Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dark Age America: The Suicide of Science

Last week’s discussion of facts and values was not as much of a diversion from the main theme of the current sequence of posts here on The Archdruid Report as it may have seemed.  Every human society likes to think that its core cultural and intellectual projects, whatever those happen to be, are the be-all and end-all of human existence. As each society rounds out its trajectory through time with the normal process of decline and fall, in turn, its intellectuals face the dismaying experience of watching those projects fail, and betray the hopes so fondly confided to them.

It’s important not to underestimate the shattering force of this experience. The plays of Euripides offer cogent testimony of the despair felt by ancient Greek thinkers as their grand project of reducing the world to rational order dissolved in a chaos of competing ideologies and brutal warfare. Fast forward most of a millennium, and Augustine’s The City of God anatomized the comparable despair of Roman intellectuals at the failure of their dream of a civilized world at peace under the rule of law. 

Skip another millennium and a bit, and the collapse of the imagined unity of Christendom into a welter of contending sects and warring nationalities had a similar impact on cultural productions of all kinds as the Middle Ages gave way to the era of the Reformation. No doubt when people a millennium or so from now assess the legacies of the twenty-first century, they’ll have no trouble tracing a similar tone of despair in our arts and literature, driven by the failure of science and technology to live up to the messianic fantasies of perpetual progress that have been loaded onto them since Francis Bacon’s time.

I’ve already discussed, in previous essays here, some of the reasons why such projects so reliably fail. To begin with, of course, the grand designs of intellectuals in a mature society normally presuppose access to the kind and scale of resources that such a society supplies to its more privileged inmates.  When the resource needs of an intellectual project can no longer be met, it doesn’t matter how useful it would be if it could be pursued further, much less how closely aligned it might happen to be to somebody’s notion of the meaning and purpose of human existence.

Furthermore, as a society begins its one-way trip down the steep and slippery chute labeled “Decline and Fall,” and its ability to find and distribute resources starts to falter, its priorities necessarily shift. Triage becomes the order of the day, and projects that might ordinarily get funding end up  out of luck so that more immediate needs can get as much of the available resource base as possible. A society’s core intellectual projects tend to face this fate a good deal sooner than other, more pragmatic concerns; when the barbarians are at the gates, one might say, funds that might otherwise be used to pay for schools of philosophy tend to get spent hiring soldiers instead.

Modern science, the core intellectual project of the contemporary industrial world, and technological complexification, its core cultural project, are as subject to these same two vulnerabilities as were the corresponding projects of other civilizations. Yes, I’m aware that this is a controversial claim, but I’d argue that it follows necessarily from the nature of both projects. Scientific research, like most things in life, is subject to the law of diminishing returns; what this means in practice is that the more research has been done in any field, the greater an investment is needed on average to make the next round of discoveries. Consider the difference between the absurdly cheap hardware that was used in the late 19th century to detect the electron and the fantastically expensive facility that had to be built to detect the Higgs boson; that’s the sort of shift in the cost-benefit ratio of research that I have in mind.

A civilization with ample resources and a thriving economy can afford to ignore the rising cost of research, and gamble that new discoveries will be valuable enough to cover the costs. A civilization facing resource shortages and economic contraction can’t. If the cost of new discoveries in particle physics continues to rise along the same curve that gave us the Higgs boson’s multibillion-Euro price tag, for example, the next round of experiments, or the one after that, could easily rise to the point that in an era of resource depletion, economic turmoil, and environmental payback, no consortium of nations on the planet will be able to spare the resources for the project. Even if the resources could theoretically be spared, furthermore, there will be many other projects begging for them, and it’s far from certain that another round of research into particle physics would be the best available option.

The project of technological complexification is even more vulnerable to the same effect. Though true believers in progress like to think of new technologies as replacements for older ones, it’s actually more common for new technologies to be layered over existing ones. Consider, as one example out of many, the US transportation grid, in which airlanes, freeways, railroads, local roads, and navigable waterways are all still in use, reflecting most of the history of transport on this continent from colonial times to the present. The more recent the transport mode, by and large, the more expensive it is to maintain and operate, and the exotic new transportation schemes floated in recent years are no exception to that rule.

Now factor in economic contraction and resource shortages. The most complex and expensive parts of the technostructure tend also to be the most prestigious and politically influential, and so the logical strategy of a phased withdrawal from unaffordable complexity—for example, shutting down airports and using the proceeds to make good some of the impact of decades of malign neglect on the nation’s rail network—is rarely if ever a politically viable option. As contraction accelerates, the available resources come to be distributed by way of a political free-for-all in which rational strategies for the future play no significant role. In such a setting, will new technological projects be able to get the kind of ample funding they’ve gotten in the past? Let’s be charitable and simply say that this isn’t likely.

Thus the end of the age of fossil-fueled extravagance means the coming of a period in which science and technology will have a very hard row to hoe, with each existing or proposed project having to compete for a slice of a shrinking pie of resources against many other equally urgent needs. That in itself would be a huge challenge. What makes it much worse is that many scientists, technologists, and their supporters in the lay community are currently behaving in ways that all but guarantee that when the resources are divided up, science and technology will draw the short sticks.

It has to be remembered that science and technology are social enterprises. They don’t happen by themselves in some sort of abstract space insulated from the grubby realities of human collective life. Laboratories, institutes, and university departments are social constructs, funded and supported by the wider society. That funding and support doesn’t happen by accident; it exists because the wider society believes that the labors of scientists and engineers will further its own collective goals and projects.

Historically speaking, it’s only in exceptional circumstances that something like scientific research gets as large a cut of a society’s total budget as they do today.  As recently as a century ago, the sciences received only a tiny fraction of the support they currently get; a modest number of university positions with limited resources provided most of what institutional backing the sciences got, and technological progress was largely a matter of individual inventors pursuing projects on their own nickel in their off hours—consider the Wright brothers, who carried out the research that led to the first successful airplane in between waiting on customers in their bicycle shop, and without benefit of research grants.

The transformation of scientific research and technological progress from the part-time activity of an enthusiastic fringe culture to its present role as a massively funded institutional process took place over the course of the twentieth century. Plenty of things drove that transformation, but among the critical factors were the successful efforts of scientists, engineers, and the patrons and publicists of science and technology to make a case for science and technology as forces for good in society, producing benefits that would someday be extended to all. In the boomtimes that followed the Second World War, it was arguably easier to make that case than it had ever been before, but it took a great deal of work—not merely propaganda, but actual changes in the way that scientists and engineers interacted with the public and met their concerns—to overcome the public wariness toward science and technology that made the mad scientist such a stock figure in the popular media of the time.

These days, the economic largesse that made it possible for the latest products of industry to reach most American households is increasingly a fading memory, and that’s made life a good deal more difficult for those who argue for science and technology as forces for good. Still, there’s another factor, which is the increasing failure of institutional science and technology to make that case in any way that matters.

Here’s a homely example. I have a friend who suffered from severe asthma. She was on four different asthma medications, each accompanied by its own bevy of nasty side effects, which more or less kept the asthma under control without curing it. After many years of this, she happened to learn that another health problem she had was associated with a dietary allergy, cut the offending food out of her diet, and was startled and delighted to find that her asthma cleared up as well.

After a year with no asthma symptoms, she went to her physician, who expressed surprise that she hadn’t had to come in for asthma treatment in the meantime. She explained what had happened. The doctor admitted that the role of that allergy as a cause of severe asthma was well known. When she asked the doctor why she hadn’t been told this, so she could make an informed decision, the only response she got was, and I quote, “We prefer to medicate for that condition.”

Most of the people I know have at least one such story to tell about their interactions with the medical industry, in which the convenience and profit of the industry took precedence over the well-being of the patient; no few have simply stopped going to physicians, since the side effects from the medications they received have been reliably worse than the illness they had when they went in. Since today’s mainstream medical industry makes so much of its scientific basis, the growing public unease with medicine splashes over onto science in general. For that matter, whenever some technology seems to be harming people, it’s a safe bet that somebody in a lab coat with a prestigious title will appear on the media insisting that everything’s all right; some of the time, the person in the lab coat is right, but it’s happened often enough that everything was not all right that the trust once reposed in scientific experts is getting noticeably threadbare these days.

Public trust in scientists has taken a beating for several other reasons as well. I’ve discussed in previous posts here the way that the vagaries of scientific opinion concerning climate change have been erased from our collective memory by one side in the current climate debate.  It’s probably necessary for me to reiterate here that I find the arguments for disastrous anthropogenic climate change far stronger than the arguments against it, and have discussed the likely consequences of our civilization’s maltreatment of the atmosphere repeatedly on this blog and in my books; the fact remains that in my teen years, in the 1970s and 1980s, scientific opinion was still sharply divided on the subject of future climates, and a significant number of experts believed that the descent into a new ice age was likely.

I’ve taken the time to find and post here the covers of some of the books I read in those days. The authors were by no means nonentities. Nigel Calder was a highly respected science writer and media personality. E.C. Pielou is still one of the most respected Canadian ecologists, and the book of hers shown here, After the Ice Age, is a brilliant ecological study that deserves close attention from anyone interested in how ecosystems respond to sudden climatic warming. Windsor Chorlton, the author of Ice Ages, occupied a less exalted station in the food chain of science writers, but all the volumes in the Planet Earth series were written in consultation with acknowledged experts and summarized the state of the art in the earth sciences at the time of publication.

Since certain science fiction writers have been among the most vitriolic figures denouncing those who remember the warnings of an imminent ice age, I’ve also posted covers of two of my favorite science fiction novels from those days, which were both set in an ice age future. My younger readers may not remember Robert Silverbergand Poul Anderson; those who do will know that both of them were serious SF writers who paid close attention to the scientific thought of their time, and wrote about futures defined by an ice age at the time when this was still a legitimate scientific extrapolation

These books exist.  I still own copies of most of them, and any of my readers who takes the time to find one will discover, in each nonfiction volume, a thoughtfully developed argument suggesting that the earth would soon descend into a new ice age, and in each of the novels, a lively story set in a future shaped by the new ice age in question. Those arguments turned out to be wrong, no question; they were made by qualified experts, at a time
when the evidence concerning climate change was a good deal more equivocal than it’s become since that time, and the more complete evidence that was gathered later settled the matter; but the arguments and the books existed, many people alive today know that they existed, and when scientists associated with climate activism insist that they didn’t, the result is a body blow to public trust in science.

It’s far from the only example of the same kind. Many of my readers will remember the days when all cholesterol was bad and polyunsaturated fats were good for you. Most of my readers will recall drugs that were introduced to the market with loud assurances of safety and efficacy, and then withdrawn in a hurry when those assurances turned out to be dead wrong. Those readers who are old enough may even remember when continental drift was being denounced as the last word in pseudoscience, a bit of history that a number of science writers these days claim never happened. Support for science depends on trust in scientists, and that’s become increasingly hard to maintain at a time when it’s unpleasantly easy to point to straightforward falsifications of the kind just outlined.

On top of all this, there’s the impact of the atheist movement on public debates concerning science. I hasten to say that I know quite a few atheists, and the great majority of them are decent, compassionate people who have no trouble accepting the fact that their beliefs aren’t shared by everyone around them. Unfortunately, the atheists who have managed to seize the public limelight too rarely merit description in those terms.  Most of my readers will be wearily familiar with the sneering bullies who so often claim to speak for atheism these days; I can promise you that as the head of a small religious organization in a minority faith, I get to hear from them far too often for my taste.

Mind you, there’s a certain wry amusement in the way that the resulting disputes are playing out in contemporary culture. Even diehard atheists have begun to notice that whenever Richard Dawkins opens his mouth, a dozen people decide to give religion a second chance. Still, the dubious behavior of the “angry atheist” crowd affects the subject of this post at least as powerfully as it does the field of popular religion. A great many of today’s atheists claim the support of scientific materialism for their beliefs, and no small number of the most prominent figures in the atheist movement hold down day jobs as scientists or science educators. In the popular mind, as a result, these people, their beliefs, and their behavior are quite generally conflated with science as a whole.

Theimplications of all these factors are best explored by way of a simple thought experiment. Let’s say, dear reader, that you’re an ordinary American citizen. Over the last month, you’ve heard one scientific expert insist that the latest fashionable heart drug is safe and effective, while three of your drinking buddies have told you in detail about the ghastly side effects it gave them. You’ve heard another scientific expert denounce acupuncture as crackpot pseudoscience, while your Uncle Henry, who messed up his back in Iraq, got more relief from three visits to an acupuncturist than he got from six years of conventional treatment. You’ve heard still another scientific expert claim yet again that no qualified scientist ever said back in the 1970s that the world was headed for a new ice age, and you read the same books I did when you were in high school and know that the expert is either misinformed or lying. Finally, you’ve been on the receiving end of yet another diatribe by yet another atheist of the sneering-bully type mentioned earlier, who vilified your personal religious beliefs in terms that would probably count as hate speech in most other contexts, and used an assortment of claims about science to justify his views and excuse his behavior.

Given all this, will you vote for a candidate who says that you have to accept a cut in your standard of living in order to keep research laboratories and university science departments fully funded?

No, I didn’t think so.

In miniature, that’s the crisis faced by science as we move into the endgame of industrial civilization, just as comparable crises challenged Greek philosophy, Roman jurisprudence, and medieval theology in the endgames of their own societies. When a society assigns one of its core intellectual or cultural projects to a community of specialists, those specialists need to think, hard, about the way that  their words and actions will come across to those outside that community. That’s important enough when the society is still in a phase of expansion; when it tips over its historic peak and begins the long road down, it becomes an absolute necessity—but it’s a necessity that, very often, the specialists in question never get around to recognizing until it’s far too late.

Thus it’s unlikely that science as a living tradition will be able to survive in its current institutional framework as the Long Descent picks up speed around us. It’s by no means certain that it will survive at all. The abstract conviction that science is humanity’s best hope for the future, even if it were more broadly held than it is, offers little protection against the consequences of popular revulsion driven by the corruptions, falsifications, and abusive behaviors sketched out above. What Oswald Spengler called the Second Religiosity, the resurgence of religion in the declining years of a culture, could have taken many forms in the historical trajectory of industrial society; at this point I think it’s all too likely to contain a very large dollop of hostility toward science and complex technology. How the scientific method and the core scientific discoveries of the last few centuries might be preserved in the face of that hostility will be discussed in a future post.


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rabtter said...

What will Evangelism and Fundamentalism do without a foe?

Repent said...

There was a recent movie that just came out called Interstellar, a science movie in the spirit of the genre of Gravity and 2001 a space odyssey. In the film, a teacher working in a post- Apocalypse America disciplines a young girl in the school who gets into a fist fight after she insists that the Apollo landings were real. The educators now authoritatively write that the moon landings were faked to bankrupt the USSR and communism.

Science is already in decline, the very fact that the people who used to be holocaust deniers now perform their social role as moon landing deniers is evidence of this fact.

I think practical science expressed though the engineering fields will have some longevity. People will still need water wheels, and pulleys, so I think Newtonian science has good odds of surviving into the far future.

Cherokee Organics said...


That is pretty much how it is playing out here with the government scientific body: CSIRO. They're cutting funding and head count pretty rapidly and then what do you do if you are an unemployed scientist? Research by its self does not put food on the table. The Universities don't really undertake that much pure research anymore.

The cholesterol thing hasn't gone away here. The local doctor here is pushing medications onto my partner - who otherwise has reasonably good health indicators and can probably put in a harder days’ work than most people in Industrial countries. At best it is a failure to consider whole of systems thinking. The doctors treat symptoms, not patients.

Eggs and milk are our main form of protein, so cut back either one to reduce cholesterol and then something else suffers.


Incidentally bankers pulled the same trick as scientists and somehow improved their image over the past few years too. Historically, they were not universally liked. I reckon that one of their biggest swindles was in convincing the population that houses were an investment rather than something to keep the rain off your head. This is a relatively recent change in people’s perceptions. It hides a great of inflation and leaves quite a bit of the population with rain falling on their heads.



PS: I've got a new blog post up A tale of two tomatoes which talks about how much I've learned and how much I haven't yet learned. Also the usual rocks are there, plus shed stuff and seriously I'm mowing a couple of acres by hand because the wildlife can't keep up with the plant growth!

John Michael Greer said...

Rabbter, they're already on it. Why do you think so many of the spokescritters of the (allegedly) Religious Right are busy gearing up the hate speech against Muslims?

Tom Bannister said...

I can especially resonate with those last few paragraphs about Science and its perceived hostility as a religion. The trouble today of course in in saying the word 'science' people hardly understand what you mean anymore. or to put it another way, 'science' men/women in white lab coats, holding test tubes, rationality, progress reason, overthrow of religion!!!, instead of repeating experiments and testing hypothesis. You have already discussed all this widely on your blog of course. Personally I have enjoyed science at many points in my life and still now. If only the anti religion and progress stuff could be discarded! It would make life so much easier who just want to enjoy the wonders of science without subscribing to the religion of scientism. fortunately your blog and books such as the science delusion by Rupert Sheldrake help a lot.

Its possible too I reckon science might survive the coming purge because yes although there is much public hostility to science, anti science fundamentalist religion has just as bad a reputation. I remember for example reading a autobiography of a British comedian called David Mitchell. Mitchell is self identified as quite a firm rationalist yet in his book he states quite firmly he'd have quite happily gone along with the local religion "if I'd grown up in an unquestioning religious community as people have for most history. A bit of ritual and ceremony would have been nice, and to not have to face all the difficult questions of the world on my own..." he then goes on to attack angry atheism, although stating he gets just as cross with 'god bothers' but no crosser.

Anyway just some of my musings. cheers for the post!

John Michael Greer said...

Repent, I'll be talking about the future of engineering in next week's post; the short form is that you're probably quite correct about rule-of-thumb Newtonian physics. The question in my mind is whether the scientific method is going to make it.

Cherokee, encourage your partner to look into the side effects of whatever drug the doctor is pushing on her. There's a lot of appallingly unsafe stuff being marketed by the medical industry these days, and being an informed consumer is a lot better than being a sick or dead one.

Tom, exactly -- what has to be done, to save the scientific method, is to extract it from its institutional setting and the culture associated with that, and find a new frame for it. Yes, I'm working on that. ;-)

Chris G said...

JMG said: "Last week’s discussion of facts and values was not as much of a diversion from the main theme of the current sequence of posts here on The Archdruid Report as it may have seemed."

JMG you say this a lot. Or the basic form of that - it's true, for what its worth - which is a lot. Because I think the primary magic here is a recognition, repetitive auto-suggestion (mantra), and ritualization of formation of an intellectual community commited perservation in general anf specifically to conservation of earth-based, long-lasting, human cultural habits centered around the stable bottom of the energy cycles that civilizations go through.

Some of what this civilization has created - maybe just one in a million of its innovations - will be preserved: the stuff like radio, optics, some metallurgy, practices utilizing bacteria and mycorhizae that improve soil fertility, and things maybe yet to be developed. Much of it will die and not at all in an orderly fashion. Though our understanding is global we'll all have to deal with the vagaries of the particular and local - just like the roots of a great oak.

But what I'm more concerned about is my tendency and the tendency of much of our intelligent society to distance oneself, deconstruct, objectify, and rationalize processes. It is both powerful and dangerous training of mind. Kind of, it treats everything like so many billiard balls bouncing around with no will. Treating this problem of the mind in the same way by Deconstructing and objectifying as all scientific reactions doesn't help. I have a recognition, I need some kind of rooting and immanentizing ritual that impels in me the need for action. (That recognition too can be deconstructed and objectified.)

I suppose I await some historical event to function as the ritual but I find I can always distance myself from anything that impels me and so float on again to some future impetus.

As Hamlet said to Polonius:

Mister Roboto said...

One thing I've noticed is that when the religion of Scientism is questioned or criticized, the defenders of Scientism such as the standard know-it-all college-kid on will say with a great deal of righteous huff, "All the modern technologies that make your life so much more convenient than it ever could have been [insert large number] years ago, are because of science!" When all those things start being evacuated from the lives of ordinary people one by one, bit by bit (including the existence of when the Internet finally fizzles out) on account of the over-exploitation by science and technology of this planet, such contentions are likely to be met with gales of derisive laughter!

darksumomo said...

"Those readers who are old enough may even remember when continental drift was being denounced as the last word in pseudoscience, a bit of history that a number of science writers these days claim never happened."

I not only remember those days, I teach my students about them as part of a lecture on the nature of scientific revolutions. Continental drift was the victim of the third line of attack on heterodox ideas that you've described at your other blog the past two months. There was no accepted mechanism for it that conformed to accepted knowledge, so it was rejected for decades until new evidence from new scientific instruments was interpreted by new people to the discipline of geology to come up with one. Reinterpreted as plate tectonics, it's now the paradigm of geology, the central organizing idea in the field.

That rejection and later acceptance of continental drift forms the basis of an anecdote in An Inconvenient Truth, which I'm showing to my students next week. Al Gore uses it to introduce the quote attributed to Mark Twain, "It isn't what you don't know; it's what you know that ain't so that gets you into trouble."

"What Oswald Spengler called the Second Religiosity, the resurgence of religion in the declining years of a culture, could have taken many forms in the historical trajectory of industrial society; at this point I think it’s all too likely to contain a very large dollop of hostility toward science and complex technology."

That's already happening with creationism and it's beginning to show up on the right as hostility to climate science and social science and on the left as hostility to GMOs, although the secular left has yet to start using religion to justify its position. When Discovery News has to frame its explanation of radiometric dating in the context of a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham of the Creation Museum, it's obvious that the side hostile to science is strong.

(Pinku-Sensei posting from my LiveJournal account)

Kaitain said...

JMG said: “After a year with no asthma symptoms, she went to her physician, who expressed surprise that she hadn’t had to come in for asthma treatment in the meantime. She explained what had happened. The doctor admitted that the role of that allergy as a cause of severe asthma was well known. When she asked the doctor why she hadn’t been told this, so she could make an informed decision, the only response she got was, and I quote, ‘We prefer to medicate for that condition.’ ”

No surprises there. Medications are big business, while simple dietary and lifestyle changes by the patient don’t make money for doctors or pad the offshore bank accounts of pharmaceutical companies. Of course, given the level of corruption, moral decay and money grubbing in this society and the fact that such behavior has become the “new normal”, I am not surprised. I think your earlier advice about adapting in place while seeking to divorce oneself from a dying, morally bankrupt and hopelessly corrupt culture is very good advice.

This topic reminds me of your offhand reference to the medical profession needing to exorcise the malevolent ghost of Morris Fishbein in the comments section of your other blog from last month’s post. I had never heard of Fishbein and did some research. I was both shocked and appalled, but not really all that surprised. He was a thoroughly nasty piece of work. It wasn’t just that he spearheaded the campaign to destroy the “lodge trade” in the medical profession and to discredit “alternative” medicine. He also engaged in smear campaigns against medical researchers who he didn’t approve of, destroying the reputations and livelihoods of many doctors and scientists and intimidating the rest into compliance.

He justified this by claiming to be campaigning against quackery and medical fraud, but he was also instrumental in keeping drugs that were known to dangerous on the market years after doctors discovered they were bad, because the manufacturers were major financial benefactors of his. And what was his motivation for evil that he perpetuated? Greed, pure and simple greed. But Fishbein was far from the only scientist or doctor to sell his soul to the Devil (in the guise of Monsanto, Big Pharma, the tobacco industry, the Pentagon or some other equally dubious institution) in the best Faustian tradition.

Dylan said...

Thinking back to last week's depiction of the world that produced Dante, I wonder if we'll see a post similar to this one concerning the role of the arts in a dark age. As someone who has felt the call to take up the art of writing, I'm sure you've had cause to ponder these words of Spengler on the subject:

"The lesson, I think, would be of benefit to the coming generations, as showing them what is possible- and therefore necessary- and what is excluded from the inward potentialities of their time".

I've always dreamed of writing, and your post-peak fiction contest was an excellent motivation to begin channelling my dreams in the direction of what is necessary.

Through analysis, such as yours, we come to understand where we are. Through art, such as I dream of writing, we learn to dream our way forward. That is my hope.

Bob Patterson said...

I am in general agreement with you, with one exception. You portray a shortage of capital/resources leading to a Darwinian cut back of "less than optimum" endeavors. I would posit that elites with great stakes in the status quo and a reletively larger control of capital/resources exert their influence to take contol of the media, education, research and government. So nothing that threatens the staus quo would be funded, without permission of the elites. Sort of a return to the 1950's, but with little regulation. I am rich, therefore I am right.

Nathan Donaldson said...

I graduated in 1992 and can remember reading about the upcoming ice ages in out-of-date text books.

How does the decline of the popular respect of sciences differ from the overall decline of respect for all authority in general? In a free agent society all expert opinion is suspected of being paid for or politically motivated.

RPC said...

Hmmm...Bonfires of the iVanities?

Bob Patterson said...

I was being treated by some eminent doctors for arthritis, with a variety of drugs ending up with methtrexate injections. These injections I took once every two weeks , made me so ill I spent the next day in bed, and then had relieved symptoms. The problem is that methotrexate is a toxic chemo drug that almost always causes liver failure (label reads - Side effects - DEATH). So my partner discovered an alternate treatment regimine that uses cheap antibiotics from the fifties (Antibiotic Protocol). In the six years I have been on this protocol, I have done very well and eliminated the toxic drug. When I reported the success of this, I was promptly thrown out of my doctor's office. She would neither condone nor cooperate with anyone not following the "school solution".

Chris G said...

Now that I've read the post, I'd like to offer a couple good areas where I think the scientific method is actively advancing in a good direction. The first organic soil methods - finding and breeding bacteria and fungi that grow and improve the soil. Actually that's the only one I mean to bring up but it can be generalized beyond organic gardening, onto soil remediation, food processing and health improvement. People are increasingly aware of the good effects of floral balance in the digestive system, and the adverse effects of antibiotics (save us from decline and fall? No. Worth preserving? Sure. It falls under the general rubric of balance in nature, which I think is a good mnemonic.) Another is using fungi to clean up soils. Another example I saw was some chefs making cheese from rice that were fermented using a particular combination of bacterial strains.

The scientific method is very applicable here. Instead of viewing all fungus and bacteria as the enemy, we can use controlled experiments etc etc to learn to cultivate them..

I wonder about the future "village bacteriologist" - she will help you find the bacteria you need. Same with fungi. Incidentally, microscopes are an imminently preservable technology.

YJV said...

It's amazing how much we are all indoctrinated into thinking that the entire arc of human history has been a linear progression. First fire, then the wheel, agriculture, writing, etc. Plenty of civilisations never invented the wheel or writing, yet created complex abstractional systems of thought. The Incan cities that impress us all were built without the use of writing. We need to throw out the notion that pre-set technological progress is the mark of practicality or depth.

And while problems fester on earth, we bask in fantasies of leaving. The latest movie Interstellar will be a prominent example in the future on the twilight days of our civilisation when we still tried to bargain ourselves out of our responsibilities. I'm getting more and more tried of telling people that we're not going to colonise anything anymore. The entire mindset of European settlers has been forced onto the entire world, but people have forgot that there aren't any more vast unspoilt lands to plunder anymore.

Rich Brereton said...


I got the chance to talk to a well-regarded, brilliant ecologist who was visiting my university recently, and he remarked on the increasing difficulty of securing funding for his research. He told me that in the last decade he's had to spend more and more of his time writing grant proposals for federal agencies (most of which are rejected), to the point that asking for money is his main occupation. This is a guy who's been publishing groundbreaking work in his subdiscipline of ecology since the early 80s! And he's scrapping for the same sized piece of a shrinking pie. I'm far from sure that my generation will see/is already seeing a permanent contraction in funding for scientific research, but it startled me to realize that established scientists like him are already on an accelerating treadmill, running faster just to stay in place.


I R Orchard said...

"No doubt when people a millennium or so from now assess the legacies of the twenty-first century, they’ll have no trouble tracing a similar tone of despair in our arts and literature"
Possibly not. Much of our literature is likely to have been sacrificed to cheap printing techniques and digital technology that has a life expectancy measured in years, not millenia. I had boxes of Dyson "Lifetime Guaranteed" discs that were unreadable a scant decade after they were recorded.

Janet D said...

@Chris, not to sidetrack here, but there is starting to be more evidence that inflammation in the body is more at cause for high cholesterol than eggs and what not. Gluten sensitivity can be a factor (my sister had her 'bad' cholesterol level drop by >20 points when she gave up wheat), as is, of course, eating any form of industrialized food on a regular basis.

Just something your partner might want to check out.

thecrowandsheep said...

It is clear that one of the most urgent tasks today in collapse theory is the need to raise the level of mysticism employed to that of a science. To get the ball rolling on such a task, I suggest defining some traditionally mystical nomenclature more quantitatively:

Decadence: Fraction of population that have copulated while watching television news.
Vigor: Drawing, illustration, diagram or graph in scientific paper.
Civilisation: Proportional to the average number of mind-numbing hours worked per day.
Degenerate: Energy (Joules) generated by non-renewable sources.
Barbaric: Ratio of hipsters with beards to those without.
High Culture: Height (m), opera performed above sea level.
Decline: Refusing that last drink.
Fall: Number of days summer is prolonged due to anthropogenic induced climate change.
Idea: Luminous intensity (candela) of light bulb that goes off in head.
Culture: Of biology (not a real science).

John Michael Greer said...

Chris, ritual is the right word. Ross Nichols, one of the most influential Druid writers of the 20th century, used to say that ritual was poetry in the world of acts. I don't recommend waiting for history to provide you with something of the kind; create one yourself, or if you like, look into traditions that offer them, and consider using that as a tool to break out of abstraction run amok and get back to concrete experience.

Mister R., they'll get derisive laughter from some quarters and abject professions of blind faith from others. I expect cargo cult ideologies to play a huge role in the years immediately ahead.

Pinku-sensei, exactly -- I have several denunciations of continental drift in my book collection, and all of them rely on the fallacy of "if the cause isn't known, the effect didn't happen." It's frankly eerie watching rationalists deny their own past, e.g., by insisting that the rejection of continental drift didn't happen. "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia..."

Kaitain, good for you. Fishbein is another of the figures who's been quietly erased from history, like those members of Stalin's Politburo who vanished from photos. A detailed bio of him by someone willing to dig up the dirt would be a useful project, and I think quite publishable.

Dylan, why, yes, I'll have quite a bit to say about the arts and literature in a future post or two. In the meantime, keep writing! That's one art that can always find a home, no matter what the phase of the historical cycle.

Bob, that level of control already exists in most industrial countries; viewpoints that threaten the existing order are marginalized into fringe venues such as the internet, where they have no significant effect on society as a whole. The processes I'm discussing are those that happen when societies can no longer obtain the resources to allow the elites to keep pursuing business as usual.

Nathan, that's a good point! Still, I think the collapse of respect for scientific authority has its own driving forces, alongside those driving the collapse of respect for authority in general. More on the latter in an upcoming post.

RPC, good! Though I tend to think of it as a "Bonfire of the Inanities."

Bob, a classic story. I hear such things all the time. I wonder how big of a kickback your doctor was getting from the methtrexate salesman.

Chris, the thing is, all that is beside the point. Scientists are doing quite a few useful things now, as well as a lot of useless or actively harmful things; none of it changes the fact that science as an institutional reality is facing a shattering loss of cultural legitimacy, in which the useful, the useless, and the harmful may all be caught up together and chucked. It's that latter process I want to discuss.

YJV, no argument there. The twin delusions of perpetual progress and we-can-go-somewhere-else are to my mind the two greatest obstacles to any sort of meaningful response to the crisis of our age.

John Michael Greer said...

Rich, I've heard the same thing from a lot of people in the sciences. More broadly, the US academic industry is in deep financial trouble already, with whole departments being eliminated, and state and federal budget cuts are pushing things closer to the edge. I've been encouraging everyone I know in academe to make sure they have a backup job ready.

Orchard, oh, granted. We have maybe five per cent of Rome's literature, and a total of 25 seconds of one song from its once-vast musical tradition, and they used much more durable media for documents than we do.

Crow, funny. Does Denver have an opera house? If so, it must be preserved at all costs.

Duncan Kinder said...

If science becomes socially outmoded, that in turn suggests that scientists themselves might become unpopular - even persecuted.

In which event, they might become covert - much like Harry Potter's wizards.

Those wizards, in turn, were largely modeled after premodern scientists - Faust-like figures. Newton was an alchemist. Kepler an astrologer. And so forth.

Purple Tortoise said...

JMG --

Science has become more institutionalized over the time because, as you say, most of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. Therefore, greater organization of resources and workers is required to make further progress in most cases. And institutional science is subject to all the foibles and failings of any human organization. As resource availability declines, it will necessarily be the case that institutional science (and institutional anything) will decline.

I do think that sustaining scientific practice at any level into the indefinite future depends not so much on the cultural legitimacy of institutional science but rather on the fundamental religious and philosophical outlook of whatever society exists in the future. Historically speaking, most religious and philosophical systems have not been favorable to the practice of science. Despite the naysayings of the militant atheists, I think a strong case can be made that medieval Christianity laid the necessary foundation for the development of modern science. Whether that foundation continues into the future remains to be seen.

Adam Schuetzler said...

One of the most toxic aspects of the current system is that money determines access to education, and the institutions of "learning" make learning an actively painful process in many (if not most) cases. I love math and science, but in school itself has been painful for me. I hated school pretty much from the first moment - I remember wanting to be anywhere else in elementary school, of course in middle school, and then in high school (I eventually dropped out, though since I have gotten a degree).

If people are hoping that science and learning will be kept alive by schools, I want to remind them of how much school sucks.

Part of the hostility to science stems from people unable to live science as a method of understanding. They are told that evolution happens in a classroom, not on a hike or at a zoo or botanical park where the actual living things exist (or even looking at fossils, which are actually easy enough to get in a classroom). They are told that the earth is old and the continents move in a classroom, not looking at the rock formations that prove these things. Often when they ARE given direct experience, it is in high school labs that never seem to work quite right, partnered with people they don't neccessarily like and working under a strict time constraint. They never make the leap from classroom to real world. It holds no reality for them.

To say that Saturn exists, has rings, and has moons, is trivial. To look at Saturn and see the rings and moons really is a different experience. It's also very easy - yet how many people have actually seen Saturn through a telescope? Probably less than half the people in the educated world, much less the world as a whole. Yet that seemingly trivial act can be the difference between meaningful science and the anti-science attitude that is very prevalent today.

As for medicine... The science behind the best medicine is very clear. But much of medicine operates on very weak science. Vaccines are very well understood, and work; mental illness is mostly very poorly understood, and drugs for it are hit and miss at best. Doctors act like there is no difference. No wonder people become skeptical.

Sam Charles Norton said...

JMG, two brief comments:
1 - (which might be better pursued on your Galabes blog) do you have any thought on how the scientific method links in with the astrological age of Aquarius and whether it will therefore form a pattern of thinking that is in the background of all the cultural rises and falls, in the same way that a form of mystical prayer/union lies in the background of all the rises and falls during the Age of Pisces? I just suspect that the next two thousand years or so will have some significant differences to the last two thousand years or so - and almost all your examples come in that time frame.
2. Completely agree about the collapse of institutional science, for the reason you give. The one thing that I suspect will enable scientific method to continue is if it can be placed within a more explicitly religious context, and therefore carried forward by the monks of the future. That's why I spent so long talking about the holiness of science, and where it fits in a broader understanding, in my book. Like all hubristic human endeavours it will need to be humbled if it is to survive.

ed boyle said...

Iam reading toynbee abridged version, so full of ides, i never learned so much from a history book! His ifdea of growth of cultures, going towards challenges to near breaking point, taking a rest, finding solution for external threats, internal treats, each solution throws up mew problems seekin more solutions, evntually culture gets exhausted declines due to limits of fouding ideology. I am at the point in book where he discusses individuals mysticists like budda, etc. as force behind change, thinking of my own experimenting with eastern mysticism as scientific empirical experiment with body as energy source. I saw ascifi flick on TV other day , 'loopers' time travel, telekinesis etc. My siddhistic yoga method sivaist but brutally empirical scientific almost atheistic. I wonder if bioenergy as in tai chi, acupuncture kundalini yoga develops to mass phenomenon in scifi future living in jungle communicating telepathically as in film 'avatar' knowing one's past and present incarnations, doing telekinesis casually, holy men dissolving body in light at end of life would be only way of higher cultural development even without writing, cities, as resourcs will e so low and human survival will depend on maximum flexibility,e.g. high autoimmune healing as in scifi, almost automatically, one mind with ecological environment like primitive shamans, etc. Sort of full circle from totol primitive to maximum scifi minus extrrnal cultural apparatus which disturbs environment. This would be like remaining in garden of eden but learning from angels how to control the devil in us and ouside of us.

sometimes at work i notice the large complex where i work as nnatural and yearn for nature
. City is same problem. We are animals surrounding ourselves with stones nt biologocal network pf plants, animals. Since we ncnscipsly communicate at all levels with trees, plants, animals through our energy body wwe lose source of basic inspiration as we wthdraw from nature and urculture dies as our soul (energy body) weakens. So we vacation in wilderness perhaps for a weekend but essentially humanity as civilization writ large is a dead end. We have to return to symbiosis with natureand not conquest. Perhaps this will only be possible by further self conquest, turning inwards. I have writento much, have to do taichi now,making progress, feelng interesting things. This is all very individual and takes decades f learnig so not a mass product like scince, even christianty. I learned both but was never satisfied. For me this is true relgion as i feel it, experiment with it. Body soul unit. Health systems benefit nowadays from reiki and similar i have heard nres take courses. This s not an solated atter, perkaps ernel of future religion.

das monde said...

Is the public opinion really the leading factor in the science practice, funding and fate? The massive science funding rose with little say from the common public - only with some explanatory rationalization from politicians to set an educational tone. And pretty similarly, the science decline is happening with ample lead from certain industrial and political interests. Public opinion is just a follower noise. This does not mean that common Joes do not have opinions on science and those socially awkward or inapproachable scientists, or that their opinions do not correlate with the popular perception displays.

Public funding for most of proper science is declining because of little known policy changes for some two decades already, as there is much less of genuine drive for stiring scientific curiosity of the wide public. But science will remain a valuable toy for the elites for quite a little more - so much that funding of new particle accelerators, space missions will have higher priority than feeding the public. Many other social institutions will turn to hubris before Science will defintely follow as well. Until then, science is just gradually turning from the role of common prestige totem to private business. That is surely not pretty already - but I would not say that public perception matters as a leading factor.

Marcello said...

"The question in my mind is whether the scientific method is going to make it."

It might be useful,let's say, to know in advance that a certain iron mineral is not very suitable to make cannons, instead of finding out the hard way after having built a foundry and watching the 50th piece bursting at proof.
But as long as you are stuck at a pre-industrial technical level science is not necessary; informal trial-error will suffice. So, considering that science makes a perfect scapegoat to add some variety to the list of scapegoats that will be lined up for slaughter, likely literal, when things will get ugly I would tend to rule it out. Speaking of which...

"When all those things start being evacuated from the lives of ordinary people one by one, bit by bit (including the existence of when the Internet finally fizzles out) on account of the over-exploitation by science and technology of this planet, such contentions are likely to be met with gales of derisive laughter!"

Strange, one would figure that our economic systems and people demands for more and more consumption goods (and before anybody argues that it is modern evil, people engaged in ludicrous frivolous consumption even in pre-modern time if they could afford it) would have something to do with it. It is possible to argue that if people in the developed world had wanted to go Amish en masse it would have been made illegal. But it never turned out to be an issue...

Ervino Cus said...

@Bob Patterson
" I would posit that elites with great stakes in the status quo and a reletively larger control of capital/resources exert their influence to take contol of the media, education, research and government."

That's exactly the point, IMO! The elites are wasting and make us waste a staggering amount on resources to conserve the staus quo of their power and to glorify themselves. Just a "small" example: the 500 milion euros palace that the Turkish President Erdogan built for himself ( ).

That amount of money/energy (and the enourmous quantity wasted on other similar ego-boosting monstruoisities of the ruling classes, both political and economical) could have put to A LOT of better uses, could have financed a LOT of scientific research grants.

The diminisihing returns and the soring "energetic" costs of the S/Tm are indisputable, but the real point that is taking it down even early than "needed" is that the elites DON'T WANT ANYMORE any REAL progress of the S/Tm paradigma (in the epistemological sense: "linear" refinements of certain current technologies are OK, as long as they don't pose risks of overtrowing the status quo), because (in their POW) the S/Tm has already given them all the tools they need to conserve their power and to control the sheeple they created. Any more advance could only be useful to the People, not to them and to their extravagant and futile life-style.

If (a really big "if", I know: I'm not so naive, unfortunately...) we could be able to eliminate this kind of waste and the systematic misuse of the products of the S/Tm for "personal" economical/political gain of the elites (very visible, as by many mentioned, in the medical field: the failures of many new drugs are more related to their forced commercialization for immediate gain, than by having reached the "cognitive limits" of our abilities to pharmacological developement...) we all will have, always IMO off course, SO much more to gain from the S/Tm before the eventual final collapse.


Les said...


And you don’t need to go too far from your Wright Flyer example to see the potential of massive funding for a project.

I type, naturally of the Langley Aerodrome, funded to the tune of US$50,000 by the US army/department of war at the same time the Wrights were at work in their man shed; Langley’s major achievement seems to have been the development of a catapult capable of throwing Charles Manly into the Potomac River. In December 1903, I can’t imagine that being a fun experience…

To this you can then add a 40+ year public feud between the Smithsonian (of which Langley was a director) and Orville Wright which resulted in Wright giving the 1903 Flyer to a Pommie museum rather than the “establishment” in the US.

Given this kind of context, I’m kind of surprised that the Butlerian Jihad didn’t take off in the aftermath of WWI.

And now we have the Joint Strike Fighter in much the same vein as the Aerodrome, just bigger. Bigger $, bigger catapults and a bigger body of water to throw them into.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, as those foreigners say. Still waiting for that Jihad to get going.



Jason Heppenstall said...

Greetings. Science is much better if you see it as just one of a number of dishes set on the table before you. It's really quite astonishing the amount of funding (both public and private) thrown at research, and yet most people don't question it at all. Indeed science and growth are often conflated, especially in our post industrial economies.

On the subject of cholesterol, I was recently informed by my doctor that my LDL levels had drifted too high and that I had better cut it down. In stark contrast to your friend's experience he told me that he only prescribed cholesterol drugs as a last measure because he has seen 'too many nasty side effects' - and instead advised that I do further research myself into the matter and how best to remedy it. These words could only have been spoken by someone not on commission or under orders from a pharmaceutical company.

As a result I've cut out all sugar, grains and other things besides, and am already feeling much better for it.

Thanks for your continuing high quality output. I hope you don't mind me mentioning to any of your readers who might be interested that I have a new blog post up about the slow grind deterioration of life here in Britain - Learning to Live Fearlessly.

Gloucon X said...

“What Oswald Spengler called the Second Religiosity, the resurgence of religion in the declining years of a culture, could have taken many forms in the historical trajectory of industrial society; at this point I think it’s all too likely to contain a very large dollop of hostility toward science and complex technology.”

It has already happened in America where there has always been great religiosity, so much that a second is quite unnecessary. I notice you have a significant number of commentators from Australia, Western Europe, Canada and such, who may not realize the great difference between those places and the US with regard to science and religion. Vast swaths of America are full of people who despise the idea of evolution and who have always had great hostility towards science. Faith in the infallible word of The Bible rules such places, and it will likely rule much of post-decline America. I see an America soon to be ruled by what would be in essence a Christian version of Boko Haram. If you live in the US, you may have neighbors who have been yearning for that outcome, and tolerance is not high on their list. I shudder to think what will happen to people of alternative faiths or practices under such a regime. Such people should be making preparations to leave the country, before it’s too late.

Hypnos said...

I take your point on the science miscommunication issues but I do think that it goes beyond the actual science - and perhaps the scientists themselves are mostly innocent.

The case of global cooling is instructive. While its undeniable that the popular press, including popular science writing, emphasized claims of an imminent ice age, actual scientific literature as expressed by scientific journals and peer reviewed papers was already largely predicting warming.

A survey of scientific papers discussing global temperatures published between 1965 and 1979 found that only 10% were predicting cooling. 62% predicted warming, while 28% took no stance. So when a climate activist says that there was no cooling prediction by scientists, she is mostly right.

Unfortunately, popular perceptions of science are not informed by actual science, but by popular renditions of it, which even when does by scientists, tend to be not terribly accurate and verging on the sensationalist ("imminent ice age" just sells so much better than "mild but worrying warming trend").

Pierluigi Dipietro said...

It seems to me that true science in itself has not changed behavior: assume hypotesis, find facts, elaborate teory, falsify them and so on.

The problem is in people assuming science as a religion, and we can find them both in scientist and non scientist people.

We are human after all...

That materialism followers has used science for their claims is a fact, but materialism is only a philosophical position. It is truly a methafisic, after all.

The opposite position, idealism, has more than one good rebuttal to materialism claims, see just Bernardo Kastrup, to cite one.

My position, as a guy formed in science, is : be as honest as possible.
This attitude has guided me during the years from materialism to idealism, but this pat is supported on the ground of experieces, facts that are to be checked, and soud logic to applied to them.

At the end, all we have is love, memory, honesty and logic.

MawKernewek said...

I have to mention Prof Brian Cox's latest series, Human Universe, he is of the opinion that nuclear fusion will save us all, and doesn't stop to consider what happens if it doesn't.

He does point out that the USA currently spends 10 times as much on pet grooming than nuclear fusion research.

So if we all brush our own cats and dogs we can go to the stars after all?

Although he as a particle physicist is well aware of the difficulties of nuclear fusion, particle physics is more dependent that perhaps any other scientific field on the very big ticket items of Big Science.

So to doubt the prospects on nuclear fusion is to doubt his entire career, even his entire field of science.

james albinson said...

Dear JMG,

May I draw you and your readers attention to the comic "UNAFrontiers" ?

Not for the spacebats/AI/Tech side of things, but for the nicely drawn background touches - lateen sails on interisland trading ships, flooded city harbours, tall ships in port, horse culture everywhere, splintered nations, new empires, etc.

On Thermoelectric generators - sort of thing. Comes in several sizes.

An observation: Quality slide rules are getting expensive on ebay... Have people cottoned on??!!

As ever, thank you for a thought sobering read.

Shawn Aune said...

The rabid atheist is losing favor. That kind of behavior is actively discouraged at most Sunday Assemblies.

The point about the left and the right side of the political spectrum both losing faith in science stood out for me.


Mostly left-leaning proponents who, astonishingly, will go out and buy homeopathic remedies for other ailments.

Astonishing because the following supposedly describes the functioning of both...

"Take in a tiny amount of the thing that causes the ailment so that the body can learn to protect its self."

On the other side of that debate we have people who claim homeopathy is complete bunk while trying to talk people into vaccinating their kids.



I find the overlaps to be of particular interest.

The not-so-rare gem is the person claiming that human behavior can't possibly change the climate but are convinced that chemtrails are changing the weather patterns and poisoning us.

It is similar to the Tea Party Member who claims that population issues are a communist scare tactic and then sounds the alarm about immigration.



Shawn Aune said...

JMG said: "The question in my mind is whether the scientific method is going to make it."

I believe it will. As you pointed out previously, that discovery didn't and doesn't require vast amounts of fossil fuels to remain beneficial.

The findings of the method may be swept away by entropy. The more that is swept away the more there is to rediscover which, it seems to me, would add value to the method over time.

Shawn Aune said...

I'm the pseudoscientist now and mostly proud of it. I believe in plate-tectonics but I'm skeptical of the supposed source of heat within the Earth.

I'm a believer in Gaia and if Gaia exists then she must have a metabolism.

If fossil carbon is brought deep enough via subduction it eventually oxidizes due to heat and pressure.

That is a fancy way to say, it burns and releases energy.

So the Earth's hot core leads to the creation of new land here and leads to the consumption of old land there.

As the land moves across this conveyor belt things live and die upon it leaving their carbon behind. Some is recycled and some ends up fossilized.

These hydrocarbons make their way towards the core where they're oxidized. This adds energy to the core which feeds back into the movement of the land.

I'd love for anybody to convince me that the above is physically impossible so I can stop fretting about the repercussions of greedily burning all of those hydrocarbons ourselves.



Marc L Bernstein said...

Science should be divided into observational science and manipulative science (which is closely related to applied science and experimental science), although there is considerable overlap. Sometimes a portion of a landscape needs to be transformed or a structure needs to be built in order to carry out observations. Similarly, sometimes systematic observations need to be made prior to a process of manipulation or experimentation.

Manipulative science is that which involves tools used to manipulate objects (including other tools), transform landscapes, build structures, harvest foodstuffs and other natural resources, extract non-organic substances or fossil fuels from the earth, etc.

Observational science involves studying the world as it exists prior to being manipulated or transformed by people. It also might involve studying people.

Observational science includes tools but those tools are used to enhance the process of observation rather than to change the natural world in some way. Some of the observational sciences have very elaborate and expensive tools.

The (primarily) observational sciences include

-- astronomy
-- ecology
-- biology
-- zoology
-- entomology
-- ichthyology
-- mammalogy
-- ornithology
-- botany
-- paleontology
-- anthropology
-- archaeology
-- geology
-- meteorology
-- climatology
-- oceanography
-- the study of protozoans
-- bacteriology
-- virology
-- physiology
-- anatomy

The (primarily) manipulative sciences include

-- architecture (an art as well)
-- all types of engineering (mechanical, electrical, civil, structural, power plant construction and operation, computer, communication, etc.)
-- weaponry
-- chemistry
-- physics
-- genetics
-- horticulture and agriculture

I could go on and on, and this needs to be thought through more thoroughly. Someone familiar with the philosophy of science might be able to formulate these ideas more clearly.

Some of the sciences are clearly both observational and manipulative, such as physics, chemistry and genetics.

Some observational sciences require considerable manipulation, and some manipulative sciences rely greatly on various observational sciences.

It's easy to understand the basic division into observation and manipulation when you realize that our relationship with the world involves sensing it on the one hand (related to observational science), and physically interacting with it on the other (related to manipulative science).

Anyway, the attitude taken by a declining civilization towards the manipulative sciences is likely to be somewhat different than the attitude towards the observational sciences.

The manipulative sciences are more "practical" and many are likely to be retained as long as the financial and technological resources are available.

The observational sciences on the other hand are going to fall more quickly by the wayside.

We might expect astronomy to be curtailed severely. It requires advanced technology and much of it is not "practical".

Similarly, ecology is going to be lost quickly. The funding for it may disappear.

That's enough said for now. This is a big topic and I have just been reflecting and rambling.

Don Plummer said...

Strange. I have never read or heard any scientist claim that climate science in the 1970s wasn't concerned about the possibility of another ice age. On the contrary, people in science that I know, including a cousin of mine, freely admit that it was hypothesized back then, though of course they're very quick to say that this hypothesis has since been falsified.

Maybe you have examples of this denial that you could share with us?

M said...

The last few posts, detailing the end of money and the downfall of technology, have me wondering how much longer the general public will have access to certain medical procedures that are common and fairly safe but high-tech.

As someone predisposed to eye problems that can often be mended with laser surgery, I wonder how eager the staff at the local clinic will be to accept a deal of a pig or a couple of hand-built bicycle wheels as payment for laser eye surgery. Any guess how much longer we will enjoy such now-common procedures as cataract or retinal repair surgery? I'm sure other readers can think of similar tech-based medical gifts affecting a sizable number of people that will likely go away in the not too distant future.

William Church said...

Interesting post brother John. As an engineer, albeit one who has done research for a living at times, my intetest lies more with the application of science to machinery and processes.

In the future of scarcer resources? Decline? I'd have to guess that this side of science would survive where it make a beneficial difference. And will look radically different depending on locale. Local specialties would have to emerge wouldn't they?

And what of the traveling "tinker" of early American lore? Can't you just imagine the emergence of a traveling "engineer" who makes his living in a 100 years going place to place repairing, designing, and building much valued local equipment?


Karim said...

Greetings all!

By profession I am an ophthalmic optician / optometrist. In my own field I note that a lot of the research being carried out is either useless clinically, of little interest to anyone or discovers arcane details about visual function.

It is quite clear that in a declining civilisation this type of research will be chucked out very quickly without second thoughts.

Given that optometry is nevertheless a useful thing to have around I see my field downsizing in scope and concentrating on providing basic optical goods and services that can be sourced locally or regionally with training being delivered by smallish universities/colleges with limited means but with a fairly extensive apprentiship period under an old master.

I see the profession having a more on hands approach whereby students would have to know how to grind and polish lenses, build a spectacle frame from metallic wire, learn how to repair or build basic ophthalmic instruments, set up a basic optical workshop and yet still provide quality clinical eye care.

Incidentally, when I trained in the mid eighties in the UK I was most probably among the last batches who actually were taught the bare basics of ophthalmic lens manufacture and spectacle lens glazing.

In the meanwhile the profession (in rich countries) is having its flight into abstraction by the use of extraordinarily complex diagnostic computerised instruments to detect more and more exotic eye conditions earlier and earlier whilst most optometrists have a difficult time adjusting comfortably an ophthalmic frame to a human face.

I guess that a lot of science and technology will be saved in the same way: small colleges/universities together with corporations of professionals with limited means that provide services recognised as valuable by the community they serve.

PS: I hope that not many optometrists will read that!

donalfagan said...

Last summer, the Well had an article about a study wherein subjects drinking diet soda supposedly lost more weight than subjects drinking water. In the comments section anyone who questioned the results were shouted down as science-deniers. Turns out the study was funded by The American Beverage Association, and had a lot of shortcomings:
People concerned about processed foods and the industrial food system are also routinely derided as science deniers.

Gabriela Augusto said...

Dear JMG,
Thank you so much for your weekly posts, I have been feeling less lonely since I found your blog, about six months ago.
Despite my very poor command of English, I dare to ask your attention to a scenario that has been worrying me for some time: considering the disparity of resources among us, science has already different meanings and objectives for the few very rich.
A few years ago a read in the pages of the financial times a short story on how there were to strains of humans: those coming from a few generations of genetically "improvement", sitting on administration councils and in leader positions, and those who were still of "natural production", mostly janitors and unemployed. The story was that the second group multiplied too fast to be managed by the first, and the decision to be made was how to control the population grow of the natural humans, and find them occupation so they could fill they could have happy and fulfilled lives. ..Could science go that way? Could that be that as resources became short to science meant to serve the society as a whole, the Frankenstein type of science meant to serve a small and vicious elite continues to have all the necessary resources?

Roz said...

Hi JMG -

I was intrigued at the beginning of this post when you said "...No doubt when people a millennium or so from now assess the legacies of the twenty-first century..." because I have often considered just how much 'legacy' our current society will leave. Increasingly, so much information and work is being stored on computer chips, hard drives, DVDs, etc. These items are not really durable over time and also require specific devices in order to retrieve the information stored in them. Heck, even paper degrades much more quickly than parchment. How much of this do you surmise will be left for future scholars to peruse? And, which ones might be more accessible to future generations?

Shane Wilson said...

My guess is that if the scientific method is to be preserved through the dark ages, it will be in monastic institutions by monks (of undetermined religion) for explicitly religious reasons, convinced that it will be vital for the future.

Andrew Crews said...

John Michael Greer,

I can see this effect in my own life. I used to take allergy medicine every day and have a host of seriously debilitating mental and physical conditions. After the adoption of a dietary and lifestyle changes with a "paleo" philosophy, I find myself cured of all former conditions. The fine distinction is that I realize the differences between popular science (mostly qualitative) and "pure" quantitative science (the simple incorporation of the scientific methods without extreme conjecture). One of the more popular terms in the field of nutrition and health is "BroScience" which masquerades as science when it is really a collection of myths, anecdotes and psuedo-science.

I also realize most people cannot or will not make these fine distinctions. I am glad you are trying to make that distinction exceedingly clear to everyone, so that practical science and its benefits can survive the coming backlash and second religiosity, making the coming dark age more comfortable. I am curious though, if you are so passionate about that cause, why would you avoid mechanisms to spread that word like twitter, instagram, ect? Is it because the message is too complex to be transmitted via these things or more because you might be personally averse to social media? Perhaps you find it more effective to go fishing with your message and have individuals seek it out rather attempt to brute force transmit it?

Best Wishes,

Diana Haugh said...

A young Asimov wrote about the failure of science during civilization decline in Foundation. Of course he still very much believed in science as a religion. He just recognized that public trust would fail and science would have to be dressed up in religious tones to be accepted .

Hircus said...

Longtime reader, but first-time poster.

The frequency of complaints about the medical system is always interesting to me. And I think that one of the problems is not the science part (for example, methotrexate is a generic drug, no kickbacks, and has decades of successful use). It's the ritual aspect of the "practice of medicine" being ignored that really rubs people.

After reading JMG for a few years, I realized recently that a visit to the physician is supposed to be a ritual. Here's how a visit to the doctor went in the "good old days":

You made an appointment/set an auspicious date for your ritual. You go to the office/temple/church and wait in the waiting room/antechamber (it's quiet, with other supplicants, and sparely decorated). A nurse/adept/deacon takes you to a room filled with medical equipment/ritual objects, inquires your reason for coming/verifies your preparedness for the ritual, and tells you to wait for the doctor/preist. There is a period of silent introspection. The doctor/priest enters the room wearing his white coat/vestments. You tell him your medical problems/make your complete confession. The doctor/priest hands you a johnny/supplicants robe, and leaves you to change clothing. You have another period of introspection and preparation. The doctor/priest returns and uses the stethoscope etc/holy objects to perform the examination/rite of healing. He leaves you again to change into your street clothes/prepare to leave the holy space. You are escorted to the consolation room/inner sanctum and seated across a desk fro the doctor/priest. The room is decorated with symbols of his authority/diplomas, body-part models/esoteric objects, and gifts from thankful prior supplicants. He gives you diagnosis, medical advice and a prescription/your penance and instructions on correct living. He then pronounces your imminent healing/tells you you are now right with the world. You then exit the inner sanctum the way you came in, returning from the more sacred to less sacred spaces.

I haven't had that sort of experience with a physician in years. Most doctors visits are more like going to a Catholic mass and the priest saying "you know, I'm busy today, so I pre-transubstantiated the host for you guys. Just pick it up in the back along with a gift certificate for my coffee shop in the rectory."

Andy Brown said...

One of the best college courses I ever took was a "history of anthropology" class by Igor Kopytof. The distinction he drew, which has always stuck with me was between the "history" which was a kind of reverse-engineered teleology focusing only on the historical figures which seemed to lead (naturally and inevitably) to where you are now (Progress of Science). As opposed to the actual past, (and present) which was a thicket of all sorts of people working at cross-purposes with enthusiasms and paths that were more or less dead ends and side branches.

What it showed was that the image which science projected about itself - far from being an honest, objective, and scientific self-portrayal - was actually a tidied-up heroic fantasy about progress concocted for political and ideological reasons.

I still went on to become a scientist (albeit a "social scientist"), because I do believe in the merits of its underlying method, but I've always retained the awareness that science as a world-view contained a great deal of dishonesty and self-delusion.

Patricia Mathews said...

Whether or not Denver has an opera house, Santa Fe has one, and a very well-regarded one. The Santa Fe Opera is known world-wide, and generally lives up to its reputation.

morenewyorknews said...

You wrote:
I've heard the same thing from a lot of people in the sciences. More broadly, the US academic industry is in deep financial trouble already, with whole departments being eliminated, and state and federal budget cuts are pushing things closer to the edge.

1)JMG i work in private for profit college,whose sole aim is to collect fees and not spend it on research...
I never got cent of research money and will never get it.If i am going to do research,i have to pay my own money for it.Only govt college professors get govt grants.And govt is forcing us to complete doctorate for further promotion while they don't give promotions who already got PhD.It is very confusing.
Every year,many of my students leave their well paying job in India and go to to USA for completing post graduation.I think they pay enough fees to keep programs running for next 20-30 years.If American universities open campus in India and bring better professors from USA to teach,American system will be dead in no time.
2)Another point is: Non European countries have been unable to recreate the European + American scientific and engineering research model..Not a single one.It happened only in Europe and USA..Russians ,Chinese,Indians were unable to replicate it

John D. Wheeler said...

@Orchard, as a percentage, the percentage of literature preserved will likely be atrocious. But part of that is due in part to the prodigious amounts being produced. For perspective, from the time the Great Library in Alexandria was burned to the time Gutenberg invented his printing press, approximately 1000 books were published. Now we have about that many published every day.

However, while the vast majority of them are printed on cheap pulp that will barely last a couple decades, the most important titles are being printed on acid-free paper with leather covers and gilded edges, and with thousands of copies per printing, those particular volumes do have a really good chance of having some copies surviving.

Ben said...

Happy Turkey Day to all!
JMG - Thought provoking as always! It is unfortunate that 'science' as a general topic of human interest increasingly finds itself lumped in w/ a specific brand of cultural of political identification. As noted up thread, it will benefit future generations if a system for examining claims about the physical world survives that rough ride we are creating for ourselves.
I was pondering this the other day. It may be academic at this point, but if industrial civilization has managed to implement a solution(?) to the limits to growth, (either by going all in w/ nuclear power or a more ecotechnic option), might the resulting success have been the sort of overcoming of obstacles that inspires cultural memsis? Indeed, this question may not be entirely academic. I'm thinking that any people, organizations or even institutions that inspire citizens to preserve the 'good' (or at least useful) parts of the industrial project may come to be view not just as seed-bearers, but may even form the embryonic beginnings of the next civilizations?
(not sure if my first post saved)

Cathy McGuire said...

Another wonderful post! I'm reading this before dawn on Thanksgiving (US) and I am very thankful for JMG and for the wonderful commenters on this blog!! Keeps me sane as I try to sort out the mental mirages from the realities on the downslope.

I wonder if everyone has had a chance to hear Ursula LeGuin's spirited defense of science fiction (hers is the humanitarian rather than hard science stuff) and also cudgel the commodification of literature! It is wonderful and I think it applies to your posts, JMG, in that she says how essential it will be to have writers who show alternative futures and how we might get there. I encourage all to watch. It certainly inspired me to write more!!

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

I am hoping, JMG, that when you write in an upcoming blog post about tactics for preserving parts of science, you will be able to say a few things about the emerging global "makerspace" or "hackerspace" movement. I have been sporadically going to HackLab here in Toronto. The day before yesterday I made my first acquaintance with HackLab's new premisses, and found my high a priori expectations exceeded. There is now a photographic darkroom, and a "fabric hacking" corner; at last there is a metals-capable workshop with soundproofing, and fume hood, and enough room for drill press and other bulky tools; at last there is a biggish classroom; at last there is comfortable provision for the collection of technical books; and since the landlord allows some degree of access to the roof, it might in future prove possible to build on the existing ham-radio interest of several HackLab people.

Community fundraising for the HackLab move, to Queen Street West out of the cramped old premisses on Baldwin Street in Kensington Market, was in aggregate dollar terms something like two or three times more successful than had been anticipated.

It occurs to me that one thing someone might some day try is a tabulation of major cities, showing how many makerspaces exist in each. This would help one rank cities in Jane Jacobs terms, i.e, in terms of their propensity for cultivating innovation - or as I for my part would like to phrase it, in terms of their propensity for cultivating applied science. Some raw data can be had from (But sorry, haven't got the time myself to do the tabulation: if I embark on it, I have to take time away from studies in vector-calculus-purged-of-Leibniz-notation, etc.) It would be interesting to have makerspace counts comparing Tallinn against Stockholm, Toronto against the Boston conurbation, Stockholm against the Boston conurbation, and so on. Will the Boston conurbation, with M.I.T. and Hah-vud near the left bank of the Charles River, perhaps prove in such a tabulation to be a world leader in makerspace life?

Although our own HackLab here in the Toronto area is rooted in applied science, I did over the last few months pick up some nice tips for pure maths, from one of the members. We managed to talk at a whiteboard for a few good sessions, he in essence throwing out ideas for things-to-construct (relating to, e.g., the natural basis for the dual of a vector space with given basis) and I, as a dim person nearly 40 years his senior, playing the diligent note-scribbling pupil. Some hackerspaces somewhere in the world might likewise provide a venue for discussing the high problems of theoretical physics (legitimacy of the Bohr interpretation of quantum mechanics, etc).



Toomas dot Karmo at gmail dot com


PS: Toronto Hacklab has a Web presence at There are public open nights on Tuesdays, from 5:30 onward. The lab is at 1266 Queen Street West, just west of the Dufferin intersection, on the north side of the street, in the same building as houses the Parkdale legal-aid offices. It is necessary to ring the buzzer for Unit 6.

PPS: A large problem in municipal governance here is getting a makerspace movement going in York Region, just north of Toronto. York Region needs a makerspace in the Admin Building of the currently semi-mothballed David Dunlap Observatory (DDO). A rather harsh, cruel, glancing sidelight on the political aspects of the DDO conservation problem (though without direct reference to the makerspace movement) can be had from

Johnny said...


Something I really appreciate in your writing is an openess to different ways of arriving at knowledge. It's strange how people want to say that if you are critical of science you are critical of all aspects of science and suddenly you are being armed with some imaginary superstitious belief.

Personally I've found it useful to treat science as another potential way of learning about the truth, but not the truth itself. I don't know if there is a more reliable way but I use personal experience and how it lines up with what people are saying, regardless of their basic beliefs (those I think tend to fall under value judgments as you were describing last week and are for a different kind of consideration).

I had a similar story to your asthma example with seasonal allergies. I have had them terribly for about 30 years now, until last year when I started to really worry about how I was going to be able to deal with this if I couldn't just medicate the symptoms away every day, so I started looking into things that might contribute to it (I've done this somewhat in the past but never dug very deeply because I didn't have initial success), came across people who mentioned gluten can contribute to it, and I tried cutting it out. So far it's been a year without a pill and where I used to experience 7 or 8 months of attacks, I've only had maybe 5 or 6 days of them this year - definitely tolerable!

I feel I owe this very much to you btw and so I've wanted to thank you for this for a while now. I've been somewhat systematically trying to solve various things in my life in the collapse now approach (using the resources of the internet etc to solve what will be my problems in the future). I'm far from a Green Wizard, but I've really got a lot out of what I have done so far and certainly this is my greatest personal success after having been plagued by this issue for as long as I've lived here.

Back to my point though, I've been amazed at how people will tell me flat out that science has proved that gluten intolerance is not real and so I am somehow vaguely lumped into a creationist anti-vaccination camp, as if I should just blindly accept some study over my own experience which fully varified something that was coming from an "unreputable" source (ie. average people who discovered something through their own experiments).

Just because science doesn't know the absolute answer to everything doesn't make it useless either. I hope, like you, that the scientific method survives into the future.

Ventriloquist said...

Plucking the tick
off the
dog's ear
She mused softly . . .
The vet has passed on.
Who now
will heal
our pets?

He stroked his chin
thoughtfully . . .
The herbalist
down near the river,
maybe there's an
answer there.

Mark Rice said...

Even way back when -- when I was a devout atheist, I did not understand militant atheism. I really did not care what other people "believed".

Now as some sort of theist, some of this attitude carries over. I do not care what sort of religious dogma is believed by others.

Bike Trog said...

Have you bought a cellphone yet? I didn't want to spend the money, but I can't carry a landline on a bike, and the public payphone network was mostly shut down. I rarely go more than 50 miles. How do you communicate during national travel?

The phone networks are infrastructure with probably the same fate as trains and roads, so I may eventually need some other solution.

Bob Patterson said...

JMG - RE: Modern medicine - In my case I blieve it was simply that the Doctor was simply a doctor as a means to make money. "Going with the flow" of current thought and being allied with major drug companies (that would provide legal help) would protect her.

Bob Patterson said...

Bob, that level of control already exists in most industrial countries; viewpoints that threaten the existing order are marginalized into fringe venues such as the internet, where they have no significant effect on society as a whole. The processes I'm discussing are those that happen when societies can no longer obtain the resources to allow the elites to keep pursuing business as usual.
Well - I am sort of turning your view on its head, by saying that the RELATIVE control, at this point of descent in greatly enhanced. The next stage is where they start losing control due to overall shortage. I personally believe in a coming 1789 sort of violent revolution. Your thoughts?

Bob Patterson said...

Repent - I have always wondered why the moon landing debate cannot be solved by simply viewing the moon with the appropriate telescope (or other device) to verify that the lander is still there.

hapibeli said...

The $$$$$$$ for science projects will whither, as devolution of the current paradigm keeps rolling along;

And the elites lose more & more as the slope becomes ever more slippery.

AA said...

Institutional science is in big heap trouble. Offhand, I can't think how many decades it's been since theoretical physics made any significant advance. But some of the physics will probably survive -- classical mechanics, classical elecrodynamics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, special relativity, maybe some quantum mechanics (though we're really entering 20th century physics now, dependent on technology).

Wolfgang Brinck said...

The philosophical footings of science are left more or less unexamined in the typical university science curriculum. If the fresh-person launching on a science career were to have a one semester course on the philosophy of science, they might be surprised that science is built more or less on a belief system called materialism. Materialism is a belief system because it is based on a number of precepts which have to be accepted without proof because there is no proof. The core belief of materialism is that all natural phenomena can be explained in terms of material forces alone. A somewhat weaker version of this precept adopted by some scientists is that science must restrict itself to phenomena that can be explained in terms of material forces alone. The weak materialist would acknowledge that there are some phenomena which cannot be explained by resorting to material causes. Yes, you may have had a premonition of some disaster but that is not a suitable subject for science (the weak materialist stance) vs. The fact that your premonition was confirmed is a matter of coincidence. Your premonition had no causal relationship with the future event. (the strong materialist stance)
In any case the professional atheists' main form of argumentation is that of asserting their unprovable premises over and over again, saying that such and such cannot be because it contradicts the basic premises of materialism. That is, rather than accepting counter-examples as proof of the weakness of their position, they try to shout down counter examples.
Another philosophical point little examined by professional scientists is the role of theory. Whatever scientific theory is currently in vogue is generally presented as fact to the general public. But theory building is not a process of observing and describing nature as it is but rather a game of coming up with intellectual models that can explain the phenomenal world in terms of some underlying clockwork mechanism. The proposed clockwork is the scientific theory. Everyone that has seen enough science knows that theories are overturned on a regular basis, or as someone pointed out, they die when all their adherents are dead. Of course there are phenomena that don't have any good theories to explain them. Such phenomena are either ignored or a weak theory is accepted as a place-holder until a better one can be found. Meanwhile all theories, no matter how weak must be defended against religious fundamentalist challenges because any weakness will be used against the prestige of science. This is of course a ridiculous situation because theories are provisional and they are set up as legitimate challengers against received truth handed down to the faithful by a deity. And so it goes. An unfair fight because the fundamentalists come up with the rules of engagement and the materialists engage in defending undefendable positions hoping to win by trading on the prestige of their profession.
But none of this has anything to do with the impending decline of science. A simple lack of funding is sufficient to make science decline. I have proposed the impending decline and defenders of the status quo have responded that people used to do science on smaller budgets. But it seems that all the small-budget fundamental science has already been done. Still, plenty of citizen science left to be done, like keeping track of the weather and studying trends and tracking where food can be found and rediscovering what makes plants grow and animals prosper.

Justin said...


Ha! Similar stories on the medicine. My mother went to the doctor and had something like a deficiency of iron in her blood, or high cholesterol, something along those lines. The doctor prescribed an expensive drug. My brother, upon hearing this, suggested Ma eat raw cloves of garlic instead. Within a few weeks the issue was gone. My mom asked the doctor about this and the reply was, "Oh, garlic will work too."

My favorite story to share on this is when the veterinarian diagnosed her cat with 'rage displacement disorder' as the cause for his habit of beating up the other cat in the house, and tried to prescribe cat prozac. Talk about a saturated market...

Anyway, I have my own first hand experience working in biotechnology and studying drug and disease classifiers. If anyone googles 'reproduce-ability of medical experiements crisis', or something similar, and reads some of the articles and thinks about the implications... Modern medicine is quite literally no different than alchemy. It is only on faith that people trust scientific medicine and doctors, based on actual experimental results, your best hope with medicine as a treatment for health is that it does not make you worse off.

From the first link, researches found about 12% reproduceibility in results from landmark studies, that is, clinical research people take for granted as the foundation for believing in the efficacy of medicine as a scientific practice is built on a 12%:

"A few years ago scientists at Amgen, an American drug company, tried to replicate 53 studies that they considered landmarks in the basic science of cancer, often co-operating closely with the original researchers to ensure that their experimental technique matched the one used first time round. According to a piece they wrote last year in Nature, a leading scientific journal, they were able to reproduce the original results in just six. "

Other surveys have similarly bad results, few attempts to reproduce prior experiments get about 50%, which means that medical research is really a roll of the dice. And this was borne out in the work I did, but good luck convincing anyone not already skeptical with evidence. :)

matthew said...

While they do not broadly represent individual scientists, hard-core materialist atheists personify the beliefs an attitudes of the institution of science. I think this is why science as an institution is easily damaged by their tirades.

Yanocoches said...

When much younger, I was an ardent proponent of and believer in science and technology and the linear projection into greater and greater advancement and social benefit that would result. Reading your weekly posts has allowed me to realize that it's been a long time since I sincerely believed in the bright future promised by science and tech. This realization was also crystalized for me in a discussion/argument that I had with my sister who is a PhD plant pathologist and whose husband with the same academic credentials has received a comfortable living researching pesticides and herbicides for some of the mega ag corps. We were discussing neonics (systemic pesticides) and colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honey bees. She kept using phrases such as "there is not enough evidence," "data is insufficient," "multifactorial cause," "further inquiry is needed," and such and finally in exasperation with me sneered, "Well, you must believe in the precautionary principle."
Upon much reflection since that conversation, I think it's another nail in the coffin of science and tech that the precautionary principle has been cast aside in favor of the profit motive and support of the corporate bottom line. "Advancements" and the latest new discoveries have been foisted on the world with little thought and research into long term or larger systemic effects on planetary life and the environment we inhabit. I think many are starting to recognize this and realize that scientific advancement is not delivering as promised.
Once upon a time I thought "luddite" was a particularly cruel and disdainful insult. I find myself now turning into somewhat of a "luddite" with a certain sense of pride.
Thank you for the weekly eye opener. I very much appreciate and look forward to reading you.

Mister Roboto said...

Fishbein is another of the figures who's been quietly erased from history, like those members of Stalin's Politburo who vanished from photos.

He has a modern day "wannabe" successor in Dr. Stephen Barrett and his website. Fortunately, Barrett is too much of a toolbox to do the amount of damage the Fishbein did. His organization currently owes a lot of money in lawsuits that he tried to launch against his critics that ended up in judgments against him when he was promptly counter-sued for violating people's right of freedom of speech.

We have maybe five per cent of Rome's literature, and a total of 25 seconds of one song from its once-vast musical tradition, and they used much more durable media for documents than we do.

My understanding is that this is largely because the great ancient library at Alexandria in Egypt was burned down by a mob of Christian fanatics. (Though I think a case can be made that such Christians both then and now were and are really followers of Saul [Paul] of Tarsus rather than of Jesus of Nazareth.)

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Regardless of what we want the purpose and goals of science and technology to be, the best way to evaluate them might be to look what lasting changes they have made to the world. From a strictly thermodynamic point of view, we might say that the major achievement of science and technology will have been to disperse material resources and energy reserves as broadly as possible. Science and technology are almost at the point where further dispersal of resources becomes fruitless because the places where resources were concentrated have been fully exploited at least to the point where the dispersal was beneficial to humans.
If we look at science and technology from a thermodynamic point of view, we might say that their goal is in sight and their job is almost done and in the not too distant future there will be little left for them to do. As the Buddha once said, once you've crossed the river, you can abandon the raft you used to cross it. The far shore of the river of energy and resource depletion is in sight. We can continue to drag the raft behind us on the far shore, but what would be the point?

RepubAnon said...

The problems happen when people treat science as a religion. People want a source of universal truth in which they can place blind faith, so they can stop thinking and sink back into their comfortable habits. It's easy, comforting - and is not science.

Science is about gathering evidence, forming possible explanations for what happened, making predictions based on those possible explanations, and re-evaluating the possible explanation constantly as new evidence comes in.

What we see in the real world are other things: folks who know that if their experiments don't yield the desired result, their funding will evaporate and they'll have to leave the lab; companies whose quarterly profits would be threatened if inconvenient truths become commonly accepted ideas; science writers who treat "authorities in the field" as prophets, and mock anyone with contradictory evidence as heretics rather than utilizing the scientific method and reviewing that evidence with an open mind.

rsuusa said...

Great post! As life continues along its now fairly obvious trajectory of decline I begin to realize what a huge shift of consciousness will be required to adjust to the new age with even a modicum of ---. Until very recently I did not realize the degree to which I always felt that I was somehow exempt from the process even though all the evidence including the defunding of several projects that forced me to move across the country a couple times gave evidence to the contrary. It occurs to me that even though I do view my work at the periphery of academia (in extending academic knowledge out into the community) as valuable to the communities in which I live this work is in fact still quite expensive and a kind of intermediation since I do not create much of the knowledge I share nor am I a practitioner in the field. So, of course, ultimately as funds for everything dry up so will mine and I am very unlikely to be exempt from the process that is slowly remaking the higher education system into something very different from the environment in which I received my training. I doubt that triage will be directed at saving the system at all more likely it will focus on saving money and the jobs of the highest paid amongst us, system be dammed. The administrators sell education in the same way that advertisers sell iPads and salad shooters and anything that can support itself of their job is fine nothing else is given much consideration at all regardless of merit. God save us all it is going to be a very different world indeed.

The diminishing returns on investment in research are also very clear in the social sciences, where I work, and much of the thought that goes into the actual practice of what we preach is based on late 19th or early 20th century research or, alternately, on conceptions of human nature that are scientifically questionable and largely disproven within academic circles. Common principles of U.S. law are based on all sorts of dubious insights into human nature that have no scientific basis whatsoever but have proven convenient or are none the less intuitive and thus acceptable when assigning liability or blame.

SLClaire said...

When I was last in a doctor's office, probably 13 or 14 years ago, I was in my early 40s. My doctor was pushing me to start getting a yearly mammogram. It was clear that she was going to pressure me to add more and more procedures, more visits, more medical interventions as I aged. I got the feeling she and the whole medical profession thought I was about to fall apart and that only they could keep me alive in my decrepitude. That and my husband retiring, reducing our income by over half, made up my mind to go it alone. I'm learning some alternative methods and at 57, I'm on no prescription drugs. Nor is my 61 year old husband. We are both quite healthy and do the simple things that help to maintain that state.

I share your concern about keeping the scientific method alive in some form. That's one of the projects of my own blog: to help ordinary people see how it can be applied in ordinary life, by following the way I apply it in my ordinary life. I'm looking forward to learning of your ideas. I hope to apply them in my own endeavors.

shastatodd said...

with the sun likely moving into another maunder minimum, the calls for another ice-age might have been valid if not for 400 ppm of c02.

Ahavah said...

Science didn't need athiests to self-immolate. Science didn't do itself any favors by becoming commercialized.

I still to this day remember a sentence in a meta-study I read some years back when the school and doctors insisted my oldest son was hyperactive and needed to be zombified all day. I admit his behavior wasn't great at school, but it was fine at home. One of the things I looked into was HFCS. The summary said the data "parts like the red sea depending upon who was funding the study."

I knew then - 15 or 20 years ago now - that science was dying. And now it is indeed dead. You cannot cite any scientific study as "evidence" for anything without either being laughed at or having the opposition whip out their own arsernal of studies.

We are already in a post-science zeitgeist, which is why calls for serious action on climate change et al fall on deaf ears. The cynicism of this new age cannot be overcome with scientific evidence. People only trust their own feelings now. Rationality has little part of it, except to rationalize to themselves what they already want to believe. -Ahavah

@Chris - cholesterol, like every other -ol, is an alcohol. It is made from carbs! Don't stop eating eggs, ask your SO to try and lay off the grains and see if that helps.

Slow Moe said...


Who said they relied on Atheism as a foe? Theres always Islam or Catholicism or any number of choices that, not only may be used as villains of protestant militants in the past, but have served as villains in the past and on some scale in the present. Militant protestant fundamentalism will always have some foe or another ready at hand.

Slow Moe said...

JMG, when is disintermediation in higher education going to happen, and what will it look like, do you think?

Colleges are hiring more bureaucrats as they lay off teaching staff, or replace tenured professors with adjuncts. This even with constantly rising prices of tuition. When does the madness stop?

I guess its too soon to know when, exactly, the disintermediation will happen, only that it will, but what do you think it will look like? Some previous form of pre-university education? Or alternative 'universities' outside the university system with teaching by former professors, or something else entirely? I dont begin to know.

thecrowandsheep said...

"Does Denver have an opera house? If so, it must be preserved at all costs."

It does indeed! Unfortunately, it is not as high cultured as the opera house in Bogota which is at least 1000 m more sublime.

With the scientific definitions I listed above, we come closer to arriving at solutions to saving Western Civilisation. For example, no more copulation during the news. At least wait until you have seen the latest PGA scores.

Also, since civilization is proportional to hours worked per day, it is simply a matter of increasing the number of hours in a single day. The easiest way to do this is to construct a Higgs bosonator the diameter of the earth in scale and simply let it convert dark matter into matter you can poke a stick at. The increased mass of the earth means the rotation of the earth slows due to conservation of angular momentum and then we are able to finish off a few more reports each day.

Ray Wharton said...

Considering the problem from the perspectives of the different youth cultures I know, I think that sciences chances are bleak in the extreme. It is difficult to overstate how seriously broken we have become through our education system. At this point I think that getting science out safely will require something darn close to subterfuge.

Even I, who dreamt of growing up to be an inventor, now question the hubris of Science as a human activity deep in my heart, and much of it I would not lift a finger to save, for much of it is something whose time on this Earth will end with the end of Faust's bargain. It could be preserved as a powerful forbidden art, Scientist could fill the future imaginations of writers like so many Sith and Necromancers; and given the association with oil the charges of necromancy would not be easily dodged.

Much can be saved and is worth saving, especially in terms of principles, but those principles would have to have the smell of Faustian values carefully cleaned from them. I hope a niche for a certain, pardoned, kind of science might be open in the second religiosity. Lots to think about.

On another topic, I just read the section on psudomorphious from Spangler. His description of Russia trapped under the imposed forms of Faustian civilization, with its resentment struck a chord in my heart. The moods he tried to describe in the Runnian case and the case of Judea both felt like something I had known for years in my own life and was only now seeing named. It occurred to me that much of Oswalds values are a function of him being an intellectual in Germany during the long drama which resulted in the rise of the Nazi movement; the feeling of powerlessness of the instincts for truth before the instincts of blood must have been thick in the air for sensitive types of his day. I can easily sympathize with the frustration I sense under the surface of his writing.

Ric Steinberger said...

I understand why these series of columns are titled, "Dark Age America". But it's the entire human world, or at least the industrial world, that is approaching a new Dark Age. It's not like in 50 - 100+ years, descendants of today's US citizens will be foraging for firewood and trying to catch rabbits with snares while future Germans are still driving BMWs on the Autobahns at 150 KPH, right?

Ed-M said...

Hello JMG and everyone,

Very informative article, and timely, too! Over on Robertscribbler's blog, there is a discussion on Dr James Hansen (Storms of My Grandchildren) and Dr Jennifer Francis' (Jet Stream changes / Rossby Wave Analysis) theories and how the atmospheric effects of both hypotheses, once they are proven facts, are now beginning to come to pass!

The article concludes with meteorologists' failure to predict these things because they haven't accepted these theories enough to incorporate them into their models, because they are still wedded to meteorological and climate "orthodoxy."

OldSkeptic said...

JMG, I remember all these 'coming ice age' debates back in the 70s and early 80s, we talked about things like that when I did physics in the late 70s.

But they were predicated on the (at that time very reasonable) assumption that coal burning would at least level off, or more likely decline and CO2 levels would do the same.

No one then thought we'd be burning the levels of coal we do now. It was unimaginable, the downsides and limitations of it were too well known. Countries like France and Scotland had already got to 75% nuclear power generation, cheap solar and wind was being predicted for the future and so on.

In fact Arthur C Clark mentioned that upping coal burning in the future could be used to stave off an ice age, everyone knew that increased CO2 would warm the planet (duh, simple school level physics).

No one imagined back then that the (mostly) US fossil fuel companies (aided by the idiot Greens) would manage to sabotage nuclear power so well and we’d be burning coal at the rate we do now.

No one thought we’d be so stupid.

Mark Rice said...

I am trying to figure out if science is committing suicide or getting executed by business interests. We are living during a time where the sanctity of the business model trumps the sanctity of life.

In our very corrupt medical industry, the drug companies design the experiments to test drugs in a way to skew the results. Then in waiting rooms the drug reps seem to outnumber the patients. This is not a recipe for science improving our health.

There is the explosion of autoimmune diseases. I will not bore you with my own tail of autoimmune disease and a rather expensive and ineffectual action from the medical industry.

Science or maybe funding for real independent science is failing to get at the root of this explosion of autoimmune disease.

r_df34 said...

JMG, there was never a widespread prediction of a coming ice age among climatologists. The handful of papers in the 70's that predicted cooling were vastly outnumbered by hundreds of papers that predicted warming. That small handful was seized by climate change deniers as "proof" of their pet theories.

Even if such a widespread prediction of cooling were made, science (as opposed to the cult of science) isn't infallible and (in principle at least) welcomes refinements and corrections.

AA said...

There's no such thing as "science" to begin with. And there's no such thing as "scientific method" either (read Feyerabend's books for a coherent argument as to why not). There are a number of disciplines such as physics, math, chemistry, biology, and geology and such limited interaction among them. But collectively calling them "science" is a public relations exercise that has been conducted in the post-WW2 era by institutionalised science for its own self-serving ends. One purpose has been to secure public acquiescence for funding. And this has been forthcoming from a largely ignorant public that treats "science" as something sacrosanct.

Random Man said...

Whenever I encounter old medical textbooks from say the 80s and earlier, or any other texts, I'm always impressed by the language, the logic, the clarity of thought, the obvious care that went into the illustrations, writing, etc.

When I was a medical student from 2001-2005, I could tell that much of what I was reading in newer textbooks was BS. Though I couldn't quite articulate it at the time.

It's not that they're wrong! If anything the progress is apparent. It's just that, well, they sort of sink into irrelevance. Alot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Diminishing returns to more and more words.

I barely even keep up with medical journals anymore. There's just not that much there.

Robert Hall said...

I can think of four influences that have "infected" a sometimes objective science, and attitudes about it. One is commercial motive. If a research outcome leads to a fat market, it may be touted as magic from a science lab. If it points up the ill effects of marketing something with a big cash flow, it's apt to be termed "junk science." Next to sex, soothing assurances from some actor in a lab coat still seems to be a good come on for advertising. And the pervasiveness of money has led to corrupting the submission and review processes of some noted research journals.

A second is the price tag of a research program, which you note. To keep a lab going, reports need to show that more research must be done. This tends to keep programs going down blind alleys when other routes might be more enlightening.

Third, in some fields the whole publish-or-perish dictum needs to go. It stimulates too much trivial research work. I recognize the value of experiments for validating other researcher's findings, but not to demonstrate the 147th twist on old concepts.

Last, the scientific method works when all involved share motives, not just the method. This extends beyond just hidden financial interest. Researchers rarely discuss their deeply held beliefs that guide their epistemological thinking, and their concepts of value for the outcomes of research.

TomK said...

Dear JMG, you don't seem to particularly like Richard Dawkins. Well, according to him, I'm a sexed-up atheist, admiring the laws and beauty of the Universe. The idea of an interventionist entity that e.g. weighs my good and bad deeds at the end of my life, or particularly cares about me as a person at all, is silly to me. If some religious people consider that latter statement as hate speech, that is their problem. My point, though, is that almost agreeing with Richard Dawkins on God, in my humble view, is in no way contradictory to your predictions about the future of science (not as a method, but its place in contemporary culture), about the religion of progress as described in your blogs, about the long descent of the industrial civilization, and indeed, not even in conflict with the philosophy in your beautiful book Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth.

MawKernewek said...

As far as high culture goes, there's always Tibetan throat-singing.

Raymond Duckling said...

Hi all,

With respect to this week post, I found this piece with the insider views from the over complexification of the medical profession:

(It lacks a bit of self reflection for my tastes, but the recounting is very comprehensive).

Now, if our host permits an off-topic comment. I want to wish you a Happy Gratitude Day, and hope you come out in one piece through the Day of the Dark God in Murica after that.

We went through our lame copycat version two weeks ago. It is called "El Buen Fin" - "The Nice End" (as in, have a nice (week)end). Though I have no formal training in magic, I deviced a protective spell for my children, which they enjoyed very much: "El buen fin sera su fin". lit: "The nice end will be their end". They cackled every time they heard an advertiser spot, instead of thinking about those shiny things they'd very much want to get otherwise.

So, please allow me to offer a little something to you in the spirit of Thanksgiving: "Black Friday will black'em out"

Ahavah said...

Congress declares war on climate research:

John Michael Greer said...

Duncan, yes, that's certainly a possibility. More on this in a future post!

Tortoise, actually, most literate religions have been fairly cool with the practice of science; Islam, the current bete noir of the scientific-rationalist scene, played a huge role in fostering astronomy, physics, and agronomy in the post-Roman world, for example, and Taoism had an even larger role in the long and distinguished history of Chinese science. The challenge in the present case is that the behavior of many scientists these days is doing much to encourage antiscience attitudes among religious people of all stripes.

Adam, excellent. A future series of posts here will be talking about the end of the education industry in the US and what we might do to replace it, and the points you've made are highly relevant.

Sam, questions about astrology certainly ought to go to my other blog! As for your second question, no argument there; I hope you're working to foster such arrangements in your faith. I'm certainly working on it in mine.

Ed, on the off chance I understand what you've written -- were you possibly stoned while writing it? You left out a lot of letters -- the rediscovery of the potentials of the human body and mind is indeed one of the major themes that will have to be explored going onward from the mess we're in. I'll do a post on that at some point.

Das Monde, at a time when the elites are in the process of committing collective suicide, popular opinion becomes a very powerful force.

Marcello, I'll be discussing down the road a bit the reasons why I think the scientific method is worth preserving. Mind you, you're doubtless right about the likely role of scientists as scapegoats, and so there's another good reason to extract the method from its institutional and ideological context.

Les, thank you! I should have mentioned Langley's flop. More generally, the Aerodrome makes a good example of the problems with what Thomas Kuhn called "normal science," or more precisely with its beloved son, normal engineering.

Jason, you're a lucky man -- or maybe it's just that you don't live in the US, where we have the world's most expensive and least effective health care.

Gloucon, the religious landscape here in the US is much more complex than such stereotypes suggest. There are some remarkable shifts happening, which probably deserve a post of their own down the road a bit.

Hypnos, when scientists try to talk science with the general public, it's frankly embarrassing how often they avoid discussing the lively internal debates in whatever field is under discussion, and present the current consensus as though it's established fact. To my mind, that's the real lesson of the imminent ice age of the 1970s -- there's a fatal mismatch between the realities of science, which involve constant debate and revision, and the public face too many scientists like to take when talking to people other than their colleagues.

John Michael Greer said...

Pierluigi, and yet it took a good many centuries for the current set of methods for checking hypotheses to be evolved. I think the package is still worth saving.

MawKernewek, nah, if we all supported nuclear fusion research, Cox would be able to afford to pay someone else to brush his cat. My guess is that you're right, and that's what his plaint is about.

James, if people are catching on about slide rules, I'd encourage one or more of my readers with a talent for manufacturing to go into business making good log-log and trig slipsticks. I'll place an order for one!

Shawn, glad to hear that the sunday assemblies are catching on. As for your left-right analysis, that's interesting -- I've seen more anti-vaccination types on the right than on the left. Most people I know on the left who distrust modern medicine are less fixated on vaccines and more into pursuing their own medical care via herbs, homeopathy, etc.

Marc, that's a useful division, and in my experience, at least, it also marks the border between those sciences that are fairly cool about, say, druids, and those that are militantly hostile to anything other than hardcore scientific atheism. Thus there are more options for preserving observational sciences...

Don, I'm going on the diatribes I field regularly from climate change activists. If you're not fielding the same sort of thing, be glad.

M, in the US, something like half the population has no access to mainstream medical care already, because they don't have the money to pay for it. Thus we're already there.

Will, I think that's very possible, though your wandering engineer may have to be careful about scientist-hunting fanatics who insist that anybody who knows how to use a crescent wrench must be dabbling in petrochemicals and other forms of evil lore!

Karim, that's an excellent example -- the research being done at this point may not be very useful, but you're quite right that the skills needed to fit people with eyeglasses that improve their vision are extremely practical, and capable of being done on a low-tech basis. As things become more challenging, you might consider taking in an apprentice or two and teaching them how to shape lenses and fit frames!

Donalfagan, thanks for that! An excellent example of one way that science is cutting its own throat.

Gabriela, as I pointed out in earlier posts in this sequence, the power of the current elites depends wholly on its ability to maintain the loyalty and obedience of those further down the social ladder. As things become more difficult, more and more of the people lower down, who do the actual work of maintaining the elite in their positions of power, have strong incentives to put their own interests ahead of those of the elite. Historically, that's how elites end up dangling from lampposts, and I see many good reasons to think the same thing will happen this time around, too.

Roz, that depends on who decides to preserve things, and what they decide to preserve. Our existing books, not to mention more fragile recording media, won't last more than a few decades, but in the declining years of every civilization, people decide that certain things are worth preserving and set out to preserve them. If you have an interest in seeing something survive, that is, time to get to work on it...

Shane, that's certainly a method that's been tested successfully in previous dark ages!

MawKernewek said...

@Bob Patterson - have a think about what the angular size of the Apollo lunar landers as viewed from Earth would be.

It is difficult to do any better than about 0.5 seconds of arc resolution at the best of times due to the Earth's atmosphere, and 1 arc-second if you don't live at one of the mountaintop sites generally chosen for major telescopes.

The lunar disk is about 1800 arc-seconds across, and it has a physical diameter of 3,476 km. Therefore 1 arcsec = 2km.

Of course if you fly your telescope into lunar orbit you can indeed see them as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has done. But that wouldn't wash with sceptics because that was also a NASA mission.

We could also note that the Soviet missions included sample return, and also a couple of remote-control Lunakhod rovers, and didn't find the moon to be a completely different body than the Apollo astronauts did.

The lunar rocks from Apollo are among the most significant obstacles to belief in the idea of faked moon landings.

CAPTCHA - 'sleepless' - is it programmmed to say that given its after midnight in my time zone now?

Eric S. said...

I think what we're looking at in our culture is a really complex, multilayered matrix of attitudes towards science. Many sciences, particularly in environmental science, have lost enough funding that they've been mostly relegated to hobbyists. I remember when I was studying ecology, entomology, marine biology, etc. in college seeing that entire array of topics being treated like the red headed stepchild of the sciences and using facilities that hadn't changed all that much since the 60s. These days if you're interested in one of those topics you'll find yourself in the world of enthusiastic amateurs.

There's also a pretty wide variety in archetypes with the sciences. There's the arrogant prophets of progress, the mad scientists, the greedy corporate research team, and the angry atheist on one side but the Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall, Louis Agassiz archetype of the field researcher still holds strong. It's fallen out of the actual science world, true, but that's made it more the realm of regular people. I could see the image of the sterilized metal laboratory and the white lab coat become a symbol of the worst of what science can do, yes, but I have a hard time seeing the same happen to the field researcher in khaki's with a binocular around the neck, or the zoologist with a compound microscope and a few fish tanks in a dusty old garage.

And then there's the very basic grade school level scientific knowledge that everyone is at least aware of. I don't expect us to forget what the earth looks like from space, or how tiny it is in relation to the rest of the cosmos, or lose our knowledge of DNA, or the geologic history of the earth... The functions of the organs in the body, the way viruses and bacteria work, gravity and the laws of motion, thermodynamics, the structure of the atom, etc... . I expect we'll hold onto things like that as tightly as people in the Middle Ages held to Aristotle.

I see rather than a full on revolt, a wide spread of trends: active, productive practice in sciences that are useful in a collapsing world and are practiced widely by hobbyists, a fossilization of some basic 3rd grade versions of scientific consensus, a revival and maibstream acceptance of some fringe sciences, an appropriation of terminology from
more specialized concepts to fit ideas closer to human experience but have very little to to with the original context (such as the popular "quantum mysticism" you see so often) and a revolt against the sciences most linked to the high technology of today (especially medicine, engineering, and agriculture).

Which sciences will be affected by which trend depends on what the next religiosity entails. Christian fundamentalism uses, simplifies, and rejects different sciences than Islam, which would make different use of modern science than Buddhism, Polytheism and so on. I do expect in any case that it'll depend on the cost and the usefulness of a science which does give a lot of the hobby/amateur sciences really good odds.

August Johnson said...

@Repent, Bob Patterson - The Lunar Laser RetroReflectors that several of the US missions left on the moon's surface are still working to reflect lasers back for ranging experiments. They wouldn't be there if we hadn't been there to put them in place. We look at them all the time.

John Michael Greer said...

Andrew, all three are factors. Mostly, though, it's that there are only so many hours in a day, and I have other things to do in them that seem more useful to me than social media.

Diana, true enough.

Hircus, I think you're drastically underestimating the nonritual part of the experience -- the fact that more and more often, if you go to an MD, you risk getting a prescription, a treatment, or a nosocomial infection that will make you sicker than you were when you came in. In my experience, that's the thing that most people resent.

Andy, I did several history of science classes while getting my BA in history of ideas, and came to exactly the same realization. It's a useful counter to the torrent of propaganda that stands in for serious history of science these days.

Patricia, glad to hear it. How high is it above sea level?

News, it's entirely possible that some US universities may effectively relocate to India as a way out of their current tailspin, so your prediction stands a fair chance of being tested.

Ben, probably not -- the sort of success that generates mimesis isn't simply the ability to pull one's cookies out of the fire at the last possible minute, but a cascade of successes based on a new and emotionally compelling vision of human possibility. The industrial world had that in 1800; it doesn't have anything like it today.

Cathy, thank you for this! Le Guin has been a source of inspiration for me since I was a child -- yes, I can tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing when I stumbled across the Earthsea Trilogy. My first SF novel, The Fires of Shalsha, was partly inspired by reflections on her The Dispossessed. This speech of hers is something else of hers worth attention -- long list of those now.

Toomas, all in good time. That actually relates to the next series of posts here, and will be discussed at some length there!

Johnny, this habit of using the word "scientific" as a synonym for "makes profits for the pharmaceutical industry," which is what your critics are basically doing, is one of the things most likely to pound nails in the coffin of science.

Ventriloquist, that, too.

Mark, glad to hear it. As I noted in my post, I know a lot of atheists like that -- it's just the ones who aren't that get all the air time.

John Michael Greer said...

Trog, I haven't gotten a cell phone -- you can leave out the "yet," please. How do I communicate on national travel? I don't; one of the pleasures of travel is that I don't have to be at anybody's beck and call. A Chinese poem in translation comes to mind:

"I asked the boy beneath the pines.
He said, 'The master's gone alone
Herb-picking somewhere on the mount,
Cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown."

Bob, that's probably the case. As for violent revolution, well, I sketched out what I saw as the likely trajectory of our political sphere in October.

Hapibeli, slippery slopes can be entertaining to watch, from a safe distance.

AA, what are you doing to make sure those things survive? Unless someone makes the effort, that sort of casual confidence, it seems to me, may be fatally misplaced.

Wolfgang, nicely summarized; in fact, that would make a decent blog post of its own.

Justin, I'd been hearing about this in scraps and rumors -- thanks for the details! If only 12% of fundamental experiments can be replicated, we're in even worse trouble than I thought. I'll read up on this, and may well do a post on it. Do you (or does anyone else) know of data on the replicability of core experiments in other branches of science?

Matthew, no argument there.

Yanocoches, yes, I've encountered the same kind of propaganda disguised as science. It's all too common for scientists these days to "talk their book," i.e., trot out all kinds of arguments for whatever pays their bills.

Mister R., I hadn't encountered Barrett. "Toolbox" sounds like a useful label. As for the loss of knowledge from the Roman world, it wasn't just Alexandria -- that was the biggest library but it wasn't the only one. The loss of knowledge was a systemic process, not a specific incident.

Crow Hill said...

Sam Charles Norton:” The one thing that I suspect will enable scientific method to continue is if it can be placed within a more explicitly religious context, and therefore carried forward by the monks of the future. That's why I spent so long talking about the holiness of science, and where it fits in a broader understanding, in my book.” Will be interested to look up your book.

I would like to mention religious naturalism, which corresponds to this coming together of religion and science. There is Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme’s book the Universe Story, Michael Dowd (originally a Christian pastor) and Connie Barlow (originally a scientist) ’s work available on the Great Story website.

Incidentally I understand that our very own Archdruid is going to have a conversation with Michael Dowd. Looking forward to hearing this exchange.

High-tech versus low tech-science: a side-effect of the present quasi-obligation to use expensive and high-tech materials for research is that needed (for instance species surveys) but non high-tech research (i.e. going out in the field with a notebook/camera) does not get funding.

Marc Bernstein : “The observational sciences on the other hand are going to fall more quickly by the wayside.”

In fact this unfunded science can carry on being done by high-level amateurs without a university degree in their field but who are nevertheless well respected by their academic colleagues…

Climate cooling: I thought that even now it was accepted that this might happen if the Gulf Stream stopped circulating due to melting ice in the Arctic as a consequence of global warming.

Medicine: Modern medicine has been very successful on the whole, witness the global human population boom. In European countries there are physicians who have studied and practice both “classical” medicine and “alternative” medicine (acupuncture, homeopathy etc).

Thomas Daulton said...

JMG and Justin, (Good to see ya here again Justin!)

Yet again your post hits a huge resonance with me. So many of my friends trust anything their doctors say (and believe any pop-culture news article about medical "discoveries") with a level of reverence that borders on the religious. When I tell them "that advice didn't work for me" they tend to brand me as a mad heretic and skip straight to ad-hominem attacks rather than consider the possibility that different people with different bodies might get different results from trying a similar method.

I'm quite convinced that all the health advice we have been given for 50+ years regarding dietary fats, sugars and starches, cholesterol, heart disease, and even exercise ("calories in = calories out") is going to be turned upon its head within the next five to eight years or so. Take 1/10th of a second to Google and you will already find a profusion of articles saying that dietary fats are being exonerated from the demonic status they were relegated to for the past 50 years. Then as Jason H. points out, the science about cholesterol is a lot more nuanced than we've been told. So the next obvious question is, if dietary fat doesn't cause heart disease, what does? Well, something that doctors have been telling us is safe and healthy to eat for the past 50 years. Follow this chain to its conclusion and most of the health advice we've been given for 50 years unravels like a cheap sweater.

These medical developments are a big part of the notes I have for my book about "Scientific Arrogance" which I mentioned on your other blog.

You asked Justin about data on the replicability of core experiments in other branches of science. Well the example that leapt to mind was another medical one. Check out this TED talk, and apparently this guy has written a fairly respected book on the subject:

What Doctors Don't Know About the Drugs They Prescribe

I am totally in agreement with you that the main conduit that will link scientific blindness and arrogance, to rejection of science wholesale by the common population, is the medical industry. No doubt we have achieved a bunch of high-tech miracle cures for horrific yet relatively rare diseases. Meanwhile, an awful lot of people are finding out that they can take better day-to-day care of themselves with traditional remedies and some careful thought, than the exotic, expensive meds that increasingly expensive doctors prescribe for common conditions. The cost of health "care" in the US has been skyrocketing far faster than inflation for decades, yet its day-to-day utility becomes less and less. As Galbraith said, "Things that can't go on forever, don't."

Matt McNeill said...

The days of the ruinmen: an eerie video shows just how fast nature returns, even if humans can't.

Cherokee Organics said...


Many thanks for your concern and advice. Yeah, we're avoiding the medications like the plague for exactly those reasons and focusing rather on diet.

I may have mentioned this before, but when I was younger, people used to literally drop dead. Seriously, it used to happen to elderly relatives of mine. Like they'd be having a cup of tea or reading the paper and then they'd suddenly keel over, it wasn’t uncommon at all.

From my perspective, the jury is out on whether it is such a good thing to revive elderly members of the population from terminal illnesses like pneumonia - which used to be quite fatal for the very young and the very old. I get medicating the young to bring them back to health - that makes perfect sense.

However, I have now known too many people who revive their elderly relatives only to have them recover and spend their final year or two sitting in a nursing home on anti-depression medication along with a host of other medications and requiring 24 / 7 care. From my observations, the individuals can hardly be described as pursuing an active and healthy existence. And they never leave those places, except in a coffin.

As usual, the easy road, is actually the hard road dressed up in drag.

And before anyone asks, I've actually been faced with the decision about whether to remove life support for a terminally ill person who had no chance of recovery.

PS: The quince trees put on a good show of flowers this year, but they're still too young to set fruit. Shame really.

On the other hand the strawberries have gone feral this year and there are now more strawberries than I know what to do with and they should keep producing until mid-January.

The parrots have been into the Asian pear trees, which is a bit of a nuisance...

PPS: Brisbane which is the capital of Queensland was hit by a super cell yesterday: Brisbane storm super cell. When I was in Melbourne I got hit by a super cell, many, many years ago. A whole lot of rain, a lot of wind and a lot of lightning. To cut a long story short, it just happened to also be the very night that I had the kitchen in the backyard covered by tarps and it flooded too just for good measure.

Incidentally, about the library at Alexandria, perhaps this sort of problem occurred too: Brisbane storm, archive store forced to dump rare books



Ivan Lukic said...

Concerning future alternative methods of self-healing. Russians have a device called Vitafon which is using soundwaves for stimulating acupuncture points. Applicator is about two inches in diameter and user does not have to visit professional acupuncturist. The big obstacle for acupuncture (even in the China in the past) is that needle has to be used at precise point and sticking needle can cause numerous side effects. With big applicator everybody can stimulate appropriate points safely by himself. Depending on health problem soundwaves of different frequency is used. Soundwaves are generated using some kind of amplifier that is powered by electricity. I guess that for the future it would be useful to develop Vitafon that will not depend on electricity. Some kind of mechanical spring loaded device should be developed for sound wave generation, something like old turntables and mechanical clocks.

And yes, I also was a victim of modern medicine. When gastroenterologist prescribed me drug called Cisap, incredible heart arrhythmias started. Good thing is that I immediately understood what was causing it and discontinued the therapy. Couple of years later I red about high toxicity of Cisap in the newspapers. No need to say that I also stopped going to the gastroenterologist. If I want to poison myself I do not need professional help.

patriciaormsby said...

My husband and I have been studying alternative forms of medicine, and I grow a lot of herbs. He was well along the track as a turkey to be butchered for profit (his kidneys were perfectly functional, but his doctor ordered him on dialysis anyway), and it took a monumental effort to get him off that track. People have to get their information from "authorities," and it was hard to find an authoritative Japanese voice that wasn't part of the racket. As a diabetic, he can get away with using insulin, as long as he keeps quiet about it. The "track" is a standard high-carb, low-calorie diet and medicines that force insulin secretion, wearing out the pancreas, after which it is dialysis, amputations and an early grave. (This kind of thing is happening everywhere, but the Japanese are particularly good sheep. The dialysis centers are full of people in their 40s and 50s.)
A dear friend of ours was less fortunate, and this relates back poignantly to your article on hoarding two weeks ago. We will REALLY miss him. He was one of the few folks we could talk to openly about collapse. His response to this awareness, though, was moving to a sparsely populated rural area, hoarding treasures and making lots of enemies. We warned him--everybody warned him. Sure enough, he was found dead at an unmanned train station, and the locks are missing from his door. They didn't even wait for the rioting to start!
With the police not interested in investigating this, we wonder how far Japan actually is on the way to its collapse. Here they all hide their misery and pretend everything is jolly fine. On the surface, it looks identical to the peak bubble year of 1989.
Another pitfall of collapse-awareness, which I believe you have warned about in the past, is getting desperate and teaming up with people with great-sounding solutions. Another friend, that we are now having to distance ourselves from, has been participating in a religious group, the leader of which has just declared himself "God."

Eric S. said...

Chris said: "The first organic soil methods - finding and breeding bacteria and fungi that grow and improve the soil. Actually that's the only one I mean to bring up but it can be generalized beyond organic gardening, onto soil remediation, food processing and health improvement. People are increasingly aware of the good effects of floral balance in the digestive system, and the adverse effects of antibiotics (save us from decline and fall? No. Worth preserving? Sure. It falls under the general rubric of balance in nature, which I think is a good mnemonic.) Another is using fungi to clean up soils. Another example I saw was some chefs making cheese from rice that were fermented using a particular combination of bacterial strains."

If you pay attention to the words of skeptics and institutionalized science, you'll see that things like organic farming, probiotics and maintenance of healthy internal fauna and others are being relegated to the realm of quack pseudoscience. That may wind up benefitting those practices in the long run.

Kutamun said...

Gday JMG and cohorts
Think it was Jared Diamond in "Collapse " who suggested that it was with a technological edge comes an economic edge , which in turn brings military muscle , which brings Empire . Needless to say the harnessing of highly concentrated fossil fuels has certainly brought about a technological spurt . Still , looking back i cant help but think that the exigencies of world wide war have also brought about some of the most dramatic advances . Would America still be just a bunch of rednecks who howl at the moon when it is full (rather than plant stiff flags on it )without the assistance of captured German rocket scientists ( Werner Von Braun and his mates ?) . Would we still be wearing silk scarves and goggles if the ME 262 design hadnt led the military through the various stages of jet aviation into commercial appplications on grand scale ?? . GPS technology also was a military priority .., as robotics is proving to be now . Max Boot has published some interesting writings on where the military is heading next in this regard .

Reading the Pentagon 2010 Joint Operating Environment report , it is clear that various thinkers in the military have an "agnostic " view of climate change in particulat and are viewing it very seriously and preparing actively for it ; whereas the "industrial " wing of the complex and its political arm seem to view the science as optional depending wether it fits in with their short term commercial interests or not; rational but not necessarily logical . Perhaps the military will be a safe harbour for science to reside in as the storm plays out . There are many industries whose managements view continued technological advancements as exponentially inevitable , with a view to replacing those pesky workforces with 'Bots , without bothering to think through the consequences of this .

Of late , though , it does seem we are spending enormous resources chasing the Dusion Chimaera , landing probes on comics and endlessly tinkering with our PEDs , turning into some sort of electronic dog collar while hailing ourselves as masters of the universe , as well as constructing a variety of ubiquitous digital concentration camps for our social , emotional lives , pretending that these are the best things since sliced bread . I wonder if John Connor will send a terminator back through The Snake to gate crash Tim Berners Lee before he can launch Skynet ??
Cheers mate

Doug Manners said...

As you may already know, it has been proved mathematically by meta-analysis that most claimed medical research findings are false. The authoritative paper on this is by Ioannidis and can be found at His conclusions are now generally accepted (though nothing effective is done about them, obviously).

Even the pharmaceutical industry has had to accept that he is right, though they generally try to water down his message from "research results are false" to "research results have not (yet) been reproduced".

An easier-to-read article describing his results is at

Ramaraj said...


The process by which science is committing suicide, by biting off the very hand that feeds it, has been seen in Indian culture also. So much so that Manusmriti, the now much reviled ancient Hindu law book, sets strict standards for the priestly class.

A priest shall necessarily beg for his daily food and other necessities.
If he finds that he has ended up with more food, clothing or any other possession than he needs for the day, he must give the excess away immediately. This and other similar injunctions severely limit the material comforts a priest can enjoy. Violators are chastised by warnings of stints in hell (with special places and very specific tortures), nasty lives in next births and banishment from society.

There is a Hindu coming-of-age ceremony for boys named Upanayana. The day after the rituals are done, the boy must go to the doors of each of their neighbors everyday, and literally beg for food with plate in hand. The woman of the house shall give food on the plate with utmost respect, and he must eat only that food on that day. This will be continued for a minimum of seven days, with the boy going to a different neighbors' each day. This practice is continued till today, though with diminished importance. Elders say that this is a remnant of the old practice of begging for subsistence. I did go begging, and I will say that even when it is purely symbolic, the experience is humbling.

For me, this illustrates the relationship between the creative minority and the general majority. The minority is duty bound to supply the intellectual wealth for the majority's benefit, in return for the alms offered to them.

This could be a useful item in the cultural toolkit of future sustainable societies.

BTW, I noticed someone had remarked a couple of weeks back about how in India, gold was worshiped as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. You know what else is also worshiped as Lakshmi?

Cow dung.

Strange as it may seem, it makes perfect sense. Cow dung manure is one of the best and cheapest organic manure in India for centuries. As a druid and a organic farmer, I am sure you will understand.

patriciaormsby said...

@Shawn Aune I've always been utterly fascinated by science, and I would encourage you to read up on plate tectonics while there is still a chance. The heat source in the Earth's core is said to be decaying radioactive elements. Hydrocarbons tend to get buried on continental crust, where a certain amount of pressure facilitates their conversion to fossil fuels. Most of the crust getting recycled back into the mantle (after a span of about 200 million years)is oceanic crust. There seem to be big differences between oceanic and continental crust, with the latter being thick, but less dense, and the former being thin and heavy, mostly basaltic (the material of the mantle). There is little or no exchange of materials between the core and mantle.
Whatever continental crustal materials collect on the ocean floor tend to get carried down a ways under the continents and then belched back up along with steam via Mt. Shasta-type volcanoes.
On the continents, I've read two competing schools of thought. One is that they are growing in size, having started out some 4 or so billion years ago (I may be off) as an island, now divided between Western Australia and South Africa, around which stromatolites (the oldest known fossils) quickly formed. If you look at the geology of California, new strips of land kept getting added over the eons.
The other view holds that the continents stayed about the same size overall, but went bashing around, shattering and recombining in various ways.
I could go on and on. This just fascinates the living daylights out of me. Gosh this was a fun age to live in! But absolutely get out and see these things with your own eyes if you can pester an expert into showing you around. The good news is the Earth will still be here and continue these geological processes no matter how badly we screw it up.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG concerning whether or not the scientific method will survive... in the paradigm you have been working with, shouldn't we expect it to be one of the lost pieces of ancient wisdom to be rediscovered in precious manuscripts after the dark ages? Then it can be employed to serve in the development of what you have dubbed the ecotechnic society? In this scenario we would expect it to be pretty much lost as a conscious process for a few centuries.

But, we've developed technology, bred animals, etc., for thousands of years in our past without consciously following a "scientific method," so its absence doesn't mean these things cease.

Eric S. said...

@JMG: A bit off topic for this week, but still following the broader themes of this blog: I'm a little curious about your thoughts on the outcome of yesterday's OPEC meeting? With another steep plunge after an uninterrupted 3 month decline, is that a bubble we can safely call deflated? If so, are we looking at the "sharp regional recessions in shale country" outcome rather than the "full on economic recession outcome" of the two possibilities you listed back in your "Well and Truly Fracked" essay? Or is there still more to come?

Somewhatstunned said...


Ok, yes, you've proved your point about the ice-agers. I doubted this because all I remember was the odd item in the UK broadsheets about global warming - somehow or other I did know about it as a distant speculation from the seventies, and have watched as it has gradually become more salient a topic. In the face of your evidence I'm now quite prepared to admit this was my own accidental experience - I'm pretty well-read but do read fewer books than you (*everyone* reads fewer books than JMG :)

Seeing as someone has mentioned the wonderful Ursula Le Guin, can I just add as an interesting sidenote that anthropogenic global warming has a walk-on part in both the lathe of heaven and the dispossessed, both written late sixties/early seventies.

Also, UK experience of healthcare might be a bit less extreme - but I entirely take your point.

W. H. Martin said...

“scientific opinion was still sharply divided on the subject of future climates, and a significant number of experts believed that the descent into a new ice age was likely."
While it is true that some climate scientists in the 1970s were predicting a return to glacial conditions, they were in the minority. But for this minority, there were very good reasons to predict global cooling. By that time scientists were able to reconstruct past climates based primarily on ice cores and also to describe the main drivers of climate, the orbital influences (Milankovich cycles). There are other influences on the climate including the atmospheric component. Over the past two million years or so the earth has been in a glacial period known as the Pleistocene. Warm interglacials, lasting about 10,000 years alternate with glacial periods lasting about 100,000 years. It was also known that extraordinary events, such as massive volcanic activity that occurred about 230 million years ago and a large comet that hit about 65 million years ago are capable of overriding the orbital influences. We are now about 10,000 years into a warm interglacial which peaked 5000-6000 years ago. We should be approaching the end of the warm interglacial. Even in the 1970s and 1980s the majority of climate scientists believed that the atmospheric component due to the burning of fossil fuels, was overriding the orbital influences, even though there was still a sizable minority that believed that the earth was cooling. Today only about 3% of climate scientists believe we are headed into a cooling period. We will find out who was right.

John Franklin said...

A good start might be to divorce the word "science" (scientific method) from inductive reasoning, which has important applications outside science.

John Michael Greer said...

Wolfgang, another way to say the same thing is that science and technology are the most efficient means human beings have yet come up with to turn natural resources into waste as fast as possible. Now that we've proved that we can do that, as you suggest, maybe it's time to ask whether it's as good an idea as it seemed...

RepubAnon, nicely summarized.

Rsuusa, exactly. In your place I'd be thinking hard about what to do when the academic industry follows its current bubble with a world-class bust.

SLClaire, excellent. The people I know who have stayed healthy into old age are the ones who figured out that their MDs did not have their best interests at heart, and made their own decisions, as you have.

Shastatodd, if we get a Maunder Minimum equivalent -- and the jury's still out on that -- that would give us a Little Ice Age, not the full shebang. That said, yes, it's quite possible that all the greenhouse gases we've dumped into the atmosphere mean that we'll be whipsawed by climate change, too hot for a couple of centuries and then too cold, rather than a smooth and much more survivable descent into ordinary ice age conditions.

Ahavah, exactly -- one of the main reasons for the failure of climate change activism was its reliance on the prestige of science, at a time when that prestige has been all but erased by the misbehavior of scientists. The sneering bullies in the atheist crowd are icing on the cake.

Slow Moe, that's going to be the subject of an entire sequence of posts here, probably starting midway through next year. Stay tuned!

Sheep, you know, you could get even closer to saving civilization if you equated the level of civilization with the number of references to the Kardashians in the tabloid press, or something like that!

Ray, good. The movement toward a de-Faustianized science and technology is already under way, and by the way, it needs enthusiastic inventors working in basements and garages; you might consider applying... ;-)

Ric, right. Future Germans, Chinese, etc. may well have more in the way of technology than we do, just as technological decline was more drastic in Britain than, say, Byzantium, but the first worldwide civilization is pretty much guaranteed to be followed up by the first worldwide dark age.

Ed-M, thanks for the links.

OldSkeptic, and if the climate change activists had responded in those terms, rather than denying that predictions of an ice are were ever made by qualified people, they'd have backhanded their opponents into the middle of next week.

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, oh, granted, it's very much a "did he jump or was he pushed" sort of inquest.

r_df34, now go back and show me where in my blog I said that there had been a consensus in favor of a coming ice age. Parroting canned arguments without paying attention to context is not exactly a useful habit, you know.

AA, by the same logic, there are no dogs, just dachshunds, poodles, rottweilers, etc. All you've done is draw the line around an abstract category in a different place than I have.

Random Man, the descent of textbooks into drivelling idiocy is something I've watched with a kind of fascinated horror for years. I've seen sixth grade textbooks from the 1920s that had more information and tougher math than upper-division college texts have today.

Robert, all those are good points.

TomK, not at all. I find Dawkins endlessly entertaining to watch, and as a theist, I find the damage he's doing to the angry-atheist movement quite heartening. I meant what I said about people going back to religion because of his idiotic public statements -- I know several people who've done so and have heard of many others.

MawKernewek, true enough!

Raymond, that's brilliant. Here in the US, the Friday after Thanksgiving is Buy Nothing Day, which I've celebrated for many years now; I've occasionally considered, though, wishing people a happy Sauron's Day on that date.

Ahavah, I look forward to the day that rising sea levels flood the Capitol.

Eric, oh, granted, it's complex. Still, I don't think the last word has been said yet; a more conscious, organized, and total rejection-of-science movement is still very much a possibility, and will become even more of one if current institutionalized science continues along its merry way.

Crow Hill, most of the population boom has been driven by the kind of simple public health measures that keep epidemics from spinning out of control, which were known by 1900 or so. The only medical advance since that time that's had a huge impact on death rates has been antibiotics, and of course those are sunseting out now as antibiotic resistance becomes pervasive among microbes.

Patricia Mathews said...

The Santa Fe Opera house is roughly 7,000 feet above sea level. One review said "Well worth the altitude sickness."

Eric S. said...

"oh, granted, it's complex. Still, I don't think the last word has been said yet; a more conscious, organized, and total rejection-of-science movement is still very much a possibility, and will become even more of one if current institutionalized science continues along its merry way."

That's definitely a possibility. But what I'm seeing more markedly is a schism in the sciences, with many of the sciences that are challenging the status quo getting rejected as pseudoscience. (As is happening with ecology and many of the systems sciences and Organic agriculture). I could see many of the sciences that are being embraced by various counter-culture movements picking up the ideals and belief systems of those counter cultures and getting rejected by the mainstream science world, getting combined with all manner of what's currently considered pseudoscience alongside it, and then becoming the intellectual foundation of the next civilization on down the line. There's enough science that is falling through the cracks right now to have a chance of surviving in another form. But we'll see. Even with a total rejection of science, I just can't imagine things like the basic shape of the earth, solar system, and galaxy getting rejected after we've spent a half a century looking at the earth from space. There are some things that just can't be unseen. Some things will be kept no matter what, the big question is which bits of modern scientific consensus will stay and which will be lost?

thecrowandsheep said...

"Sheep, you know, you could get even closer to saving civilization if you equated the level of civilization with the number of references to the Kardashians in the tabloid press, or something like that!"

That is fantastic news for High Culture! I was hoping Kim Karkashian would finally make it big. Enjoy.

Thomas Daulton said...

Oh, another example leapt to mind, not exactly about the replicability of experiments, but about scientific dogmatism ignoring hard evidence. Did you read this nicely-written article by Charles Eisenstein? It seems like even a substance as simple and basic as water is subject to some real weighty scientific debate. Sure we all "know" how water behaves, but to what level of detail? (This is not that psychic emotional water memory stuff that the Japanese artist guy was pushing; the book Eisenstein reviews deals with real lab experiments. Eisenstein mentions the Japanese artist IIRC as an example of an un-replicable experiment.)

The Waters of Heterodoxy

Please note: My spell checker doesn't even recognize "replicability" as a word. At all levels, most people just believe that one success in a laboratory proves a theory as a fact.

Bob Patterson said...

Thanks to all posters for excellent info on the moon landing.
Regarding organic soil see "Growing your own grens" on youtube. John makes the pont that poor soil hyped with synthetic fertilizers produces crops deficient in many nutrient minerals. His soil rejuvinatiioo program includes manure, compost and a lot of rock dust mineral supplements. This can be debated, but his results ae impressive.

AA said...

'AA, what are you doing to make sure those things survive? Unless someone makes the effort, that sort of casual confidence, it seems to me, may be fatally misplaced.'

That's a legitimate question. On a personal level I collect old math and physics books -- e.g., the first and second editions of Goldstein's 'Classical Mechanics,' which were published in 1950 and 1980 respectively. I suspect, though, that this is not enough and what is really needed is more of a collective effort along the lines of 'A Canticle for Leibowitz.'

Such an effort seems particulary apposite today since we are -- in my exceedingly humble opinion -- on the other side of 'peak science.' That peak was probably arrived at around fifty years back. There's a lot of sound and fury today but it arguably doesn't signify much of anything.

Institutional science continues on automatic pilot, on the basis of an acquired momentum which is now perceptibly giving out.

On a side note a lot of 19th century math and physics has already been (collectively) forgotten and lies gathering dust in institutional libraries.

Kathleen Quinn said...

(Not sure if you got this already, but just in case…apologies if this is a duplicate)

Plenty of experience with modern medicine, like your friend’s situation. After an MS diagnosis a couple of years ago, I quickly learned –from other regular folk--that high doses of Vitamin D were thought to be as effective or better than the disease-modifying drugs (which are all immune system suppressors), at reducing the number and severity of relapses. Between D and a diet with no gluten and more vegetables, I have yet to experience any relapse since diagnosis. My neurologist, paid handsomely by Novartis to promote their answer to MS, first said I was crazy, and now says nothing except “call me if things change.”

An old friend, a PhD microbiologist now working for a marketing company writing drug instructions for doctors (like the one mentioned earlier: “side effects-DEATH”), frequently accuses me of failing to accord scientists their proper due—to which I invariably respond with something about scientists being so easily bought and paid for that it’s hard to trust any of them. This hits uncomfortably close, I think, so we end our conversation, vowing to never go there again, but inevitably, a few months later, we arrive once again in the same unproductive place (usually with the help of too much wine). Sadly (but good for my friend, I guess), her sort of “science”—that is, working for drug companies—will survive a bit longer during Decline than science dependent on public funding. (Though I suspect the intermediary--the marketing company--for whom she works at present will not.)

Her arguments in support of authoritative science have everything to do with the depth and breadth of a scientist’s training and education, and the value she places on peer reviewed, double blinded etc whatever they are called studies, to the apparent exclusion of all else (given her personal investment in this system I am not surprised). In her world, anecdotal evidence is no evidence at all.

While she is right to not necessarily bet the farm on anecdotal evidence without further ado, she dismisses, I think, the coolest things about science—the importance of curiosity, of considering a question, running down some theories, and being open to alternative explanations. I think humans with some of these qualities will survive into the future; for this reason I don’t mourn the loss of science—in some form or another it will endure. For now, however, I will continue to equate what passes for modern science with all the other “industrials” I have come to despise—farming, education, medicine, etc. And we will continue to lubricate our friendship with wine.


Varun Bhaskar said...


One of my first comments when I started reading the report was something along the lines of “having hope that humanity would still colonize space.” I reflected on your response and came to the conclusion that I was already quite tried of techno-worship that passes for religion in our society.

I took the time to tour the online space exploration community and realized just how utterly insane everyone had become. No one talks about costs or consequences anymore it's just an endlessly recycled litany of “Helium 3,” and “mars!,” and on and on. The utter disregard that parishioners and prophets of the CoP (cult of progress) have for the gifts of this planet is just disturbing. From Elon Musk's own half joking phrase of "f--k earth," to a recent discussion on reddit where readers responded to a scientists fears and concerns about geo-engineering projects with “we've already made mother nature our bi**h, we'll figure this out too," they have started to degrade into the vilest kind of fanatics. If these be the followers of science then it is only right that we cast them out of our communities.

I think the saddest part about all of this is that the living earth probably did provide us with enough resources to create bridges between the planets, but instead of accepting them in humility and using them wisely we squandered them.

I worry about what the true believers in science will do in their last days. What horrors will they unleash on us once they suddenly realize they are going to be denied their paradise? They still have the tools and knowledge to craft some horribly destructive things afterall.

Either way, it will be a struggle to carry on the scientific method.



John Michael Greer said...

Thomas, your prediction about dietary science seems credible to me; it's become an open secret that nearly all the dieting advice that doctors have been handing out for the last thirty years makes people gain weight. (Starve the body, and it assumes that there's a famine on and hoards every spare calorie it can get in the form of body fat.) Thanks for the link! I've heard references to studies that apparently show that some of the core experiments in physics can't be replicated, either, but I've yet to see the data; if you or anyone knows of a source for that, I'd be grateful.

Matt, many thanks for the link! I understand that a brown bear has now taken up residence in the Chernobyl exclusion zone; I hope it finds a mate.

Cherokee, I've been involved in the same choice, and I've also worked in nursing homes and seen what happens when medical technology is used to force someone back to more-or-less life when their body wanted to die. It's not a pretty sight.

Ivan, you can get the same effect by pressing on the points with a fingertip, and rubbing either light and fast (to stimulate the meridian) or slow and deep (to calm it). That's what's miscalled
"acupressure" -- and it works very well in practice.

Patricia, good gods. I'm sorry to hear that the Japanese medical system is descending to the same depths as ours.

Kutamun, it's an interesting data point that military writings from the late Roman Empire are full of what, for the time, was exotic military technology, an assortment of V-weapons meant to turn the tide against the barbarians. You'll notice that by and large, it didn't work. I suspect the current mania for high-tech military vaporware will be just as effective in its turn.

Doug, thanks for the links! What this implies, of course, is that modern pharmaceutical medicine is crackpot pseudoscience, and we ought to go back to tried and true health care modalities such as homeopathy and acupuncture. ;-)

Ramaraj, I think it would be a great thing to make Ivy League college students beg door to door on their summer breaks, so your traditions definitely have something going for them. As for cow dung, makes perfect sense to me -- I've argued elsewhere that compost heaps ought to be regarded as altars, on which offerings are made to the Earth Mother.

Bill, that's certainly a possibility, but it also happens tolerably often that useful mental tools of that sort can be kept going as living traditions straight through the dark age -- consider classical logic, which remained in common use in dark age Europe among those few who were literate, and spread from them to society as a whole once conditions got better.

Eric, oil isn't the only commodity that's dropping like a rock right now, so I doubt we've hit bottom yet. The global economy seems to be souring in general, and as the impact of that downturn hits the financial sector, I'd expect fireworks.

Stunned, as I noted, there was no consensus about climate in the 1970s, and concern about anthropogenic global warming goes all the way back to the late 19th century. One of my favorite science fiction authors, Edgar Pangborn, set three novels and a lot of short stories in a future world ravaged by global warming, and this was back in the 1960s. It's the claim that no qualified experts had predicted an imminent ice age that I wanted to challenge.

W.H., granted. I read extensively in climate literature in the late 1970s, and thought the arguments in favor of an imminent ice age were fairly convincing. That they turned out to be wrong -- well, that's the way real science works, of course.

John, that might indeed be a good start. It might be necessary to ditch the word "science" altogether for a while.

John Michael Greer said...

Patricia, excellent! By Crow and Sheep's standards, which are arguably no less idiotic than many of those used by, e.g., the World Bank, high culture is secure.

Eric, that's an excellent point. I wonder how easy it might be to pick up the sciences that are being thrown under the bus right now, patch up their cuts and bruises, hand them bottles of beer, and offer them Druid robes in place of their lab coats? Might be a worthwhile project.

Sheep, I'm not sure if "enjoy" is quite the right word.

Thomas, no, I hadn't seen that -- many thanks for the link!

AA, in that case I have no objections at all; you're qualified to suggest that the scientific method will survive, since you're taking active steps to help that happen. For what it's worth, my guess is that silent, invisible, untraceable efforts like yours will be the ones that matter, because they can't be coopted by the flacks of the existing order.

Kathleen, there are people with whom I avoid the same sort of conversation, just as I avoid talking about Darwin with certain of the Christians I know. It's really quite similar, all things considered.

Varun, yes, I've seen the same thing. One thing I've noticed, though, is that most of the people who are preaching the cult of progress most devoutly aren't actually in a position to have to deal with its interactions with the real world. Elon Musk, for example, doesn't get down into the belly of a machine with a crescent wrench to fix things; he works on the level of airy abstractions, where it's easy to ignore mere physical reality. Thus my guess is that when the religion of progress cracks, the result will have more in common with a cargo cult than with any sort of mad-scientist effort to wreck the world.

John Michael Greer said...

I've had to delete two more good posts because of profanity. Come on, people, you know the house rules.

ed boyle said...

I don't use drugs jmg but computer tablets are a pain to use for typing. I see biological life as highest technology. Biosphere as highest culture, civilization as regression from perfect balance of nature. Evolution as only way to progress through control of mind body complex in balance with nature. When sci-tech is gone due to resource loss we will be back to very basic external tech and forced to go inward as say tibetan monks, zen masters, yogis but for masses if we are not to be reduced to primitive hunter gatherer past. If sci-tech must at best be frozen in time at waterwheel level, etc. and culture will slowly return to oral village traditions and simple religions past prime then synchretism by cultural decline for new ideology for next culture must mix all global religions plus science and prove workable. Skepticism from science ideology will demand proof of results from religion. Science itself is at a dead end,too expensive to test further particles. The last frontier is mind body control. Yogis who do tricks with heart, breathing stopping. Tai chi masters controlling energy into sticks they fight with. Millions learn these disciplines now around world but would go from sport level to energy level during next spiritual awakening phase. Some few would acheive higher mastery showing rigorous proof of 'miraculous' behaviour. This would inspire more to hard work, acheive spiritual-physical evolution for a low percentage of population. This would be everyday practical usage, not esoteric hidden knowledge. Danger is of course individual development. Most not ready but if society demands end to materialism as death nears through ecological catastrophe then radical survival solution is a patent need. Necessity mother of invention. Agriculture wasnecessary due to overpopulation. Logically humanity will have to take radical steps to survive. Pure primitivism as end game when resoures are gone is unlikely due to zero tech esoteric sciences and human desperation picking up where yogis of old left off to control self and environment. Bacteria survive in all environments through extreme adaptation. Why not humans if necessary. Toynbee talks of a challenge and a breaking point which is too big a challenge. One wonders how far we can push the envelope to avoid extinction in a hostile ecology we produced through civilization. If there is hope where does it lie, biochar?

thecrowandsheep said...

"Crow and Sheep's standards...are arguably no less idiotic..."

High praise indeed!

"I'm not sure if "enjoy" is quite the right word."

Apparently Kim Kashkashian is one of the world's foremost violists at any altitude. I see you don't like the viola? So there we have it. Greer is a climate change denying, viola hater :-)

Eric S. said...

"I wonder how easy it might be to pick up the sciences that are being thrown under the bus right now, patch up their cuts and bruises, hand them bottles of beer, and offer them Druid robes in place of their lab coats? Might be a worthwhile project."

Considering that many of the sciences that are falling through the cracks just now are foundational to Druidry I'd say it's already happening. I haven't gotten around to AODA yet (I'm saving that for after I've finished my Ovate work with OBOD) but my experience has been that to get the most out of the studies you have to pull out the microscope and butterfly net, get outside, get dirty and do some field work.

I think a lot of the process is almost happening on its own though... Think about the way propaganda from industrial agriculture is chasing so many scientists out to the fringe where they're brushing up against holistic healers and gaia worshippers. Or the way the dominance of Dawkinsian "Selfish Gene" evolutionary theory is doing the same thing to proponents of ecosystem and population-centered evolution. Or the way big name scientists coming out in favor of industrial agriculture and spouting the evils of organic food has chased other scientists to the fringe. I could see the same thing happening to climate science and peak oil. If mainstream science chases the scientists who are actually trying to do something about our predicament away from their place in the dominant minority, well... they might find a place in the internal proletariat. They'd mingle with some strange ideas, but I'm not sure that'd be a bad thing.

The one scientific achievement I don't want to see lost is the discovery of evolution and the understanding of our earth's history we've gained through the fossil record. If we can pass it on, it would be one of the greatest gifts our civilization has to offer, and if it's lost it's lost forever. Those fossils have been dug up and studied and can't be discovered again... which means without them the history of this planet can never again be known. If they could be preserved across enough cycles of civilization, a longitudinal study of evolution stretched out over the course of the lifespan of our species (which, according to most projections is also the amount of time it'll take for earth's biodiversity to recover) would tell us volumes. It'd be a shame if the concept itself and the accumulated knowledge of the past to inform it was lost (or if the foundation of the next religiosity was something like today's evangelicalism and it was actively suppressed.) It's a lot sadder to imagine a world where nobody knows about dinosaurs or the amazing process that transformed them into today's birds and crocodiles than to imagine a world where we never returned to the moon which... well... just not as interesting to me... but then... I suppose that's just my values showing isn't it?

William Knight said...

"Consider the difference between the absurdly cheap hardware that was used in the late 19th century to detect the electron and the fantastically expensive facility that had to be built to detect the Higgs boson"

True for physics. Not true for genomics and genetic engineering, which require minimal energy investment for huge amounts of output. Lots of low-hanging fruit and scientific discoveries to be made in this area too. Not saying that's a good thing, though. I think it's quite likely we'll see some very disruptive and dangerous developments emerge from this domain of science before the first industrial wave dies out.

Eric S. said...

"Connects them to" not "turned them into." I added crocodiles to balance out the thought but forgot to change the sentence to make it accurate again.

das monde said...

The power of the current elites depends on their ability to control the levels of reality of each societal demographic, as prescribed by Plato. Judging from the fact that it is thoroughly rude to bring up actual macro reasons why increasingly more folks won't have nice things at a Thanksgiving dinner, the levels of reality are deftly in control. Just like with religion, you better simply shut up and be content that a few "militant" authorities made it to the media with a narrow focus.

"Hypnos, when scientists try to talk science with the general public, it's frankly embarrassing how often they avoid discussing the lively internal debates in whatever field is under discussion...

There are several issues here. Not the least, nowadays the universities control the public communication with PR departments. They either do the communication, or advice the scientists how to water down the message "expertly". Surely, a scientist could be proactive and (depending on the field) he won't be stopped probably. But this is not the 60s when public appearance was not demanding. (Being Neil deGrasse Tyson is a full time job, and even he ain't Attenborough or Sagan.) Public talk is just not a high priority even for extrovert scientists. Besides, scientists, lecturers have increasingly lower status even within universities. The administration is bloating at the expense of positions, libraries - yet scientists have to waste more time on paperwork. So the science decline is definitely led by non-scientific dynamics. In particular, appreciation of science depends hugely on public education - do we need to say much here? Catabolic tear of education and science is under way for 2-3 decades already.

Yanocoches said...

Science, so god-like,
Technology its spawn-
Striding on clay feet

Marinhomelander said...

Cherokee Organics,

Check out the Weston Price website. Their (scientific) thesis is that animal fat, high quality, preferably organic, animal fat, is not only not harmful, but is good for you and is essential to health.

Snoqualman said...

Maybe someone else has said this already (haven't read through all the comments yet, as I normally do,) but the idea that we may be headed for another Ice Age, while perhaps not looking very likely, is not beyond the realm of possibility.

We just don't know what the climate is going to do or not do in reaction to such a sudden onslaught of greenhouse gases. This latest news about methane vents really has me worried. Isn't it possible that there is or are some feedback mechanisms that might get tripped, and cause cooling rather than warming?

What I do not see happening is a gradual northward migration of southerly climates. The extremes may be more extreme. Global weirding, and all that. I know there were once tropical-like ecosystems at the poles but I don't believe those came about after such a sudden release of greenhouse gases as we are now seeing.

But I don't know, and no one else does. Seems like anything could happen, including things which have never happened before. The Ice Age may come yet!

Cherokee Organics said...


I sympathise with you on both counts. It isn't easy at all to work in those environments or make that particular decision.

I've recently made the acquaintance of a few people that work in those environments and whilst they are lovely people and clearly doing the best that they can in an environment constrained by profit motives, I can but help think that there must be a better way.

The aged care facilities smell to me of a wealth pump too and how does one opt out of the system when expectations from the community are so high and both adult members of a household have to work. You know, I am aware of people that work to pay for child care arrangements and are only left with a small surplus.

Incidentally, we had a change of state government here today. The former state government was aligned with the federal government, which has decided to govern for the benefit of its support base. Down Under, that is reasonably unusual because of compulsory voting which generally gets 94% of the eligible voting population into the booths.

Hi Marinhomelander,

Yes, that sounds fairly reasonable. A cow raised in a feedlot stall and fed on grains and corn can't produce as good a meat for you as a grass fed cow.

Few want to pay for that high quality meat though. A local bakery had a problem with this particular issue: Backlash against the $8 pie. There was so much whingeing, I believe they stopped making the pie – which in turn hurts a local organic farmer.

We hide a lot of inflation in our food supply. If it gets cheaper, than surely no one can expect it to be the same stuff? Surely? Much food that I’m fed elsewhere no doesn’t actually taste like it should to me. Just sayin…

Actually, this other article might interest both you and our host: Change of Faith

Look at the words used: Faith; Denomination; Ritual; and Believe.

Oh yeah, that struck fear into my heart. I'm sure the author was being ironic, but you know what? I know other people that speak with the same voice about that particular issue.



patriciaormsby said...

Cherokee Organics, I second your recommendation of Weston Price, and highly recommend reading his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects, which has been made available on-line in its entirety here: or can be ordered from Amazon. The importance of fresh foods and traditional knowledge of nutrition must never be underestimated. The latter has been mostly lost, but Dr. Price preserved a lot, and much can still be pieced together.

Anselmo said...

If we understand science as a set of knowledge grouped around the scientific method, its detachment from the cult of progress, motivated by the discredit of this cult, it would be very good for her.

If we understand science as a gargantuan institution grown from the concept of the scientific method, but more worried of their own material and political needs that interested in the search for truth, indeed awaits a bleak future to science.

Marcello said...

"I worry about what the true believers in science will do in their last days. What horrors will they unleash on us once they suddenly realize they are going to be denied their paradise? They still have the tools and knowledge to craft some horribly destructive things afterall."

Nothing, most likely. By the time the notional enraged cult of progress follower might consider cooking up some pathogen to lash out against humanity, pretty much the only feasible option in the next future, an half dozen of Aum Shinrikyo style organizations will have beaten him to the finish line. And Mother Nature might well send a Spanish Flu style disease or two even before those too, in fact I am actually surprised it has not happened yet.
But I suspect plenty of people with this sort of beliefs will have fun trashing labs while on their way to the speech of the strongman du jour, not that it will matter much.

As for the people chanting online, quite a few are lolbertarians finding some solace from their daily grind in the cubicle by hoping to escape from the State on Mars or similar human categories. They are not going to split continents or anything, so who cares?

"viewpoints that threaten the existing order are marginalized into fringe venues such as the internet, where they have no significant effect on society as a whole."

Considering the sort of junk that one can find online that's probably a good thing.
Given that glossy books explaining how vaccines are a plot by the èlite to reduce human population, because you know adding a few more billions would be the best thing ever right now, are hitting the shelves even in mainstream bookshops I would say the trash is overflowing.

Yes there is good stuff as well but much of it consists of telling people stuff the 90%+ does not want to hear anyway.

heather said...

JMG- re. Compost piles as altars- I would like to read what you had to say about that. Could you point me there? I am aware of a presence in my compost pile and have begun to treat it as such.
--Heather in CA

Chris G said...

This examination/ceremony of medical science/religin offers one of the best medicines/miracles of all! Hilarity in the face of folly.

Note, I've read of some doctors in Latin America and Europe who use hypnosis rather than anaesthesia with patients for minor surgeries.

All our standard dualities repeatedly fail to hold up.

Ed-M said...

Ramajan, that should be required of all Christian religious leaders! They have gotten too full of themselves these days, particularly the Evangelical ones.

Eric S., if the Evangelicals do form the core of the second religiosity science will definitely find itself done away with all over the planet save North Korea and a few other niches as Evangelical Christianity and Evangelical Islam compete to convert the planet.

JMG (your reply to Gloucon a while back), don't count Evangelical Christianity out yet. Remember, early Christianity was a small, sometimes persecuted sect at war with itself until the criminal Constantine adopted it and transformed it beginning in 325 CE. When he was done with it, it was no longer referred to as a quiet faith but a dotard's superstition. The later Christian emperors made it as militant as Islam, and the rest is history.

Justin said...

Hello JMG and Thomas,

I'd like to add on some opinion to the medical science and in addition to JMG's comment about he link between mind and body with respect to health.

The (maybe not so) clever way I try to make the point to people when the conversation comes up is through a riddle to illustrate how in the dark medical science is:

Riddle: There is a commercially available drug everyone uses, but does not exist. Doctors cannot prescribe it, but all patients use it. It is available over the counter, but cannot be bought nor sold. The drug is medically proven to have a positive effect on every disorder of the mind or body in every clinical trial, but it has not been studied and is not understood. It is a measuring stick to gauge the effectiveness of all other drugs in scientific study, often outperforming them in experiments, but there is no theoretical model to explain its effectiveness as the foundation for its use as an objective measure. It has no known side effects, has proven effective for all diseases and disorders and usually comes in the form of a little white pill.

Question: What is the name of this drug?

The answer, obviously, is placebo. And in clinical terms, yes, a placebo is just another drug. Any drug in definitional terms is a physical substance that affects a change in biology. We do not define drugs on the effect or mechanism of that changed intended, that is the description.

To put a point on it, one big problem medical science has is the way it sets up its experiments by using biological samples disconnected from the living organism, but the blindspot is as big as the placebo, there is a belief that all physical disease and symptoms are purely affected in the realm of physical reality.


Bob Patterson said...

RE: World Oil -
As I wandered through all the graphs (world oil consumption/production), it struck me that if I was Saudi Arabia,I would be quite worried. All the demand curves for traditional customers of world oil (US, Japan, Europe)
are trending down. The only thing carrying the total demand curve up is the fantastic demand from the BRICK countires.
I think it is easy to see that this demand could radically reverse at any time the consuming countires go into recession (Europe and Japan already, US on the way).

The political implications of $30 oil are significant beyond comprehension. Right now the Russian economy and government
may be on the brink of collapse (perhaps an intent of the US). The Mid-East becomes a total crap shoot, politically.

So the disintigration of order may come from a depression prior to actual oil depletion.

Thomas Mazanec said...

Actually, at the time at least half of climatologists expected global warming rather than cooling...probably a majority. What happened, IIRC, was that we just discovered that the normal span of an interglacial was about 10,000 long as ours has lasted. Then we had the Winter of 1976-77...I remember it, it was like a Polar Vortex from November through March. These combined to give publicity to the ICE AGE IS COMING side of the debate.

jonathan said...

Looking back over recent history, it's noteworthy how recent the ascendancy of science really is. the dramatic advances of the industrial revolution were not the product of the scientific method. the great innovators of the era: edison, the wrights, ford, carnegie, westinghouse etc. were empiricists not scientists.

capital "s" science makes it's modern debut in 1945 with the manhattan project beginning with a theory, it produced a world changing device. it also introduced the notion that the major role of science was to serve the interests of the state.

it is the role of science as the beneficiary of the state's largesse and loyal servant of it's interests that, as much as anything else, has brought science to it's current state of disrepute.

LewisLucanBooks said...

JMG - Re: Compost heaps as altars. Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt. :-). The Romans had the god Sterquilinus (also spelled Stercutus or Sterculius.) One of the 12 helpers of the agricultural goddess Ceres.

I haven't been able to find an image of the fellow. I figure if I ever get around to setting up an image near my compost heap, one of his attributes would be worms.

Leo Knight said...

I recall reading "Half Way to Anywhere," by G. Harry Stine, about the ill-fated DC-X rocket program. According to him, most of the designers who worked on the project had never "bent metal." Everything was numbers or computer images. There was a sharp division between the designers, who did theoretical, or CAD work, and the engineers who had to make it work, thus adding a layer of complexity. A lot of the physical sciences seem to be going this route, with greater emphasis on theory rather than practical work.

Regarding medicine, some years ago my fiancé started experiencing symptoms of weakness and loss of motor control. Doctors tested her for ALS, MS, and other degenerative diseases. We were terrified. She couldn't even walk to the bathroom. Too weak to carry her, I had to help her crawl. Finally, her primary doctor took her off a drug for her cholesterol (Lipitor? Crestor?) and in two days all symptoms vanished, never to return.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Chris G wrote:

"I've read of some doctors in Latin America and Europe who use hypnosis rather than anaesthesia with patients for minor surgeries."

It can work for major surgeries as well, but since the rise of chemical anaesthesia has rarely been used. James Esdaile (1808-1859), a British physician practicing in India, was able to carry out a number of major operations successfully using only hypnosis as the only anaesthetic.

James Fauxnom said...


Although most of those charts go back to '87 or '94 notice that the chart on crude oil price only goes back to '07. You'll find that in the early 2000's oil was regularily priced at the $30 a barrel range.

Its amusing to read all these financial articles about how OPEC must do something to protect their state budgets. Never mind the heavy and shale oil producers who would like to break even. Revel in the visible backhand of the market.

Art Myatt said...

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned a prime example of scientific research being too expensive and complicated to continue.

The Superconducting Supercollider was planned to be a 54-mile long tunnel shaped like a fat lozenge, for researching basic properties of matter. It was to be built around the town of Waxahatchie, Texas. Around $2 billion were spent on the project. 14.6 miles of the tunnel were built. If completeted, it would have been a more powerful machine than the Large Hadron Collider subsequently built in Switzerland (and partly in France).

It was cancelled because of conflicting priorities in the federal budget in 1993. The main conflict was the money needed for the American contribution to the International Space Station. At this time, because the Space Shuttle program has been cancelled with not much to replace it, the United States has limited access to the International Space Station, and it does not have the cutting-edge research facility for the properties of matter, either.

Sounds like decline in this field has been going on for a while.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

AA wrote, "On a personal level I collect old math and physics books -- e.g., the first and second editions of Goldstein's 'Classical Mechanics,' which were published in 1950 and 1980 respectively. I suspect, though, that this is not enough and what is really needed is more of a collective effort along the lines of 'A Canticle for Leibowitz.'"

Book-rescuers who are contemplating collective effort might want to look at this as a model:

It's funded by respected local members of its community, housed in rented commercial space, catalogued by volunteers, recently received 501(c)3 status, and will probably open to scholars and the public in 2015.

From the website, which is accurate but not up to date:

• The Adocentyn Research Library is a Pagan library & research center conveniently located in San Francisco’s East Bay.
• It draws upon the sizable private libraries of seven Elders of the Bay Area’s Pagan community.  While the Participants are donating their books to the Library, they retain the right (during their lifetimes) to take “their” books in or out of the Library as they please, while others may use the books only on-site & with supervision.
• While we plan to grow into the premier Pagan research center in the Western US, we are starting small, with a collection of about 13,000 books.
• We are creating a non-profit organization to manage the Library and we hope that eventually new Participants and others will donate their own collections to the Library.

The website links to a list of the current catalog, which encompasses a wider variety of subjects than you might think, though not much in the physical sciences.

Many such specialist collections have been dispersed and thrown away in the past couple of decades because of a lack of institutions to house them. Specialist libraries of this sort are just beginning to spring up. The Adocentyn Library's stock of books comes from people whose home libraries are overrunning their shelf space and from the estates of community members whose heirs who have no use for the books.

Peter Trabant said...

Curious as have posted things this way before but never seen them in your blog?
Cheers and long-time readr, Pete
From "Ocean Pete"
to JMG Re: coming ice age.
A lot of folks have/had this hang-up about the previously well understood and scientifically proven coming of our next ice age, just as they once had about a spherical Earth and its "geocentric" universe. The fact of the matter is that we were well on our way into the next ice age starting @ 5,000 years ago when agriculture and cattle raising stopped it (see: W. Ruddiman's Plows, Plagues and Petroleum). Principal cause of earth's climate system was discovered through application of the scientific method by Milutin Milankovitch in solving his "cosmic problem". This he did while incarcerated at the outbreak of WWI; after all what else do dictators do with Serbian intellectuals?
Decades of silence followed Milankovitch's 1938 publication of his "Solar insolation" theory caused by variations in earth's orbit around the Sun. Mostly due to rejection by the scientific community for "lack of proof" just as A. Wegener's continental drift theory. Then came the eureka moment experienced by paleontologist cum nuclear physicist C. Emiliani (Emiliani C ,1957,Temperature and age analysis of deepsea cores. Science 125:383–385) as a graduate student under W.F. Libby and "father of the atomic bomb" Enrico Fermi at U. Chicago on the application of Oxygen isotopes in extracting past ocean temperatures from fossil plankton shells. Emiliani had reproduced Milankovitch's calculated climate curve through oxygen isotope analysis of an 800,000-year long deep-sea core sample. He was also keenly aware of the now aging U. of Belgrade professor's work when he was studying paleontology and then working in Florence, also, not coincidently, home of Enrico Fermi's alma mater. Milankovitch's theory is now well accepted and applied in long-term climate studies, both past and future, except by the IPCC.
The effects of AGW, on the other hand, did not become sufficiently pervasive or discernable until the 1970's and then only publicized and presented to our congress in 1988 by James Hansen. The rest of this ugly story is an ever accelerating path of destruction as mankind's destiny is to drown in his own feces, whether he be religious or atheist.
In a nutshell we "paleoclimatologist scientists" definitely expected to go into another ice age before the 1980's, but now have a lot more facts as to where we are headed.
Enjoy it while you can! Cheers

sgage said...

@Yanocoches said...

Science, so god-like,
Technology its spawn-
Striding on clay feet

'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

ganv said...

There is a massive gap between the public image of a scientist and the reality. The public dreams of the lone Einstein discovering new theories about how the universe works. The reality is a massive collaborative effort in which the contributions of any individual are pretty small and the whole enterprise usually ends up filling in some gaps in our previous understanding without making fundamental changes in scientific theories. JMG identifies many of the main problems with the sociology of science: diminishing returns, degeneration into increasingly less useful complexity, and bad marketing. I see the main problem in the fact that we continue to market scientific research as a path to new discoveries equivalent to Newton or Maxwell or Watson and Crick. But thoughtful scientists know good and well that there are not gaps in our understanding of the fundamental components of our corner of the galaxy that are big enough to allow another discovery like classical mechanics or electromagnetism or basic molecular biology. We are up against problems of complexity. We need to understand human nutrition, neuroscience, climate systems and ecosystems. And these systems seem not to yield to simple comprehensive understanding. When this fact gets out to the public, there will be a massive restructuring of how science is marketed and funded. Maybe decline will set in first. But even without the decline of industrial civilization, the image of the 20th century scientist is already well into its descent onto the ash heap of history.

August Johnson said...

@JMG - And on the Ebola front, the UN now reports over 16,000 cases with almost 7,000 deaths.

As far as Ham Radio here, we've finally settled in after a huge move and I'm going to soon start writing about setting up a basic station. No bought antenna, all homemade and a moderate radio. I'm going to document the setup of a basic station in words and pictures. I'd like to hear from anyone who is interested, I'm going to contact those who had expressed interest before. I'd really like to get a group of Green Wizards types interested. Plenty of resources available.

I'm going to try to make posts on both Green Wizards sites and the Green Wizards Radio site.


Joel said...

As someone who is struggling to start a career in science, and who took a couple semesters of philosophy (Kuhn and Heidegger), I can tell you unequivocally that science isn't founded in materialism.

Science, as I learned to see it, is a mode of discourse, in which the operative entites are things Kuhn called paradigms and earlier thinkers might have called angels or geniuses. Each such entity builds up a set of disciples, practices, and theories (pretty much in that order) that all sustain one another in a positive feedback loop. This loop expands the scope of a paradigm until it encounters anomalies, and something akin to blisters and calluses form at its surface; new paradigms tend to arise from the resulting inflammation, and sometimes outperform their progenitors. Quantum mechanics and general relativity are interesting in that each regards the other as an anomaly, and neither is half as efficient as Newtonian mechanics in generating predictions about most directly-observable phenomena, which has problematized the existence of this type of entity for physicists in general (none can fully deny the existence of paradigms they aren't devoted to).

I should also mention that computer scientists learn something about planes of existence, and even those scientists who call think "computer science" is a misnomer and such people practice a craft instead, are forced to acknowledge that the tools so crafted are not material in nature, and that much practical science depends on the power of said tools.

Also, this doesn't mesh wiht my own experience. Empirically, atheism seems a lot more prevalent among the people I socialize with than among the people I've encountered in my professional life. More personally, anthropology was far more of a challenge to my faith than geology or physics, because the latter make claims about a more-distinct set of phenomena.

Mr. Greer,
As someone who is struggling to start a career in science, I'm eager to read your next post, and hoping you include some practical advice for people in circumstances similar to my own. I'm not sure I'm representative, but at least I'm a sample of the readers who might benefit most directly from your perspective:

I thankfully have only taken out the sort of student loans that aren't heritable, so if I ultimately fail to pay them off they die with me, but they're still of the sort that bankruptcy can touch. I think of my PhD in materials science as an asset I've invested a lot in, but I'm aware that the sunk cost fallacy can give the illusion of value, and that massive personal debt poured into questionable investments is often a late-emerging feature of Ponzi schemes.

I struggle to balance immediate benefits against long-term viability (which mercifully mostly aligns with my conscience) as I look for work; ultimately, I'm inclined to look for an institution that has the best chance of surviving for the length of my career, out of those that specifically hire people with my level of education.

I should also say that a sense of being trapped is common to a lot of people I talk to. I think that if my work were to offered some genuine liberation, I'd be a lot more confident in finding support for it (and yes, I also feel ready to face the opposition it would draw).

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Janet,

Many thanks. Yeah, it is a minefield. Generally we pursue a strategy of eating as wide a diet of things that we can identify as possible - which means basically growing a fair bit of it ourselves. Actually, a mate mentioned that our pantries scared them as they were unsure what most of the stuff in it was!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi MawKernewek,

All this talk of brushing cats makes me think I'd just started reading blog comments about the dodgy British TV sitcom from the 70's: "Are you being served?"



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Cathy,

The Earthsea books were excellent. Many thanks for the link.



David Trammel said...

I grew up in the space program, my father was John Glenn's crew chief on his Mercury mission. That we will enter an age where science is looked down on, saddens me.

Though I know we will never see it, this video is simply amazing.


peakfuture said...

Two quick points-

Yes, the maker space world is interesting and useful, but there is sometimes a bit too much love of 3D printing and the like. The big advantage appears to be that people are a) learning to use their hands again and b) learning to share tools. Both seem to be more important than the technologies themselves.

With regard to modern medicine - don't know if anyone has chimed in on mental depression. Proper exercise and diet don't have the side effects of many anti-depressants.

(JMG - I posted something like this yesterday - it seems it did not make it through, or it is in your stack of comments to review. No foul words were used either!)

Bill Pulliam said...

Shastatodd -- since the sample of directly observed Maunder minima is exactly one, we can't actually forecast with much real statistical meaning whether one is "likely" in the near future. Intervals between indirectly inferred grand minima have been as short as 100 years and as long as 1400 years. One relatively quiet sunspot maximum does not a Maunder make.

Ellen He said...

You mentioned the concept of the medieval wizard several years ago. Could this concept be revived and used to train traveling intellectuals during the LD?

Slow Moe said...

JMG, what do you think is going to be the future of plastics?

On the one hand, plastics are mostly made of Carbon, which is one of the most common elements on the earths crust. But it also requires so many other things, depending on the type.

More importantly, most plastics are industrially produced. Some of the first plastics were not (the very first plastic was made in the 1800s in some guys lab out of Cellulose), but by and large Plastics are an industrial function.

Its just... JMG, its just hard to comprehend that something thats so ubiquitous today will fall away with industrial civilisation. Do you think plastics are going away, or do you foresee some small scale uses of certain plastics, like some of the earlier kinds?

And if you have no idea because this is outside your expertise, thank you for your time.

peakfuture said...

Sloe Moe - Working backwards, of course - what would you use plastics for in a de-industrial society? That would tell us if we'd even bother to make plastic from hemp, or other plant oil, or anything else, for that matter.

Perhaps ones that were developed early in the oil age (with a minimum of processing) *might* survive, perhaps for basic electronic/electrical devices. Cellulose? Parkesine? Bakelite? Hemp based plastics? Something that would fit in (and that are critical, and can't be replaced) with JMG's top seven technologies ( Only the low-tech radio stuff *might* need that, though, given that list.

Plastics are outside of my expertise, but if the plastics you want require inputs of exotic chemicals, they may not be produced. Maybe ones created in any quantity before year 18XX would qualify.

Would scavenging be enough for the small amount of plastics that would be needed in such a future? If so, manufacturing them wouldn't happen.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
Medical knowledge has implications for the future. We have learned very recently a lot more about the origins (and potentially better prevention) of much of the chronic age-related disease that afflicts mostly ‘western’ industrial nations, and increasingly so-called ‘emerging’ societies elsewhere. In particular, most of the common cancers affecting us from middle-age, and similarly much arterial disease, are heavily related to lifestyle. Much cancer (cells with altered DNA) would not express as disease until a lot later in life or not at all.

It is worth noting that cancer rates vary dramatically worldwide and that many of our common cancers are not common where people live differently. This concerns major differences in food patterns as well as the usual suspects, tobacco and alcohol. The ‘Western’ diet is bad news for both arterial disease (and related morbidities such as Type 2 diabetes and raised blood pressure), and for cancers, particularly colorectal, prostate and breast.

The good news is that traditional – ‘traditional’ means a good while ago in our Western countries - low-cost patterns of local food appear a great deal safer (whole food mostly plant-based).

Study of dietary patterns and their associations with disease have been particularly difficult for science, but it is valuable to know that there is no evidence that fruit and vegetables are bad for us! (This I guess is almost unique: in almost every collection of dietary studies there is usually at least one that shows a contrary indication.)

‘Natural Hygiene’ I believe it is called in the USA, ‘Nature Cure’ in UK, got a lot of this right. Cure of course is not as effective as prevention over decades. I am not a fan of ‘health farms’ but Pritikin have a good website and a look at their published results as well as their recipes and approach, is not a bad place to start. I personally think highly of the science of Christian Roberts studying Pritikin clients, and have all his publications.

Such an approach is not for everyone and there will always be ‘outliers’ even among adoptees, but it is not a bad way to live, especially if you can do a lot of it from your garden. I am just one ‘anecdote’ but I was rescued from serious chronic illness (heavily diseased heart arteries) and facing in those days what was fairly dangerous surgery, by adopting this approach 25 years ago next month, before I had heard of ‘Pritikin’ or any other similar studies. We managed to bring up the kids, which was great.

Phil H
Captcha is 2014

John Michael Greer said...

Ed, I'd say that mind/body control is the first frontier, not the last one; many ancient peoples had that one down pat, and would consider us hopelessly backwards because we don't know the first thing about how to discipline our minds and use the capacities of our bodies!

Sheep, okay, you got me. I'm actually quite fond of the viola, and of classical music for strings generally.

Eric, yes, that's your value judgment, but it's not "just" your value judgment -- there's nothing compared to which it can be called "just" or "merely" or "nothing but." Your value judgments, taken together, amount to the thing that used to be called "character;" they define who you are and how you relate to the world of objective facts, and you have every right to act on your values and try to keep knowledge of the fossil record from being lost.

William, I wonder. Certainly genomic and genetic engineering firms are gobbling up pretty hefty amounts of investment money, which suggests that a fair amount of complexity goes into their work as well. I'll be talking next week about the way that cost and utility relate to one another, which may help clarify this.

Das Monde, whether or not it's rude to mention hungry people at Thanksgiving dinner depends vastly on where you are and, above all else, where you fall on the social ladder. It's mostly the overprivileged who bristle when that's mentioned; the poorer people I know acknowledge the fact, and generally do things like help fund and staff the Thanksgiving dinners local churches put on for the poor.

Yanocoches, and clay feet become awkward when you have to wade through rising waters...

Snoqualman, it's actually quite likely that once the current greenhouse gas spike has been absorbed by the biosphere, the ordinary pressure of the Milankovich cycle will drop us down into a new ice age. Ice ages usually come in bursts ten million years or so in length, and the present one has only been ongoing for two million years or so, so we have millions of years of repeated glaciations ahead of us -- or of whoever expands into our abandoned niches if our species messes up badly enough.

Cherokee, no argument. I'm glad I had the experience, and even happier that I got out.

Anselmo, nicely summarized.

Marcello, no argument there. If the internet wasn't around, I'd have to hope that enough people were interested in this sort of thing to cover the costs of a magazine.

Heather, it was a series of posts to a Druid organization many years ago, so I don't have anything handy. I'd encourage you to do things the traditional way and make it up as you go along, revising your practices on the basis of your experience. That's the basis of all valid spiritual tradition anyway... ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Chris, if hilarity in the face of folly is your medicine of choice, the decline and fall of this civilization ought to keep you in robust health!

Ed-M, I don't count it out at all. I've simply learned to track the cycles in American popular spirituality, and on that basis predict that the next great wave of evangelical Christianity will be aligned with liberal causes rather than conservative ones. Liberal and conservative waves in Christianity alternate regularly in American popular culture; the fundamentalists had the upper hand from 1890 into the 1930s and then again from 1975 to now; check what was going on before 1900 or between the Second World War and the 1970s, and you'll find that the Social Gospel and a variety of left-leaning themes were far more influential. I'm already seeing the next American Christianity take shape among the young and dissatisfied, and it's quite the lively scene.

Justin, nicely phrased. I've also read that there's some reason to think the placebo effect is actually growing stronger over time, which has medical researchers floundering even more...

Bob, it's even worse than that -- have you looked at what other commodities have been doing of late? Here's a good summary; the short form is that most commodities are plunging in value. That being the case, petrocentric explanations need not apply; what's happening is that the wheels are coming off the global economy, and it's by no means unlikely that we may see a really messy economic crisis over the next few months and years.

Thomas, now go back to the post and tell me where what I said disagreed with what you said. If you're going to comment here, please do reference the topic of discussion rather than simply posting talking points...

Jonathan, true enough.

Leo, what a ghastly experience. I hadn't encountered that one before, but I can't say I was surprised. I'm glad to hear that your fiance got better; not everyone hit by nasty side effects of pharmaceutical drugs does.

Art, thanks for the reminder! Yes, that's a prime example of scientific advances that just plain cost too much.

Peter, that's basically what I remember, too -- I wasn't active in paleoclimatology, but I read extensively on the subject.

Ganv, good. The image is at least as important as a cause of the suicide of science as anything else. More on this in an upcoming post!

August, yes, I heard that. Ebola has cycled off the news -- here in the US, at least, we've got a fifteen minute attention span -- but the virus is still spreading. Glad to hear that the move went well and that the Green Wizards Radio project is ongoing!

John Michael Greer said...

Joel, you're facing a very challenging situation, as I'm sure you know quite well. It's not unique to the sciences; any of the professions that require extensive college training are caught between a predatory and corrupt academic industry, on the one hand, and a collapsing job market on the other. I'm not sure how much I can say that will be of use to you, but we'll see.

David, that's a marvelous family heritage. I hope you preserve any memorabilia you may have, and pass it on to the next generation.

Peakfuture, it didn't get to me -- Blogger eats comments fairly often. Thanks for reposting!

Ellen, we'll discuss that a little further on.

Moe, very few plastics are economically viable without cheap sources of feedstocks and energy. I expect them to go away, for the most part, remaining in use only where they're really the only thing suited.

Phil, the term "nature cure" was also used over here, and it was closely associated with the physical culture movement, which I've studied in some detail. I may want to discuss that down the road a bit.

Cherokee Organics said...


I'm glad that you did too, because I genuinely enjoy the dialogue here and opportunity to discuss ideas with you directly. It is good stuff. I suspect that experience would have shaped your world view? The people that I know that work in those environments share some interesting world views and I suspect their jobs have performed subtle changes to their outlook (as most jobs do though).

PS: I wrote a new blog entry today and it tells two separate tales. One of Scritchy the stupid boss dog here and her misfortunes. The second tales begins telling the tale of how I ended up at this strange location. Plus there are shed, mowing, hot marsupial action and some of the strange insects I get down here. All for you to enjoy from the comfort of your chair! Steel yourself That's a reference to the steel shed, in case anyone didn't get it!



Dagnarus said...

Have you heard of SCIgen. It is computer program which is designed to make nonsense comp sci papers. At least 120 papers generated by this computer program have been accepted by Springer/IEEE journals. While not the hard sciences itself it seems to me to be at least indicative. Here is the link to the wikipedia page, and the program itself.

If you read some of the program's output it does not look at all convincing.

For my part of heard of people in the peer review process using such metrics as, am I trying to publish at this conference (Reject, less competition), or has this person cited one of my papers/could he be convinced to include such a citation in his final version (Accept, ups my citation metrics).

thecrowandsheep said...

"I'm actually quite fond of the viola, and of classical music for strings generally."

That I did not doubt! :-)

On more productive fronts, we were shocked and awed to not see a single work of yours in the local library. We figure the collapse of Western Civilization could be of interest to a few people. Therefore, we have requested they purchase your most esoteric work for a start, your book on economics.

Bogatyr said...

OT for this week's post but, following last week's OPEC meeting, there seems to be a glut of articles crowing about how US shale can survive the current low prices so yah boo sucks to the Saudis.

It's certainly interesting that these writers don't seem to be writing about Saudi Arabia as an ally any more. It's also saddening that they all mention that Venezuela, Nigeria, Algeria and others can't survive these low prices - and then move on, as if hey, so it's just another bunch of failed and radicalized states somewhere else. But Americans can keep motoring to Walmart, yay! As if the consequences won't reach US shores. They surely will - and they'll reach Europe sooner.

So, apart from the fact that they've made me channel Kunstler, there's a lot to think about here. This Ambrose Evans-Pritchard piece is a fairly moderate example of the type. JMG and others, I would be interested to hear what you think about his refutations of the criticisms of fracking which have been featured here quite often.

Thomas Mazanec said...

The next upgrade of the LHC is to double its power from 7 Tev to 14 Tev. That is scheduled for next year. Then the High Luminosity Large Hadron Collider, increasing the number of hadrons by 10, to see rare processes and improve statistics. This is an upgrade of the LHC, so it has a good chance of going through. Then the Very large Hadron Collider, of which Wikipedia says:
Given that such a performance increase necessitates a correspondingly large increase in size, cost, and power requirements, a significant amount of international collaboration over a period of decades would be required to construct such a collider.
This is probably where the failure comes. Also proposed are the International Linear Collider and Compact Linear Collider, for leptons, which are doubtful.

BoysMom said...

Chris, we are in the middle of that situation--the elder care--right now. One advantage we have is that I, before marriage, absolutely insisted on home schooling any children, so the expectation of getting by on a single income was built in. Other big advantages: my parents own their place, one is still working (past seventy), the other has fairly decent retirement savings, that is, they are financially as set as one can be. Interestingly, declining strength and agility would have forced them to relocate if we weren't here. Older houses on acreage require a certain level of health to keep.
So far, my parent in worse health is mainly dealing with care requiring issues that are mental rather than physical. When the care needs to be physical, I won't be able to supply it. This is entirely lifestyle related: he's nearly triple my mass. I think that in a time before (and after) morbid obesity people would be much more able to care for elderly at home.
A lot of avoiding the care facility wealth drain is about lifestyle expectations, among which is the expectation of three and four generation households. The elder generation can contribute greatly by keeping an eye on the youngest, teaching them, and so on, even when they are no longer able to handle children entirely alone.

RAnderson said...

"The people I know who have stayed healthy into old age are the ones who have figured out that their MDs did not have their best interests at heart..."

My wife practices Family & Internal Medicine, having done so for many years, and being in her late 60s, will be retiring soon. She still makes house calls for patients unable to come to her office, still is on-call 24/7 some weeks, and is greatly beloved by many hundreds in our small upstate NY town. We know many, many, similar, and highly dedicated, medical practitioners, the vast majority of whom remain, while increasingly burned out by the demands of the system, just as caring and concerned as when they first recited the Hippocratic Oath, even while battling for their patient's well-being within a blood-sucking system. A system rigged mainly for the benefit of for-profit, parasitic corporations. Ask many older practitioners now and they'll advise a young person looking at medicine to seek another career, so difficult is practice today. Our own daughter left medical school because so many MDs told her how difficult and frustrating medical practice has become. To impugn with a such a gross, and unfair, generalization, as above, to question the motives or integrity or competence of the majority of US medical "providers", be they Physicians, Physician Assistants, or Nurse Practitioners, who continue to persist in the face of a highly demoralizing climate that is inherent in practicing medicine today in our absurd US healthcare "system", is not only, IMO, grossly unwarranted, but by attacking with such a broad brush these many conscientious and caring individuals who continue to persist in what has become an increasingly frustrating, at times psychologically unrewarding, even depressing, profession, merely contributes to the morale problem. It's unfortunate that an individual's own experience with the medical system may have left such a bad taste, but to make, based on that, such a generalized characterization is misguided and highly unfair to the many dedicated and hard working individuals who are working in medical practice today under highly stressful and difficult conditions.

Juha Nurmi said...

Hello JMG and all.

As a student of philosophy, I sometimes think that philosophy is a good example of a dead science. It's a zombie science, being kept alive by taxpayers. It "progressed" itself to a dead end. After Immanuel Kant, the whole project of metaphysics came to an end. One could take the point of view, that on some very profound level(western)philosophy failed. It failed to deliver the goods. I can't think of any serious philosopher who thinks that we can somehow resurrect metaphysics as a viable science.

So whats going on with western philosophy these days, is in some ways pretty pathetic. Some analytically oriented guys are trying to clean up some concepts and words, but it ammounts to very little in practice. We still have all the formal customs in place; I've attended a couple of philosophy seminars over the past two years, and while we still adhere to the practices (and scientific scrutinity) of yesteryears, the things that we students and researchers discuss about, are largely irrelevant to almost everything that goes on outside the university. ( I think I've heard peak oil being mentioned only once and it was by a fellow student)

In fact the last philosophy seminar that I attended a week a go, there was one very young woman talking about the possibility that the human race could become immortal through technology. I thought to myself, "oh boy, the church of the myth of progress is in full swing". I briefly thought of mentioning to her your discussion with James Howard Kunstler, about the myth of progress that I listened on youtube. But I decided against it. -I was already in so much trouble after my presentation on Albert Camus thinking; He thought that there was something very nihilistic and delusional about modernity.Camus thought that modernity was always trying to escape the (natural)limits of human life. -That presentation didn't go down all that well, I have to admit.

Anyways, I hope that what I just wrote is at least somewhat comprehensible. I'm from Finland, so I apologize for all the typos.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, "hot marsupial action"? That sounds, well, kind of kinky...

Dagnarus, funny! I've seen the postmodern paper generator, and speculated that a Heidegger generator could be produced fairly easily and would turn out text every bit as meaningful as Being and Time, but SCIgen is new to me.

Sheep, thank you!

Bogatyr, he hasn't refuted any of the claims about fracking made here or elsewhere, unless by "refuted" you mean "shouted down with a barrage of rhetoric lifted from fracking industry press releases." All you have to do is look at the decline rate in production from fracked wells, and the soaring indebtedness of fracking companies, to realize just how much smoke and mirrors are going into the illusion of a US energy boom: a bluff that OPEC has apparently decided to call. More on this in an upcoming post.

Thomas, fascinating. And if by some chance those get built, the physicists will be calling for a Really, Really Huge Hadron Collider next, because each of these yields incremental steps in an endless progression.

RAnderson, most of the people I know have had family members sickened, crippled, or killed by medical malpractice of various kinds, more often than not directly perpetrated by MDs. So have I. If you've been reading the comments on this thread, you'll have heard from several other people who've had similar experiences. I grant readily that many people in the current medical industry are decent, compassionate, etc.; the fact remains that blind trust in the good faith, good intentions, and competence of an MD has put far too many people six feet under.

Juha, your English is a lot better than my Finnish, so I'm not going to complain! I won't argue about the current stagnation of philosophy; to my mind, there's still a lot of richness there, but as Spengler suggested, we've passed the point at which really original philosophic work can be done. What's needed now is winnowing and synthesis, the sort of thing that gave rise to Neoplatonism and Neoconfucianism in comparable stages of other civilizations. Attention to the less popular insights of Camus sounds like a good place to start -- where in his works would you suggest I read about his analysis of modernity?

Kaitain said...

The postmodern paper generator and SCIgen reminds me of the infamous Sokal Affair, in which a physics professor wrote a paper that was deliberately filled with trendy sounding gibberish and submitted it to a prestigious, peer reviewed social sciences journal. The whole thing was a hoax intended to show just how vacuous and nonsensical post-modernism and deconstructionism have become. The journal took the bait hook, line and sinker and fell for what should have been an obvious parody to anyone with a functioning brain and some knowledge of science and philosophy.

The fact that the academic establishment actually takes people like Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida and their various imitators seriously speaks volumes about how brain dead and intellectually lacking the social sciences departments in most universities have become. Instead of philosophical and intellectual rigor, we have what amounts to an ongoing self-parody in the social sciences and humanities, thanks to the influence of post-modernism, deconstructionism, cultural Marxism, “critical race theory” and other forms of pseudo-intellectual nonsense that have become oh-so-fashionable with the academic left. Spengler’s observations in “The Decline of the West” about the uselessness of academic philosophy in the post-Nietzsche era also come to mind.

In the long run, this contributes to a decline in the prestige of not only the sciences, but the academic and intellectual establishment in general, since this stuff is not only a sick joke masquerading as high-brow intellectualism, but more and more people are coming to realize what a destructive and poisonous effect this sort of mendacious tomfoolery is having on the society as a whole.

Doctor Westchester said...


I'm really annoyed by the Saudi's actions to undermine the U.S. shale oil boom. It's the equivalent of pushing a knife into the chest of someone suffering a fatal heart attack. I didn't want them muddying the waters, since it wouldn't be clear to the average American that the shale oil revolution was dying on it's own. We will be hearing over and over again: "If only our best friends, the Saudis, hadn't...".

Considering the new well completion statistics for November, I think it might be safe to say the following: Congratulations John. Regarding your prediction that 2014 will see the bust of the shale boom, you called it. It required a little foreign help to get into this year, but so what.

Unknown said...

Your bringing up medication for Cholesterol prompted me to send in this comment. 4 years ago I developed some troublesome symptoms that seemed to evade explanation by the medical profession. At least they clearly evaded any explanation that they had medication for. I ended up seeing a neurologist who spent a small fortune on imaging studies but could not answer why I was having the symptoms I was having. After a year and a half of chasing ghosts in the machine I ended up with a diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer that all the experts said I should deal with quickly as it was clearly beyond surgical intervention. In the 6 month build up to this I had been directed by luck to investigate nutritional issues with cancer. Interesting questions raised in “Cancer as a Metabolic Disease” by Thomas N Seyfried. Seyfried raises serious questions about nutrition and cancer. Some of the other reading raised big questions about gluten also.

In the end this led me down the path of serious reading on nutrition. The real eye opener was “Good Calories Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes. This is a look at nutrition research for the last 150 years. It makes it clear that nutrition advice put forward by medical authorities like the US government are not based on good science. Cholesterol was used as a target not because there was clear science to implicate but because they knew how to measure it.

My last recommendation would be “Primal Body, Primal Mind” by Nora T Gedgaudas CNS CNT. This is a well-documented look at the whole picture with more information and resources that you could follow up on. But raises clear questions about the need and even whether it is a good idea to lower Cholesterol.
Bottom line I have radically changed my eating habits. I went gluten and sugar free at the same time I started chemotherapy and started to feel better within a week. Chemo for prostate cancer in my case was hormone deprivation therapy and if you don’t mind a total loss of interest in sex hasn’t been too bad. I am now done and feel great however it will be a couple of years before there is certainty of the outcome. In the meantime I continue to stick to my diet shifts with good results.


Marcello said...

I would be careful to assign the fall in oil prices to any single factor. I have read people making the case it is a US-Saudi deal to undermine the Russians, which makes about as sense as the Saudi calling the bluff on the Shale affair. Probably a combination of different factors, including the realization that the world economy is not a pretty picture.

DiSc said...

I am not sure I agree with the idea that science will fade away because of its failings.

Sure, research will be cut, teaching positions will disappear - as will everything else. But I believe people will turn to their interpretation of science - especially hard science - as to a sort of religion.

You can already see it in the trend against the humanities and the various initiatives to get people coding. In a way, the whole "skills shortage" delusion is a way of convincing ourselves that if we only had the right skills (in science, technology), everything would be just fine.

And the idea that people will start disbelieving science because of its failings is just wrong: evidence never gets in the way of people's opinions. The Byzantines believed that an angel would stop the Turk at Hagia Sophia and reconquer all territories of the empire. When the angel failed to show up, they started believing that an angel had saved emperor Constatine, who would come back and repel the Turk.

So science will lose funding - which is not surprising since there are ever less funds to begin with - but I think it will become even more prominent in people's minds.

Jon Dennis said...

It seems to me that science's big problem is that it is being hijacked by marketing and faith.

Medical science, certainly as it relates to products such as drugs, has become a tool of corporate marketing departments which are active in framing research parameters and publications to ensure that the research produces the 'right' results and draws conclusions that can be converted into news snippets and soundbites.

Climate science is profoundly influenced by faith and politics. That is, in my view, the available information does not support definitive knowledge so the conclusions that are drawn from the available knowledge are driven by what people believe.
What both these areas of science have in common are that they relate to systems with a degree of complexity that is currently beyond humanity's ability to comprehend, much less model accurately. There's a very good chance it always will be. Much the same can be said of society and real economies as well, which explains why social engineering and economic management always fail so comprehensively.

The association of science with atheism is also a case of hijacking by faith. It seems to me that if a person is pushed by science towards a particular religeous viewpoint that viewpoint should be agnosticism not atheism. Even if everything was known about everything, and it could definitively be shown that a deity was not required to explain the existence or operation of the universe and everything in it, that would still not be sufficient to disprove the existence of a deity. Atheism must, therefore, be a faith position.

In all these situations people are taking advantage of what I call the 'cult of expertise'. This has arisen partly from the massive expansion of available information and partly from the increasing trend of specialisation in society. The impossibility of an individual having an adequate grasp of all the things that affect their life means that they have to devolve responsibility for knowing some things to others, the specialists. This devolution has now gone so far that many people know almost nothing about anything outside of their immediate experience. In this climate of ignorance almost anyone claiming to be an expert has a chance of being believed and actual expertise often plays second fiddle to the perception of expertise.

Sorry if that went on a bit.

Thank you for your posts. I find them fascinating and compelling.

Phil Harris said...

JMG & All
This might be too late for this week, but it could be worth repeating. Michael Dittmar is a physicist in Switzerland whom I have come to know and appreciate, who has adopted a teaching role and usefully researches the impacts of industrial civilisation. He compared scientists' response to the 1992 Rio Summit with the 2012 version.
Quote: "In contrast to the strong 1992 declaration “Warning to humanity” (World Scientists' Warning to Humanity) signed by hundreds of Noble laureates and supported by more than 1700 world renown scientists, the 2012 follow-up led to no statement of a common view within the scientific community demonstrating an even smaller acceptance of responsibility to inform the world population and pressure governments to act."

Phil H

Cherokee Organics said...


Busted! Yeah, I snuck in a double entendre hoping it would get in under the radar, it was a bit naughty. You have an observant eye.

The wallabies however, were actually hot too, because of the weather.

The Bureau of Meteorology is not prone to exaggeration here and apparently this spring has been the warmest spring on record. The previous record was last year. If it looks like a trend and smells like a trend, it probably is a trend:

Bureau says record hot spring again

Incidentally, when I first moved up here, I used to believe that wallabies were a solitary forest dwelling marsupial. However, with the increase in fertility here and access to water, I can get up to six of them happily munching away at nighttime!

The historical accounts recorded that they moved in mobs, but I've never seen this anywhere else.

Cheers and apologies for my cheekiness!

Hi Ahavah,

Many thanks for your advice. I'd never thought of it that way before.

Hi BoysMom,

Yeah, certainly the social structures that we currently enjoy and think of as normal are just dysfunctional. In fact they make very little social sense. However, they make plenty of sense from the divide and conquer meme. Sorry to hear about your parents, that's hard.

You know, I was completely wrong about home school. I let stereotypes and perhaps a dash of intolerance form the basis of my opinions and I was simply wrong, very wrong. What changed my perspective was that I met a home schooled kid who was so far ahead of my peers at that age.

There are so many different ways to learn, that from hindsight it now seems strange that we pursue such a narrow path.


Raymond Duckling said...

Some people have commented on the intellectual dishonesty and malice in scientific publication. While intellectual dishonesty is pretty much a given, I am not so sure active malice is a big component (though sworn enemies will go to great lengths to pick each other's work apart).

Here's a humorous depiction of an alternate explanation, that relies on a certain other common feature of human nature:

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Thank you, Dagnarus (your posting, above).

On the strength of Dagnarus's provided tool, I have just made an initial mailing from my desk. In this first instance, I am communicating only with private friends, but I am pondering a communication also to our Mayor and Council.

In my initial mailing, I write to my friends as follows:

Universal Coordinated Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20141202T154131Z

Excellent news - Councillor Karen Cilevitz (the first signatory to the Ontario
Municipal Board Minutes of Settlement providing for 14 streets and 531
units of housing at the David Dunlap Observatory; she took her oath
of office last night, while I watched from a balcony seat at the
Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts),
David Bronskill (the lawyer for Metrus Development Inc, who is
proposing this particular residential subdivision), and I have found common
ground, working in computer science. Some initial results
are attached, as a PDF of our paper "A Case for Online
Algorithms". Where politics divides, science unites.

Do please forward as appropriate to anyone who may find this
particular scientific contribution helpful.

having soon to return to change-of-variables and Jacobian determinants,
and also to run various errands in Toronto, and to pop into HackLab
down on Queen Street,


Anyone needing a copy of the four-page PDF, "A Case for Online Algorithms" (Karmo, Cilevitz, Bronskill; bibliography cites among many other things 2001 work by Bronskill and 2002 work by Cilevitz) should contact me privately.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo

Toomas dot Karmo at gmail dot com

Eric S. said...

Here's a perfect example of the way scientific consensus all too often functions in today's intellectual climate. Discover Magazine is attempting to strip away the reputation of former big name science advocate Bill Nye for questioning the potential ecosystem costs of GMOs.

His offending quote:

"Although you can know what happens to any individual species that you modify, you cannot be certain what will happen to the ecosystem.

Also, we have a strange situation where we have malnourished fat people. It’s not that we need more food. It’s that we need to manage our food system better.

So when corporations seek government funding for genetic modification of food sources, I stroke my chin."

The rest of the article is a diatribe about him being a traitor to science and an attempt to reduce him to a laughing stock. It's a fascinating bit of character assassination that seems quite relevant to the discussion we've been having here.

Juha Nurmi said...

Yes, that's well said. There is still richness in western philosophy, but I suppose one has to do some cherry picking. I can't say that I have a very deep understanding of Spengler, but things I've read made a lot of sense to me.

I read Camus when I was young. I doubt I understood his novels all that well, but I loved them non the less. There was something in his thinking that resonated deeply within me. He seemed to be talking about limits, while the world around me seemed interested about endless and limitless things.

It just so happened that I became unemployed the year before and I decided to go back to university, to continue my philosophy studies while this option is still open. I decided to re-read Camus works and see if I could make more sense out of them. (Being a student also seems to be an excellent way of getting used to a lower standard of living. Well, I've always had a fairly low standard of living compared to the rest of my countrymen, but it has never bothered me. I never owned a car or drivers lisence either).

Camus died when he was 46 years old, so he could never finnish his project, but Ronald Srigley went through Camus notes and journals and was able to create an idea of what Camus was thinking.
Anyway Camus was wondering what gave the modern human this sense of meaninglessness in life. Camus thinks that modernity always pushes ”meaning” to the future. There's always a brighter future ahead and the present then becomes somehow less. Also modernity seems to engage in excess in everything it does. The notion that life has limits, is shun and avoided. So there is something nihilistic about modernity, it won't accept that life is limited. Modernity looks like a fanatical attempt to achieve immortality. Camus started viewing Paris as the cave from Plato's philosophy. Everyone is dazzled by the spectacle, instead of actually being aware of the life around them. Personally I think that this spectacle has only gotten worse since.

What would I recommend though? I personally really liked his novels, like The Fall and The Plague. Ronald Srigleys book on Camus seems well worth the read.

And to somehow tie this with your blogpost- Camus observed that scientific facts, are often facts that we care little about in the end. He mentions Galilei, who rejected his own scientific discovery, the very moment it became a matter of life and death. The fact that earth revolves around the sun, isn't really an idea worth dying for. Maybe it's not even an idea worth living for.

Shane Wilson said...

There are some of us that think that modern medicine, as it's currently conceived and practiced in the U.S., is not worth saving, and needs to collapse like everything else, meanwhile salvaging its most important parts. Regardless of whether it should be salvaged, it's not sustainable, and can't be maintained in its current intermediated, corrupt form. If young people are having second thoughts about a career in modern medicine, that's not necessarily a BAD thing.
I'm subjected to TV at work and other odd times, and note with amusement that commercials for tort lawyers regarding problems with certain drugs reliably lag behind ads for the same drug. Somehow, I don't think any of this intermediation benefits the consumer. Better to avoid the drug in the first place, thereby avoiding the tort lawyer later.
Related to that, I wanted to add my bad mainstream medicine story to the pot. Less than a year ago, I had my first migraine, with auration. I'd never experienced anything like it, but thought it could be a TIA (stroke-like), so went to an outpatient clinic. Because of the risk of TIA, was referred to the E.R. They did an MRI at the hospital. I was referred to a neurologist by my internist. The neurologist insisted I needed an carotid ultrasound, which I resisted, citing the negative MRI. He insisted I needed the ultrasound, and I relented instead of denying in a fit. I just now finished paying off the $600 I had to charge on a credit card to cover my part of the bill for an MRI I didn't want (I was certain it was a migraine and not a TIA before the ultrasound). Not to mention that I got nickel and dimed by what seemed like every single person I saw as well as people and institutions off premise. And I HAVE INSURANCE. It really burned me on modern medicine. Considering my own attitude about life and death, if I had a terminal or even less than terminal condition, I would prefer death to bankruptcy via the medical system. It's not worth it to me.
Regarding nursing homes, my grandfather stays in one because of my mother. I honestly don't think he is that bad off that we couldn't keep him at home with some minor home care, but my mother would not consider having him live with her. She's showing signs of dementia, and, being in denial, my guess is she doesn't want to be reminded of what it looks like further along. Needless to say, it's just another black mark among many in my book of the silents and boomers I know personally, and an indication of the differences of generations. (I'm sure I'm asking for an inundation of outrage, but, oh well) I think it's an indication of the strength of his character that he makes the best of the situation, and has managed to become beloved by the people that work there. I once applied to be an organizer with SEIU, and they stated that nursing homes were some of the worst working environments with the most underpaid workers that they'd encountered.

Donald Hargraves said...

If I may do so, I'd like to add my story of Medical mispractice – this one with a happier ending.

My doctor prescribed some Lipitor-type drugs in response to my Cholesterol numbers (high LDL, nearly nonexistent HDL). After issues with muscle soreness (which disappeared) and short-term stupidity (which I caught in time) I told my doctor I has stopped the drugs, why I stopped the drugs and that I was trying out fish oil.

About a couple years later, after my numbers had somewhat normalized (LDL slightly high, HDL slightly low but measurable, and everything close enough to not need "help") I heard my doctor suggest fish oil to another patient of his.

I would like to think that my example helped him out in this regard, at least in part. Plus, the fact that the guy is willing to learn (and is normally a conservative doctor when it comes to drugs) is a plus and why I've stuck with the guy despite his advancing age.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

More and more, it is becoming a do-it-yourself world, including medicine. I tried for years to get my cholesterol and Triglycerides down using Lipitor and Fenofibrate, and following various diets. The diets were based on an idea of reducing calories, yet eating every meal. Going on the theory that we were designed to miss meals intermittently (while hunting the next mastodon), I decided to skip breakfast and lunch three days a week. It took a while to work up to it, but now my cholesterol and TGs are in line, and I have lost 15 pounds and kept it off.

My doctor helped me by ordering the lab tests, but otherwise advised against this course of action.

I used a hypothesis, and tested it on myself, using labwork to see if it worked. This is the scientific method, but (in my case) encountered some hostility from my doctor...hmmm.
Not sure if this approach would work for everyone, but it worked for me. Not eating 6 meals a week is a lot cheaper than buying Lipitor too.

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