Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Struggle of Paradigms

Perhaps the most fascinating factor shaping today’s debates about the future of industrial society, and certainly among the most frustrating, is the rapidity with which any such debate plunges into territory outside the reach of rational argument. Watch a conversation about the subject, and nearly always one of two things will happen: either the participants will find they share basic assumptions in common, and will proceed to build a conversation on that firm ground, or their assumptions will differ and they’ll spend the rest of the conversation talking past one another.

Any number of examples could be cited, but the one that comes to mind just now is the way that communications break down over the subject of environmental limits. It’s no exaggeration to say that either you believe in limits or you don’t. If you do, it seems glaringly obvious that modern industrial civilization, which depends on ever-increasing exploitation of finite and nonrenewable resources, is in deep trouble, and the only viable options are those that jettison the fantasy of perpetual economic growth and aim at a controlled descent to a level of energy and resource use per capita that can be sustained over the long run.

If you don’t believe in limits, by contrast, such notions are the height of folly. Since, according to this way of thinking, progress can by definition overcome any limit nature might impose on human beings, it seems glaringly obvious that modern industrial civilization needs to push progress into overdrive so that it can find and deploy the innovations that will get us past today’s problems and launch our species onward toward its glorious future, whatever that happens to be.

Readers of this blog will have little trouble guessing the side of this division on which I can be found. As a student of ecology, I’ve learned that environmental limits play a dominant role in shaping the destiny of every species, ours included; as a student of history, I’ve reviewed the fate of any number of civilizations that believed themselves to be destiny’s darlings, and proceeded to pave the road to collapse with their own ecological mistakes. From my perspective, the insistence that limits don’t apply to us is as good a case study as one might wish of that useful Greek word hubris, otherwise defined as the overweening pride of the doomed. Still, the fact that these things seem so self-evident to me makes it all the more intriguing that they are anything but self-evident to most people in the industrial world today.

This same territory was mapped out the year I was born, from a different perspective, by Thomas Kuhn, whose famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is as influential as it is rarely read. Kuhn was among the first historians of science to put the popular image of scientific progress to the test of history, and find it wanting. In place of the notion that science advances toward objective truth by the steady accumulation of proven facts – a notion that continues to shape histories of science written for popular consumption – he showed that scientific beliefs are profoundly shaped by social and cultural forces, and that the relation between scientific theory and the facts on the ground is a great deal more complex than conventional ideas allow.

Kuhn’s take on things has been misstated often enough that it probably needs a summary here. During a period of what he calls “normal science,” scientists model their work on a paradigm. This isn’t some sort of vague worldview, in the sense too often given to the word recently; rather, it’s a specific example of science at work, an investigation by an exemplary scientist and the successful and popular theory resulting from that research. In bacteriology, for example, Louis Pasteur’s research program in the 1870s and 1880s, which led to the first successful artificial vaccines, became the paradigm that later researchers followed; good bacteriological research – in Kuhn’s terms, normal science – was research that followed Pasteur’s lead, worked at fine-tuning his theories, and asked the same kinds of questions about the same kinds of phenomena that he asked and answered.

Sooner or later, though, a mismatch opens up between the paradigm and the facts on the ground; the research methods drawn from the paradigm stop yielding good answers, and the paradigmatic theory no longer allows for successful prediction of phenomena. Scientists respond by making the theory more elaborate, the way that Ptolemy’s earth-centered cosmology had to be padded out with epicycle after epicycle to make it fit the vagaries of planetary motion. Crisis comes when the theory becomes so cumbersome that even its stoutest believers come to realize that something is irreducibly wrong, or when data emerges that no reworking of the paradigmatic theory can explain. Sooner or later the crisis resolves when a researcher propounds a new theory that makes sense of the confusion. That theory, and the research program that created it, then becomes the new paradigm in the field.

So far, so good. Kuhn pointed out, though, that while the new paradigm solves questions the old one could not, the reverse is often true as well: the old paradigm does things the new paradigm cannot. (Sailors who navigate by the stars still use Ptolemaic astronomy, for example, because one of the questions it answers elegantly – what does the movement of the heavens look like from Earth? – is awkward to work out using the Copernican system.) It’s standard practice for the new paradigm to include the value judgment that the questions the new paradigm answers are the ones that matter, and the ones the old paradigm does better don’t count. Nor is this judgment pure propaganda; since the questions the new paradigm answers are generally the ones that researchers have been wrestling with for decades or centuries, they look more important than details that have been comfortably settled since time out of mind. They may also be more important, in every meaningful sense, if they allow practical problems to be solved that the old paradigm left insoluble.

Yet the result of that value judgment, Kuhn argued, is the false impression that science progresses, replacing relatively false beliefs with relatively more true ones, and thus gradually advances on the truth. He argued that different paradigms are not attempts to answer the same questions, differing in their level of accuracy, but attempts to answer entirely different questions – or, to put it another way, they are models that highlight different features of a complex reality, and cannot be reduced to one another. Thus, for example, Ptolemaic astronomy isn’t wrong, just useful for different purposes than Copernican astronomy. (From the standpoint of relativity theory, please note, this is quite correct: since there are no fixed points in the cosmos, only frames of reference, it’s as meaningful to take an earth-centered frame of reference and calculate the movements of the planets from there as it is to take a sun-centered frame of reference and do the same thing.)

All these same considerations sprawl outside the limits of the sciences to define the rise and fall of paradigms in the entire range of human social phenomena. This brings us back around to the irreconcilable differences that introduced this post, for the difference between the believers and the disbelievers in limits is, at root, a difference in paradigms. Those who believe that modern industrial society is destined for, or even capable of, unlimited economic expansion have drawn their paradigm from the industrial revolution and its three-century aftermath, with James Watt and his steam engine playing roughly the same role that Louis Pasteur played in the old paradigm of bacteriology, say, or Isaac Newton still plays in some aspects of physics. Like any other paradigm, the industrial revolution defines certain questions and issues as important, and dismisses others from serious consideration.

This is where the problems arise, because a solid case can be made – and this blog has tried in various ways to make it – that some of the questions dismissed from consideration by the “normal culture” of industrial expansion are among those our species most needs to face just now, as the depletion of fossil fuel reserves and the soaring costs of environmental damage become central facts of our contemporary experience. The industrial paradigm can only interpret running out of one resource as a call to begin exploiting some even richer one. If there is no richer one, and even the poorer ones are rapidly being depleted as well, what then? From within the industrial paradigm, that question cannot even be formulated; the assumption that there is always some new and better resource to be had is hardwired into the ways of thinking that the industrial paradigm makes inevitable.

Thus a change of paradigms is necessary. The belief in limits discussed earlier in this post derives from a different model of this kind – the model of ecology, which is still sorting out its historical vision and has not yet quite found its paradigmatic theory, researcher, and discovery. (Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and Charles Darwin are among the current contenders.) From within this paradigm, the models that provide the most insight into our contemporary situation are those found in nonhuman nature – specifically, the cycles of increase, overshoot, and dieoff which afflict so many other species that rely on outside forces to control their numbers. Unless we take that model and its implications into account, the ecological paradigm suggests, some of the most important factors shaping our future are completely out of sight.

The change from one paradigm to another, however, is not an overnight thing. Kuhn points out that in the sciences, it usually has to wait until most of the older generation of scientists, who have been trained in the old paradigm, have been removed from the debate by old age and death. The same thing is too often true in other fields. Thus it’s uncomfortably likely that even as the industrial paradigm fails to explain an increasingly challenging world, a great many people will cling to the faith that progress will bail us out. Meanwhile, those of us who have made the Copernican leap to a universe in which human beings are no longer central will have to accomplish what we can on the smaller scales available to us.


Geoff said...

Thankyou for another great post.

From reading along for a while I know you try not to see in terms of "binaries", but this would seem to be one of them, wouldn't it? It also seems that the two paths are somewhat mutually exclusive.

Those that believe in progress overcoming limits will utilise every resource within reach in their mad scramble to survive, and they will ultimately exhaust the best remaining chances we do have for powering down.

On the other hand, for those who believe in limits (and I'm sure limits believe in us, even if we don't believe in them), whilst they might wish to conserve for the future, they will be pushed aside or even punished as being "anti-society".

A real world example of this is the push to bigger blocks of land to serve as more efficient farms by councils here in Oz. It would be preferable to have smaller blocks of land to cope with a powerdown, but we're not going to see that in the near future.

The resource allocation/access arising from that struggle would seem to weigh heavily against a paradigm shift within a useful timescale wouldn't it? A paradigm shift is pretty useless once all the resources have been exhausted I'd imagine.

Edde said...

Another excellent post.

There are gradations inside paradigms, too. For instance, the environmental "community" has no problem opposing coal on climate change grounds but some have difficulty seeing the problems with biomass, which is, arguably, carbon neutral.

Proponents of biomass have difficulty accepting issues of denuding forests with resultant habitat & species loss, monoculture of invasive exotics, downward spiraling fertility and lack of water as constraints on mobilizing biomass widely.

This group is still waiting for technological solutions to problems that have come upon hard limits.

Again, fine post.


Degringolade said...

Mr Greer:

Another excellent post. Many kudo.

My only comment is the potential candidates for prophet are really not all that convincing. I am hoping for a Pasteur or a Crick soon.

Shadowfax said...

JMG has got to the nut of the problem.
99% of the people I meet are full adherents of perpetual growth while they complain of the traffic and lousy salmon fishing.

I silently applaud the slowing economy while the rest fret about when things will return to "normal"

hapibeli said...

Thanks again. Another explanation of current reality that I can use in conversations in person, and through email, to work at shifting the paradigm. If most humans could see themselves as part of and not reason for the planet,we would survive with grace.

Robert C. Guy said...

Beautiful. As I read through the first couple of paragraphs of today's post I told my Love that reading your posts has become much like walking on a long road to somewhere beautiful and meeting someone along the way who has already been much further along and stayed for quite some time and is sharing post cards and photographs; it is not complete but a word is a thing and thing is only a word. Always becoming. By the time I found myself down to the end of this article I was reminded of something I realized years ago: There is no such thing as truly 'common sense' and what is called 'common sense' amounts in what appears to be reality as no more than 'common assumptions' but I have found so few minds that seem compatible with that understanding enough to see it that way.

I spoke with a family member of mine regarding the ideas you express and she seemed to understand. Yesterday she was quite excited about the unveiling of an electric car which she read about with quite a cute little design that was recently unveiled by one of the big vehicle manufacturers and I mentioned that with a 30 mile radius and max speed of 25mph it would only be remotely useful in large cities. She agreed and said that it would at least keep people in motion for a time with the oil problem at hand. I took care of some things and when I came back a few minutes later we resumed our discussion. "How do we mine coal?" I asked. "Out of the ground." She replied (looking a little confused that I would ask such a strange question). "How does the coal get from the mine to where it is burned?" I asked. She didn't voice her reply, “With petroleum” I said, but I saw she knew where I was going with it; that even our electricity depends on petroleum and the alternative energy sources of wind, water and light come no where close to the EROEI provided by petroleum. It is not surprising to me that the immediate response I get from people who temporarily come to realize the life changes that will soon be necessary is to either proclaim an ultimate faith in progress that we will overcome this and find a way to expand out further and consume more or to support the ideas of those who want to horde canned goods and ammo and it seems probable that what you have expressed here cleanly describes underlying causes for those movements of thought: they are either so firmly entrenched in their paradigm that they can not let it go even at the cost of letting go of their own sight or they understand no alternative other than the reactionary impulses strengthened by a media machine that depends deeply on intellectual and emotional manipulation of its support base.

I mention this place to many when questions of society come up in conversation and I do not hide or gloss over the 'Archdruid' part and I observe their reactions to the shapes and thoughts I present in the conversation prior to expressing the source of much of the information and after mentioning the Archdruid (and occasionally explaining what it basically means) and it is interesting to observe how often the door shuts in their minds and I seem to change from an interesting source of conversation and fertile thought to a standard lost soul who has had my mind somehow corrupted from the path of truth as if I hadn't considered the underlying truths you express here at length in my own meditations. Sometimes I do as others have mentioned and try to take note of all of the things in my life that rely on petroleum to be as they are. Often I try to take not of the things in my life which are as they are because they rely on the common assumptions which are called sense.

OneCrazyMama said...

Enjoyable reading, as always.

Still, I'm not sure I can agree with the notion that one either accepts paradigm (A) or (B)--assuming there are only two paradigms available.

From my particular seat in the theater, it would seem, to me, the paradigms you mention are opposite ends of a full spectrum of paradigms.

I have no doubt that a new mode of thought/action is necessary, but I doubt it will be the one we expect.

The North Coast said...

The common human inability to perceive the limits of a particular paradigm can unfortunately be most readily seen among many of the adherents of the Peak Oil movement itself.

I am extremely disturbed by the vast numbers of people who are calling for a return to the paradigms that predated the scientific paradigms that now provide the framework.

Specifically, these people, many of whom are prominent and widely read social critics, desire the return to the social organization and philosophies, religions of the past. I hear a lot of the phrase "living in balance with nature" and how not only all modern technology is necessarily bad, but that modern thought and modern forms of social and economic organization (gender equality, capitalism, freedom from legal class distinctions) are pernicious.

In other words, say these people, Reason and Freedom have created an unsustainable society, so, therefore, we must return to Faith and Force.

I see it differently. A study of the rise and fall of numerous societies over the past 5000 years reveals the same process- rapid expansion, bumping up against the inevitable limits imposed by resource depletion, and collapse back to a more primitive level than when the process began.

We who are searching for a way to live sustainably and preserve what's worth preserving will have to deal with hordes of neofeudalists and the rise of irrational, messianic religions along with the revival of superstition and brutality that we thought we put behind us centuries ago. We need new paradigms, new ways of seeing the world, and they won't be supplied by old-time religions or by a retreat to traditional agrarian lifeways, which were actually very wasteful and only "worked" because the population of the world was relatively small and its rich resources were untapped.

I'm very afraid that the coming unwinding will be so stressful and present so many immediate challenges that most people will revert to belief systems and lifeways that will not only make the creation of a truly sustainable and humane order impossible, but will cast us back to the brutality and irrationality of the dark ages.

Let's hope we can retain some of the real social gains of the past 250 years, and that we don't throw too many babies out with the bathwater.

Dwig said...

A nice summary of what may be the central conflict of our time.

"Kuhn pointed out, though, that while the new paradigm solves questions the old one could not, the reverse is often true as well: the old paradigm does things the new paradigm cannot." This is a bit overstated. For a new paradigm to become ascendant, it must at least cover the same ground as the old. (Even if, as you mention, that its explanations may be less elegant on the common ground. For example, we still use the concepts of Euclidean geometry on the Earth at small scales, but need to use the more complex spherical ones at larger scales).

Sometimes, a new paradigm may not cover the old one, and you get, for a while, two competing theories applied in different situations. I remember in my youth hearing a physicist saying "we teach particle theory on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and wave theory on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays".

As another contender for paradigmatic status in ecology, I'd suggest Howard Odum, with his emphasis on the centrality of energy to the dynamics of ecology.

"Meanwhile, those of us who have made the Copernican leap to a universe in which human beings are no longer central will have to accomplish what we can on the smaller scales available to us." If I understand evolution and ecology correctly, this is always the way that change comes about. There are no dictatorships, or even oligarchies, in a biome. The largest and most obviously powerful organisms are as dependent on the stability of the current system as any other, and the changes that transform a biome are frequently caused by growing numbers of very small organisms finding an open niche and "accomplishing what they can".

nutty professor said...

Ahhh, working those thought-muscles! Excellent post!

Is it possible to replace the word "paradigm" with "myth" in this discussion and come to similar conclusions? Or, must religion/spirituality always remain in A Separate Compartment?

Dan Treecraft said...

Dear JMG,

Thank you for an another richly informed, well thought-out essay. Yours is one of the coolest heads writing about the crucial situation we are in today. I'm perennially amazed by the scope of your perspective - psychologically, historically, ecologically, geologically, etc.

My wife and I have come late to our keen awareness of the dire state to which our planet has been reduced, even though we have been "not unaware" for many years.

Currently, she is chewing her way through Derrick Jensen's THE CULTURE OF MAKE BELIEVE, and I have just begun William Catton's OVERSHOOT. We are presently in a state of philosophical gear grinding as we attempt to shift our world view to embrace and accept the mathematically unavoidable collapse of our industrially-enabled, privileged lives. We have long known that the way we lived was unsustainable, yet we have continued bumbling along without a sense of immanent urgency - until now.

Not least of all, we appreciate the apparent humility
in every essay we've read by you. Thank you.

ChristineStone said...

In the late 80's in Britain, the Green Party got a very large and unexpected proportion of votes in the general election. I thought then that the new generation, those who had recently become old enough to vote, represented a new way of thinking, new values, or (in John's terms) a new paradigm rising. But as this generation has aged, nothing much has changed yet after all. I wonder if my generation or the next, or the next after that, will have to die out before there is change.

mburnham1 said...

If what you say is true, as I believe it to be, then we are going to have to wait for the "powers that be" in science, industry, government etc. to die off before we can change the paradigm. Unfortunately, their die off will only be part of the great die off that will include us all (or most of us). Perhaps instead of paradigm shift we need revolution? Just a thought.

Conchscooter said...

I am struck by the oddity of the thought processes that see all around them the finite nature of everything - except that one thing which is critical to maintaining current levels of comfort. Of that we are reliably informed there is an infinite supply. It's the same delusional thinking that leads people to believe in divine intervention if for no other reason that the alternative is just too scary.

John Michael Greer said...

Geoff, excellent! Yes, this post was structured around a binary. Can you name a third point of view that resolves it into a ternary?

Edde, thank you. One of the things I find depressing is the number of people in the environmental movement who are willing to accept the idea of limits, but only when it doesn't apply to their lifestyle. This insistence that there must be a green way to fuel what Jim Kunstler calls "the paradise of happy motoring" is a case in point.

Degringolade, Pasteur wasn't too impressive in person; it doesn't help that he's known to have committed scientific fraud. For that matter, Newton spent as much time practicing alchemy as he did working on the theories for which he became famous in retrospect. Editing a dead person's life to make 'em a better fit for a preexisting narrative role has been old hat for centuries.

Shadowfax, for most people nowadays growth is God. (Think of the way that people babble about "spiritual growth," as though the point of spirituality is some sort of metastasis of the self!) The notion that growth is always good -- the ideology of the cancer cell -- is arguably the set of ideas that most needs to be discarded just now.

Hapibeli, no argument there.

Robert, thank you. You're quite right about common sense; it's simply the sum of collective consciousness, and when that's out of synch with the facts on the ground -- as it is now -- following the promptings of common sense is a shortcut to disaster.

Crazy Mama, of course there are more paradigms than the ones I used as the theme for this week's post, and of course there are gradations. There's only so much I can pack into 1200 words or so, especially when the goal is to point up a common pattern of thought by placing it in bold relief.

North Coast, the fantasy of becoming a noble savage is one of the bombs hardwired into Western civilization, and it tends to go off whenever hard times appear on the horizon. Somewhere between the delusion that modern civilization is uniquely good and the equal and opposite delusion that it's uniquely evil lies a place where its best achievements might be saved, and some of its mistakes turned into opportunities for learning.

Dwig, Kuhn cites a number of cases in which new paradigms don't cover all the same ground as old ones, and leave questions unanswered that were answered by their older equivalents. This is generally done by insisting that the unanswered questions aren't important.

Professor, I've been known to use "myths" or, more neutrally, "narratives," for what I've called "paradigms" here. In this case, it's simply a matter of which word Kuhn used.

Dan, thank you! Catton's Overshoot is one of the books that most influenced me -- a brilliant work, well ahead of its time. I haven't read Jensen yet, but he's on the list.

Christine, watch for people making changes in their own lives. That happens first; politics trails after it.

Mburnham, the word "revolution" literally means "going around in circles," and there's a reason for that. As a solution for social ills of any sort, revolution is one of history's all-time losing bets; it simply replaces one elite with another that is no more competent and often more brutal. Or, as the Who reminded us a while back: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Conchshooter, true enough. It's easy to play environmentalist if you can evade the fact that your own comfortable lifestyle is killing species, devastating ecosystems, and drawing down rapidly depleting resources.

Dan and Carrie Williams said...

Ever since your post back in Feb on "Deindustrial Reading List" I've been hoping you'd do a bit on Kuhn. I still consider it the most influential book I read in my undergrad years...well, in a class anyway..."Sometimes a Great Notion" was a game-changer for me, but I digress...

One of the challenges of a paradigm shift that often doesn't get acknowledged (which I'd say is maybe covered somewhat by the social sciences on alienation/existentialism), is the simple fact that to accept and engender a new paradigm, one must be willing to spend a good portion of their life as a pariah, banging their head against the wall of the dominant world-view.

This is where my wife and I find ourselves.

We know *all* of what you talk about. But the unemployment/collapse monster has yet to hit us, our family, or most of our circle. So to downshift because we acknowledge the Limits of Growth and impending doom means we cast ourselves apart from everything our more normative contacts hold dear.

It's a strange and alienating place to reside at times. More are waking up, but to most, the world is still flat and centric.

So we muddle forward in the gray area between the business-as-usual world and the reality-we-feel world of limits and collapse and long descents.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it hurts like a mo-fo.

At least in reading Kuhn there is some comfort in the historical precedent that change is never easy...especially for the early-adopters.

Damien Perrotin said...

I am something of an insider as far as politics are concerned, and something I have noticed that ruling classes – and I do insist on the plural – are still more resistant to paradigm or narrativechange than common people. It is even truer of alternative ruling classes, i.e, those who would like to be in charge but aren't or aren't totally.

The town I live in lies between the sea and a large marsh. Should the sea level rise just a bit, the marsh will turn into a gulf and 100,000 persons will be cut off from the rest of the country. When I asked a Green elected official what we should do about it, he replied me we should act so as it does not happen, which basically means nothing will be done until it is too late

I think the problem is that, at least in Europe, political factions are defined by their ideology, which means that to rise inside the hierarchy of any of them – a perequisite to rise in the overall social hierarchy – you have to follow the ruling narrative. Having the right patron may compensate but only so far and only if the narrative opposing the one you propose is peripheral to your faction's ideological self definition.

And of course you are right when you say that a revolution won't change anything.Those who make them are still more ideological as those they want to replace, with that difference they have never gone through the muddling through and the mess-cleaning which makes up the biggest part of a politician's job. The result isn't likely to be pretty.

For common people, paradigm change may be easier to handle as it is only psychologically disturbing, not career ending. When I said to my girlfriend the marsh she had just bought a house in was going to become a gulf, she replied « I'll buy a boat ». I dare to say it is far more sensible an answer than the Green Deputy Mayor's

Damien Perrotin

Kevembuangga said...

FYI, may be the collapse will not be that much catabolic...

cjryan2000 said...

Great post,

My research has illuminated the existing Dominant Social Paradigm of industrial society with Riley Dunlap's New Ecological Paradigm coined in the 1970's. I agree that social forces are paramount in maintaining the existing dominant set of values and norms via mechanisms like the power of vested interests, denial, and self-censorship (see the spiral of silence theory).

Thanks for bringing this angle to light...

Chris R.
The Localizer Blog

disillusioned said...

This will take 5 mins; I've been waiting a moment to get this off of my chest.

I am writing this coming from the

“Kuhn points out that in the sciences, it usually has to wait until most of the older generation of scientists, who have been trained in the old paradigm, have been removed from the debate by old age and death”


Try this: Go to a sink, put in the plug and fill it with water (4 inches plus). Now pull the plug out. What happens?

The water flows out - and spins. Where did that spin come from? The spin is imparted onto the water via the rotating frame of the Earth (and that frame exists in “space”). The edges of the sink didn't go around at that speed - that effect is imparted onto the water through a combination of inertia, the Earth rotating the local space, and the pressure effects caused by the depth of the water. Twisters are similar.

Well, so what? The point is: spin + pressure gives a form of trappable mechanical energy. You could have had a tiny propeller in that spin and taken out some power, which ultimately would have come from the rotation of the Earth.

And again - so what? Keep with me, it's about to make sense.

It's likely that space (plain 'ol empty vacuum) is pressurized. That's what makes the Universe expand so.

And, in the presence of rotating systems (like the out-flowing water, but at a size far far smaller) similar possibilities exist for accessing / using trappable power. The easiest source for rotation is... magnets (one of the things they do is rotate space at small scale viciously fast). So at/by/near magnets we have rotating space + the pressure present in space. Familiar?

And that's what the long-bedraggled “free-energy” crowd are about, and what this is about.

Bottom line. Those “crank” free-energy devices ultimately tap "pressure of space" (any decent power there? Well, it shoves complete galaxies about) through rotation. The magnet is an -um- enabler / catalyst. The simplest example on the web is the SMOT demonstrator of excess mechanical momentum from magnets (= evidence), followed by works by Searl, Sweet, Johnson and handfuls of others. Perendev is good too; do have some fun Googling these guys. Can get a bit “fringe” though... but one consistent physics about the properties of space will link all these guys up, even though they worked far (and sometimes centuries) apart.

The earliest guy with apparently working “pressure of space” engines was Wesley Gary, demonstrating such devices about 1870. His is a sort of “pressure of space vs. gravity relaxation alternator”. Note: no Conservation or Energy or Thermodynamic Law problems; the energy is provided from a known source: Space, usually the pressure therein.

And why do I write? Back to Kuhn.

The present generation of physicists are trained to see space's vacuum as a nothing, even though “it” can push things about (like the water in the sink, planets and galaxies). Great thing, education!

I'm wondering just who has to die before our present education-economic-industrial structure decides to put it's hand up about this one. It is quite feasible that this has been deliberately swept under the carpet.

Seems to me physics has been dancing to a very strange tune for some time. Be clear, the physics is pretty dated so easy by today's standards. Sweet did most of his work at home and wrote a nice paper (“Nothing is Something”) on the properties of space, as well as build an FE device.

I suspect that the oil/coal/gas industry is involved ( can't meter space - after all, people are already in it! ** no “profit from consumption” can be taken as there is nothing to supply **).

That industry got all upset about “global warming” (message: You shouldn't burn carbons) so I suspect they might have a hand in keeping “free energy” (message: You don't need to burn carbons) hidden. This has been on the fringes for well near 150 years now.

:) but that's rich monopolies with a vested interest for you! Also means Climate Change was quite avoidable. Makes me all disillusioned :(

Kiashu said...

OneCrazyMumma writes,

"Still, I'm not sure I can agree with the notion that one either accepts paradigm (A) or (B)--assuming there are only two paradigms available."I agree. As JMG notes, he can only mention so many in a single article. But to my mind the issue is less how many paradigms are covered and more whether we can come up with our own new ones. JMG's not the only one who can sit outside the paradigms somewhat and view them objectively. Many of us can do this.

The modern Copernican astronomer can be a sailor using the Ptolemaic astronomy on the weekends, and can enjoy the entirely fictional Star Trek astronomy on tv at night while resting from both work and hobby.

Each paradigm has something useful to offer, and many of us can pick and choose as seems good to us.

ChristineStone writes,

"But as this generation has aged, nothing much has changed yet after all."Don't underestimate it. Have a look at Solnit's Revolutions Per Minute, in which she notes that change can be incremental that we don't notice it until we look back. If you've ever been hiking you might think of how as you trudge along you don't feel you're getting anywhere, but if you stop and look back you realise how far you've come.

We might have gone up or down overall, but we can't deny that many things have changed over the past generation or two. Women of the West especially I think will agree much has changed.

John Michael Greer said...

Dan and Carrie, no argument there; the separation of the individual from collective consciousness, if I may lapse briefly into jargon, is not an easy or comfortable task. Still, in a time of collective dysfunction, it's also essential.

Damien, I'm sorry to say that my experiences with the Green Party and its equivalents over here is much the same as yours. Your girlfriend has the right idea.

Kevembuangga, quite the contrary. Note what actually happened -- one system failed, and another was brought on line to replace it, albeit at a lower level of efficiency. That's exactly what the catabolic collapse theory predicts.

Chris, human societies (like any other ecological system) are homeostatic, and so inevitably move to counteract pressures for change from without. It's only when those pressures overwhelm the homeostatic mechanisms that change takes place.

Disillusioned, nice try. It's easy to invent a "new paradigm" that gives you the results you want to get. It's a much harder task to get it to work in the real world. When somebody can demonstrate free energy in circumstances that preclude fraud, which hasn't happened yet, it will deserve serious consideration. (By the way, if free energy works, how come the Chinese -- or any of a dozen other countries that need cheap energy, are not beholden to Western oil companies, and have the necessary technical knowledge -- haven't done anything with it? Conspiracy theories only go so far.)

Kiashu, both valid points.

Steve said...

I'd like to add two thoughts. First, while touring a college campus with my son I came across a poster describing the "current" subatomic particles necessary to explain observations. With every more powerful tools to explore the nature of matter the current atomic paradigm gets ever more complex. These days I find it no more comforting to accept this explanation for the nature of matter than "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the Earth...". This brings me to my second point.

I think the current dominant paradigm of existence in the West, "Mother Culture" and D. Quinn refers to it, is Biblicaly-based. The dominant religions of the West all share the same creation myth and omnipotent God. There are no limits to God's powers in these religions. There is no discussion of limits to the natural environment in the texts of the Bible, Torah or Qu'ran. Given man's special relationship with God there is a deep, unconcious expectation within the culture that God will provide. In fact, promoting living within limits is incompatible with these religions bacause it would force an acknowledgement that either God has limits or man no longer enjoys a special place in the universe. Only by replacing this unconcious message with another one we hope hope to communicate and collaborate effectively.

I think the argument above applies equally well to the current belief in the "free-market". If you watch closely you hear "the economy will rebound because that's what economies do". There again is no consideration of limits to economic growth.

I've rambled enough. Looking for JMG's take on these thoughts.

gaiasdaughter said...

I'm struggling with this one. As one who is firmly convinced that nature has limits and we have hit the wall but married to someone who is firmly convinced that the coming era of Star Trek will save us with mind-boggling new techno-miracles, I've been looking for the right graph, the right argument, the right video to create the lightbulb moment. According to JMG, that ain't gonna happen. While I think I knew that all the time, it's a dash of cold water all the same.

The problem is that preparing for the future is more difficult when the future one is preparing for looks so different to members of the same household. But being a realist (or at least I hope I'm one), I know when to abandon a hopeless cause. Instead of arguing 'unsustainable' and 'limits to growth,' I'll try to find common ground, ie 'real property is such a good investment right now' or 'home-grown tomatoes taste so much better than the store-bought kind.' It's a beginning . . .

Kevin said...

I think your hypothesis predicting a gradual decline of petroleum-based industrial civilization is realistic, but I also feel there are other important concerns than those relating to energy, technology and survival. Civil liberties may also be threatened by civilizational decline. In hard or otherwise frightening times people tend to regress into the "comfort food" of old-time religious ideologies and dogmas. The resurgence of religious fundamentalism that the world has witnessed in the past quarter century could well intensify as conditions deteriorate.

As I believe you've suggested, the most obvious historical precedent is the collapse of Greco-Roman civilization. It's noteworthy that the final stages of that collapse were characterized by the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, the murder of Hypatia, and the final destruction of the Temple of Eleusis by Alaric the Visigoth in 395 AD, ushering in an eon of intellectual darkness and theocratic totalitarianism. It seems to me that thinking people everywhere need to act to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such events as the city lights go out.

Current western civilization was preceded and accompanied by an efflorescence of Enlightenment, humanist and democratic ideas in association with scientific and technological advancement. It would be a great pity if, as we relinquish the notion of technological "progress" in the crass imperialist sense, we were also to lose the idea of advancement in terms of personal freedom and human rights (to say nothing of non-human rights). This could happen, and we ought to guard against it. Americans in particular are prone to complacency on this front. There would be relatively little value in possessing a locally-owned printing press and practicing the book-making arts if you were not permitted to publish unpopular ideas or anything which is forbidden by your local fundies.

spottedwolf said...

The beginning of this post reminds me of an article I read in a Mother Earth News issue in 1982 on the idea certain stock market moves precede "bull or bear" markets. The author spoke of a long personal history, as a trader, and sought to destroy the paradigm of market predictions. Simply...he stated the standards by which such predictions were set, and still adhered to, had to do with the small amount of national corporate structures that originally started the markets. Moves by this small group of players caused great shifts of profit and loss such as the strategies to eliminate independent banks which of course, created the crash of 1929. The long history of market strategies, based on these early movements, have long since lost any accuracies because the modern markets had a far greater number of players.He stated there were no ways to predict market swings. It was a 50/50 chance.

I think the forseeable ability to recognize the ecological paradigm is going to suffer the same problems represented by the last US election and the latest. On the one hand a need for change...on the other a refusal to give up the old ways of consumption...This means there will be major blocking to all recognizable attempts to change the current status-quo paradigm till there is a general consensus regarding need. Give it all ten years to gel socially...then maybe.

Dan Treecraft said...

One more thought here. I have long used the analog of the Kindergarten game "Musical Chairs" to consider how petroleum and other resource depletion might play out around the world. As long as the music plays, everyone sashays around the circle of. If the music stops, there is a quick scramble for chairs, and everyone takes a seat - as long as there are chairs enough for all contenders. BUT, when the music stops, and there are not enough chairs for everyone, the competition becomes more frantic and ferocious. However fast the drawdown of increasingly scarce resources occurs, the competition for them will often, likely be ruthless.

Did we learn the "musical chairs" response? Or do 5-year-olds have an inherently fierce sense of cut-throat competitiveness?

okieinbabylon said...

Scientific "progress" seems undeniable to me if by "progress" you mean the steady accumulation of more knowledge. This can only be a good thing. I take your point, however, that there isn't necessarily progress toward a greater level of truth in any single given scientific paradigm.

One of the themes of this blog has been the urgent need to preserve useful past knowledge. Perhaps this is the ternary of which you speak? Although we should continue to seek new knowledge and technologies to deal with the crises we face, we should also try to preserve or recover, as appropriate, those technologies which were based on older scientific paradigms.

Tigerbaby said...

John. I have been reading your Archdruid Blog for over a year now, and I must thank you for it. reading you is like to listening to Alistair Campbells "Letter from America". Everything seems to make so much sense, and is written so eloquently. The thing is; How do those of us who can see the insanity of this World do anything to fix the problem ? I have been going around asking questions of late to friend and foe alike; "Who Needs Banks ? " Why are we bankrupting ourselves to fix their balance sheets"? etc etc. I have not received an answer, just mere incredulity. I guess I must be doing something right if my comments are causing deafening silence in return. Maybe I'm planting seeds !. thanks again. Tadhg, ireland.

Geoff said...

"Can you name a third point of view that resolves it into a ternary?"

I'm afraid I'm going to have to admit defeat on the homework assignment :-P My brain must be firmly locked into the binary way of seeing things. Every option I've thought of seems to be ruled over by the fundamental limits to growth, which strengthens one side of the binary, rather than turning it into a ternary. Due to personal bias I suspect.

Could you enlighten me on how this binary might usefully be turned into a ternary?

wylde otse said...

hey this blog has come of age. i have never seen so many intelligent people that open up.
when i drink too much, i am often heard to proclaim: i love americans.
i live in canada and i love all of you.

Americans, i love you.

Megan said...

The notion that growth is always good -- the ideology of the cancer cell -- is arguably the set of ideas that most needs to be discarded just now.

'Growth' has a double meaning - of simple expansion or increase on the one hand, and of maturation and development on the other. I think the problem comes from conflating the two meanings. We can readily interpret 'spiritual growth' as 'spiritual maturation' because we already understand 'growth' that way in the context of an individual. But we don't have a ready mental model for 'economic maturation'. We understand that an organism remains vital by 'growing', but we apply the metaphor to the economic organism in the most simplistic way possible.

By the way, I've sent the article I promised and had it bounce once; just sent it again. If it doesn't work this time I may have the address spelled wrong.

das monde said...

JMG gave a very nice description of the paradigm change. And there are indeed analogues in the economic or political worlds. The stage of opening mismatches between the dominant paradigm and the facts can be particularly irritating in the real world. Like Winston Churchill said: "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else." People will go a long way in denying simplest inevitabilities, covering them with ever more complex mitigations, until... there is no next innovation in time. Or take the current financial crisis - the problem and solution might turn out to have a pretty simple basis (like, runaway debt disbalance under the accepted monetary games) but it would not literally fit the current "sacred" principles or interests of concerned elites, and we are bound to try all sorts of economic alchemy and shamanism until actual recovery (if that is possible at all before the catabolic changes would kick in).