all our diseases today are caused by a "drug company" conspiracy.....
So, there you have it - our new religion. This faith even includes local gods and goddesses who cannot be blasphemed - usually entertainment celebrities. People who have no problem mocking conventional religions bristle with anger if you attack a "fallen" celebrity like Kurt Cobain - a depressed musician who killed himself with self-destructive behavior. He cannot be bad-mouthed - it's not allowed... It's amazing what sacred cows entertainment celebrities have become - while some may be mocked, others (e.g. rapper Tupac) cannot be blasphemed under any circumstances. I suspect this results from the lack of physical religious artifacts in the conspiracy religion - one must have something tangible and "good" to worship. The unreal world of entertainment celebrities substitutes for the gods of the past.
You might be amused by my final demonstration of the new religion, and the credulity of its followers. Last week, I told a class of students that the Atlantic is only 20 feet deep, London is 10 miles away from New York, and ocean liners run on metal tracks between the two cities. The reason? There's a conspiracy by the oil companies to keep plane tickets high - they just fly the planes around for several hours to burn up fuel on so-called "transatlantic" flights. The ocean is 20 feet deep because metal can't float - and the ships are made of metal. Ergo, the ships would sink except that they are on tracks on the ocean bottom.
Within 20 minutes I had several students actually supplying "supporting evidence" for my concept- in particular, the idea that "they" want us to burn oil seemed like "proof" to them, as did their inability to reason out why metal ships do float.
After about 30 minutes I stopped - I was worried that I had spawned a new cult! "
Pete Markiewicz (Web site)
There ya go...something to chew on.
Stay conscious of the capital "T"s you put on your "They"s throughout the day.