On Famous Polymaths

See No Evil

There are two and only two topics required to understand the basis of every success and problem in our civilization: thermodynamics and genetic behavior.

By thermodynamics I mean:

  • the laws of thermodynamics that govern our universe
  • the relationships between energy, economy, wealth, population, and pollution
  • the relationship between debt and surplus energy
  • the maximum power principle of biology
  • the history of energy use
  • the types, sources, qualities, density, scalability, and applications of energy
  • the discovery rate, consumption rate, and reserves of non-renewable energy
  • what is and is not feasible with, and the dependencies of, non-fossil energy

By genetic behavior I mean:

  • human behaviors that are mostly hard-wired
  • genetic behaviors that contributed to our unique success and predicament
  • why those genetic behaviors evolved

Why is it that every famous intellectual understands many topics except the only two topics that really matter: thermodynamics and genetic behavior?

  • Steven Pinker
  • Sam Harris
  • Jordan Peterson
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Sean Carroll
  • Yuval Noah Harari
  • David Suzuki
  • David Attenborough
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Lawrence Krauss
  • Elon Musk
  • Stewart Brand
  • James Hansen
  • Matt Ridley
  • Richard Dawkins
  • Frans de Waal
  • James Lovelock
  • Jared Diamond
  • Joe Rogan
  • Michael Pollan
  • Ken Burns
  • Chris Hedges
  • Vaclav Smil
  • Niall Ferguson
  • Alan Greenspan
  • Thomas Sowell
  • John Kenneth Galbraith
  • David Stockman
  • Joseph Stiglitz
  • Paul Krugman
  • and many others

Why is it that there is no famous intellectual (nor political or business leader) who understands thermodynamics and genetic behavior?

  • ???

Why is it that the few intellectuals who do understand thermodynamics and genetic behavior are distinctly not famous?

  • Dennis Meadows
  • Tom Murphy
  • William Catton
  • William Rees
  • Charles Hall
  • Nate Hagens
  • Jay Hanson
  • David Korowicz
  • Paul Chefurka
  • Reg Morrison
  • Jack Alpert
  • Richard Heinberg
  • Joseph Tainter
  • George Mobus
  • Dave Cohen
  • Gail Zawacki
  • Jason Bradford
  • Nicole Foss
  • Steve Ludlum
  • James @ Megacancer
  • xraymike79
  • and very few others

This can’t be an accidental coincidence because famous polymaths are fluent in many topics.

I suspect the answer is that famous polymaths deny everything they don’t want to know, and they wouldn’t be famous if they didn’t, because their audience doesn’t want to understand those topics either.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon to observe once you see it.

P. S.

Why is there only one person in the world, a cranky old retired electrical engineer, who writes about genetic reality denial?

I suspect because denial is the reality that must be most aggressively denied to avoid collapsing the house of cards that keeps us functioning.

Arnica Lake to Elk River Hike

Click here for more photos and videos

My good friend Ian and I have regularly hiked Strathcona Park since we were 16 in 1975. We decided to celebrate turning 60 by tackling the toughest hike in the park.

The first 3 days on Phillips Ridge were excellent although the “undulations” and “lots of down” were much tougher than we expected. A bout of food poisoning likely caused by trail mix purchased from a bulk food bin cancelled our planned side trip to the Golden Hinde peak. Even if healthy I’m not sure we would have tackled it after speaking with returning hikers who spoke of feeling exposed and unsafe, and wishing they had brought helmets to protect themselves from falling boulders. Seeing the route to the peak up close was intimidating. We have new respect for people who accomplish the Golden Hinde peak return trip.

The final “3 day adventure” on the Elk River “route” proved to be a bushwhacking nightmare. Each day we made only about 30% of our expected progress despite grueling effort. We had the best available maps and guidebook but the “route” had no flags or cairns and no signs of recent use. The maps were out of date and did not reflect obstacles like new landslides. On a whim, just before departing, I purchased a digital version of our paper map and we would have been screwed without it and my phone’s GPS. Even with the GPS, we had to retrace many steps and elevation changes many times.

Tired, discouraged, not wanting to face the ordeals of retracing our path, and believing it unlikely we could complete the Elk River route before running out of food, we decided to punch the eject button.

We were very lucky to have brought a satellite phone and to have found a helicopter not already committed to fighting forest fires with a pilot brave enough to fly in low visibility smoke. Our “rescue” was quite a thrill for me because I had never been in a helicopter and the heavy smoke forced the pilot to skim the trees down a river valley to avoid bumping into something hard. Click the link above for some great video.

Next year I hope we do the Bedwell trail out to the west coast but we’ll first find some people who have recently done the trail.

In case you’re wondering, I detected a lot of denial in my brain throughout the adventure. 🙂

If this blog goes dark…

A good friend and I are departing tomorrow on an epic 6-8 day hike in Strathcona Park to celebrate turning 60 this year.

The two of us began hiking this beautiful park located in the center of Vancouver Island in 1976, as this picture of me on a peak proves.

N950-127A

 

Our path, with 60+ pound packs, begins at Arnica Lake and ends at the Elk River, with side trips to Marble Meadows and the Golden Hinde, which is the highest peak on Vancouver Island.

BRMB MapA

If this blog goes dark you will have observed another excellent example of denial.

In this case, 60 year olds who deny they are too old for grueling adventures.

Wish us luck and don’t worry because I can’t think of a better way to go.

Reunion Faux Pas

Carihi Class of 76

I’m the handsome guy circled in red wearing a green polyester suit.

Born at the peak of what may be possible in the universe, we enjoyed amazing lives made possible by a one-time windfall of abundant cheap fossil energy.

Since graduating in 1976 we chose to celebrate our good fortune like yeast in sugar by doubling our population from 4 to 8 billion and increasing our total consumption and excretions by over 500%.

To our grandchildren we will leave depleted oil wells, mines, aquifers, and soils, a dangerous climate, forests displaced by agriculture and sickened by ozone, many fewer species, oceans filled with plastic instead of fish, epidemics of opioids and obesity, and over $300,000,000,000,000 of debt not counting unfunded liabilities like pensions.

1976 graduation motto: “You are a child of the universe.”

2018 reunion motto: “Mission accomplished: We had a great time and left nothing of value for future generations.”

Some old friends from my high school class of ’76 are having a reunion to celebrate turning 60 this year.

I offered to give a talk at the dinner party on how climate change is spinning out of control and may kill our grandchildren, but my offer was not warmly received.

I clearly made a faux pas because climate change has become a little too sensitive to discuss in polite company given how obvious the trends are.

In hindsight, I should have offered to speak on our denial of the collapse of civilization that is underway due to human overshoot and fossil energy depletion, and how our genetic tendency to deny unpleasant realities is intimately linked to our uniquely powerful brain, and its wacky belief in gods and life after death.

That would have been a much more interesting after-dinner topic that most people haven’t seen in the news, and I could imagine a lively Q&A when I explained that the only “solution” is a global one-child policy, severe government austerity, and a forced contraction of the economy.

Despite the depressing subject, I’m sure there would have been some genuine happiness in the room as old girlfriends breathed a sigh of relief that they didn’t marry me.

Rob Mielcarski

On Sexual Selection and Extinction

Peacock

Here is a very interesting interview of biologist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Richard Prum by Rob Reid on sexual selection and the evolution of beauty.

One of the fundamental reasons birds are so beautiful is that most of them do not have penises and this creates an opportunity for female freedom of choice.

After-On Podcast Episode 33: Richard Prum – The Evolution of Beauty

Bird of Paradise

Sexual selection is not a form of natural selection as most biologists currently believe.

Sexual selection and natural selection are distinct evolutionary forces, as originally envisioned by Charles Darwin.

It’s possible for sexual selection to work in the opposite direction of natural selection which can lead to the extinction of a species. Some interesting examples are given for birds.

I’m thinking about how human females tend to be indifferent to male IQ, but strongly prefer high status males that contribute the most to overshoot and CO2 via mansions, yachts, long distance vacations, and Veblan goods.

Human male preferences tend to be benign as it’s unlikely extinction will be caused by big boobs, which Prum points out, are not an honest signal of fertility.

Donald and Melania Trump

On Shock and Awe

Shock and Awe (2017)

 

I watched the new movie Shock and Awe which dramatizes the American government’s use of fabricated intelligence to justify its war with Iraq. The producers made a good case that the decision to attack Iraq was made well in advance of finding any evidence of an Iraqi military or terrorism threat.

I found the movie to be a little stiff and ham-fisted so did not enjoy it very much. It did however provide another good example of the ubiquity of denial in our culture.

Shock and Awe was more interesting for what it didn’t say than what it said.

Not once did the producers ask or attempt to answer the question why did senior American leaders decide to attack Iraq?

How is it possible that the only question that matters is the only question that is not asked?

It isn’t, of course, unless you’re in denial and don’t want to know the answer.

Put yourself in the shoes of an American leader in the few years leading up to the 2003 Iraq war.

Your best minds are predicting a peak in global conventional oil production somewhere around 2005. The 2008 crash and resulting zero interest rate that enabled the unprofitable fracking industry to increase oil production has not yet occurred and was not predicted by the idiot economists that advise you. Iraq has the second best reserves of high quality oil left on the planet and is led by a dictator who is no longer friendly and is starting to sell oil to your enemies in euros which might undermine your reserve currency which enables your country to live far beyond its means. Your economy is totally dependent on imported oil and you have no chance of being re-elected if there is a recession and gas shortages.

Now the Iraq war makes more sense.

But you won’t learn any of this from Shock and Awe.

On Meta-Denial

There's No I In Denial

Meta-denial is a common and unique human behavior where reality denial is seen and discussed without acknowledging the existence of reality denial.

The scientific foundation for meta-denial is explained by Varki’s MORT theory which states that a brain which evolves the power to understand complex reality must simultaneously evolve reality denial to exist. The probability of these two otherwise maladaptive behaviors emerging simultaneously and fixing in the gene pool to create a new highly adaptive capability is low and has apparently occurred only once on this planet.

MORT explains how a species can be smart enough to visit the moon and yet not be able to understand something as obvious as its own overshoot and imminent collapse.

Meta-denial is essentially denial of denial and is the strongest form of realty denial because acknowledgement of reality denial would collapse the house of cards our brains construct to keep us motivated to replicate.

If you look you will see meta-denial everywhere. For example:

  • Environmentalists that lament the denial of ecosystem destruction yet support green growth and reject population control.
  • Climate scientists that lament the denial of climate change while themselves denying the relationship between wealth and carbon energy and their own desire for more wealth.
  • Social activists that lament the widening wealth gap while denying the decline of energy quality that drives it and the austerity required in their own life to reverse the trend.
  • Many other examples here.

Here we have a recent example of meta-denial. The entire article is about the insanity of climate change denial and yet it does not once mention reality denial nor ask what could possibly be causing this bizarre and destructive behavior.

https://www.sciencealert.com/us-heatwave-burning-up-media-climate-change

The US Is Burning Up, But No One Wants to Talk About The Elephant in The Room

Shhh don’t mention it.

It’s hot. Too hot. And climate scientists agree that it’s only going to get hotter. Yet despite the record-breaking heat wave impacting millions of Americans right now, barely anyone in the mainstream media is talking about the elephant in the room.

A new and distressing report from Media Matters reveals that most major broadcast TV networks are completely ignoring the link between unprecedented heat waves and climate change.