Today's title is the subtitle of Craig Dilworth's Too Smart For Our Own Good (Cambridge, 2009). I finally got around to reading some of Dilworth's book this year, and was delighted to learn that his view of humanity's future and my own are similar and compatible. The central idea behind Dilworth's long exposition is the Vicious Circle Principle, which goes as follows (page 110).
Vicious Circle Principle (VCP)
Humanity's development consists in an accelerating movement from situations of scarcity, to technological innnovation, to increased resource availability, to increased consumption, to population growth, to resource depletion, to scarcity once again, and so on.
We can readily see in the VCP is that the main difference between any animal whose population grows beyond what its immediate environment can support, and thus dies off to restore balance with that environment, and the human animal engaged in a similar overshoot, is technological innovation. In the past I have called this The Assumption Of Technological Progress. It is also easy to see where the standard "technology will save us" narrative comes from. As times goes on, I have come to believe that the love of technology and the salvation which it allegedly makes possible is built right into human cognition, just as the urge to grow populations and increase the material comfort (the survival chances) of human offspring are also biological imperatives.
Note that Dilworth's VCP references "an accelerating movement from..." Here he is simply stating the obvious. Whereas in the past local populations overshot their local environment, and could 1) move on to greener pastures; or 2) innovate their way out of the problem (or not) if moving on was not an option, the current human population overshoot is global and there is no other "Earth" to exploit. This is the ecological predicment of humankind.
All of this explains why I have fun ridiculing the belief that humans will move on to live in other places in the solar system, as I did recently in Screw Earth — Let's Live On Mars Instead!
When I make fun of earnest human groups seeking to terraform and colonize Mars, my ridicule occurs on two distinct levels—I hope some readers can distinguish between them. On the first, more obvious level, I am making fun of the sheer impossibility of such a venture, regardless of whether we are looking at the problem from a technological, biological, or physical (energy) point of view.
But on the second, more profound level, I am ridiculing the human animal itself, for the desire to terraform and colonize Mars is a perfect expression of that animal's unconcious, ineluctable biological imperative to grow without limit, a desire I recently summarized in Is Global Economic Growth Persistent?
Economists may believe that the evolution of civilization and its CO2 emissions are driven by "decisions" made by individuals, organizations and governments, but I don't see any "decisions" being made. All such "decisions" go one way and one way only—toward furthering economic growth.
Therefore, the "judgement" that human perceptions and behavior control the rate at which civilization consumes fossil energy is true in a trivial sense only in so far as further economic growth always requires more energy (a = λC), and fossil fuels are by far the largest source of that energy. Human "judgements" and "decisions" require Free Will, which does not really exist in this case.
Therefore, in the most important sense, not the trivial sense just described, policy does not guide sources of primary energy, policy does not guide rates of human reproduction, and policy does not guide individual wealth and lifestyles in the general case.
The idea that policy does guide these things, that human societies make choices, is one of the central delusions of our species. Striving for growth in populations and the economies which support them is a biological imperative, and will always occur if the means and opportunity exist to achieve it. For a similar view, see Craig Dilworth's Too Smart For Our Own Good.
I will have more to say about Dilworth in the future, so I will cut this post short today. However, I do want to quote a small part of his last chapter called ... and too dumb to change (pages 393-396). The "problem" or "situation" in this text is the ecological predicament of humankind.
To react directly to our surroundings is how we instinctly react; it is built into our karyotype, just as it is built into the karyotypes of other species. And if it were at all possible to overcome this predilection, it would seem that we, as a species, would have to act on the basis of that very intelligence that has landed us in this situation in the first place.
Overcoming our instincts with our intelligence would be a very difficult task to say the least, however, as is evident from the fact that we haven't made the least effort to do so despite being well aware of the problem for many years...
According to the VCP, the individual territorial instincts of the powerful override whatever other instincts they may have as support the well-being of the species, and it is they who determine the course taken. And it seems to me, there's not much we can do about it.
The revealing of the nature of the situation, such as is attempted in this book, is not going to make any noticeable difference.
I could have written that myself. Below I've included the only video of Dilworth I could find. He believes Homo sapiens is on the verge of extinction. Dilworth also refers to his own lifelong study, which culminated in his latest book Simplicity: A Meta-Metaphysics. In the video, Dilworth says that he thinks of himself as a metaphysician.
Needless to say, I think a "meta-metaphysics" is just so much mental masturbation. In my view, no metaphysics exists, per se—there is only matter and energy, physics and biology, and ultimately that's all which is required to explain the human predicament or anything else which is knowable, although I am willing to admit that I do not (yet) have a good handle on consciousness. So I find Dilworth's project more than a little odd and somewhat disconcerting. However, that strangeness does not detract from his achievement in Too Smart For Our Own Good.
(Well, OK, maybe I'm wrong. Still, right now, I am not willing to pay $60 to find out )