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# Sustainability, innovation, and progress

Broadly speaking, I've been preparing to write more about Sustainability. In addition to a lot of reading, I have talked to some people who know more than I about related subjects, and made arrangements to meet and talk with a few others - including at least one person who may join this forum. But I have a more general comment, as well.

One of the most compelling reasons for me to join this discussion is my belief that innovation and progress are essential to solving some of the problems we face with the environment. Specifically; only if the engine of innovation is moving along can the economy thrive, but maintaining and nurturing innovation is seen to be expendable - in the current economy - and once-mighty nations may crumble if it completely stalls.

New breed economists - inspired by people like Paul Pilzer - are willing to entertain this idea, driven by the notion that if limited resources are fixed - then we must focus on the areas where we can improve the picture. The old guard holds the field, however, in the world of finance - and the only model they have is that a growing population fuels a growing economy, which we know the planet cannot long sustain.

Now; I've spoken out about 'Bad Math' in the Finance sector wherever I've found a willing audience. I published an article or two, and even got my letter to the editors of Scientific American printed, but the 'Bad Economics' of cutting back on innovation when the economy is slack gets compounded by the lack of knowledgeable people who can help, when there is a dire need for innovative solutions. And the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico shows that Government and Industry are far too insular, when faced with problems that should be dealt with collaboratively.

That means this project and forum are vitally important! At FFP10, which was at UWA near Perth in 2009, I heard Gerard 't Hooft state that unless we had a great increase in the level and scope of collaboration, some advances would never come. Doug Osheroff's talk at that conference also stressed cooperation and collaboration, as part of his formula for fostering discoveries. As far as I can tell; only the scientists and engineers are capable of solving many of the problems we face - trying to save the planet - and then only if we are able to compare notes enough to benefit from each others knowledge and ideas.

So; while sustainability may be a hard sell in some arenas, innovation and progress should not be. And ultimately; that is how we can create a sustainable future.

All the Best,

Jonathan

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1.

Indeed innovation and technical progress is an essential route. However, innovation can also be about low tech and scaling things down - but that would require rational thinking... Often what is "progress" is judged by ego, not rationality. E.g. look at the high tech dinosaurs produced and "innovated" by the automobile industry, they are mostly physical nonsense, made to please the customer ego. Similarly, the evolution of Windoze and nowadays Linux is a death spiral of junk: The more glitzy every new version, the less useable, but more CPU and memory hungry. What industry sells as innovation is often tragic and devastating. And nobody gets it, it seems.

Can anybody appreciate the unspeakable utter ridicu-lousiness of a crippled wheel mounted on a mouse button - innovated as a work-around for nonfunctional windoze scrollbars?

Comment Source:Indeed innovation and technical progress is an essential route. However, innovation can also be about low tech and scaling things down - but that would require rational thinking... Often what is "progress" is judged by ego, not rationality. E.g. look at the high tech dinosaurs produced and "innovated" by the automobile industry, they are mostly physical nonsense, made to please the customer ego. Similarly, the evolution of Windoze and nowadays Linux is a death spiral of junk: The more glitzy every new version, the less useable, but more CPU and memory hungry. What industry sells as innovation is often tragic and devastating. And nobody gets it, it seems. Can anybody appreciate the unspeakable utter ridicu-lousiness of a crippled wheel mounted on a mouse button - innovated as a work-around for nonfunctional windoze scrollbars?
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2.

What in the Linux world is a death spiral of junk?

Comment Source:What in the Linux world is a death spiral of junk?
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3.
edited February 2011

To Martin: I agree that low-tech innovation is often every bit as important as the high-tech variety. In many places far from technology, only the low-tech solutions confer any advantage whatsoever. I'm talking basic necessities like clean water - which people in the developed world take for granted. But innovations of the low-tech variety can make life far more livable, for subsistence farmers and others, while high-tech innovating is not helpful at all.

I also agree that many high-tech softwares and devices have sacrificed usability and basic functionality for a 'feature-rich environment' and an 'enhanced user experience.' It is true that operating systems have become unbelievably bloated. Where efficient coding was once rewarded or applauded, nobody even tries to do that any more. Instead; each new generation of software assumes that more and more system resources are available by default.

I used to use a program called SAW Pro (for Software Audio Workshop), which is a full-featured multi-track audio editing program. It could be installed from a single floppy, and would then take up only 1.8 MBytes. And all of the code was placed in one folder, with no Registry settings (which load into memory every time the machine boots) whatever, so the program's resource utilization was very low. It was amazingly fast too, given the highly-optimized machine code in the executable, and could therefore record about twice as many tracks at once (on a given machine) than any other program.

I programmed in machine code myself, once upon a time. And I've seen the creations of some of the demoscene folks so I know how much content can be made to fit in a very small executable file.

To roflwaffle: I agree that Linux is not nearly as bad as Windoze; heck, Vista will fill up a 500 GByte disk with shadow copies of OS files - by default on many machines - unless someone skilled knows what obscure commands to run, just to set a limit. However; the degree of bloat in any shipping Linux version far exceeds what many people who made a living trying to write efficient code feel is tolerable. The idea that someone can always add more memory or get a faster video card, for tolerable performance, is somewhat erroneous. All machines have a limit on the addressable memory, and so on.

So; I think the 'death spiral of junk' Martin refers to is the fact that, as OS requirements become more bloated, more perfectly functional old hardware becomes useless junk.

All the Best,

Jonathan

Comment Source:To Martin: I agree that low-tech innovation is often every bit as important as the high-tech variety. In many places far from technology, only the low-tech solutions confer any advantage whatsoever. I'm talking basic necessities like clean water - which people in the developed world take for granted. But innovations of the low-tech variety can make life far more livable, for subsistence farmers and others, while high-tech innovating is not helpful at all. I also agree that many high-tech softwares and devices have sacrificed usability and basic functionality for a 'feature-rich environment' and an 'enhanced user experience.' It is true that operating systems have become unbelievably bloated. Where efficient coding was once rewarded or applauded, nobody even tries to do that any more. Instead; each new generation of software assumes that more and more system resources are available by default. I used to use a program called SAW Pro (for Software Audio Workshop), which is a full-featured multi-track audio editing program. It could be installed from a single floppy, and would then take up only 1.8 MBytes. And all of the code was placed in one folder, with no Registry settings (which load into memory every time the machine boots) whatever, so the program's resource utilization was very low. It was amazingly fast too, given the highly-optimized machine code in the executable, and could therefore record about twice as many tracks at once (on a given machine) than any other program. I programmed in machine code myself, once upon a time. And I've seen the creations of some of the demoscene folks so I know how much content can be made to fit in a very small executable file. To roflwaffle: I agree that Linux is not nearly as bad as Windoze; heck, Vista will fill up a 500 GByte disk with shadow copies of OS files - by default on many machines - unless someone skilled knows what obscure commands to run, just to set a limit. However; the degree of bloat in any shipping Linux version far exceeds what many people who made a living trying to write efficient code feel is tolerable. The idea that someone can always add more memory or get a faster video card, for tolerable performance, is somewhat erroneous. All machines have a limit on the addressable memory, and so on. So; I think the 'death spiral of junk' Martin refers to is the fact that, as OS requirements become more bloated, more perfectly functional old hardware becomes useless junk. All the Best, Jonathan
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edited February 2011

The thing with software is that there's always a trade-off between developer man-hours and machine resources used (CPU time, memory, etc). You can see other posts on this site where I express the point of view that for long-running numerical code developing programs in languages which make it possible to avoid the "abstraction penalty" and access low-level CPU features is very desirable, but equally I'm not too concerned if something that's not computationally intensive and infrequently used is written in a fashion to optimise developer time.

If you want something to be appalled by, look at the effort to re-institute most services in-browser using JavaScript. It's incredibly depressing the amount of ingenuity and engineer effort that has been devoted to trying to infer things about JavaScript (so that as much compilation as possible can be done) purely to compensate for the way that the language was created without thought about having it helping these things without impacting its ease-of-quick-scripting. I hate to think how slow my netbook, which has a perfectly acceptable speed running compiled apps like emacs, will be if it's asked to use these applications.

Comment Source:The thing with software is that there's always a trade-off between developer man-hours and machine resources used (CPU time, memory, etc). You can see other posts on this site where [I express the point of view](http://www.math.ntnu.no/~stacey/Mathforge/Azimuth/comments.php?DiscussionID=370&Focus=2050#Comment_2050) that **_for long-running numerical code_** developing programs in languages which make it possible to avoid the "abstraction penalty" and access low-level CPU features is very desirable, but equally I'm not too concerned if something that's not computationally intensive and infrequently used is written in a fashion to optimise developer time. If you want something to be appalled by, look at the effort to re-institute most services in-browser using JavaScript. It's incredibly depressing the amount of ingenuity and engineer effort that has been devoted to trying to infer things about JavaScript (so that as much compilation as possible can be done) purely to compensate for the way that the language was created without thought about having it helping these things without impacting its ease-of-quick-scripting. I hate to think how slow my netbook, which has a perfectly acceptable speed running compiled apps like emacs, will be if it's asked to use these applications.
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5.
edited February 2011

What in the Linux world is a death spiral of junk?

Umm, not the kernel per se. Stuff like Gnome and KDE "desktop" environments mimicking the windoze 1-peephole system (at least they serve n disconnected peepholes (BTW, Bill Gates' most ingenious invention is the plural-s in windows)). I remember the good old days when a terminal window popped open in less than a second. Ditto the text editors. Today you got giga machines and have to wait even for a menu to pop up. Luckily with Linux I can still use the old quick and perfect stuff, e.g. xterm, nedit, etc. on a Fvwm desktop. Alas it seems I need to write myself a file manager, the old one no longer compiles...

Comment Source:> What in the Linux world is a death spiral of junk? Umm, not the kernel per se. Stuff like Gnome and KDE "desktop" environments mimicking the windoze 1-peephole system (at least they serve n disconnected peepholes (BTW, Bill Gates' most ingenious invention is the plural-s in windows)). I remember the good old days when a terminal window popped open in less than a second. Ditto the text editors. Today you got giga machines and have to wait even for a menu to pop up. Luckily with Linux I can still use the old quick and perfect stuff, e.g. xterm, nedit, etc. on a Fvwm desktop. Alas it seems I need to write myself a file manager, the old one no longer compiles...
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Back to Martin's earlier comment:

innovation can also be about low tech and scaling things down - but that would require rational thinking...

Low-Tech innovation and re-inventing some of the everyday devices are both very important. In many cases, sustainability is about finding more efficient or less consumptive ways to do the things we are going to do anyway. And that too requires innovation.

But heck; who wouldn't want to develop an inexpensive, clean, and virtually inexhaustible source of energy? And something more prosaic, like being able to clean up all the garbage floating on the oceans, would also be nice. So finding a way to do something big like that is also very good.

However; maybe we should be scaling down too. As Pete Seeger said in "Arrange and Rearrange" - "when maniacs holler grow, grow, grow, we can choose to be small." To an extent; that is the whole nut of the sustainability challenge. The idea in many people's minds is that only constant growth can adequately fuel the engine of industry, and create healthy governments and economies.

As those reading my words well know; the planet cannot support this mode of existence. So a big part of how we have to innovate is figuring out how to do big things in a small way, by scaling down, reducing our footprint and consumption, conserving wherever possible, and otherwise being a little more efficient and wise about our usage of resources. So; I'm all for 'rational thinking' and scaling things down.

Comment Source:Back to Martin's earlier comment: >innovation can also be about low tech and scaling things down - but that would require rational thinking... Low-Tech innovation and re-inventing some of the everyday devices are both very important. In many cases, sustainability is about finding more efficient or less consumptive ways to do the things we are going to do anyway. And that too requires innovation. But heck; who wouldn't want to develop an inexpensive, clean, and virtually inexhaustible source of energy? And something more prosaic, like being able to clean up all the garbage floating on the oceans, would also be nice. So finding a way to do something big like that is also very good. However; maybe we should be scaling down too. As Pete Seeger said in "Arrange and Rearrange" - "when maniacs holler grow, grow, grow, we can choose to be small." To an extent; that is the whole nut of the sustainability challenge. The idea in many people's minds is that only constant growth can adequately fuel the engine of industry, and create healthy governments and economies. As those reading my words well know; the planet cannot support this mode of existence. So a big part of how we have to innovate is figuring out how to do big things in a small way, by scaling down, reducing our footprint and consumption, conserving wherever possible, and otherwise being a little more efficient and wise about our usage of resources. So; I'm all for 'rational thinking' and scaling things down.
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7.

Martin said:

The more glitzy every new version, the less useable, but more CPU and memory hungry. What industry sells as innovation is often tragic and devastating.

their glitziness is still innovative compared to the glitziness of the coloured pieces of glass the Spaniards gave to the Native Americans ;-)

Comment Source:Martin said: > The more glitzy every new version, the less useable, but more CPU and memory hungry. What industry sells as innovation is often tragic and devastating. their glitziness is still innovative compared to the glitziness of the coloured pieces of glass the Spaniards gave to the Native Americans ;-)
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8.

Indeed Frederik,

There is a lot more one can do with that glitzy new computer, with its impressively glitzy new OS, if you have a place to plug it in.

However; those colored pieces of glass continue to be pretty glitzy, any time the Sun shines. Can your laptop do that?

And remember, glass and ICs are made from basically the same stuff. Of course; the Silicon in chips is far more refined, but it is reasonable to say that the technology used for ICs is based on our understanding gained from earlier experience with Silicon based materials, such as the "coloured pieces of glass the Spaniards gave to the Native Americans ;-)"

So; I guess I'm saying that there is a sense of relativity to innovations - in that their relative advancement and utility is defined by current conditions.

But you are right! High-tech advancements are way cooler.
Thanks again for weighing in here!

Comment Source:Indeed Frederik, There is a lot more one can do with that glitzy new computer, with its impressively glitzy new OS, if you have a place to plug it in. However; those colored pieces of glass continue to be pretty glitzy, any time the Sun shines. Can your laptop do that? And remember, glass and ICs are made from basically the same stuff. Of course; the Silicon in chips is far more refined, but it is reasonable to say that the technology used for ICs is based on our understanding gained from earlier experience with Silicon based materials, such as the "coloured pieces of glass the Spaniards gave to the Native Americans ;-)" So; I guess I'm saying that there is a sense of relativity to innovations - in that their relative advancement and utility is defined by current conditions. But you are right! High-tech advancements are way cooler. Thanks again for weighing in here!
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edited February 2011

Any weight of my previous comment would be purely coincidental, I just intended to make a joke (but maybe you're joking too...) of how glitziness is still used to attract naive folks.

Comment Source:Any weight of my previous comment would be purely coincidental, I just intended to make a joke (but maybe you're joking too...) of how glitziness is still used to attract naive folks.
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10.

### Has innovation stalled?

I'd like to steer this thread back toward the original purpose. My belief is that we can only solve some of the difficult environmental problems we face, if we nurture the process and products of innovation - as well as the innovators themselves. And government leaders are increasingly willing to sacrifice programs to promote innovation, which might be the best way to boost the economy. So I ask; has innovation stalled, or is there a danger of that happening?

In my view; the kinds of innovation we most need to save the planet can only be the product of cross-disciplinary collaborations. But governments and industries appear to be moving toward a more insular approach to environmental issues, while reducing budgets for environmental research and data-gathering in general.

This trend toward the insular makes it harder to deal with environmental issues. And the broad-based research that could help most is often what's being de-funded. To an extent, the trend toward specialization and the strategy of 'divide and conquer' are the enemies of realistic solutions to environmental problems, as those problems demand a holistic and multi-faceted solution, and this requires multi-disciplinary collaboration.

As 't Hooft said, in the talk I attended, some advances will never come - unless we can learn to work together more effectively. And he was talking about massive collaboration - involving not only physicists from different disciplines, but mathematicians, engineers, programmers, technologists, and even philosophers - so that the same problem could be approached from various viewpoints at once. But is this advice only true for Physics?

It is my perception that this approach is exactly what was needed to solve the problems encountered with the undersea oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, but even with an ecological disaster of untold proportions - government and industry remained unwilling to accept offers of help or advice from outside experts. They remained totally insular, regarding how the problem was to be handled. And worse still, they interfered with independent oversight.

One can only hope that they were looking out for our best interests, and that future disasters can be handled better.

#### But I think Azimuth can help!

I am strongly of the opinion that too many knowledgeable people are unheard and even stifled. People who know more, or have better answers say "What can I do? I have no power or influence." while our leaders are holding up their hands and saying "What can I do? I have no better answers." Ergo; there is a clear and present need for efforts to close that gap.

If Azimuth provides a forum where the kind of massive collaboration 't Hooft believes is necessary for some advancements in Physics could be applied to help solve some of the thorny multi-disciplinary problems we face with the Environment, this could make all the difference in the world. Perhaps it is only if we do find ways to tackle certain problems in a multi-disciplinary fashion, that we will be able to save the planet.

But any such effort is likely to have spin-offs - in terms of the unexpected benefits from collaboration. This will produce marketable products and many financial benefits to industry - and it may create new markets for products that don't even exist yet.

So can I get more comments on how innovation can help?

• Save the planet
• Foster progress
• Improve lives

I think all of the above are only a matter of getting the answers where they are needed.
Are we agreed?

Comment Source:###Has innovation stalled?### I'd like to steer this thread back toward the original purpose. My belief is that we can only solve some of the difficult environmental problems we face, if we nurture the process and products of innovation - as well as the innovators themselves. And government leaders are increasingly willing to sacrifice programs to promote innovation, which might be the best way to boost the economy. So I ask; has innovation stalled, or is there a danger of that happening? In my view; the kinds of innovation we most need to save the planet can only be the product of cross-disciplinary collaborations. But governments and industries appear to be moving toward a more insular approach to environmental issues, while reducing budgets for environmental research and data-gathering in general. **This trend toward the insular makes it harder to deal with environmental issues. And the broad-based research that could help most is often what's being de-funded. To an extent, the trend toward specialization and the strategy of 'divide and conquer' are the enemies of realistic solutions to environmental problems, as those problems demand a holistic and multi-faceted solution, and this requires multi-disciplinary collaboration.** As 't Hooft said, in the talk I attended, some advances will never come - unless we can learn to work together more effectively. And he was talking about massive collaboration - involving not only physicists from different disciplines, but mathematicians, engineers, programmers, technologists, and even philosophers - so that the same problem could be approached from various viewpoints at once. But is this advice only true for Physics? It is my perception that this approach is exactly what was needed to solve the problems encountered with the undersea oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, but even with an ecological disaster of untold proportions - government and industry remained unwilling to accept offers of help or advice from outside experts. They remained totally insular, regarding how the problem was to be handled. And worse still, they interfered with independent oversight. One can only hope that they were looking out for our best interests, and that future disasters can be handled better. ####But I think Azimuth can help!#### I am strongly of the opinion that too many knowledgeable people are unheard and even stifled. People who know more, or have better answers say "**What can I do? I have no power or influence**." while our leaders are holding up their hands and saying "**What can I do? I have no better answers**." Ergo; there is a clear and present need for efforts to close that gap. If Azimuth provides a forum where the kind of massive collaboration 't Hooft believes is necessary for some advancements in Physics could be applied to help solve some of the thorny multi-disciplinary problems we face with the Environment, this could make all the difference in the world. Perhaps it is only if we do find ways to tackle certain problems in a multi-disciplinary fashion, that we will be able to save the planet. But any such effort is likely to have spin-offs - in terms of the unexpected benefits from collaboration. This will produce marketable products and many financial benefits to industry - and it may create new markets for products that don't even exist yet. **So can I get more comments on how innovation can help?** * Save the planet * Foster progress * Improve lives I think all of the above are only a matter of getting the answers where they are needed. Are we agreed?
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11.

Yes Frederik,

The entirety of post number 9 was delivered with my tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Have a great day.

Comment Source:Yes Frederik, The entirety of post number 9 was delivered with my tongue firmly planted in cheek. Have a great day.
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12.

Hi Jonathan,

I don't have many useful comments, but could you explain what you mean with:

the kinds of innovation we most need to save the planet can only be the product of cross-disciplinary collaborations

which do we need the most, do you think? And why is this necessarily cross-disciplinary?

I think it's not necissarily bad if there's funding for specific projects, like 4th generation fission, or fusion power, or an intelligent grid. So I think I don't understand very well what you are saying.

it may create new markets for products that don't even exist yet.

I am personally (but it's rather ill-founded, it's just an impression) of the opinion that current market thinking is not very sustainable. So I'm not sure how innovation and producing new products would help.

In my opinion, a real innovation would be to rethink the economy such that life can go on happily without the need for economic growth (econmic growth as it is defined nowadays). Well, maybe it would conflict with human nature.

Comment Source:Hi Jonathan, I don't have many useful comments, but could you explain what you mean with: > the kinds of innovation we most need to save the planet can only be the product of cross-disciplinary collaborations which do we need the most, do you think? And why is this necessarily cross-disciplinary? I think it's not necissarily bad if there's funding for specific projects, like 4th generation fission, or fusion power, or an intelligent grid. So I think I don't understand very well what you are saying. > it may create new markets for products that don't even exist yet. I am personally (but it's rather ill-founded, it's just an impression) of the opinion that current market thinking is not very sustainable. So I'm not sure how innovation and producing new products would help. In my opinion, a real innovation would be to rethink the economy such that life can go on happily without the need for economic growth (econmic growth as it is defined nowadays). Well, maybe it would conflict with human nature.
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edited February 2011

Thanks so much Frederik! You said..

In my opinion, a real innovation would be to rethink the economy such that life can go on happily without the need for economic growth (economic growth as it is defined nowadays).

If I may elaborate on that first; YOU ARE SO RIGHT. Would you believe the Japanese government has a program now to get young people interested in sex, because birth rates are too low? This is because they fear a collapsing economy otherwise.

There is sound logic to the idea that demographics drives the economy, if we assume that the current economic models will continue to be applied in the Finance sector. So; if we do not want "We need to have perpetual growth!" to be the credo of business forever, we need to develop better economic models, and put them into practice. Because we know that the planet will not support the unending growth which has brought us prosperity in the past.

That said; I am not sure how much it would help. I have argued elsewhere that it is people's false belief in reductionist determinism, and applying this notion where it does not work, that gets us into trouble. If you read David X. Li's paper on "Default correlation, a Copula Function approach," which was used to create CDOs and derivatives trading, you will find that he was clever to exploit that tendency.

I greatly believe in what Mandelbrot had to say in his book on the Misbehavior of Markets, and the Scientific American article that preceded that publication. If he had read Mandelbrot's work, Li would have been wary of using a Gaussian function - for fear of excessive curtosis - and would have given his model 'fat tails' instead. Had he been smarter still, he wouldn't have constructed a see-saw that could break in the middle, by conflating risk estimation with risk elimination.

But greed will make people do things they later regret.

As to the earlier question about the current need for
inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary collaboration:

I think most problems we face with the environment require a systems theoretic approach, where everything is assumed to be inter-related - at the outset. The oil spill in the Gulf should be a wake up call. In a world where any one industry or government agency can be put in charge of a natural disaster, but no single industry or agency has complete knowledge or adequate insights to fully deal with a disaster, we have an untenable situation where people must sit and watch helplessly as something which should never have been allowed to happen is dealt with ineptly. Efforts at cooperation and collaborative assistance were largely rejected, however.

A lasting impression is that both the public and the government officials were far more interested in casting blame, during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, than they were in finding better ways to solve the problem. I wrote in one editorial that this is adolescent behavior, on the part of our leaders. A sensible person puts out the fire on their stove first, or calls the fire department if things get out of hand, and then takes the time to find out who left a pan on a hot burner.

Comment Source:Thanks so much Frederik! You said.. >In my opinion, a real innovation would be to rethink the economy such that life can go on happily without the need for economic growth (economic growth as it is defined nowadays). If I may elaborate on that first; YOU ARE SO RIGHT. Would you believe the Japanese government has a program now to get young people interested in sex, because birth rates are too low? This is because they fear a collapsing economy otherwise. There is sound logic to the idea that demographics drives the economy, if we assume that the current economic models will continue to be applied in the Finance sector. So; if we do not want "We need to have perpetual growth!" to be the credo of business forever, **we need to develop better economic models**, and put them into practice. Because we know that the planet will not support the unending growth which has brought us prosperity in the past. That said; I am not sure how much it would help. I have argued elsewhere that it is people's false belief in reductionist determinism, and applying this notion where it does not work, that gets us into trouble. If you read David X. Li's paper on "Default correlation, a Copula Function approach," which was used to create CDOs and derivatives trading, you will find that he was clever to exploit that tendency. I greatly believe in what Mandelbrot had to say in his book on the Misbehavior of Markets, and the Scientific American article that preceded that publication. If he had read Mandelbrot's work, Li would have been wary of using a Gaussian function - for fear of excessive curtosis - and would have given his model 'fat tails' instead. Had he been smarter still, he wouldn't have constructed a see-saw that could break in the middle, by conflating risk estimation with risk elimination. But greed will make people do things they later regret. **As to the earlier question about the current need for inter-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary collaboration:** I think most problems we face with the environment require a systems theoretic approach, where everything is assumed to be inter-related - at the outset. The oil spill in the Gulf should be a wake up call. In a world where any one industry or government agency can be put in charge of a natural disaster, but no single industry or agency has complete knowledge or adequate insights to fully deal with a disaster, we have an untenable situation where people must sit and watch helplessly as something which should never have been allowed to happen is dealt with ineptly. Efforts at cooperation and collaborative assistance were largely rejected, however. A lasting impression is that both the public and the government officials were far more interested in casting blame, during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, than they were in finding better ways to solve the problem. I wrote in one editorial that this is adolescent behavior, on the part of our leaders. A sensible person puts out the fire on their stove first, or calls the fire department if things get out of hand, and then takes the time to find out who left a pan on a hot burner.
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edited February 2011

There's been some discussion on John's wordpress blog about mathematical economics. One important thing is that "economic growth" combines two very different things:

1. Physical resource "processing" growth
2. Intellectual resource growth

Arguably we need 2 to be growing much faster than it currently is to tackle environmental issues even as 1 is rapidly moved towards steady-state.

Comment Source:There's been some discussion on John's wordpress blog about mathematical economics. One important thing is that "economic growth" combines two very different things: 1. Physical resource "processing" growth 2. Intellectual resource growth Arguably we need 2 to be growing much faster than it currently is to tackle environmental issues even as 1 is rapidly moved towards steady-state.
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Does economic growth imply growth in processing physics resources? I've always thought that growth in the economic sense just referred to increasing economic activity. In the context of pure economics I don't think it matters whether or not the economy is based around making grass baskets or mining mineral resources. In terms of specifics it does tend to imply more resource/energy consumption given our behavior over most of recorded history, but at the same time I think it's reasonable to state that we could transition to a less resource/energy intensive world and still have economic growth as in more overall economic activity and probably a steady amount of per capita economic activity.

Umm, not the kernel per se. Stuff like Gnome and KDE "desktop" environments mimicking the windoze 1-peephole system (at least they serve n disconnected peepholes (BTW, Bill Gates' most ingenious invention is the plural-s in windows)). I remember the good old days when a terminal window popped open in less than a second. Ditto the text editors. Today you got giga machines and have to wait even for a menu to pop up. Luckily with Linux I can still use the old quick and perfect stuff, e.g. xterm, nedit, etc. on a Fvwm desktop. Alas it seems I need to write myself a file manager, the old one no longer compiles...

I don't think that having DE/WM alternatives that are more like windows makes GNU/linux worse, they're just options. Granted, some distros are bloated in terms of the default stuff, but at the same time others aren't, so the user can always pick which one they want. That said I'm kinda new to linux since I only hopped on board in 2004 so I probably don't have as much experience as others but AFAIK someone can still do just about everything (LFS), compile and configure just about everything (Gentoo), configure just about everything (Arch), or just go for something that's already compiled/configured (Ubuntu), with everything in between.

Comment Source:Does economic growth imply growth in processing physics resources? I've always thought that growth in the economic sense just referred to increasing economic activity. In the context of pure economics I don't think it matters whether or not the economy is based around making grass baskets or mining mineral resources. In terms of specifics it does tend to imply more resource/energy consumption given our behavior over most of recorded history, but at the same time I think it's reasonable to state that we could transition to a less resource/energy intensive world and still have economic growth as in more overall economic activity and probably a steady amount of per capita economic activity. >Umm, not the kernel per se. Stuff like Gnome and KDE "desktop" environments mimicking the windoze 1-peephole system (at least they serve n disconnected peepholes (BTW, Bill Gates' most ingenious invention is the plural-s in windows)). I remember the good old days when a terminal window popped open in less than a second. Ditto the text editors. Today you got giga machines and have to wait even for a menu to pop up. Luckily with Linux I can still use the old quick and perfect stuff, e.g. xterm, nedit, etc. on a Fvwm desktop. Alas it seems I need to write myself a file manager, the old one no longer compiles... I don't think that having DE/WM alternatives that are more like windows makes GNU/linux worse, they're just options. Granted, some distros are bloated in terms of the default stuff, but at the same time others aren't, so the user can always pick which one they want. That said I'm kinda new to linux since I only hopped on board in 2004 so I probably don't have as much experience as others but AFAIK someone can still do just about everything (LFS), compile and configure just about everything (Gentoo), configure just about everything (Arch), or just go for something that's already compiled/configured (Ubuntu), with everything in between.
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16.

Jonathan Dickau wrote:

So; if we do not want "We need to have perpetual growth!" to be the credo of business forever, we need to develop better economic models, and put them into practice. Because we know that the planet will not support the unending growth which has brought us prosperity in the past.

I've been working on an initiative for developing better economic models that I hope to share more about as it gets further developed. Anyone who is interested in new economic ideas should check out Umair Haque's blog. He is the most forward-thinking economist I've seen in the four years I've been scouring the internet for kindred spirits. Umair's on Twitter as @umairh, he is very active and seems like a good guy, though I've not met him in person yet. He has a new book out called The New Capitalist Manifesto. I'm sure it is great based on his blog entries for the last several years, but I still haven't received my copy yet so I can't yet put it on the Recommended reading list.

My next blog post here will be about the nuts and bolts of the resource and energy costs of making crap products, i.e. the "disposable economy." This is one area that we can greatly improve our economic system and sustainability without actual economic costs. Measures of growth like GDP get in the way. If I can sell you crap fives times because it breaks and you have to replace it instead of good products that last, the GDP is much higher. So by targeting growth we are also targeting the production of junk products.

After I get the blog post done, I'll start writing up some pages for ideas for types of new products that we could build that would be more sustainable and commercially viable along with the estimated resource savings.

Comment Source:Jonathan Dickau wrote: >So; if we do not want "We need to have perpetual growth!" to be the credo of business forever, we need to develop better economic models, and put them into practice. Because we know that the planet will not support the unending growth which has brought us prosperity in the past. I've been working on an initiative for developing better economic models that I hope to share more about as it gets further developed. Anyone who is interested in new economic ideas should check out [Umair Haque's blog](http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/). He is the most forward-thinking economist I've seen in the four years I've been scouring the internet for kindred spirits. Umair's on Twitter as [@umairh](http://twitter.com/#!/umairh), he is very active and seems like a good guy, though I've not met him in person yet. He has a new book out called The New Capitalist Manifesto. I'm sure it is great based on his blog entries for the last several years, but I still haven't received my copy yet so I can't yet put it on the [[Recommended reading]] list. My next blog post here will be about the nuts and bolts of the resource and energy costs of making crap products, i.e. the "disposable economy." This is one area that we can greatly improve our economic system and sustainability without actual economic costs. Measures of growth like GDP get in the way. If I can sell you crap fives times because it breaks and you have to replace it instead of good products that last, the GDP is much higher. So by targeting growth we are also targeting the production of junk products. After I get the blog post done, I'll start writing up some pages for ideas for types of new products that we could build that would be more sustainable and commercially viable along with the estimated resource savings.
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17.
edited February 2011

Sounds like a good blog post, Curtis!

I'm in favor of a lot of what Jonathan Dickau said so far on this thread. My question is just: what can the Azimuth Project do about this? Or in other words: what can a few smart scientists and engineers do? Many worthwhile activities require large numbers of people acting together. We don't really have the "size" for that. All we've got is good intentions (I hope), a bit of intelligence (I hope), and the ability to keep criticizing each other and improving our strategy (I hope).

Two guesses for good things to do, vaguely related to Jonathan's comments:

1) Develop ideas for what a flourishing economic system without ever-increasing physical resource usage could look like. I think traditional economics is doing a pretty poor job of sketching a viable future - so poor a job than even we might be able to do better!

For example:

I would like the world to move from a matter economy through the current energy economy to an information economy, then a knowledge economy, and then to a wisdom economy.

This sounds catchy — but is it possible? Is it really a sensible idea? And what does it even really mean? We're obviously not going to stop needing matter, or energy. But maybe we can transfer our desire for exponential growth toward more ethereal forms that do less damage.

As a mathematician, it's interesting that we know a lot of the mathematics needed for the precise management of matter, energy and information, but very little about knowledge and even less about wisdom. Is that just the way it has to be?

I urge everyone interested in this to read what George Mobus writes about 'sapience'.

2) I am busy trying to develop a mathematical theory of 'networked systems': complex systems made of interacting parts. You can get a taste of what I mean here:

• John Baez and Jacob Biamonte, Diagrams, nLab.

but this page is so far just a list of references together with pretty pictures; soon I'll start blogging about the mathematical theory I'm trying to come up with. It's not clear how much this theory will help the world, but it might. Anyone who enjoys programming could help me by writing programs that illustrate this theory. It could be fun and interesting, because the idea of building big systems out of small manageable 'modules' is probably something that many programmers like and understand.

Comment Source:Sounds like a good blog post, Curtis! <img src = "http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/emoticons/thumbsup.gif" alt = ""/> I'm in favor of a lot of what Jonathan Dickau said so far on this thread. My question is just: what can the Azimuth Project do about this? Or in other words: what can a few smart scientists and engineers do? Many worthwhile activities require large numbers of people acting together. We don't really have the "size" for that. All we've got is good intentions (I hope), a bit of intelligence (I hope), and the ability to keep criticizing each other and improving our strategy (I hope). Two guesses for good things to do, vaguely related to Jonathan's comments: 1) Develop ideas for what a flourishing economic system without ever-increasing physical resource usage could look like. I think traditional economics is doing a pretty poor job of sketching a viable future - so poor a job than _even we_ might be able to do better! For example: I would like the world to move from a **matter economy** through the current **energy economy** to an **information economy**, then a **knowledge economy**, and then to a **wisdom economy**. This sounds catchy &mdash; but is it possible? Is it really a sensible idea? And **what does it even really mean?** We're obviously not going to stop needing matter, or energy. But maybe we can transfer our desire for exponential growth toward more ethereal forms that do less damage. As a mathematician, it's interesting that we know a lot of the mathematics needed for the precise management of matter, energy and information, but very little about knowledge and even less about wisdom. Is that just the way it has to be? I urge everyone interested in this to read what [George Mobus writes about 'sapience'](http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/sapience/). 2) I am busy trying to develop a mathematical theory of 'networked systems': complex systems made of interacting parts. You can get a taste of what I mean here: * John Baez and Jacob Biamonte, [Diagrams](http://ncatlab.org/johnbaez/show/Diagrams), nLab. but this page is so far just a list of references together with pretty pictures; soon I'll start blogging about the mathematical theory I'm trying to come up with. It's not clear how much this theory will help the world, but it might. Anyone who enjoys programming could help me by writing programs that illustrate this theory. It could be fun and interesting, because the idea of building big systems out of small manageable 'modules' is probably something that many programmers like and understand.