What is to be gained by denying science?

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Ormond
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » February 8th, 2017, 3:04 pm

Steve3007 wrote: How far back do we decide to nip potentially dangerous technologies in the bud? Should we have forgone the benefits of electric lighting in order to stop nuclear weapons?
How about a strategy of first things first? Nuclear weapons are the most pressing threat at the moment. We could focus our efforts on that for now. This doesn't solve all the challenges that will arise out of the knowledge explosion, but it gives us something concrete and specific to start with. Such a strategy pulls the rug out from under all those who will say there's nothing we can do. We can do this.

So, 50% of all science research redirected to the nuclear issue, now, today, right away, without further delay.

We might task scientists with developing techniques to reliably find all fissile material anywhere on Earth, as just one example of how to proceed. Once we know how to find it all, next step is develop strategies for destroying it. Next task, finding any centrifuge operation, and destroying that. Etc...

Or perhaps there is a much better way of going about it. With 50% of all research funding now directed at this issue, somebody far smarter than us will figure it out.

There's nothing stopping us from taking specific concrete constructive action right now.
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fooloso4 » February 8th, 2017, 10:20 pm

Ormond:
If you know of conversations that stand back from the particulars of this or that field and address the knowledge explosion as a whole …
You might think this predictable and a “gotcha” but I have no interest in shooting fish in a barrel. You greatly overestimate the novelty of the question. Once again all you need to do is Google “problem of knowledge explosion”.

One thing you will find is that different people identify different things as the problem.

The knowledge explosion “as a whole” is too vague to be addressed in any meaningful way. The volume of knowledge, for example, is a very different problem than the problem of the danger of technology. The problem of the volume of knowledge in literature is very different than the problem of the volume of knowledge in medicine.

I note that despite your telling me to address knowledge as a whole in your post following mine you say:
How about a strategy of first things first? Nuclear weapons are the most pressing threat at the moment.
Let’s look at how you propose to address the problem:
So, 50% of all science research redirected to the nuclear issue, now, today, right away, without further delay.
This is a perfect example of ignorance attempting to control knowledge. If by science research you mean what researchers are doing it makes no sense. Taking them away from what they know and expecting them to work on something they may know little or nothing of does not help anyone. If you mean research dollars such a plan would not only not be effective it would be unfeasible, and ultimately disastrous. Not only is it not clear how throwing money at the problem is going to help, sources of funding are tied to specific research and those who fund the research are not going to just fund your program instead. The repercussions of defunding research would be far reaching. Universities would be the first and immediate victims. Whole departments would have to shut down. Important research would be scraped, and innumerable benefits lost.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Atreyu » February 9th, 2017, 5:28 pm

I find the phrase "denying" science interesting, because we are not supposed to believe in scientific theories. To me, saying one should not "deny science" implies that one is supposed to take their theories as true and complete. Actually, the foundation of science is not believing in anything, not even in one's own theories...

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » February 10th, 2017, 7:16 am

Ormond wrote:So, 50% of all science research redirected to the nuclear issue, now, today, right away, without further delay.
Fooloso4 wrote:If by science research you mean what researchers are doing it makes no sense. Taking them away from what they know and expecting them to work on something they may know little or nothing of does not help anyone. If you mean research dollars such a plan would not only not be effective it would be unfeasible, and ultimately disastrous. Not only is it not clear how throwing money at the problem is going to help, sources of funding are tied to specific research and those who fund the research are not going to just fund your program instead. The repercussions of defunding research would be far reaching. Universities would be the first and immediate victims. Whole departments would have to shut down. Important research would be scraped, and innumerable benefits lost.
I will again direct you to my request above that members either accept my theory and then propose responses to the challenge, or reject the theory and explain why the status quo can safely continue. Where do you stand, accept or reject, and why?

If you accept the theory then it should be obvious that the current research you reference in the quote above is essentially meaningless, as the fruits that research produces will all be swept aside in the coming collapse.

If you reject the theory, then please explain how humanity will successfully manage ever greater powers arriving at ever faster rates. Please explain how we will maintain a perfect record of managing existential scale powers forever.

And please try to disengage your ego from the inquiry, as a contest between your ego and mine is a very small business indeed. You're a very intelligent well educated person, please apply that talent to either trying to solve the problem, or explaining why there isn't a problem. Nobody actually wants this problem to exist, so if you can prove that it doesn't, everybody including me will be happy to hear it.
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Steve3007 » February 11th, 2017, 6:20 am

Ormond to Fooloso4:
If you accept the theory then it should be obvious that the current research you reference in the quote above is essentially meaningless, as the fruits that research produces will all be swept aside in the coming collapse.
If he accepts the theory and accepts what you say above that still doesn't address the point that throwing money at the problem will not help in any clearly visible way.

As above:
And please try to disengage your ego from the inquiry, as a contest between your ego and mine is a very small business indeed...
A quick diversion to the subject of how these kinds of discussions almost always tend to develop:

In Fooloso4's recent comments I didn't see any obvious evidence that ego was getting the upper hand over rational argument; at least by comparison with the general standard of these kinds of discussions. And the danger of saying that is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you accuse people of being ego driven, I've observed, they often tend to bridle at it and make personal comments right back at you, and before you know it, the whole thing really is ego driven and we're back to the familiar old pattern of people just shouting insults, sarcasm and mockery at each other that we know so well from forums like this.

I find this whole issue of ego and blame versus jointly, rationally looking for answers to a problem interesting as it related to my work life in managing projects which often go through various crises and panics and involve several "stakeholders" (to use horrible management jargon). Even with a friendly, close-knit team of people it is, in my direct experience, extraordinarily difficult to persuade people to simply analyze a problem, figure out what went wrong and look for a solution without it turning into an exercise in working out who is to blame and covering one's own a**s. In my quest (as I stated it earlier) to figure out what leads people to act as they do in the context of geo-politics and WMDs I guess that's probably a big factor to be considered.

OK. Diversion over. More later.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Eduk » February 11th, 2017, 6:31 am

I find this whole issue of ego and blame versus jointly, rationally looking for answers to a problem interesting as it related to my work life in managing projects which often go through various crises and panics and involve several "stakeholders" (to use horrible management jargon). Even with a friendly, close-knit team of people it is, in my direct experience, extraordinarily difficult to persuade people to simply analyze a problem, figure out what went wrong and look for a solution without it turning into an exercise in working out who is to blame and covering one's own a**s.
In my experience this is because the wrong people are hiring the wrong people. A tricky problem to resolve indeed. Resolving this problem would fix your problems and the problems of the world detailed in this post.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Steve3007 » February 11th, 2017, 6:40 am

A bit more:

Ormond:
How about a strategy of first things first? Nuclear weapons are the most pressing threat at the moment. We could focus our efforts on that for now. This doesn't solve all the challenges that will arise out of the knowledge explosion, but it gives us something concrete and specific to start with. Such a strategy pulls the rug out from under all those who will say there's nothing we can do. We can do this.
In getting specific here it sounds like you're talking about some kind of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks or Non-Proliferation Treaties. Sounds like an excellent idea, but it is something that has already been tried. So a good first step on this one might be to examine how these kinds of processes have been going so far and, if they're no longer progressing, why, and how we restart them.

For example, would rapprochement between the Trump and Putin governments be a good thing? For the greater good of reducing the threat of devastating global nuclear war, would it be best if we let slide the various reasons why relations with Russia have got bad, ease off on the sanctions and pave the way for talks on nuclear weapons de-escalation? I'm not pre-judging the answer to that question. Just putting it out there for discussion.
We might task scientists with developing techniques to reliably find all fissile material anywhere on Earth, as just one example of how to proceed. Once we know how to find it all, next step is develop strategies for destroying it. Next task, finding any centrifuge operation, and destroying that. Etc...
Sounds promising, but with a hell of a lot of devil in the detail. The fact that fissile material is a bi-product of ostensibly peaceful nuclear power generation is one example. The fact that it could only ever be completely gathered up would be by one country forcefully taking it from another is another. But definitely worth marking this one as worth more discussion.
Or perhaps there is a much better way of going about it. With 50% of all research funding now directed at this issue, somebody far smarter than us will figure it out.
OK, so you're being a bit more specific about this 50% thing now. We're going to employ lots and lots of people to figure out how to do things like investigating, monitoring and attempting to reduce such things as Iranian nuclear research. And I guess they're going to have to deal with the political problem of how to persuade various governments, such as the governments of Iran and North Korea, to abandon all such things. Analyzing the extent to which this has, or has not, been successful with Iran might be a good start. (Note: I use the word "persuade" in its widest possible sense.)

-- Updated Sat Feb 11, 2017 11:42 am to add the following --

Eduk:
In my experience this is because the wrong people are hiring the wrong people. A tricky problem to resolve indeed. Resolving this problem would fix your problems and the problems of the world detailed in this post.
In the industry in which I work a big part of this problem is the fact that skills required to be an engineer and skills required to be a manager rarely coincide in the same person. And having non-engineering managers and engineers who lack interpersonal skills presents its own problems.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » February 11th, 2017, 8:30 am

Steve3007 wrote:In getting specific here it sounds like you're talking about some kind of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks or Non-Proliferation Treaties. Sounds like an excellent idea, but it is something that has already been tried. So a good first step on this one might be to examine how these kinds of processes have been going so far and, if they're no longer progressing, why, and how we restart them.
I'm for such treaties obviously, but actually I was referring to a massive investment in science research aimed at finding and eliminating the fissile material necessary for any bomb. As example, a key threat now is terrorist use of nukes, which could possibly trigger a larger conflict between nation states. If all the fissile material is under that control of nation states then this risk is lessened.

Another example of a purely technical solution was Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). If successful that would reduce or eliminate the threat from ballistic missiles, especially from small nuke powers such as the North Koreans.

I'm not arguing for or against any specific plan, only making the point that throwing money at the problem can have an impact.

I'm focusing on nukes for the moment not because I think success in eliminating nukes would solve the overall knowledge explosion problem, but rather to silence the line of reasoning which insists there's nothing we can do, that we have no choice but to retreat in to defeatism and gallows humor etc.
For example, would rapprochement between the Trump and Putin governments be a good thing?
If such a rapprochement led to a substantial arms control progress, yes. If it's just giving Russian aggression a free pass, no.
Sounds promising, but with a hell of a lot of devil in the detail. The fact that fissile material is a bi-product of ostensibly peaceful nuclear power generation is one example.
Massive new investment in research might uncover a way to consume and destroy that bi-product. For example, fusion offers great promise, but requires considerable more work to become a realistic solution. So we might make that investment and perfect fusion, which doesn't create these dangerous by-products, and then dump the current nuke plants. Point being, there is no shortage of things we could invest in if we were of a mind to.

However, to generate dramatic results we would likely have to abandon the outdated notion that science research should attempt to advance on all fronts at once. My argument is that without dramatic results (such as getting rid of nukes) then making progress on all fronts at once is probably pointless, as whatever gains are made by that process are likely to be erased in a coming collapse.

However, if one doesn't accept that theory then one can attempt to make the argument that ever increasing levels of power can be managed successfully indefinitely.
The fact that it could only ever be completely gathered up would be by one country forcefully taking it from another is another.
A detection system could alert the world if say, North Korea sells fissile material and ships it out of their country. We don't have to invade North Korea to take action against free lance groups who have purchased their product.
OK, so you're being a bit more specific about this 50% thing now.
You and I and other thread members are not going to be the one's to solve these problems, so demanding we provide specific solutions largely misses the point. What we can do, admittedly quite modestly, is try to elevate this topic on to larger stages, and join forces with any others already discussing it.
And I guess they're going to have to deal with the political problem of how to persuade various governments, such as the governments of Iran and North Korea, to abandon all such things.
Both these countries have nukes to protect themselves from our nukes. They are attempting to enter the "mutual assured destruction" system. It seems pointless to lecture others while we maintain large arsenals ourselves. Russia and the US have the vast majority of the nukes, so that is where the action is.

My argument is that if we were to take dramatic action on nukes and climate change and achieve success at turning back these knowledge driven threats, then it would be easier to make the argument that it's safe to proceed with more knowledge development. On the other hand, if we are unwilling or unable to clean up the messes we're already made, it's hard to see how continuing with the "more is better" status quo can lead to anything but disaster.

This raises the issue of time. How much time do we have to clean up our messes? How urgent is the problem? How radical do the remedies have to be? No one can know the answers to such questions so some confusion is understandable. All I'm saying is that the Cuban Missile Crisis has already shown how quickly normal life can become a moment of staring down the gun barrel of an existential crisis.
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: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fooloso4 » February 11th, 2017, 12:30 pm

Ormond:
I will again direct you to my request above that members either accept my theory and then propose responses to the challenge, or reject the theory and explain why the status quo can safely continue. Where do you stand, accept or reject, and why?
1) Knowledge gives us power, that's why we like it.
The blanket assertion that “we” like knowledge because it gives us power is too simplistic. Both knowledge and power are broad terms with various types or kinds. The scientist’s interest in power is generally not the same as political interest in power.

The desire to know has always been an end in itself. Socrates called it an erotic desire. It did not give him power, to the contrary he was sentenced to death for his pursuit of knowledge. The claim that philosophy is useless was as common in ancient Greece as it is today.

The astrophysicist and cosmologists do not seek knowledge because it gives them power. What power might they gain? The same curiosity and desire to know motivates scientists in other fields even though there is power to be gained from their knowledge.
2) As knowledge development accelerates we get greater and greater powers at a faster and faster rate.
True.
3) Some of these powers will be of existential scale, where misuse and mistakes can bring down civilization, such as nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons is old technology. Arguing that knowledge is accelerating but using an example that is not the result of how knowledge has accelerated in the last seventy years weakens the point.
4) As knowledge development accelerates we will develop more and more existential scale powers at a faster and faster rate.
Such as?
5) All that is required is that ONE of such existential scale powers run out of control just ONE time, and the game is over. As example, it takes only one bad day with nuclear weapons to collapse civilization.
Again, the threat of nuclear weapons is not the result of the continued acceleration of knowledge. To use your metaphor, we are not getting closer to the edge of the cliff. We have been at the edge for seventy years. That is not to say we won’t go over, but it makes no sense to blame the threat of nuclear annihilation on the continued increase of knowledge.

Two things that are of essential importance: first, to correctly identify the problem, and second, to critically examine proposed solutions. Although you talk about the problem of the advancement of knowledge, it is nuclear weapons rather than the advancement of knowledge that you address. It is a common but foolish, and in some cases dangerous, assumption that it is always better to do something than nothing. You presented something that we could do and I responded by pointing to some but by no means all of the problems with it. If you think that this is a viable solution then you should address my criticism.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » February 11th, 2017, 12:48 pm

ATTENTION Member Fooloso4:

I will again direct you to my request above that members either accept my theory and then propose responses to the challenge, or reject the theory and explain why the status quo can safely continue. Where do you stand, accept or reject, and why?
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: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Iapetus » February 11th, 2017, 5:51 pm

Reply to Ormond:

Perhaps I ought to say at the outset that I believe that we are quite capable of destroying ‘civilisation’ as we know it and that we have several ways of doing so.

Furthermore, with the growth of technology, these ways are increasing at an increasing rate. I agree with you in this respect. There are no guarantees that we can manage these threats successfully and so, it goes without saying, no assurances can be given for protection every day, forever. But major threats have existed since the dawn of history; meteorites, supernovae, gamma ray bursts, rapid climate change, super-volcanoes, methane turnovers and so on. We are in a better position now than ever before to be aware of such threats and even to begin to assess their probabilities but we have precious little chance of stopping them. We live with the possibility of extinction tomorrow, as we have always done.

No, it certainly doesn’t help that our own technologies are increasing the risk of mass catastrophes and we must certainly do all we can to maximise their benefits whilst minimising their potential for harm. But what we can’t do is to unlearn knowledge.

Technology has always brought benefits and problems. It brought about mass death and destruction during World War I but the Spanish ‘flu epidemic of 1918 killed more than four years of war. The exponential growth of world population is due overwhelmingly to declining death rates as a result of improved water management, more effective hygiene, mass vaccination, perinatal health care, and a thousand other technical improvements even though, at the same time, birth rates have dropped, particularly as a result of the education of women. Should we stop the search for further improvements because they are too successful?

Here we come to the crux of the issue.
How about a strategy of first things first? Nuclear weapons are the most pressing threat at the moment. We could focus our efforts on that for now. This doesn't solve all the challenges that will arise out of the knowledge explosion, but it gives us something concrete and specific to start with. Such a strategy pulls the rug out from under all those who will say there's nothing we can do. We can do this.

So, 50% of all science research redirected to the nuclear issue, now, today, right away, without further delay.
Do you have a factual basis for determining that nuclear weapons are the most pressing threat at the moment? I am certainly no expert and I am not, therefore, in a good position to judge, but think I could argue a case that bioengineered pandemics, artificial superintelligence and nanotechnology, not to mention climate change, offer at least as much of a threat. And that takes no account of technologies in the offing which may become very significant in the next few years. We cannot know what threats are over the horizon. So, by directing half of all science research to ‘the nuclear issue’, you will be guaranteeing a reduction in funding to other areas which may have the potential to bring more benefits.

In any case, what, exactly is ‘the nuclear issue’? If you are worried about the prolifereration of available fissile material, is this related to science funding or is it, rather, a matter or political will and organisation? I suggest that your concerns might be directed more profitably towards political systems and management rather than to science research. It is not difficult to present a case that many of the most beneficial advances in technology were not foreseen at the outset of the research program. Science progress is not so readily directed.
Let's take 50% of all science research funding and redirect it at finding some method of managing knowledge development so that we are in control of knowledge, instead of knowledge being in control of us.
I think that your sentiments are laudable and your practical suggestion would be catastrophic. It assumes that scientists are responsible for the management of knowledge, which they are not. It was not scientists who dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima. Politicians made the decision and they sought the advice of scientists as and when they considered it necessary. If you limit science funding in one country then you put that country at a relative disadvantage with respect to knowledge compared to others and you limit the options of the decision-makers. The atom bomb was developed in the knowledge that competing powers were also working along similar lines. Einstein contributed information which was of benefit to the construction of nuclear weapons when he was, essentially, a pacifist. He had very little control over what uses others make of information.

If your suggestion is directed at a particular country then, as I have explained, this automatically puts that country at a relative disadvantage. If your aim is directed more broadly – worldwide - then what systems exist to implement such a program? UNESCO springs to mind, but that has already been in existence for more than seventy years. As Fooloso4 has pointed out, "It is a common but foolish, and in some cases dangerous, assumption that it is always better to do something than nothing".

If you ask me what type of action might help to ensure future security, then I would not advocate limiting knowledge. I would certainly encourage education. I would fight for a political system which was free from nepotism and corruption, where controls were in place to ensure probity and where leaders are answerable to the populace. At the most basic level, I wouldn't give control of nuclear codes to crazy people. Recent developments around the world do not encourage me.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fooloso4 » February 11th, 2017, 8:04 pm

ATTENTION Member Ormond:

What theory? Do you mean what you said above “this theory” in post #28 and then repeated as a series of assertions in post #30? An assertion is not a theory, so perhaps I was wrong when I thought I was responding your theory when I addressed your assertions point by point. In that case please identify the theory.

Or, if this is what you meant by your theory then please explain why you ignored my response and repeated the request to address it.

And, if it is what you meant by your theory then reply in kind to my response and criticism.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » February 11th, 2017, 8:26 pm

Fooloso4 wrote:ATTENTION Member Ormond: What theory?
You can find it outlined in some detail in the following thread:
http://onlinephilosophyclub.com/forums/ ... 2&p=283861

Hi Iapetus, thanks for your thoughtful contribution. I'm attempting to focus discussion by making the following request. If you'd like to address it, I'd welcome an explanation of whichever choice you make.

To help focus the thread, I request that members either 1) accept my theory and then propose responses to the challenge, or 2) reject the theory and explain why the status quo can safely continue. Where do you stand, accept or reject, and why?
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: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fooloso4 » February 11th, 2017, 9:10 pm

Ormond:
You can find it outlined in some detail in the following thread:
posting.php?mode=quote&f=12&p=283861
That link takes me to my post. How about just posting the theory again.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Iapetus » February 12th, 2017, 6:21 am

Reply to Ormond:
Hi Iapetus, thanks for your thoughtful contribution. I'm attempting to focus discussion by making the following request. If you'd like to address it, I'd welcome an explanation of whichever choice you make.

To help focus the thread, I request that members either 1) accept my theory and then propose responses to the challenge, or 2) reject the theory and explain why the status quo can safely continue. Where do you stand, accept or reject, and why?
Your link does not help; it takes me to Fooloso4’s request.

I don’t know where to find your theory and you haven’t explained.

If you are refering to post #61, then this is not a theory. I responded directly to your five points at the beginning of my last post. Do you think that these five points are things to be accepted or rejected? I can’t see how or why you might think that and it certainly does nothing to focus the conversation.

I cannot accept or reject a theory which I am unable to comprehend. What you are saying seems to be equivalent to, ‘we are faced with terrible threats’. If I accept this, it does not follow that I must have solutions. If I reject this, it does not follow that I must pursue the status quo. Your requests seem to me to be very confusing.

In my last post I tried to respond to your points as directly as possible.

I explained that threats have always existed and agree that we are adding new ones. I offered my response to your five points.

I compared human and ‘natural’ threats. I asked the question, “Should we stop the search for further improvements because they are too successful?”

I asked on what basis you asserted that the nuclear threat was the most significant. I suggested others which could be equally or more threatening.

I explained in detail why directing half of scientific research to resolving ‘nuclear issues’ – which you have not defined – was likely to be catastrophic.

I explained that any possible resolution of such threats would be better directed at political and social systems rather than scientific ones and I gave specific examples of what, exactly, I meant by this.

In other words, I tried to respond directly to everything you were asking. Other than trying to direct me to somewhere you have not defined, you have not responded to anything I have written. This is clouding the issues, not clarifying them.

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