Book of the millennium Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics.
I can’t prove that holding that the earth is alive and possesses an intellect and will is heresy, but I think it is for the following reasons.
On my Stream article “Vatican Hosts Conference With Pantheistic Theme: The planet is not alive“, a commenter calling himself Mensa Member said:
I can’t imagine how seeing the earth as an organism is heresy. There is nothing wrong with something being organism. It strikes me as an odd point to disagree with.
Besides, I suspect he wasn’t using “organism” in the narrow biological sense but in the “complex interdependent whole” sense. It’s common usage.
The “he” refers to Johnny Schellnhuber, who does indeed hold that the earth is some kind of giant, self-aware computer, i.e. that it is alive and possesses rationality. See the links to the original stories showing this. Whether Johnny really believes that is irrelevant here. We’re interested in the proposition itself.
Mensa is right, of course, that some when they say “the earth is alive”, they mean it in the metaphorical sense of a “complex interdependent whole”. Yet this “whole” is everywhere trivially true. The place where life exists, even if it’s a spaceship isolated from all contact, is a “complex interdependent whole”. Nothing, then, can imperil this state on earth, except by killing every living thing. And the only real risk of that on earth is from the Lord or from giant rocks from space. An increase of temperature of a degree—or even ten, or twenty—is not going to come close.
It is absurd to suggest the earth is alive. It has none of the characteristics of a “life form”. And since it is not alive, it is even more absurd to suggest it is a rational animal, akin to men. If the earth were alive, it must mean that either we are part of that life and not therefore independently alive, but only something like earth-pancreases, or that we are separate from it, intruding upon and inside this life, like a cancer. Indeed, that latter claim is made by environmentalists.
Suggesting we are earth-pancreases, and thus that we do not possess free will, but that we only serve the “body” of the planet, is surely heretical.
If we are a cancer, how did we get here? It is either by transplantation or by evolution. Transplantation is a heresy. We are not an alien invasive species. This is also quite shockingly an anti-Science position! No environmentalist makes the claim of our transplantation directly, but it is often hinted at.
If we rational animals got here by evolution, then rational beings are a cancer, and this is heretical. There are too many instances of God giving people dominion over the world or certain lands to say we are a cancer. You don’t put cancer in charge.
Skipping over that difficulty, suppose as all believers in Gaia (in whatever form) suppose, that the earth is a rational animal of some kind. Then the earth—excuse me, Earth—has free will. What choices can it make? What choices did it make? Has Earth sinned? Is it in need of salvation?
Earth is clearly unlike angels, which are beings of pure intellect and will. Earth is made of rock. We are made of bones and blood. And both we and Earth possess intellect and will. Now angels also possess free will (and intellect) and have made their choice (most likely at the time of their creation) to serve God or rebel.
Earth did not have a moment of instantaneous creation, but evolved. So it must either have been like Mary and conceived without sin, or that it at some point sinned. Either way, Earth has killed many men. Landslides and tree falls (most recently), hurricanes, lightning, fires, and so on.
If Earth was conceived without sin, then since Earth has free will all those killings were deserved. Next time some “natural” event whacks a few of us, best we can say is, “We had it coming.” Earth is, after all, doing these killings with God’s knowledge.
But if Earth sinned, then it is clear we have a serial murderer on our hands. We are thus justified in taking action against Earth, like cutting her trees down and releasing chocking gases into the atmosphere; building dikes and levees; try to warm the place to make it more comfortable.
If Earth is alive in the way Schellnhuber says, and if it was not conceived without win, then this is war.
I was prodded once, by a friend, to explain the existence and meaning of FreeMasonry. And I replied, briefly, that Julius Felsenburgh had yet to make his appearance. Not that I doubted for an instant that he eventually would. My friend persisted, and so I rambled on a bit about Julius’ prophesied coming. And how he would be the paradoxical combination of Marxism and Masonry. The paradox of seemingly opposed movements.
One movement was a radical collectivist fantasy, the other a radical individualist dream, and both were wrapped up in the person of Julius Felsenburgh, the Anti-Christ in the widely acclaimed dystopian ‘science-fiction’ novel, Lord of the World, by Robert Hugh Benson, in 1907.
What I didn’t say at the time was that Benson himself was a paradox, being the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and who was an Anglican priest himself. And who was said to be a shoe-in to succeed his father. But as often happens to great men, a trip to the Orient changed his perspective, in more ways than one. And the net result, as with John Cardinal Newman before him (and many of his Oxford Movement brethren of the 1830’s) was that Benson left home, to come home. To Rome. Oh, the horror! What scandal! Anyway, Benson’s Felsenburgh was the perfect portrayal of the coming Anti-Christ. And surely he is coming, whether we like it or not, slouching towards Bethlehem, as Yeats put it in his prophetic poetic work The Second Coming.
Now you don’t have to be Catholic (or a other Christian) to believe in the concept of the Anti-Christ. Muslims believe it. Jews believed it. Nor do you have to be particularly religious to believe it. Democrats certainly believe it (and that he has already come). But more importantly, FreeMasons believe it as well. They’ve just dropped the ‘anti’ part of the word.
Why would I say that? Isn’t Masonic belief really Christian at heart? Well, obviously, you are a member of the Blue Lodge if you believe that. Many do. Which suits the 32nd Degree members quite well. Every conspiracy needs camouflage, you know. A mask is so very effective. And while it won’t fool everyone, it will screen off a large percentage of viewers. That has great value. Especially if the mask covers another mask. Which will then screen off another significant percentage. Et cetera. Which is what I then related to my friend.
I explained to him that FreeMasonry was actually the latest in the perfect set of masks, each one nested upon another. And that behind the bottom mask, the first mask, there is nothing. Or better yet, nothing visible. And therein lie two tales. The first is the story of distracted men. The other is the story of the focused gods. Each side thinks it has a plan. Each side has a target. Each side thinks it is winning. But only one side believes it is playing against the other. That would be the team of the gods. The teams (lodges) made of men, however, see the gods as their pep-squad, as they play against their fellow man.
Depending on who you read, these Masonic Men truly believe that they are playing against their fellow man in order to teach them the real rules and aims of the game. The Game of Life, and the Reason behind it. They’re going to teach us all to always keep our eye on the ball. How to think for ourselves. Never take your eye off the ball. That’s what we’re always told, right?
In other words, what these Lodge-lovers are doing is supposedly for generous philanthropic reasons. Because they love their fellow man, right? But there’s a problem here, from my perspective, because there’s a game clock running on each man’s team. Not so with the gods. Let’s be clear here: there’s no overtime in this game. So then, as you play out your life, are you watching the ball? Or are you watching the clock?
There’s another problem here, even if the philanthropic motive is true in some (or even many) instances. And to be fair, I do know a number of Masons (even 32nd degree members) who do actually think themselves to be benevolent leaders of humanity. No, the problem is that so often, when we perceive something that appears to be wrong or unjust, we base our conclusion upon our own rationality, our own judgment. The same applies to our judgment of what is good. We fail to see that our rationality is meant to inform our conscience as to why something has already been deemed good or bad. Our intellect is not meant to make the call (that’s God’s job), but rather to begin to understand it.
There’s an old saying, ‘Some things are forbidden because they are evil. Some things are evil because they are forbidden’. In other words, some judgments of God are meant as a test for us. Are we really on par with God? Then who are we to question His judgment by substituting our own? Just because we can’t rationally understand why we shouldn’t eat pork (as long as it was forbidden) doesn’t mean that the command was unjust. It just means we can’t fully comprehend His ways. Is that so bad?
For example, I know lots of people who think that poverty and oppression are evil. And quite a few of them are willing to do something about it. But most of them have not decided this based upon the command of God, but rather, on their own judgment. Quite independent of God’s dictum, actually, for so many of them don’t believe in a singular, all-powerful God. So they tell themselves that even if they are wrong about His existence, they will surely be saved because of their good works. That’s a pretty iffy bet in my book. Why? Because if ‘faith without works is dead‘, then surely ‘works without faith’ is deader yet. Don’t believe me? Ask those Pharisees in Hell what their tithes bought them.
This same principle applies to The Lodge. If men decide that philanthropy is good, but they do it without acknowledging that the primary source of this judgment of ‘goodness’ is a particular God, (versus the generic ‘Supreme Being’ of Masonic admittance requirement) then they are simply setting things up for making themselves as gods, to rule over those whom they would presume to help. Any cursory reading of Masonic philosophy makes it clear that it is based on gnostic belief. In other words, there are two classes of men, the illuminated and the ignorant. Guess which ones need to be instructed in ‘the truth’? And teachers have tenure, right?
Now let me also explain that the essence of Freemasonry is not something relatively new. No, Freemasonry is simply the relatively new manifestation of the Perennial Philosophy. Or, if you prefer, the Perennial Heresy. Just ask Professor John Senior. He’ll tell you about it. It’s just syncretism in modern garb. A.K.A., Modernism. It’s nothing new. It’s simply the latest version of ‘Yes, you too can become a god!’. In other words, it’s Arianism for Dummies. And the marketplace supply seeking to sate the demand for this belief is never fully met by the manufacturers (the idiot gods) nor their distributors (idiot men). The problem lies with the distributors, of course.
Let’s expand on this a bit. I have this little acronym I use to loosely trace the origins of this belief system throughout its long product life. It is spelled thus: MIRACLES. The letters stand for this; Masons, Illuminati, Rosicrucians, Alchemists, Caesars, Levites, Egyptians and Sumerians. The story is told in reverse order. Like any good Kabbalistic reading of a word, of course. Backwards is always better, eh Komrade?
Let’s also be very clear about something else. I have heard it said (and have said it myself) that Freemasonry is simply a pale Gentile version of Kabbala. You know, Jewish practical magic. In today’s modern world (that would be the last 2,000 years), that’s true. But today, almost everyone has a Talmudic-Jewish outlook. Anyway, that ignores the real origins of the Mystery Religion and its home in Sumeria. The city of Babylon, to be specific. Because that’s where this whole thing began. In Mystery Babylon.
Let’s get to the story: let’s go to the beginning. To Sumeria, in the land of the Chaldees. The land of the city of Babylon. The land which the God of Abraham wanted him to leave. Why? Because Babylon was known to the ancient scholars as ‘the gateway to the gods’. Never forget the gods! And in Babylon we find the original Mystery Religion.
The original mystery religion centered of course on astrology. No, not astronomy. That’s the movement of the heavenly bodies. We’re talking about Astrology. The meaning of the movement of the heavens. The meaning comes down to this: pre-destination. Those who could accurately predict the future movement of the heavens (comets, eclipses, etc.) were obviously in the know. And so, just as obviously, they must be favored (pre-destined) by the gods (if not being gods themselves). These same priest-people were then believed (by idiot kings) to be able to tell these same idiot kings not just what, when, and where these heavenly movement would be, but also what they meant. In other words, they could predict the fore-ordained future, in some degree or other.
As a result of this astral knowledge, this astrologic priesthood had effectively divided mankind into two camps, the illuminated and the ignorant. And the ignorant must be led, correct? Here we have the beginnings of slavery. No, not the slavery of conquered foreigners. Everybody gets that. That’s easy. No, what we’re talking about here is the enslavement of one’s own people, who willingly submit to it. Welcome to the Empire, ‘citizen’. And welcome to the Lodge, brother. Where we explain to you, in 33 simple steps, why you are ignorant, and therefore why you need to be led. By smarter men than you, of course. So just sit back, relax, and have a drink of Kool-Aid. It’s on the house.
Let me state, up front, my understanding of the Mystery Religion, in all of its incarnations and successions, layer upon historic layer, mask upon mask, from the time of Babylon till today. Today, when the secular priesthood wears the mask of the Masonic apron. The real temporal purpose of each of these belief systems is to get men to enslave other men. Well then, what is the ultimate purpose of this slavery, metaphysically speaking? After all, if all men die, what’s the ultimate point of men enslaving other men, in the here and now? Simple. The promise of those who have crafted all of these masks to all those who will don them to ‘lead the faithful’ is this: All those you enslave in this life are your slaves in the next life. And you, of course, become one of the gods. Thus, all men are enslaved to the gods. Including the idiots who believed that the gods never lie.
Yes, I know, I know. How can it be that my slave here becomes my slave later, in the next life, if he wasn’t willingly enslaved in this life? Well, that’s the whole point of each layer of masks. The masks, and the mythic tale that surrounds each of them, is not meant to physically enslave someone, as a conquering army would. No, the purpose of these mythic masks is to get men to willingly become enslaved to the idea the mask represents. Once that has been accomplished, here and now, then it will also be so in the hereafter. After all, that’s the whole point of all religions. To gain slaves. Willing slaves. The unwilling become the sacrificial animals. That’s how it works. The trick then is to find the True Religion, the one that will grant you your freedom, and adopt you, as a son and heir. Masonry is not that one, my fellow slaves.
Yes, I can see you think I’m crazy. First of all, you can’t believe you are a slave, to something, to anything. Secondly, you can’t believe that is the point of all religions. And you surely can’t believe that Masonry is really a religion, let alone the lineal descendant of Mystery Babylon. You can’t make the leap of connecting the dots. So, let me help you. Let me show you the perfect example of the first mask leading directly to the last mask. Let me show you a man who spans all the ages of recorded history, and who is treated as a god today. His name is Sir Isaac Newton.
It’s not a mistake or a coincidence that Sir Isaac Newton, that paragon of empiric study, that giant of scientific inquiry, that discoverer of the Laws of Physics, was known as ‘The Last of the Great Sumerians’. Why? Because Newton was a practicing magician. They called them Alchemists back then.
Newton likely died, demented, from his daily exposure to Mercury. Yes, this man who said, basically, ‘If I can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist’, was busy spending his off-hours, amongst other things, pursuing the magical (as in ‘I can’t see how it works’) transformation of lead into gold. And he used mercury and gnostic incantations as the material and spiritual catalytic agents to achieve this magical transformation. He was likely done in by his physical and spiritual association with The Messenger of the gods. Sweet irony.
How has Newton enslaved anyone? Well, let me ask you this: do you willingly believe the world is strictly mechanical in nature? Materialist in essence? Then you, my friend, are a slave. A mental (and eventually a spiritual) slave, to a deterministic world view that has nudged God out of your daily picture. Welcome to the Gulag, Komrade. Please pass the salt. Watch out for #113721, he’s an informant.
Who called Newton by this Sumerian name? Among others, John Maynard Keynes. You know, that other great magician. That other guy who believed that you could create things ex nihilo. Out of nothing. Just like the God of Abraham, right? Sure. Just like The Fed, the god of today, right? And there you go. The two great powers, once again opposed. One makes men and despises mere money, the other makes money and despises mere men. But both do it out of nothing. At least, in the case of Masons, it’s through nothing of their own. Through Masonic magic. But we’ll get to all that. I promise.
Anyway, it’s all magic. Everything runs on magic. Seriously. You think the universe runs strictly on mechanics? And that these celestial mechanical operations never seem to fail? What, are they still on warranty? And some fix-it guy’s gonna come if something breaks down? Hah! Have you noticed, it never breaks down? Now tell me again, you don’t believe in magic?
Well, I do. It’s the only explanation that works. Somebody has the power, and the only question is, who is it? Jehovah or Harry Potter? Elohim or Newton? Jesus or Albert Pike? Huh? Albert Pike? C’mon, are you that cloistered? The man who wrote Morals and Dogma. The Bible of Freemasonry. General Pike, coincidentally, was the only Confederate General who was pardoned by President Johnson. Why? Because Albert Pike was President Johnson’s superior, down at the Lodge. Scottish Rite, of course. Forget those York Rite idiots, brethren. Until you read and truly understand the Anglish Civil War, that is. That’s when the Yorkie’s gave their payback. Big time.
I’m at the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness meeting in No-History City, Louisiana. Here’s Part II of (an earlier draft of) the speech I gave Saturday. Consider donating $1 for every typo you discover. Read Part I.
I often say the root of all scientific evil is the love of theory. And it is so.
What is a scientific theory? Nothing except a set of premises—propositions, observations and the like—from which we deduce statements about the observable universe, where by “universe” I mean all the material + energy there is, including that in any so-called multi-verse or many-verse.
Here is a simple theory. Days following hot days are usually hot. This is as fully a scientific theory as that produced by the largest grants at the top indoctrination centers. From our humble theory, and given the observation “Today is hot”, we deduce that tomorrow is likely to be hot. There are no quantifications of “hot”, “usually” or “likely”, and there is nothing in the world wrong with that. The theory is understandable without quantification. Quantification is not what makes a theory scientific; indeed, over-quantification and quantifying the unquantifiable can ruin an otherwise workable theory.
Our theory does two things which all good theories should. One, it fits past data well. Two, it makes testable predictions.
Anybody can try our theory, and if decisions made relying on it work out for some individuals, they might want to adopt the theory as their own. Not everybody makes the same decisions. Some might want more precision in temperature; our theory will be of little to no use to them.
Should we only look for true theories? No.
What makes a theory true, and not just good or utilitarian, is when each and every premise in the theory is itself true (and the combination not self-refuting in some way). In our theory, it is true, given our observation, that today is hot. But it is not universally true that days following hot days are usually hot. That premise (that part of the theory) is only likely given other observations and premises. So we do not have a true theory; merely a good one.
I know of no scientific theory that is true in this absolute sense. To be a true theory, I reiterate, every single premise comprising the theory must itself be true, provably true given a chain of argument that indubitably leads back to unshakeable axioms and sense impressions. Candidates for true theories, then, are simple ones; indeed, the simpler the better. This is why particle physicists are much closer to true theories than fluid physicists.
True is a harsh, brutal, exacting word. Mostly true is not true; it is a little bit false. Mathematicians and meta-physicians speak of truth, and well they may. But scientists used to be, and now ought to be again, more cautious. They must re-learn to speak in uncertainties.
Richard Feynman? said, “When we know that we actually live in uncertainty, then we ought to admit it; it is of great value to realize that we do not know answers.”
Theories which are not true are thus always in need of fixing in the direction of truth. And since there are not absolutely true scientific theories, this is why the scientist who says, “The debate is over” is a bad scientist. He has confused a likelihood with truth, a telling mistake. He has conflated probability with decision, an all-too common error.
One thing immediately follows from learning most scientific theories are not true. It is this: most scientific theories are not false.
To be false, we have to prove at least one of the premises of the theory is itself false—and false is just as concrete and immovable a word as true—and this is unlikely because blatantly false premises are rarely found in scientific theories. Or we have to observe something the theory said was impossible. And when I say impossible, I mean just that: a probability of zero, something that no matter what cannot happen. Since most theories speak of predictions in probabilistic terms, they rarely or never say anything is impossible. Thus we cannot falsify most scientific theories.
Even the weatherman saying “Tomorrow’s high will be 88F” is not falsified by observing a high of 89F, because everybody, including the weatherman, knew there was a little unquantified plus-or-minus in his theory’s predictions. That “fuzz” is present in every scientific theory I know, including our favorites, like global warming. True falsification is as rare as a bureaucracy closing because they say they have fulfilled their mission.
Since truth and falsity will not be wholly found in scientific theories, though they are de rigueur for mathematical and metaphysical theories, what else can we use in their judgement? Usefulness.
Walks like a duck
Scientific theories make predictions about observables. Astrology make predictions about observables. Therefore, astrology is a science. It isn’t a very good one, but it is a science. David Berlinski makes this point in The Secrets of the Vaulted Sky: Astrology and the Art of Prediction.
Bigfootology, or xenobiology, is likewise a science since it makes predictions about observables. So is parapsychology. So is climatology. So is inorganic chemistry. So is radio engineering. So is homeopathy. So is any theory science that makes predictions about observables.
Yet why do we say astrology is bad and some others good? An astrological theory makes statements like this: “Given that the moon is in the house of Mars and Venus is rising, and that you were born son this certain date, this week you’ll experience greater fortitude.” The theory is the set of starry rules and the observation of the birth date. The deduced prediction is greater fortitude.
There is no mechanism, no sense of the cause of the greater fortitude, except by pointing to the rules, and the rules have only vague things, or nothing, to say about cause. Mars is the god of War, and in war you need fortitude, say.
Scientific theories do not have to say anything about cause. Every citizen before Newton knew to duck when throwing a rock into the air, and none of them (or almost none of them) had any theory beside the empirical, i.e. non-causal, theory What Goes Up Must Come Down.
Newton, and Einstein after him, and whoever comes next, did not obviate or destroy the citizens’ empirical theory. It remains as predictively accurate for most of mankind as it did for Adam, and will remain that way until the last stone is thrown. Rocks did not suddenly descend at different rates because a new theory was proposed. Our theories do not make the universe.
There is no real way to check the premises of the astrological theory. They are stated as true; some even believe they are true. They are accepted or rejected by prejudice. All we have to go on are the predictions themselves.
Ask somebody whether they’ve experienced greater fortitude this week, and they might say yes, just to be cooperative. They’ll find some small instance where they asserted their bravery—not screaming when seeing a cockroach, maybe—and claim that. If they want to believe in astrology, and they knew of the prediction, they’ll search very hard indeed for this small instance. And they will nearly always discover it.
Given their discovery, the astrological theory has therefore made an accurate prediction, and therefore there is not only no reason to doubt the theory, but a very good reason to believe it. This is rational, as far as it goes, and it is the reason astrology is still and ever with us. It is easy, in a certain sense, to verify as accurate astrological predictions.
Now we know there are better ways to test astrological theory. Make predictions specified with exactitude, so that the predictions can be verified unambiguously. Spell out, in advance, just what fortitude is and what it isn’t. And keep the predictions hidden from those to whom they are applied. There is some trickiness in this which we can ignore here, but you get the idea.
Have we answered why astrology is a bad science? Sort of, but we didn’t state the key fault, which is this: ambiguity. It’s the ambiguity of the predictions which maddens. A skeptic will hear the forecast of greater fortitude and find just as many instances of its lack as a believer will find instances of its presence. The forecast will not verify for the skeptic, but will for the believer. Our pair are conditioning on different information. Both will be exasperated the other can’t see what is plain to them.
Dissuading the astrology believer is thus a Herculean task. We have to endeavor on a complete, thorough disquisition on the nature of evidence. We’re going to have to demonstrate how resolving ambiguity casts doubt on the theory’s veracity. We’re going to have to wade through mountains of case studies. We’re going to have to think deeply about cause.
And even then, even after all that, we will be left with two inescapable facts to which the believer may cling. One, we will not have proven the theory false; the premises of the theory are not capable of disproof; they may always be believed. And two, even after removing all ambiguity, we will be confronted by those times in which the astrological forecasts were accurate. Even monkeys throwing darts can pick good stocks.
There is no use putting such extraneous hits down to “chance”. There is no such thing as chance. Statistics, and probability, cannot prove cause. (I wrote a book on this called Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics.) There will be times when astrological predictions are accurate, and there must be some real, actual reason why they were accurate. And that reason might be the astrological theory is right! You cannot prove—and prove is another of those adamantine words—it wasn’t.
The only real hope you have of converting the believer is to change his metaphysical perspective. He believes astrology because he believes it is possible for the stars, or the universe, or whatever, to cause changes in his behavior or demeanor. This is something he wants to believe. To dissuade him from this means replacing that metaphysical position with another, such as the rank (and ultimately unsatisfactory) skepticism of the materialist—or the living religion of a theist. Everybody knows how difficult a task this is. Why, it often takes a miracle.
We’re all gonna die!
What holds for astrology holds for theories of environmental doom.
On his blog Real Climate Science, Tony Heller documents failed prediction after failed prediction using the very words of the doomsayers. In 1992 (he showed in an 18 July 2017 post) the warning was of an ever-widening ozone hole, which was an “alarming threat” which caused “the degradation of the conditions necessary to sustain life on this planet.” One scientist rang the familiar cry, “It’s far worse than we thought.”
And came the hard data showing the size of the “hole” has been essentially unchanged since 1990 (sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller). It must have been disappointing to some that the sky didn’t fall after all.
Paul Ehrlich in 1970 said that “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years”. This did not happen. Something like the opposite of it did, in the sense that agricultural production has been rising beautifully ever since.
Was Ehrlich’s theory falsified? No. Was the theory about the ever-shrinking ozone hole falsified? No. Global-warming-of-doom? No.
It could be—and Ehrlich makes this very claim—that we have not yet reached the doom of which he spoke. The “fuzz” surrounding his dates, which everybody knew was there, was just a little wider than we first thought. Mass starvation is a live possibility.
The ozone might flee forever. The globe could burn up. All of it might still happen. Just as we might experience greater fortitude when our horoscope predicts.
How do convince believers these are all bad theories?
We could and should and must lead these believers through lectures on the nature of evidence, on what ambiguity means and how to resolve it in relation to their forecasts, as we did with the astrologer. We should scientists who believe in environmental doom what skill means and why they don’t have it. We can show how other theories make superior predictions.
But like with the astrologer, we can scarcely prove their theories wrong. And there will always be times and places, localizations, where their theories scored small hits. It will always be possible for folks to retain a tight grip on their cherished theories.
Again, just like with the astrologer, changing their mind requires changing their most fundamental beliefs. They must come to a new metaphysical view of the world; yes, come to a new religion, one which it makes their heart sing, and not darken, to hear, “Go forth and multiply.”
That may very well take a miracle. Without it, we have a long, slow endless battle ahead of us.
I’m at the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness meeting in No-History City, Louisiana. Here’s Part I of (an earlier draft of) the speech I gave Saturday. Consider donating $1 for every typo you discover.
Watch the skies!
Two years ago I got into a minor public feud with Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the man with some popular, albeit curious, ideas about probability. Well, “feud” is a grandiose word. What happened was this.
Taleb and some friends of his (Joseph Norman, Rupert Read, and Yaneer Bar-Yam) wrote an open letter called “Climate models and precautionary measures”.
The quartet noted that the debate in global warming focused on the accuracy of climate models. Those who say the models are good want immediate action. Those who say the models have no skill argue there is no evidence that anything needs to be done.
But Taleb says model accuracy is irrelevant. Why? “We have only one planet,” he says. And because “It is at the core of both scientific decision making and ancestral wisdom to take seriously absence of evidence when the consequences of an action can be large.”
Yes, and “the burden of proof of absence of harm is on those who would deny it.”
Thus, we ought to take the measures I’ll tell you about in a few minutes so that we can—all together now—save the planet.
Think carefully about his reasoning. One, we must take seriously the absence of evidence when the consequences of an event are large. And two, the burden of proof of the absence of harm is on those who would deny it.
All right. It is true—it is logically possible—that hostile aliens from outer space, Black Swan Aliens I called them, might attack and destroy the planet. The aliens will find us because of our constant global electronic emissions—the earth hums like a giant space radio. And when the aliens get here—whammo!—we’re goners.
Now the consequences of this attack, should it occur, are surely larger than anything global warming can do to us. Global warming is spilled milk next to the complete and literal destruction of the world as we know it when Black Swan Aliens attack.
Of course, there is no proof these aliens will attack. There is no evidence. But, like Taleb says, we have to take seriously the absence of evidence when the stakes are large—and they don’t come larger than this.
To prevent the attack requires that we immediately and for all time shut down all electronic appliances. No radio, no television, no satellites, no computers, even, because they emit loads of EM. We need to be like those submarines in World War II movies: we need to run silent, run deep, electronically speaking. Any EM leakage will allow the aliens to discover us, and when they discover us, we’re nothing but probe fodder.
We must spare no effort, spare no expense! Shut it down, shut it all down. Now!
Let Taleb deny it if he can! The burden of proof of the absence of these harms is on those who would deny it. Right?
I pointed these facts out in the Stream article “Attack Of The Black Swans From Outer Space“. I kindly provided a copy and links to Taleb so he could ponder his philosophy in action.
That’s when he blocked me on Twitter.
Taleb’s argument is actually old and goes by the name the precautionary principle, otherwise known as What about the children! Those who hold with the precautionary principle say that if a bad thing can happen, we must protect against that bad thing. Better safe than sorry. The culmination of effeminacy combined with irrational fear.
Which reminds me of the old definition of a sweater. A sweater is an article of clothing a child puts on when the mother gets cold.
Precaution is trivially dispatched as a reasonable argument. Here’s how. The list of things that could kill you, or everybody, is infinite. Each of these things, if they are contingent, i.e. involving logically possible things, must therefore be protected against if the precautionary principle is valid. Since the list of precautions you must take are infinite, you are paralyzed. No, it’s worse: you cannot even sit still.
Want to take a walk after—or, more likely, during—this speech? Well, a bus could careen off a cab, jump the curb, and flatten you. Or maybe sitting still is safer; maybe have a small nap. Stay put and a chandelier can plummet from the ceiling and plunge into your skull. Take a breath and you risk inhaling some carcinogenic compound. Hold your breath and asphyxiate.
There is nowhere safe, no amount of precaution that you could take that will save you from doom. Some try to rescue the principle by saying it is only those threats which are “plausible” which need to protected against. This move fails because to say a thing is “plausible” means to make assumptions that make the thing possible, and it is the assumptions that are always in dispute.
For instance, we can easily assume conditions that make it likely the Black Swan Alien attack will occur. Not too long ago scientists at some radio telescope began receiving mysterious, unexplainable signals. Well, I can explain them. It’s the Black Swan Aliens communicating with their Mother Ship which is hiding behind Jupiter. Why not? You have no proof I am wrong.
Now you can argue against my assumptions, but that is just the point. It is always the assumptions which are the point. It is never the horrible event. Everybody understands what the Alien attack means, just as everybody understands what runaway-global-warming-of-doom means. Both will destroy (they say) Life As We Know It. The consequences of any evil are well understood.
That means, as should have been clear from the start, that what counts are the assumptions. And other words for “assumptions” is “theory” or “model.” I’ll speak more about theory after discussing the proposed fixes of our impending doom.
What precautionary principle supporters are trying to do in saying their doom should be protected against but the alien attack shouldn’t is cheating. They are assuming the validity of their theory and denigrating mine without any argument except prejudice. They are trying to slip their theory past your defenses so that you start arguing about the consequences of the theory and not the theory itself.
It’s worse than it sounds. People invariably invoke the precautionary principle to advocate some expensive or power-accumulating scheme. Yet what folks like Taleb never realize is that if their schemes are adopted, then the principle can then be turned around and used against them.
People who want to “save the planet” want to do all kinds of curious things, like creating an army of short people, about which more in a minute. Now this miniaturization of mankind might very well lower the planet’s mean temperature by a tenth of a degree—who knows? But is it possible that shrinking everybody by forced genetic manipulation might have untoward effects?
I speak of the Doctrine of Unexpected Consequences, summed up well in the popular phrase, “What Could Go Wrong?”
Practical, ubiquitous electrification has done much good, but it has also caused soul-destroying. peace-wrecking music to harass you wherever you go. There is no escape from it in any public place. The Internet has showed us what the media in the West really is, but it has also made us stupider as we no longer know how to rely on our memories; what can’t be looked up in an instant may as well not exist.
The late and mostly great philosopher David Stove in his essay “Why You Should be a Conservative” said that the oldest and best argument for conservatism is
that our actions almost always have unforeseen and unfortunate consequences. It is an argument from so great a fund of experience, that nothing can rationally outweight it. Yet somehow, at any rate in socieites like ours, this argumeant is never given its due weight. When what is called a “reform” proves to be, yet again, a cure worse than the disease, the assumption is always that what is needed is still more, and still more drastic “reform.”
Human behavior is hideously complex. Nobody is consistently good at predicting it. Yet every politician and activist knows just what will cure all of what ails us.
The poet Robert Burns knew the Doctrine of Unexpected Consequences well.
But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
Short people got no reason to live
Many otherwise reasonable and responsible people have so addled their minds with the belief that we face environmental (yet not spiritual) doom that they have proposed some of the most outrageous, preposterous, foolish, and idiotic schemes to save us. You can hardly open a scientific journal these days and not think you’re looking at plot treatments for 1950s science fiction B-movies.
An NYU professor name Liao—a short professor, a little guy—wants to shrink mankind so that big men like me can’t dominate people like him. Large men eat more than small, ceteras parabis, and growing food, he says, adds carbon dioxide and other gases to the atmosphere, acts which he takes on faith will kill or greatly harm us all.
How will Liao midgetify mankind? Via “preimplantation genetic diagnosis”, a process which involves “[re-]thinking the criteria for selecting which embryos to implant”. Liao, you see, is a dedicated follower of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s not clear what Liao advocates for those who slip by the Gene Police and inadvertently turn out tall. Perhaps post-birth abortions. Genetics is not a precise science.
Liao intimates only stupid people have many kids. Thus he suggests “cognitive enhancement” to lower birth rates. He says “many environmental problems seem to be exacerbated by—or perhaps even result from—a lack of appreciation of the value of other life forms and nature itself.” Solution? Shoot people up with the “prosocial hormone oxytocin” or a “noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor”. Also—and you could see this one coming from a mile off—reduce testosterone. Sorry, big men. Liao seems to have it in for us. Can you imagine the lines outside the government “Health” clinics to get your mandatory shots?
All this seem intrusive to you? Not so, says our little friend: “human engineering could be liberty-enhancing.” Liberty enhancing? Yes, sir. He says “if we were able to scale the size of human beings, then given the same fixed allocation of greenhouse gas emissions, some families may be able to have more than two children.” How generous!
Liao and his academic colleagues also suggest poisoning the food supply; or, rather, poisoning you so that you cease enjoying meat. They advocate making people wear meat patches, akin to nicotine patches, that “induce mild intolerance” by causing the immune system to “react” against meat proteins. He says, “henceforth eating `eco-unfriendly’ food would induce unpleasant experiences. Even if the effects do not last a lifetime, the learning effect is likely to persist for a long time.” You bet it will.
Let me read to you something written by Julia Pongratz of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology:
Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes had an impact on the global carbon cycle as big as today’s annual demand for gasoline. The Black Death, on the other hand, came and went too quickly for it to cause much of a blip in the global carbon budget.
Now both the Mongol horde and the Black Death lasted about a century, and while the Black Death killed twice as many people as did Genghis and his followers, it didn’t kill with the same efficiency as the Mongols. The plague would wander into a populated area and, depending on its mood, would take a out a few here, a few there. It left many survivors who would continue emitting carbon dioxide.
Contrast that with the Mongols. They would ride to town, surround it, encourage its occupants to surrender and be killed in an organized, efficient manner. Or, if the town were recalcitrant, the Mongols would lay siege and then kill everybody in a sloppy, disorganized way.
The good thing about this, according to Pongratz, was that when the hordes pushed on towards their next set of victims, they left only silence behind. And barren—freshly fertilized!—ground covered in tree seeds—seeds which were able to grow into forests which sucked CO2 from the air, thus cooling the planet.
Somebody said of Pongratz’s discovery, “Genghis Khan’s bloody conquests scrubbed 700 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere as depopulated land returned to forest.” The Mongols again killed only half as many as the Black Death, but by removing these folks contiguously, unlike the hit-and-miss approach of the plague, “there was enough time for the forests to re-grow and absorb significant amounts of carbon.”
Pongratz says, “Based on the knowledge we have gained from the past, we are now in a position to make land-use decisions that will diminish our impact on climate and the carbon cycle.” We now know that we can’t rely on disease to solve our global warming problems.
We wonder how Pongratz plans to ressurrect, or create a new, Genghis Kahn.
Besides killing people off, preventing their births, or chemically enslaving them, academics also often suggest monkeying with the atmosphere itself. The want to dump massive, stunning amounts of fertilizer into the ocean and stimulate plankton growth. Or they want to dump massive, stunning amounts of sparkily debris into the stratosphere and reflect away life-giving sunshine. The list is endless, or as endless as the grant money supporting these people.
These folks never pause to consider they know not of what they speak. Besides ignoring the Doctrine of Unexpected Consequences, they assume their theories of doom are true. Why do they make that assumption? Why do they rely so heavily on theory?
Part II tomorrow.