Category Archives: Philosophy

Earth and Life

Earth day is this week, but what do people really mean when they say, “Earth”?  I think we can all agree that the Earth is composed of a hydrosphere, a lithosphere, an atmosphere, and a biosphere all interacting in a vast, interconnected system.  Now I ask:  how are the “different” spheres really “separate” from each other?  Because, aren’t animals, plants, bacteria, and fungi all partly composed of water?  For example, humans are made up of about 60-70% water, by mass.  In addition, aren’t skeletons and teeth made out of minerals (e.g. apatite)?  Also, don’t all organisms (bacteria, fungi, plant or animal) need certain geologic nutrients like zinc, sulfur, calcium, phosphorous, etc. to live?  Don’t individual organisms need to have air or dissolved oxygen in their respiratory organs at all times they are alive?  And it’s obvious that humans have lots of their own biologic tissue (cells) but don’t we also have billions of bacteria living and dying within our bodies as they perform all sorts of useful tasks like helping us digest food and helping our immune systems?  The answer to all these questions is:  YES!  Look this all up if you don’t believe me.  Now, isn’t it obvious?  Animals have a hydrosphere (water in tissues), a lithosphere (skeletons, nutrients from plants), an atmosphere (air in lungs, oxygen in blood), and a biosphere (cells, and a bacterial ecosystem).  Plants also have a hydrosphere (water in tissues), a lithosphere (nutrients from soil), an atmosphere (carbon dioxide in tissues), and a biosphere (cells, fungi on roots or trunk, and a bacterial ecosystem).  I ask again, how can the four spheres on Earth really be “separate” from one another?  It’s all the Earth and it’s all interconnected in one vast system.  In addition, it is important to note that plate tectonics and volcanism are integral to how the atmosphere and biosphere function and evolve over geologic time (hundreds of millions of years).  What this all means is that the Earth must resemble the Earth at all scales from the cellular to the global biosphere; otherwise, how could it be the Earth?  Everything on Earth or from Earth is the Earth!  Astronauts are obviously bringing their bodies (water, nutrients, bones) into space so they are literally extending Earth into space.

Now, this is a much different view of Earth and life then what we are taught in school.  Modern industrial humans have a secular cultural mindset or “story” that tells them that life is just a struggle for the Earth’s resources and you are separate from everyone else and everything else.  You are just a separate being struggling against everything else so you can get enough resources to survive and reproduce and there is no higher purpose to it all.  Really? That’s it?  Wow, it’s no wonder that this cultural mindset results in the trashing of the entire Earth (global pollution, ecosystem destruction, etc.), as this same cultural mindset pressures people to trash their own minds, bodies, and communities with anxiety, stress, insomnia, substance abuse, 60-80 hour work weeks, racism, greed, addictions of all sorts, etc.  Remember:  everything on Earth is the Earth!  If you trash one thing, you trash it all.  I don’t think many people realize that their own minds and bodies are types of environments, and that they are allowing them to be polluted.  It seems like the time is right for a new cultural mindset, don’t you think?  Are there really thousands of isolated social and environmental problems today that each require a separate yet super-complex solution? Or is there just one major problem underlying them all?  I think that problem is that many people don’t really understand what they are, who they are, or what they are a part of.  They are perpetually insecure and life is never just good enough on this planet.  They require perpetual “progress” and they are perpetually fearful of the “outside” world.  As a result, they are always afraid of everything.  If you are afraid of everything, then you attempt to control everything (we use technology, laws, and rules), but the end result of that process would be total control:  totalitarianism.  How do you have freedom when your society has total control over everything?  Technology, laws and rules are very useful in certain situations, but taking all of these things to the extreme would be kind of dumb, right?

What is the point of life, then?  Were you really born just to out-compete everyone else for the Earth’s finite resources? To consume vast amounts of these resources (materialism/consumerism), and to just complain about it all (“work’s such a drag” or “my car sucks” or “my phone sucks”), and then die?  I don’t think so, I mean, how is that not a pretty lame way to live?  Regardless of your opinion on materialism/consumerism, many resource geologists over the decades including M. K. Hubbert, Walter Younquist, and Colin Campbell have pointed out that materialism/consumerism as a way of life is inevitably screwed no matter what you think of it because of geologic depletion problems.

Is life really supposed to be just a struggle for resources?  Or does the Machine (industrial culture) and its high priests and priestesses (neoclassical economists) just benefit from us thinking about life in that way?  Gotta go out and compete against everyone else for those scarce resources:  jobs, cars, houses, and spouses, right?  Wow, I really don’t buy that mindset as the best way to organize a society or a local community or to live a life.  I am calling the Machine out on its bluff:  I think it’s full of chickenshit bullshit.

Go outside at some point and observe a tree for a while.  Are you and the tree struggling/competing for resources (survival of the fittest)?  No!  You need the tree’s exhaled oxygen to live and the tree needs your exhaled carbon dioxide to live.  You are both working together and it’s all interconnected!  Even within individual species, many of the individual organisms form cooperative communities (human villages, packs of wolves, ant colonies, etc.).   So the statements “survival of the fittest” or “life is a struggle/competition” just depend on how you are looking at the situation; they depend on your frame of reference, and they depend on your mindset.  This goes for the human economy too.  A lot of very different industries work together as oppose to compete:  geologists and engineers in the mining industry mine the materials to make a computer and the engineers of the computer industry sell their computers to the geologists or engineers so they can better mine or recycle more materials!  They are all working together, it is not all just a competition!  Even within individual industries, like the computer industry, there is much cooperation between companies (e.g. they are using each others gadgets to develop new gadgets).

I think life can only be thought of as a perpetual struggle or competition if one has a fear of death.  Death of organisms, death of species, death of planets, death of stars…. But wait!  Most of the matter you see around you, including yourself, was created by the deaths (supernovas) of super-massive stars eons ago.  From death arises life!  It is the balance of nature.  It is the way of nature, and there is nothing to fear from it.  If you fear death then you fear life.  Ironically, it seems as if the “life is a struggle to avoid death, life is a competition” viewpoint taken to an extreme pushes humans to go to war, to cheat, to steal, to lie, so that everything we do in our lives seems to become a battle against someone else or something else.  We battle our own minds (anxiety, stress), we battle each other (verbally, legally or with physical weapons), and we battle the biosphere (pave it over).  Perpetual war at all scales of reality.  How is that not a stupid way to use the gift of life?

If so, why not have a different view of life?  If you have a personality that is naturally resistant to peer pressure (I think most people have this ability at some level), then why not take your ability all the way to its zenith?  Resist the underpinnings of the industrial culture mindset!  Most of it is a bunch of BS, anyway (though, there’s some good stuff in there too, to be sure).  We don’t really owe anything to industrial society because industrial society could not exist without Earth!  We owe everything to Earth.  The exponential growth industrial economy is going to die at some point (and is slowly dying now) because of either peak resources or runaway climate change, so why cling to it out of fear of change?  It served its purpose and now it’s time for it to go; it’s really very simple.  From death arises life.  A sustainable society of some sort will inevitably arise in it’s place, so we might as well get started on building that society sooner rather than later.

You can think of life on Earth as a bunch of “separate” organisms struggling for resources, as an endless competition with no real purpose, and as a perpetual battle at all scales of reality.  On the other hand, you can also think of all the life on Earth as a beautifully interconnected system that is working together towards some higher purpose (evolving).  The first viewpoint is responsible for a society that works against nature at every scale and is killing the very life-support systems (e.g. climate, biosphere, healthy mental state) it depends on for its survival.  I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out what kind of culture/society the other viewpoint will create.  Science tells us that in order to truly understand “reality” we must not project human “feelings” onto the reality “outside” of us.  But how the hell are the statements:  “survival of the fittest,” “life is just a competition for resources” or “life really has no higher purpose” not just projections of human insecurity emplaced on the infinite beauty of nature?  Evolution is a scientific fact, but there are many ways to interpret that fact, and I think I’ve made my choice of interpretation pretty damn clear.

If you think that creating a sustainable society and a better life for yourself is just too hard for whatever reason, then do you not realize that you are just being imprisoned by your own mental chains?  Break the chains.  If you want a practical way to slowly extricate yourself from this unsustainable and insecure culture, read this book:  http://www.amazon.com/Early-Retirement-Extreme-Philosophical-Independence/dp/145360121X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1429571645&sr=8-1&keywords=early+retirement+extreme.  This book basically lays out a way for an individual to break out of the materialism and consumerism ideals that permeate every aspect of our culture.  If you are truly enamored by our current culture and are perfectly happy with your life, then that’s fine too.  I just personally think a lot of people are “faking” it.  I know I was at one point.  Definitely take some time to make sure you aren’t faking it.

And just one more point about changing your mindset:   do people really think they need to memorize 5,000+ tips or facts on how to live a happy life or to be a good person?  What’s with all these endless books about 500 tips to ace the interview or 500 tips to ace your marriage?  How does any of that make any sense?  I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this past Saturday.  I think all it really takes to be truly happy and to be a good person is to change your viewpoint on what life is really all about.  If you are unhappy, change the way you think about life in general, stick to some general, fundamental principles and all of the infinitely complex external details of your life will crystallize together into a pretty good, but not perfect, life.  That’s how the Earth did it.  Just four fundamental spheres:  the hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere interact as one to create all the beautiful complexity you see around you.  Simply amazing.

So, that’s my manifesto on Earth and Life.  Welcome to the planet, folks!

Oh, and that reminds me to ask:  what would the Earth be without the Sun?  Without sunlight?  How are they really “separate” things? And what would the Sun be without….  Hey, wait a minute…

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Musings on Complexity: Interconnections Abound

Albert Einstein, in his theories of special relativity and general relativity, speculated that space, time, energy, matter and forces were not in fact “separate” entities in the “Newtonian” universe, as was commonly believed at the time.  He theorized that space and time were inseparable (spacetime) and energy and matter (E=mc²) were equivalent and that these “things” were all tightly coupled together with gravity. The theory was proven correct by subsequent experiments. Everything is interconnected! Truly one of the greatest discoveries of all time (uhhh… spacetime?) However, what is even more interesting to me is that these discoveries at the time and even today were and are described as COUNTER-INTUITIVE in most physics books.

Aaarrggh!!! What arrogance! If you read about tribes of hunters and gatherers, you’ll find that many of them believed that everything: humans, animals, plants, wind, water, Earth, the stars, and even time were all interconnected in a vast cosmic web:  oneness.  Ohhhh, how BARBARIC! What a PRIMITIVE idea! Hmmm, is relativity really counter-intuitive, or does it just seem that way because of the cultural baggage that gets packed into our brains by mass society?

Here we are in 2015 with many global problems, and what is our technocratic and “advanced” society trying to do to solve them? Do we really want to fully control our planet, and solve all social, ecological and environmental problems with measurement and technology? How could that not end up as totalitarianism? Even if we could theoretically have total control; practically speaking, how many problems today were caused by previous so-called “solutions”?  There’s been a lot of unintended consequences stemming from “solutions”.  How do we solve that problem? Our society is trying to quantify and control the infinite complexity of the universe! How could this possibly end well!? Do many scientists, engineers, economists, and other social scientists truly understand the implications of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem in mathematics? He proved that mathematics can never be both complete (every statement can be proved true or false) and consistent (can only the true statements be proved?)! This theorem has huge implications for quantitative science and for a society trying to quantify everything! If you think all of this is over your head, IT IS NOT! Here, if I have one grain of sand and another grain of sand, that makes two grains of sand, right? 1+1 = 2.  That’s true. Well, in reality, aren’t grains of sand composed of silicon and oxygen atoms, which are each composed of other particles down to the quantum level? 1+1 = 2 is quite a simplification!  How do you “objectively” apply that simple mathematical statement to extremely complicated reality?  I can’t believe our “advanced” culture does this with humans and social systems! 1 human + 1 human = 2 humans, right? WHAT!? We just reduced the infinite complexity of a human being to a SINGLE DIGIT!  Not to mention reducing the infinite complexity of a human relationship to the number 2.  Ohhh, I guess a human being is just another bit to be input into the computer to solve a problem, right!? Just another statistic!? That reminds me of that “Feel Like a Number” song by Bob Seger…

But C-Rock!!!! What you write here is heresy! How are we supposed to solve all of the world’s problems if what you say is true!? Aren’t computers and genetic algorithms and artificial intelligence going to save the world!? Oh my…. well, I personally believe each of us knows very deep down the difference between right and wrong, and how to live a good life. I mean, really, are another 100 exabytes of external data really going to make a difference for you in order to make the “right” decision?

I’m sick of all these damn measurements we make on everything. No wonder so many people, even in wealthy countries, are anxious, depressed, and confused, including myself at one point, before I realized it was all bullshit. Grade point averages, wages, net worth, age, prices, hours, minutes… good grief!  Well, these things do have their uses but to obsess over them as our society does is pathetic. The infinite beauty of life, of the universe, reduced to mere numbers. Yikes!  Putting a price on an ecosystem; on a human life? That’s progress? The benefits of our scientific and other kinds of progress are impossible to deny but the costs of progress are truly astronomical, and Earth has already begun instituting bankruptcy proceedings against our society in the form of climate change, fossil fuel depletion, and the depletion of high-grade mineral ores.  The growing Permaculture movement gives me hope that many people are finally starting to sense and do something about all of this on an individual level.

I don’t buy the whole measurement and price scheme thing (total technological and economic control) as a solution to everything and I’m someone who reads the World Almanac, chock full of data and numbers, for fun almost every day! I’m obsessed with data and numbers! Oh yeah, and I’m a scientist (geologist) as well! HAHA! I guess the econ-techno-totalitarian control freaks will have to send me away if I keep writing about this stuff! Ahh! One of our own is turning against the Machine, gotta keep him quiet! Thankfully, though, many of us live in democracies (imperfect ones) and I am far from the only scientist or engineer raising these questions.  Philosophers and other social scientists have always brought up these questions but they get drowned out by our society’s tendency to focus mostly on the progression of economics, science, and technology, which is unfortunate.

Alright, you can probably get a lot of people with a PhD in either physics, economics, philosophy, computer science, or psychology etc., to tell me that I’m being naïve, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and that I don’t know “how the world really works.” Yeah, but do they know everything? Type the word “complexity” into Google Scholar and you’ll get 4,120,000 results.  Wow, the study of complexity is complex!  Do they really know everything about complexity and how it affects their disciplines?  I sure don’t with geology.  Unintended consequences abound. Oh, and just a head’s up, never tell an Earth scientist that they “don’t know how the world really works.”

So what does all this mean for us? It means freedom! Think for yourself!  Be your own philosopher. You intuitively know the Golden Rule(s), you intuitively know what you want out of life, you intuitively know which technologies seem “right” or “OK” and the ones that are disturbing, and you intuitively know the things required to build a trustful, local community.  All of those timeless proverbs can’t all be wrong, can they?  I may not know everything or if the things I do know are truly right, but the one thing I do know for sure is that everything is interconnected in an infinitely beautiful cosmic web, and you know what?  That’s good enough for me.

Suggested Readings:

1984 George Orwell
Brave New World Aldous Huxley
Peeking at Peak Oil Kjell Aleklett
Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering The Planet Ugo Bardi
Overshoot: The Ecological Basis For Revolutionary Change William Catton, Jr.
Ishmael Daniel Quinn
Energy and the Wealth of Nations Charles A.S. Hall and Kent Klitgaard
Ascent of Humanity Charles Eisenstein
Complexity: A Guided Tour Melanie Mitchell or any other “systems thinking” book

The End of The Stone Age

According to Wikipedia, the Stone Age ended around 8,000 to 4,000 years ago (6,000 – 2,000 B.C.).  However, looking at these images below may make one think otherwise, right?

Stone Age
Clockwise from top left. Sunrise gold mine in Australia (Wikipedia), limestone quarry in Italy (Michael J. Zirbes), sand/gravel pit in New Jersey (Google Earth), Chuquicamata copper mine in Chile (Google Earth).

We still live in the Stone Age! We still live in the Bronze Age!  We still live in the Iron Age, Coal Age, Oil Age, Gas Age, and the Atomic Age!  In fact, given the billions of tons of soil, rock, minerals and fossil fuels that we move or extract each year, it seems as if humanity is living in these “ages” more than ever before.  Our current civilization has not moved past these ages, we have just added onto them with our technological advances.  We must remain humble, however, as these technological advances are the very reason why we are now even more inextricably linked to the materials of Earth than in all of human history.

Humans have created millions of amazing machines and other objects by extracting and cleverly rearranging naturally occurring elements from the Earth’s crust.  We even have technology (nuclear reactors) that can create elements from other elements (e.g. Americium in your smoke detector).  But come on! How do we get off saying that the Stone Age has ended?  Take a look inside your home or office and try to find something comprised of raw materials that do not include something taken from the Earth (soil nutrients, rock, minerals, fossil fuels, etc.).

Even if we develop asteroid mining operations in the future (it will be very difficult and expensive to do, I imagine) we will still be in a type of Stone Age (The Space Stone Age?).  Consequently, to think of ourselves as “above” or “past” the “primitive” Stone Age is quite arrogant and ironic, in my opinion (I know not everyone thinks that, but it seems to me that many do).

Historians and archaeologists in the year 3000 may look back and laugh at how we viewed our technological progression through history:

Speaker at a  future history/archaeology conference: “The people of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries actually told themselves the Stone Age ended 4,000 years before, even as they were blowing through the Earth’s ancient endowment of fossil fuels, metal ores, and topsoil in a matter of centuries.”

(Audience bursts into laughter)

“During this time period, some of these societies even described themselves with such words as ‘post-industrial’ or ‘sustainable’.”

(Audience falls out of their seats, tears of laughter streaming down their faces)

“While I must sincerely thank our ancestors for all of the wonderful technology they invented and their advancement of scientific knowledge, I have to ask:  did they really have to strip the Earth’s crust clean to do it? And did they have to do it with the hubris of saying they were past the Stone Age? I mean, really, what were they thinking?”