By Sam Harris & Bart Ehrman: What Is Christianity?


Fascinating discussion, especially when viewed through the lens of Varki’s MORT theory which says the uniquely powerful human brain exists because it evolved an ability to deny mortality.

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks to Bart Ehrman about his experience of being a born-again Christian, his academic training in New Testament scholarship, his loss of faith, the most convincing argument in defense of Christianity, the status of miracles, the composition of the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus, the nature of heaven and hell, the book of Revelation, the End Times, self-contradictions in the Bible, the concept of a messiah, whether Jesus actually existed, Christianity as a cult of human sacrifice, the conversion of Constantine, and other topics.

Bart D. Ehrman is the author or editor of more than thirty books, including the New York Times bestsellers Misquoting Jesus and How Jesus Became God. Ehrman is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a leading authority on the New Testament and the history of early Christianity. He has been featured in Time, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, and has appeared on NBC, CNN, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The History Channel, National Geographic, BBC, major NPR shows, and other top print and broadcast media outlets. His most recent book is The Triumph of Christianity.


By Jack Alpert: Unwinding the Human Predicament

Jack Alpert

I’ve been following Jack Alpert for many years. He’s an intelligent clear thinking engineer that was apparently born without any denial of reality genes.

I’ve posted other work by Alpert herehere, and here.

Alpert’s devoted much of his life to diagnosing and prescribing remedies for the human overshoot predicament.

This interview by James Howard Kunstler provides a nice summary of Alpert’s work and includes a “solution” that would minimize suffering as fossil energy depletes and that would create a sustainable civilization of about 50 million people with comfortable lives that could continue to make progress in science, technology, and the arts.

The catch is that 3 billion people have to understand the nature of our predicament and vote to drastically constrain personal freedoms, especially the right to breed. We of course would be lucky to find 3 hundred such people, let alone 3 billion.

As a consequence, Alpert concludes that the best case scenario we can hope for over the next 75 years is a painful involuntary reduction of population, mostly due to starvation,  from 7.6 billion to about 600 million subsistence farmers, with little preservation of science, technology, and the arts.

That’s a pretty big price to pay for personal “freedom”, and a tragedy given how rare intelligent life probably is in the universe.

So sad.

Play Audio

Kunstler’s site with an introduction to the interview:

On Apollo: The Most Impressive Human Achievement

How Apollo Flew to the Moon

I’m an electrical engineer that specialized in operating system design. I built my first computer in 1981 before the IBM PC was available. I designed an integrated circuit in 1983 for my Masters thesis. I managed large R&D groups for most of my 25 year career. I continue to be a technology geek in my personal life. As a consequence, I have a pretty good sense of what is impressive, and what is not, from an engineering perspective.

As readers probably know, I think net energy constraints have placed us at, or passed, the peak of all forms of complexity, including technology. I see evidence everywhere of peak technology.

The highlights of human engineering accomplishments for me include: steel, concrete, glass, Haber-Bosch fertilizer, diesel engines, turbine engines, turbine electricity generators, electric motors, electromagnetic communications, hydraulics, heat pumps, Panama canal, Golden Gate bridge, Chunnel, Concorde, Apollo, Hubble, Voyager, nuclear submarines, skyscrapers, deep-sea oil rigs, integrated circuits, microprocessors, magnetic storage, lasers, LED lights, internet, lithium-ion batteries, robotics, and DNA sequencing.

Notice that everything on this list is over 20 years old.  I can’t think of anything of equal importance that was invented in the last 20 years.

Gasoline and turbine engine efficiency gains have stalled. Diesel engine efficiency is going backwards due to new pollution regulations. Air travel speed plateaued many years ago.  The promise of too cheap to meter nuclear electricity appears certain to remain a dream. Battery performance barely creeps forward despite a hundred years of promises. My 3 year old smart phone works fine with no compelling reason to upgrade. Cameras were good enough many years ago. Household appliances are getting smarter, but their core functions are not improving, and they don’t last as long due to cost reduction pressures. TV resolution is increasing but few need it. LED lights are getting cheaper, but the technology was invented many years ago. Popular Mechanics magazine no longer writes about jet packs and flying cars.

It’s been 6 years since I built my current desktop computer. There’s still no compelling reason to upgrade it. If I spend the thousand dollars required to upgrade it, I will gain 25% performance. That’s nothing compared to the gains we saw 20 years ago.

I can see how a non-engineer might think otherwise. A computer in your pocket with a wireless connection to the internet feels like magic, but advances in the technologies used to build smart phones began to level off years ago. It’s not advances in fundamental technology that’s creating today’s magic. It’s thousands of small innovative apps, plus a few monster apps that leverage a 25 year old internet to connect us with friends and businesses, that creates the illusion of magic. Apps are software, and software is not new. There’s just a lot more software variety available to supply a much larger market created by everyone having a networked computer camera in their pocket.

For a long time I’ve felt our most impressive technology accomplishment occurred 50 years ago when we visited the moon. I vividly remember as an 11 year boy going outside at night and looking up in awe at Armstrong on the moon.

Over the years I’ve read and watched much about the Apollo program but never encountered anything that got into the details of Apollo’s engineering. I intuitively suspected there was a lot of impressive technology depth to Apollo, but never had the facts to back up my intuition.

I’ve just finished the book How Apollo Flew to the Moon by W. David Woods and now I have the facts to confirm my intuition. The book covers all of the technical details for every phase of the mission from launch to splashdown. I love the clear, concise, and engaging writing style of the author.

What those 400,000 people 50 years ago accomplished over 10 years is breath-taking. Every step of the mission involved staggering engineering challenges and trade-offs.  Lives were at stake on prime time television. The scale is hard to fathom. For example, the power produced by the Saturn V first stage was equivalent to the entire electricity consumption of the UK. More recent engineering accomplishments are not even in the same league.

Wood’s book answered all of my questions plus many I had not thought of:

  • how did the engines work?
  • how did they navigate?
  • how did they steer?
  • how did the stages separate?
  • how do you move from an earth orbit to a lunar orbit and back?
  • how did the lunar module land?
  • how did the lunar module take off, find, and rendezvous with the command module?
  • how did mission control track location and monitor systems?
  • what did the computers do?
  • what were the emergency contingency plans?

If you prefer to listen than read, here are some excellent podcasts with W. David Woods discussing the Apollo program:

Omega Tau 083 – How Apollo Flew to the Moon (December 15, 2011)

Omega Tau 097 – How Apollo Explored the Moon (June 18, 2012)

Omega Tau 176 – The Gemini Programme (July 18, 2015)

Omega Tau 239 – The Saturn V Launch Vehicle (March 12, 2017)

If you prefer to watch than read, here is a video presentation by W. David Woods in which the production quality is mediocre, but the content is strong.


If you are wondering why we have not accomplished anything even close to the Apollo program in the intervening 50 years, it’s because per capita net energy peaked around 1970, and has been declining ever since. In other words, our most complex achievement coincided with the peak of per capita net energy, as students of thermodynamics should expect.

I predict that the Apollo program will remain in perpetuity the most impressive achievement of the human species.


Per Capita Net Energy


By Steven Spencer: Interview with Richard Nolthenius

Environmental Professionals Postulating

Steven Spencer hosts a new podcast called Environmental Professionals Postulating.

On October 27, 2017 Spencer interviewed Dr. Richard Nolthenius, a professor of climate science at Cabrillo College, Santa Cruz California. I recently discovered Nolthenius and am very impressed, in part because he respects and acknowledges Tim Garrett’s work, and in part because he is so knowledgeable.

I’ve listened to hundreds of interviews with climate scientists over the years and this ranks among the very best.  Spencer asked good questions and Nolthenius responded with lots of depth, breadth, and candor.

Given that Nolthenius understands Garrett’s thermodynamics of climate change you will detect segments where he lapses into denial, but he does far better than most climate scientists.

Highly recommended.

The 3 hour interview was broken into 3 parts:

Part 1 – Policy Mechanisms for fighting Climate Change

Part 2 – Technological Solutions for fighting Climate Change

Part 3 – GeoEngineering and the “Garrett Relation”


Dr. Richard Nolthenius has a background in thermal engineering and astronomy. He currently runs the Astronomy Program at Cabrillo College, Santa Cruz California. He also lecturers and has been a visiting researcher for UC Santa Cruz since 1987. He describes his professional transition in to climate science as “quite a shock, not necessarily a pleasant one”!

Dr. Nolthenius suggests that Professor Tim Garrett’s work on linking global wealth and energy consumption has not been given the attention it deserves, Dr. Nolthenius also concludes that the only way to advert the increasingly critical climate change situation is in line with Prof. Garretts publications and therefore requires sharp, rapid cuts to our use of fossil fuels.

To achieve this end Dr. Nolthenius has compiled a list of 7 Policy Mechanisms which he will discuss in Part one. These include:

  • Tax and Dividend
  • End government subsidies to fossil fuel companies
  • Trade sanctions against all countries who do not enact Tax and Dividend or end fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Devise an efficient mechanism to impose Tax/Dividend on all externalized costs.
  • Tax consumption, not income.
  • End Child Tax Credit, and promote policies which economically discourage population growth.
  • Amend the Constitution.

Dr. Nolthenius explains exactly what the above may involve, and discusses ideas for getting them implemented with a million person Occupy DC movement.

In Part Two Dr. Nolthenius highlights potential technological ‘band aids’ (and their short falls) which could potentially be implemented alongside the Policy Mechanisms discussed in Part 1. These include:

  • Energy technologies (PV, Wind, Hydroelectric, Geothermal and Nuclear).
  • Carbon Capture and storage
  • Artificial capture of CO2 from the atmosphere via ‘Air Capture’
  • Climeworks commercially operated Air Capture CO2 machine.
  • BECCS – BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration.

Dr. Nolthenius also points out how even if we ended all our carbon emissions today, the effect of Thermal Inertia would still cause global temperatures to rise.

Part 3 covers GeoEngineering including:

  • Permafrost Carbon
  • How do we choose?
  • Solar Radiation Management
    1. ‘Butterflies’
    2. Asteroids with dust secretion
    3. Reflective Aerosols
    4. Refreezing the Artic using pumped sea water.
  • ‘Loan Shark’ methods that won’t work long term
  • Why there is no ‘Magic Bullet’

Finally, in Part 3 Dr. Nolthenius takes some time to explain how economics is related to climate change, and why we need to stop our obsession with Growth.  The work of Prof. Tim Garrett / “The Garrett Relation” is expanded upon and discussed.

Reference is made by Dr Noltheius to “E.C.S”, although not covered in the series this stands for Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity. More information on this is available in Dr Noltheniuss presentation ‘Earth Climate Change in One (very long) Lecture’ available here:

Many thanks to Dr Richard Nolthenius for joining me for this 3-part series, I hope I can discuss more issues with him in the future. I highly recommend visiting his website where there is a wealth of information freely available: His University lecture presentations (powerpoint and pdf versions) relevant to the topics covered can be found at: .

Professor Tim Garretts work as discussed can be found here:

All 3 parts where recorded Friday 27th October 2017.

By Jay Hanson: Reality Report Interview (November 3, 2008)

For you old-timers this should be a memory lane treat, and for you young’uns this will be an introduction to the one who started it all: Jay Hanson.

Jay Hanson hosted the first online discussion bulletin board for overshoot issues like peak oil and climate change. He devoted a large portion of his life to researching the genetic human behaviors that have caused our severe state of overshoot. Here is a nice overview of his work by Kurt Cobb.

Ten years ago Jason Bradford hosted a weekly interview format radio program on overshoot issues called the Reality Report. I still consider the Reality Report to be the most intelligent show of its type to this day. Today Jason Bradford manages a progressive investment company called Farmland LP that restores depleted conventional farmland into healthy sustainable organic production.

This 10-year-old interview, is to my recollection, the only audio interview done with Jay Hanson. A superficial look at Hanson’s website might lead you to conclude he is a nut job, but the fact is Hanson is extremely intelligent and well read, which this interview helps to reinforce by showcasing the voice behind the radical writings.

I drug this 2008 chestnut out now because the steadily increasing war drums we hear in the media reminded me of a specific prediction Hanson made in this interview that there would be a nuclear war in 10 to 14 years, meaning we are now in the window.

right click save as to download

As an aside, a few years ago I tried to introduce Hanson to Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition (MORT) theory but was saddened when Hanson aggressively and unscientifically rejected the theory before understanding it. Perhaps even the most open-minded of us will deny unpleasant realities, especially when that reality might undermine a lifetime of work. By undermine, I do not mean invalidate, but rather I think MORT provides an umbrella theory to explain the numerous specific behaviors identified by Hanson and others that have contributed to our predicament.

By Tim Garrett: Linking Wealth, Energy Demand, CO2 and Climate Change

Tim Garrett

Tim Garrett is the scientist with the best understanding of the relationship between climate change and the economy, which means he has the best understanding of what can and cannot be done to mitigate the climate change threat.

Don’t take my word for this, read his papers and explore his site.

As far as I can tell, Garrett is ignored by all other climate scientists, and everyone that formulates climate change policies.

Think about that for a moment. Our experts ignore the one person they should not ignore.

Now you know why I am so fascinated by the human tendency to deny any reality we do not like. This tendency afflicts almost everyone, including our best and brightest.

I missed this excellent interview with Garrett when it was first broadcast in October 2017 although I have read and listened to almost everything previous he has done.

Paraphrasing a few quotes from the interview:

It is now generally accepted that a 5 degree rise in temperature will collapse civilization. At our current economic growth rate we can expect 5 degrees in 50 or 60 years from now. The only way to avoid this is to collapse civilization now.


I doubt there are solutions but if there are solutions we won’t get at them by imagining fairy tales like improved efficiency and renewable energy.


We need to start thinking now about the most humane way to deal with a collapsing civilization because we know from history that our tendency is to not behave well in such situations.


Interviewer: Why is your work so unknown?

Garrett: Humans have a deep-seated need for optimism and a belief that solutions exist.

Me: aka denial



By Louis Arnoux: Twilight of the Oil Age: Out of Gas by 2030

The easy oil is gone. The oil that remains is hard and getting exponentially harder to find and extract, and to make a profit doing so. Each year it takes more energy to produce the same amount of energy meaning each year there is less energy left over for society. This is why people who think we have an energy glut are wrong.

Think of a coyote forced, because rabbits are becoming faster, to burn 2 rabbits worth of energy to catch 1 rabbit. Even though there are plenty of rabbits, the coyote is in serious trouble. The coyote could switch his diet to mice (solar & wind energy) but then he’d have to burn 3 mice of energy to catch 1 mouse. The coyote is able to lead a fairly normal life for a while because he burns fat (debt) that he built up in previous good years. The coyote knows it could make do with less food if it quit fighting, played slower games, and had fewer pups, but prefers not to change its lifestyle. Over time, the coyote becomes weak and sick, and then decides to change, but he no longer has the strength to catch any food.

This analysis by Louis Arnoux predicts we have between 6 and 13 years before society is out of gas.

This means that some time between 2022 and 2030, your gas stations and airports will be closed, and the global economy will be on its way to a complete collapse.

I’ve been following this issue for years and I think his prediction is in the ballpark.

I should point out that this oil centric perspective does not consider the current debt/growth instabilities of the economy. People studying that piece predict an economic collapse sooner than 2022. Nor a climate change centric view which suggests we have at best until the end of this century.

Let that sink in for a moment and then you might begin to understand why I am so fascinated by our inherited denial of reality. This information is available for anyone that cares to look, including the news media. No one looks.

Arnoux concludes the interview by pitching an alternate energy product idea he is trying to raise funds to develop. No information is disclosed on the technology but I did some searching to get the gist of it. It’s an interesting idea but has 0% chance of heading off the problem his research on oil depletion predicts.

His behavior is consistent with other researchers working on collapse related topics. For example, almost every climate scientist has a favorite scheme they think will save us whether it’s BECCS, or geoengineering, or nuclear energy. Most people would be unable to function in these roles unless they had some hope for the future. That’s our inherited optimism bias, the inverse twin of denial, at work.

Here is an audio interview with the author.

Here is the paper behind the interview:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Hat tip to Alice Friedemann.