The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

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Iapetus
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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by Iapetus » March 7th, 2016, 5:26 am

Reply to Ormond:

We might also redirect some major research dollars away from basic science which won't pay off for a long time if ever to more closely examining the foundation of our modern culture, our relationship with knowledge. As just one example, we appear to be spending billions on things like uncovering atomic particles such as the Higgs Boson. Why not put that aside for a bit and invest in investigating our relationship with knowledge instead?

I've had this conversation many times, and there is a familiar pattern. Readers will typically consider possible solutions for about 2 minutes, fail to find one, and then declare that because they can't solve this problem nobody can. It doesn't seem to matter how educated they are, as I've seen big shot PHD scientists do the same thing.


I must admit to being more than a little peeved that you continue with this line of argument when I asked, in post #14, what I think are very relevant and significant questions which you have completely ignored. If you have had this conversation many times, then I wonder how often you may have shut your eyes to the inconvenient bits.

To remind you of just one paragraph:

"You could have said the same thing fifty years ago in relation to artificial satellites, antibiotics, prosthetics, the expanding universe, television, quantum theory, computers, the internet, DNA testing, agronomics and a million other scientific programs which, at the time, were in their infancy. Would you have stopped these on the basis that scientists did not know exactly where their research was going? Or would you have been selective? If you were selective, what criteria would you have employed to select? How would you know which programs were most likely to yield beneficial results? I doubt that computers would have been one of them. As late as 1977, Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977, stated, "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

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Ormond
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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by Ormond » March 7th, 2016, 11:51 am

Iapetus,

I apologize if I have not attended to some of your remarks, but I hope you'll understand that if I attempt to reply to every comment by every poster I become a thread hog. But at your request I will now address your points.

First, please observe carefully what is happening in our exchange, which I assure you is very common.

ME: I am arguing we should develop some new knowledge, additional understanding of how to manage knowledge, so that we can gain some control over our fate and not be powerless victims helplessly riding the wave of knowledge where ever it might take us.

YOU: You appear to be arguing against developing this new knowledge, and for continuing to do the same things we've always done, as if the times we must live in never change. So while you seem to sincerely feel you are arguing for the development of new knowledge, you are actually arguing against it.

You make the very common point....
The scientific progress which has enabled a world which, until recently, has been growing exponentially, to communicate more effectively, to be better fed, in better health than ever before with less absolute poverty. Due in large part to advances in science.
The very amazing power of science which you correctly point to is the existential threat I am attempting to point to. That power is not just a good thing, it is a good thing AND a bad thing. If you doubt this at all, please read up on nuclear weapons.

As the scale of the power of science grows at an ever accelerating rate it contains the potential to overwhelm the positive benefits of science. This has been an actual real world fact since about 1960 when we accumulated enough nukes to crush civilization. That was 56 years ago. It's about time to wake up to what is happening, and face the inconvenient new challenge with clear eyes.
If you think that you can stop people asking questions and wanting to know answers, well, good luck with that one.
I am asking questions and wanting to know answers in this thread, and you seem to be telling me to stop.
If you think that once knowledge has been attained, it can be controlled then, again, good luck.
Here again you seem to be telling us to forget about learning new knowledge of how to better control knowledge. Your argument appears to be, because we've never needed to control knowledge in the past, there is no chance of us learning how to do this when we do need to.

Again, what always happens in these threads is that posters think about this for 5 minutes, and because they personally can not come to an immediate perfect solution they then assert that nobody can, ever.
If knowledge achieved through scientific progress is largely pointless, then why do we bother with civilization?
I am arguing that your question is a valid one at this point in history.

I am arguing that it is dangerous for our culture not to be laser focused on the fact that everything we've built over the last 500 years, and everything we might build over the next 500 years, can all vanish in literally minutes. Instead of facing that clearly, we sweep it under the rug and continue the pell mell rush to develop even more existential scale technologies, as fast as we possibly can. This is literally insane.
Would you have stopped these on the basis that scientists did not know exactly where their research was going? Or would you have been selective? If you were selective, what criteria would you have employed to select? How would you know which programs were most likely to yield beneficial results?
These are just the kinds of questions this thread was designed to explore. Please note that you made no attempt to answer your own questions yourself, perhaps because you're not actually interested in learning something new, but only in defeating a fellow poster who is suggesting it's time for us to learn something new.

Here's the deal Iapetus, and my fellow posters. I just turned 64. I'm going to be dead soon. So the future I am asking you to look at does not belong to me, it belongs to you. This is your problem to solve not mine.

I'm sorry the old "more is better" dogma is becoming out of date. I'm sorry the 21st century will present you with enormous new challenges which will require radical new ways of thinking. I would say I'm sorry for rocking your comfortable routines, except that it's not me that doing the rocking, but the exponential nature of knowledge.

We should think about knowledge as a force of nature, for that is what it literally is. It's a natural process that's been underway since life first appeared upon this Earth long before humans came on the scene. The exponential nature of knowledge is part of the relentless movement towards ever increasing complexity which characterizes all of known reality.

Our entire human history has been defined by our attempts to manage the forces of nature. We have now arrived at the point where it's time to learn how to manage yet another force of nature, the exponential nature of knowledge. As has always been the case since the beginning, we adapt, or we die.
If the things we want to hear could take us where we want to go, we'd already be there.

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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by Iapetus » March 7th, 2016, 5:59 pm

Reply to Ormond:

I apologize if I have not attended to some of your remarks, but I hope you'll understand that if I attempt to reply to every comment by every poster I become a thread hog.



Mine was one of one of two posts in more than ten days. It would not exactly have required you to be a thread hog. Nonetheless, apology accepted.

First, please observe carefully what is happening in our exchange, which I assure you is very common.



Yes, I have observed very carefully what is happening. You have made a brief and incomplete summary of your original post and then completely misinterpreted what I said. You did this once before. I corrected you – in post #11 - but you did not reply.

YOU: You appear to be arguing against developing this new knowledge, and for continuing to do the same things we've always done, as if the times we must live in never change. So while you seem to sincerely feel you are arguing for the development of new knowledge, you are actually arguing against it.



Please quote me if you can find any example of my arguing against this ‘new knowledge’, which you have not, in any case, defined. If you have something specific to propose, then I welcome it. But you haven’t done so yet, other that suggesting diverting resources from projects with no obvious protocol for doing so. I have given you many examples of changes over the last fifty years and I indicated specifically that there were millions of others. For you to suggest that I was arguing for “continuing to do the same things we've always done” is an outrageous misrepresentation. Have you actually read what I wrote?

The very amazing power of science which you correctly point to is the existential threat I am attempting to point to. That power is not just a good thing, it is a good thing AND a bad thing. If you doubt this at all, please read up on nuclear weapons.



I pointed out some of the good things in response to your claim that “scientific progress is not only dangerous, but largely pointless” and I explained why I was doing so. My comments were therefore entirely relevant but you ignored them. Now you have the nerve to suggest that I don’t, perhaps, recognise that good and bad things can come from science. I started my post, #14, of February 21st, with a description of the threats of nuclear destruction in the early 1960s, yet you now suggest, “…if you doubt this at all, please read up on nuclear weapons”. You really should read posts before replying to and misrepresenting them.

I am asking questions and wanting to know answers in this thread, and you seem to be telling me to stop.



I shall quote you precisely what I said; “If you think that you can stop people asking questions and wanting to know answers, well, good luck with that one. If you think that once knowledge has been attained, it can be controlled then, again, good luck. Knowledge can be dangerous but is also hugely beneficial and you can’t put a genie back in the bottle”. How on earth do you interpret this as my suggesting that you should stop asking questions??! I stated quite specifically the very opposite! Unless, of course, you don’t include yourself as ‘people’.

The statement was very closely linked to your original post, where you mentioned the acceleration of ‘knowledge development’ and doubts about whether it could be successfully managed. If my response what not in exactly the form which you anticipated, then that is unfortunate. It is called discussion. I did not offer solutions but, then, neither did you, beyond suggesting that we talk about it. Which I was doing.

You responded to a statement of mine:
“Would you have stopped these on the basis that scientists did not know exactly where their research was going? Or would you have been selective? If you were selective, what criteria would you have employed to select? How would you know which programs were most likely to yield beneficial results?"

These are just the kinds of questions this thread was designed to explore. Please note that you made no attempt to answer your own questions yourself, perhaps because you're not actually interested in learning something new, but only in defeating a fellow poster who is suggesting it's time for us to learn something new.



You are right; I don’t have answers to the questions I posed. But then I was not the one who suggested limiting scientific research. You mentioned the search for the Higgs Boson specifically but you also mentioned projects with “no known practical benefit”. I gave you plenty of examples of projects which, at the time of their initiation, had no known benefit but which we now find indispensible. My questions are entirely relevant and pertinent and it is shameful that you are trying to dismiss them so glibly.

I don’t have to defend a “‘more is better’ dogma” to adopt a more optimistic outlook than you. I was not negative in my comments. I agreed that we need to discuss these issues, even if you are incredibly vague about our ‘relationship with knowledge’. I thought that Richard Feynman had very interesting ideas about this and I attached a link to one of his videos. I didn’t oblige you watch it but I was demonstrating my awareness of the significance of your questions.

I think that the attention I gave to your questions deserved more than the misrepresentations with which you came back. Perhaps you could read them more carefully this time.

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JamesOfSeattle
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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by JamesOfSeattle » March 7th, 2016, 6:44 pm

Ormand, you reference the "more is better dogma" in each of your posts. I suggest that at least some of us are not following this dogma. Instead, we are recognizing what you recognized in your most recent post: more [knowledge] is not better, it's natural, which is to say, it's inevitable. You seem to be suggesting that we should slow down research, but I'm fairly certain (sorry, no references, but I can find them if I must) that to begin a program of restricting research is tantamount to abdicating control of the future to someone else.

You are, of course, in good company in recognizing the coming of an existential threat (google "Hawking and Musk and Gates"). The particular threat everyone recognizes as coming (and strangely not mentioned yet, if I'm not mistaken) is super intelligence. The paradigm case is the paper clip maximizer. If someone magically invented the superintelligent paper clip maximizer today, we would be SOL. The thing is, nobody will be inventing that today. The hard part when thinking about it is that we don't know what other technologies will be around when it becomes possible to create a super intelligent maximizer. I can only assume, however, that if we can create a super intelligent paper clip maximizer, we can also create a super intelligent police force that can detect when some idiot is trying to create a maximizer in his garage, or perhaps a super intelligent atmospheric grid that can detect/prevent/isolate a gray goo /paper clip incident before it gets out of control.

I am gratified, and I guess satisfied, that very intelligent people are recognizing the threat, and creating institutions to examine these issues now. It has also been recognized, by another poster and more famously by Hawking, that one of the most important things we need to do is get humanity out into space, so that a disaster on Earth does not have to mean a total loss for humanity.

*

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Ormond
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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by Ormond » March 7th, 2016, 7:48 pm

Iapetus wrote:For you to suggest that I was arguing for “continuing to do the same things we've always done” is an outrageous misrepresentation. Have you actually read what I wrote?
No offense, but I'm not all that interested in fantasy victim melodrama. Let's just skip all that if we can.

However, I would be interested in better understanding what exactly it is you are arguing for. How do you propose we meet a coming era of ever accelerating knowledge development which will inevitably produce new powers of existential scale?
I pointed out some of the good things in response to your claim that “scientific progress is not only dangerous, but largely pointless” and I explained why I was doing so.
I agree science has produced many good things. That agreed upon fact does not automatically equal science not also being dangerous.
My comments were therefore entirely relevant but you ignored them. Now you have the nerve to suggest that I don’t, perhaps, recognise that good and bad things can come from science.
Ok, for the record, I'm going to power scroll through these kinds of victim comments. You are of course still free to post them if you wish.
I started my post, #14, of February 21st, with a description of the threats of nuclear destruction in the early 1960s, yet you now suggest, “…if you doubt this at all, please read up on nuclear weapons”. You really should read posts before replying to and misrepresenting them.
It's a normal tendency for forum posters, this one included, to think their posts are the most important contributions which simply must be attended to.
I shall quote you precisely what I said; “If you think that you can stop people asking questions and wanting to know answers, well, good luck with that one. If you think that once knowledge has been attained, it can be controlled then, again, good luck. Knowledge can be dangerous but is also hugely beneficial and you can’t put a genie back in the bottle”.
Yes, this is your assertion that because we've not faced this challenge previously we therefore can not meet it now. My response is that if we limit our engagement on this issue to chanting "we can't do it, we can't do it, we can't do it" then we are probably right.
I did not offer solutions but, then, neither did you, beyond suggesting that we talk about it. Which I was doing.
You're not responding to the challenge presented by accelerating knowledge development. You're responding to words presented by me. If you succeed in defeating me, perhaps by boring me to death, the challenge from knowledge development will remain untouched and you will have accomplished nothing of any significance for all your typing.
You are right; I don’t have answers to the questions I posed.
Ok, me neither, now we are making progress. It should come as no surprise that two posters on a tiny net forum don't immediately have a replacement for what is perhaps the primary dogma of the human experience, a more is better relationship with knowledge.
But then I was not the one who suggested limiting scientific research.
I didn't suggest limiting, I suggested shifting the focus.
My questions are entirely relevant and pertinent and it is shameful that you are trying to dismiss them so glibly.
It is so sad how tragically I have abused you. I'm sure the entire forum feels your pain and will be organizing a benefit for your speedy recovery.
I think that the attention I gave to your questions deserved more than the misrepresentations with which you came back. Perhaps you could read them more carefully this time.
Let's try this:

1) Please summarize your most important points as concisely as you can, and I will focus on them.

2) Please drop the whining.

Thank you.

-- Updated March 7th, 2016, 8:19 pm to add the following --

Hi James,
JamesOfSeattle wrote:Ormand, you reference the "more is better dogma" in each of your posts. I suggest that at least some of us are not following this dogma. Instead, we are recognizing what you recognized in your most recent post: more [knowledge] is not better, it's natural, which is to say, it's inevitable.
And you may very be right, I entirely agree. However, I'm just pointing out that floods, forest fires, bacteria, disease, hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, and many other forces of nature are also inevitable, and we haven't thrown our hands up in the air and chanted "there is nothing we can do".

We have instead rolled up our sleeves and attempted to meet and and manage the challenges presented by all the other inconvenient natural forces we have previously encountered. I'm proposing that exploding knowledge is an emerging natural force which now requires our attention.

We're already doing this on other fronts. As example, for most of our past food was routinely scarce and so we understandably had a "more is better" relationship with food, for a very long time. But in some parts of the world at least, we are emerging from the scarcity past in to an era where food is routinely plentiful. And we are realizing that a "more is better" relationship with food is now a threat, as it leads to obesity, diabetes and other serious health problems.

And so we are adjusting to the era of plenty. We are discarding the ancient "more is better" relationship with food, and becoming more discerning and sophisticated about how we consume food.

I'm arguing that we are in the same position with knowledge, emerging from an era of scarcity in to an era of plenty, and thus the same kind of adjustment is required. Like it or not, we are leaving the "more is better" era.
You seem to be suggesting that we should slow down research, but I'm fairly certain (sorry, no references, but I can find them if I must) that to begin a program of restricting research is tantamount to abdicating control of the future to someone else.
I agree this is going to be a big challenge, no argument there. We are going to have to learn something very new and difficult. My argument is nonetheless that our future depends on meeting this challenge. In every era, we adapt or we die.
You are, of course, in good company in recognizing the coming of an existential threat (google "Hawking and Musk and Gates"). The particular threat everyone recognizes as coming (and strangely not mentioned yet, if I'm not mistaken) is super intelligence.
Yes, agreed, AI is one of the big possible threats. I tend to focus on nuclear weapons only because that threat already exists and is very easy to understand, you know, it's far less theoretical. My reasoning is that if we won't respond decisively to a threat as immediate as nukes, why talk about AI?
I am gratified, and I guess satisfied, that very intelligent people are recognizing the threat, and creating institutions to examine these issues now.
Hmm.... I have yet to meet a scientist who responds to this challenge with anything other than dismissive fatalism, the same argument you were making above regarding exploding knowledge being natural, inevitable. Their solutions are always, yes you guessed it right, more science. More of "more is better". Thus, I have concluded they don't really grasp the nature of the problem.
It has also been recognized, by another poster and more famously by Hawking, that one of the most important things we need to do is get humanity out into space, so that a disaster on Earth does not have to mean a total loss for humanity.
Exactly what the last scientist I talked with about a month ago said. All such a highly futuristic idea would do is multiply the problem and shift it to other locations. A crash of civilization will be a calamity for whoever is in attendance whether it happens on Earth, Mars, or some other location.

In any case, I personally doubt that we have hundreds of years to solve this problem. That would require avoiding all out wars for hundreds of years, something that has never happened once in all of human history. That would require successfully managing every other technology of existential scale every single day from now until the great migration.

What I've learned from my conversations so far is that it's unrealistic to look to scientists for a solution. They have a natural and understandable but very strong bias for the "more is better" dogma, because it is the foundation of their careers and all their power. They aren't evil, just not at all objective on this particular subject. Please observe how easily Hawkings proposal is debunked by someone with only a small fraction of his intelligence.
If the things we want to hear could take us where we want to go, we'd already be there.

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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by Aristocles » March 7th, 2016, 10:01 pm

Aristocles wrote:I disagree prima facia with both assertions. However, I agree humans cannot successfully manages all the power we appear to understand. (I think Atreyu made a similar case for which I agree on another post).

ASSERTION #1: I disagree because the creation of power is false power if it is self-defeating (i.e. it was never power if it cannot accomplish that for which we declare it has power).

ASSERTION #2: I cannot agree as written, because I disagree with OP #1. However, I agree science itself is seemingly pointless. For science to have a point, it must enter the realm of philosophy. I do consider the practical application of science to have purpose, but only because there is a form of philosophy built into the application. The philosophical aspects appear to be where we consider reasoned debate in "science." Science itself appears to be more of a discipline aspiring to examine one thing, less purposeful, more analytic than purposeful.

I do agree the patterned history of the world is marked by patterned dialectical conflict and the world appears ripe for something cataclysmic of a wide scale, but I think there is also a clear pattern of such thoughts being normal from generation to generation, making any actual event near impossible to actually predict.
In short, I am not seeing "knowledge" accelerate. I see minutia and different perspectives ejaculated, but little furthering of a framework of historical knowledge. I am not seeing knowledge greater than those ancients for which I have aspired to base the claims for which I have made.

With the example of food used, it became clear we may not be much better off than centuries prior. So how is it the more is better mantra appears to not be the actual mantra for which is being argued? Is it not being explained that a greater amount of actual knowlege, knowledge of a more philosophical extent, a scientific knowledge with a purpose, is the best attempt at alleviating the seeming inevitable cliff?

Even if I have a given member blocked, I still try to read posts to better understand anything I may have missed, a microcosmic aspiration for which this thread appears to attempt to delve.

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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by Iapetus » March 8th, 2016, 10:47 am

Reply to Ormond:

No offense, but I'm not all that interested in fantasy victim melodrama. Let's just skip all that if we can.



Ok, for the record, I'm going to power scroll through these kinds of victim comments.



It's a normal tendency for forum posters, this one included, to think their posts are the most important contributions which simply must be attended to.



If you succeed in defeating me, perhaps by boring me to death, the challenge from knowledge development will remain untouched and you will have accomplished nothing of any significance for all your typing.



It is so sad how tragically I have abused you. I'm sure the entire forum feels your pain and will be organizing a benefit for your speedy recovery.



Please drop the whining.



When this is what you resort to when presented, in a philosophy forum, with relevant and justified comments, explained in detail with specific examples in a spirit of challenge and enquiry, then it says more about you than it does about me. They are classic avoidance tactics. I think you would do well to take a lesson or two in basic civility.

My complaint was not, primarily, that you did not reply. It was that you used an argument, relating to projects such as the Higgs Boson, to which I had presented a counter argument. You ignored my objections and continued, later, to use the same argument with somebody else. I thought that I was justified in being peeved about this. Moreover, you seem to take pleasure in misrepresenting positions and you try to use this as an argumentative tactic. It is dishonest. I pointed out four examples and you have ignored them, as you have with most of my other comments.

I was looking for enlightening discussion. I am clearly not going to get one with you.

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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by Ormond » March 8th, 2016, 11:42 am

When this is what you resort to when presented, in a philosophy forum, with relevant and justified comments, explained in detail with specific examples in a spirit of challenge and enquiry, then it says more about you than it does about me. They are classic avoidance tactics. I think you would do well to take a lesson or two in basic civility.
Ok, no problem, I have a solution. Welcome to my ignore list. Please add me to yours too so that you won't have to be further victimized by my abhorrent behavior, thank you.
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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by Steve3007 » March 15th, 2016, 8:04 am

I feel like getting this topic going again. So here goes.

OK. Problem: The human race probably has the ability to invent more and more efficient ways to kill each other and/or destroy our environment's ability to support life. How do we limit/stop that from happening?


Some partial answers to consider:

Global human population control, to limit the impact on our environment of 7 billion+ people.

Global laws limiting the environmental impact of our consumption.

Global government. Organizations such as the League of Nations, followed by the UN, were shaky and imperfect steps in approximately the right direction.


Those three examples all contain the word "global". Can anybody think of measures that don't need to involve the enforcement of some kind of global cooperation?

What do we propose individual political leaders should do or say?

I think that last question is a particularly important one. A typical discussion of the cause of, and solution to, the world's problems generally involves statements about what large groups of people ought to simultaneously do. In extreme cases it sometimes involves suggestions as to what everybody in the world should simultaneously do. "We should all stop fighting wars and live peacefully together" etc. These sorts of statements are easy to make but impossible to enforce because nobody in the world, whether they are a president or a pauper, has the ability to force the actions or words of others. We are all in control of the actions and words of just one person - ourselves. Some of us can use those actions and words to attempt to cause other people to perform various actions or speak various words. The US president, for example, is probably in a better position to persuade others than I am. But he still has to try to persuade. He has to work with others. As we can see from considering that example, he doesn't always succeed in getting what he wants.

So, in trying to find solutions to the world's problems, I don't think we're allowed to say things like "Country X should stop bombing country Y" or "We should set up a world government". We have to try to confine ourselves to thinking of actions and words that could actually be carried out by individual politicians or other people and considering the constraints under which those people have to act and talk.

-- Updated Tue Mar 15, 2016 1:49 pm to add the following --

Ormond:

I've just read through the entire topic again to make sure I haven't missed anything. The continuously recurring themes appear to be essentially these:

1. Knowledge is a force of nature.

2. We need to learn how to control that force.

3. We need to learn that more is not always better in the field of knowledge as we have already done in some other fields.

4. We need to divert large sums of money away from various areas of scientific research and towards discussion of our relationship with knowledge.

5. I don't know how we will do this, but we need to discuss it.

Personally, I can't help thinking about such thing practically. I would like to consider actionable ideas - ideas that can be translated into actual government policy. The main thing that strikes me about the above points is that they cannot be about anything other than education. Another incidental thing that strikes me is that point 4 is irrelevant to the argument. The amount of money we spend on this educational endeavour is not as important, at this stage, as working out what we would like to teach. Also, if point 5 is true then I can see why people tend to drift away and stop discussing this. To keep people interested we need ideas. It's not possible to sustain a discussion for long by simply repeating that we have a big problem with no practical solutions.

So, let's suggest some. What would we like to teach?

How about, if we were in a position of power in government, working towards mandating that all schools must add a major new element to the school curriculum. The major new element would be given a role at least as central as Mathematics and English. It would teach the next generation about the dangers of too much knowledge on certain specific subjects.

Does that sound like a good starting point? If so, can we think of any details that must be included in this new major section of the high school curriculum?

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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by Togo1 » March 15th, 2016, 11:51 am

Could we also find time to discuss what the flaws are in the present set of controls?

Because we don't, in fact, consider more knowledge about anthrax to be better, which is why it's so tightly controlled. Try and conduct nuclear research in your garden shed, as was common in the 1940s and 50s, and you'll be arrested. We already have formidable mechanisms for diverting research to fields that have already been identified as useful.

Generally speaking, destroying humanity is not useful. So we don't do much research on it. The peril, presumably then, comes from research with unexpected side effects. There's an obvious problem with banning thing that might have unexpected side effects - they're unexpected.

So it's not enough, in my mind, to talk about putting on controls, or diverting money and effort into 'understanding what we're doing', because that's research in itself, and already funded. What are we proposing here that's different? Or is it just that we need more of the same?

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Re: The Knowledge Explosion - Racing Towards A Cliff

Post by Ormond » March 15th, 2016, 12:54 pm

Steve3007 wrote:I've just read through the entire topic again to make sure I haven't missed anything. The continuously recurring themes appear to be essentially these:

1. Knowledge is a force of nature.

2. We need to learn how to control that force.

3. We need to learn that more is not always better in the field of knowledge as we have already done in some other fields.

4. We need to divert large sums of money away from various areas of scientific research and towards discussion of our relationship with knowledge.

5. I don't know how we will do this, but we need to discuss it.
Thanks Steve, that's a great concise summary, most likely needed at this point in the thread.
The main thing that strikes me about the above points is that they cannot be about anything other than education.
Ok, that seems a reasonable and constructive point.
Another incidental thing that strikes me is that point 4 is irrelevant to the argument. The amount of money we spend on this educational endeavour is not as important, at this stage, as working out what we would like to teach.
Well, not to quibble, but figuring out what to teach seems just the first step in the process, a step that should be well funded.
Also, if point 5 is true then I can see why people tend to drift away and stop discussing this. To keep people interested we need ideas.
Ok, fair point, good plan.
It's not possible to sustain a discussion for long by simply repeating that we have a big problem with no practical solutions.
I agree again, but would remind you that the vast majority of people who encounter this topic have no idea that we have a big problem. Without such an understanding, they understandably have little motivation to seek solutions.
How about, if we were in a position of power in government, working towards mandating that all schools must add a major new element to the school curriculum. The major new element would be given a role at least as central as Mathematics and English. It would teach the next generation about the dangers of too much knowledge on certain specific subjects.
Ok, thanks for a constructive idea. I haven't had a chance to give this sufficient thought, so the following is just a first impression.

As you'd suspect, I agree with the thrust of your idea. We might shift the focus to our relationship with knowledge more generally, showing that relationship to be the defining property of the human experience, a foundation from which many good and bad things can flow.

I'm trying to recognize here that the "more is better" relationship with knowledge is the primary dogma of modern civilization, and that attacking it head on without a lot of context is likely to make it seem a political (or even religious) effort rather than an educational one. In other words, we probably shouldn't put this bomb throwing writer in charge of the curriculum. :-)

I do agree with your idea of making this a central topic in education, given that it is a central topic in the human experience. If we get this part right, we can improve on the details as we go.

As example, perhaps we can expand on conversations already underway across the culture on topics such as our relationship with our devices and the net. People can relate to this, because they all have devices and a relationship with them.

Perhaps the more general education can be directed towards the young, while the big picture bottom line is better directed at those already in power whose job it is to be thought leaders and make decisions today.

We need highly articulate intellectual shock troops who can lead a cultural revolution that might be compared to the political revolution Bernie Sanders and his supporters are trying to lead.

I'm not keeping up with you in terms of constructive ideas here, will try to catch up as I conquer the Green Slime Flu Monster currently in residence here.

-- Updated March 17th, 2016, 8:25 am to add the following --

Steve,

This flu must be rotting my brain because it took me all day to think of the most obvious answer to your request for specific solutions.

What could be a better target for our efforts than nuclear weapons?

1) Nuclear weapons are a very real current threat, not a speculative maybe someday concern.

2) Nuclear weapons are extremely easy to understand.

3) Nuclear weapons give us something very relevant, specific and huge to work on right now.

It seems it would be close to impossible to develop a clearer example of the threat posed by knowledge development than nuclear weapons.

Having a such a thoroughly clear example should reveal to us how utterly unprepared we are to challenge the "more is better" relationship with knowledge dogma.

To the best of my knowledge, this issue has not been referenced even once in the current presidential campaign, even as a bellicose lunatic marches confidently towards the Oval Office.

Yes, people are worried about Trump, but not the nuclear weapons he may inherit. All the focus is on Trump the person, as if he was the real problem.

Point being, the "more is better" relationship with knowledge dogma is so old and so huge that we are very unlikely to edit it with reason alone. Reason isn't going to work, what is needed here is fear.

Our best hope may be that some knowledge driven technology spins out of control and scares the living crap out of us, but then doesn't do too much damage.

The educational processes we've started to discuss above should probably have as their goal preparing the public for that moment, so that when the wave of fear arrives, that isn't the first time people have heard of these issues.

Thanks for keeping the thread alive. I'll try to stay alive long enough myself to help you keep it moving forward. :-)

-- Updated March 17th, 2016, 8:43 am to add the following --

Hi Togo,
Togo1 wrote:Could we also find time to discuss what the flaws are in the present set of controls?
Ok.
We already have formidable mechanisms for diverting research to fields that have already been identified as useful.
Fair enough, it does seem useful to remind ourselves that there is some understanding of the threat already in place.
Generally speaking, destroying humanity is not useful. So we don't do much research on it.
While generally true, nuclear weapons pose a rather enormous contradiction to this principle.
The peril, presumably then, comes from research with unexpected side effects.
Yes, this seems a good summary. One possible response to this truth might be to focus on the overall pace of knowledge development. If we could slow the overall pace, we'd have more time to see the unexpected coming.

There's an obvious problem with banning thing that might have unexpected side effects - they're unexpected.
So it's not enough, in my mind, to talk about putting on controls, or diverting money and effort into 'understanding what we're doing', because that's research in itself, and already funded. What are we proposing here that's different? Or is it just that we need more of the same?
Where is the research in to understanding the threat posed by our "more is better" relationship with knowledge?

I see concerns being expressed about particular technologies such as say, genetic engineering, but not a focus on the underlying bottom line issue, our relationship with knowledge. Here's a theory of why that might be...

Scientists are the experts in the knowledge development business. Science is reductionist in nature, that is, it works by dividing challenges in to smaller and smaller fragments. Thus we see the typical scientist is a specialist by nature, that is, their mind was born to focus like a laser on narrow issues.

This reductionist process is clearly very useful, but I think it tends to blind the typical scientist to the larger issues beyond the narrow reductionist stovepipe of their own particular field.

Thus, a problem I see is that the "science clergy" has the cultural authority to lead an investigation in to our relationship with knowledge, they don't have the needed big picture focus, and they have a natural bias against challenging the "more is better" dogma which is the source of their cultural power.

-- Updated March 17th, 2016, 8:45 am to add the following --

I neglected to properly quote this sentence from Togo..
There's an obvious problem with banning thing that might have unexpected side effects - they're unexpected.
If the things we want to hear could take us where we want to go, we'd already be there.

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