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Blowing up the Earth

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#26 BillP

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Posted 14 September 2019 - 10:07 PM

Once again, though, and I've seen it so many times from so many people, you raise a false dichotomy.  Limiting the funds for scientific research is NOT going to improve K-12 education, nor will it improve homelessness.  Pursuing scientific research, even if it is "esoteric", will not make less wealth available to the poor.

 

Once again, though, you are misunderstanding the bigger picture.  Nothing was ever said about one affects the other directly.  This side topic is about, lack of wisdom in priorities.  I did not have to pick on the issue with homeless children in our K-12.  Could have brought up any number of numerous basic societal issues we have that demonstrate the poor prioritization of funding that in this case, go to cosmological projects that do nothing to further the society in any practical way. 

 

So the problem highlighted is not this vs. that, but that overall our society does not prioritize its resources very wisely.  As a result, we have homeless children in schools, more than 1/10th of our people living in poverty (which is really bad as for some reason the Federal Govt thinks that a single adult making $13k/yr is not in a poverty situation), etc.  So we spend billions on silly cosmological endeavors when people are dying from hunger right here where we live, and some can't get health care, etc., etc.  If you want to bring the analogy home more closely, the current situation is like all the cars breaking down in your household and you cannot fix any of them because the necessary household income to affect the repairs is being earmarked to buy a lot of popcorn.  Very wise!  Basically if a person in your community is homeless or in poverty or dying because they cannot get medical insurance, then how can anyone argue that it is still ok to spend billions to figure out a little better what may have happened at the Big Bang, or exactly what the gasses are in an exoplanet we can never reach (with current technology will take 80,000 years to get to nearest star).



#27 BillP

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Posted 14 September 2019 - 10:11 PM

I just finished Lab-made Stars in the October Sky&T about a lab in New Mexico and lately we've been talking about CERN here at CN. Although some folks are worried about things like this I'm not since I am reasonably trusting of scientists.

 

Here's a good example for you of someone's "good idea" - https://arstechnica....f-the-universe/

 

Reminds me of Bad Idea Jeans - https://www.nbc.com/...dea-jeans/n9937



#28 llanitedave

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Posted 15 September 2019 - 12:26 PM

Once again, though, you are misunderstanding the bigger picture.  Nothing was ever said about one affects the other directly.  This side topic is about, lack of wisdom in priorities.  I did not have to pick on the issue with homeless children in our K-12.  Could have brought up any number of numerous basic societal issues we have that demonstrate the poor prioritization of funding that in this case, go to cosmological projects that do nothing to further the society in any practical way. 

 

So the problem highlighted is not this vs. that, but that overall our society does not prioritize its resources very wisely.  As a result, we have homeless children in schools, more than 1/10th of our people living in poverty (which is really bad as for some reason the Federal Govt thinks that a single adult making $13k/yr is not in a poverty situation), etc.  So we spend billions on silly cosmological endeavors when people are dying from hunger right here where we live, and some can't get health care, etc., etc.  If you want to bring the analogy home more closely, the current situation is like all the cars breaking down in your household and you cannot fix any of them because the necessary household income to affect the repairs is being earmarked to buy a lot of popcorn.  Very wise!  Basically if a person in your community is homeless or in poverty or dying because they cannot get medical insurance, then how can anyone argue that it is still ok to spend billions to figure out a little better what may have happened at the Big Bang, or exactly what the gasses are in an exoplanet we can never reach (with current technology will take 80,000 years to get to nearest star).

 

I understand the bigger picture just fine.

 

In 1831, the British Admiralty commissioned a hydrographic survey of the coastline, harbors, anchorages, and river mouths of the area around Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.  The idea was to create charts that could aid the navigation and replenishment of ships crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the southern tip of South America.  On this ship's previous journey, its captain had suffered a mental breakdown due to the lonely and difficult conditions, and had committed suicide.  The new captain, fully aware of those conditions, and prohibited by naval law from forming friendships with any of the crew, decided to find a gentleman  of appropriate social rank who would not be part of the crew to accompany him for companionship.  He also hoped that the companion would have some training in geology to assist in understanding some of the terrain they would encounter.

 

He had difficulty finding anyone to take the position.  After asking for help from a network of acquaintances in the British scientific community, they finally convinced a young man, a medical school dropout who's main passion was collecting beetles, but who had also had a recent field trip in geology that he'd found interesting, and who's future was likely to consist of a life as a country parson.  After meeting him, the captain had serious reservations, among other things the shape of his nose implied a lack of determination.

 

The captain and his companion got along for the most part, but had some major disputes on such topics as slavery, to which the young gentleman was adamantly opposed.  There were long intervals where they would not speak to each other, which somewhat undermined the purpose of the young man's presence in the first place.  He also had long bouts of seasickness and fevers, which made him not very companionable anyway.

 

While the ship conducted its research of unquestionably practical subjects, the young man, by now the unofficial but acting naturalist aboard occupied himself looking for fossils, hypothesizing about the geologic history of the landscape, and collecting specimens of the local plants and animals.  Much of what he found interesting was considered rubbish by the rest of the crew.  When the ship stopped in the Galapagos Islands, he found himself fascinated by the different beak shapes of the finches he found on the various islands.

 

All of this was very interesting, but none of it promised any practical social benefit.  There could be little more esoteric than the study of the beak shapes of small birds of remote Pacific Islands.  It was the kind of thing an eccentric, wealthy gentleman might be expected to do, obtain a collection as a form of travelogue, have curiosities that he could point to as evidence of his adventurous nature as a young man.

 

But Charles Darwin was not your average eccentric gentleman.  Those esoteric observations and collections became the basis for a serious study, and even more serious theory, one that a few decades later would rock the scientific world, and eventually help to reshape society itself.  Today, Darwin's theory of evolution forms the bedrock of modern biology, without which none of what we know about genetics, ecology, biochemistry, or epidemiology makes any sense.  Nobody, not even Darwin himself, would have predicted that his observations on finch's beaks would have brought incalculable benefits to the world in coming years.

 

 

Another example:

 

A story about the English scientist Michael Faraday illustrates the point.  In his time, he was an enormously popular lecturer, as well as a physicist and chemist of the first rank.  In one of his lectures in the 1840s, he illustrated the peculiar behavior of a magnet in connection with a spiral coil of wire which was connected to a galvanometer that would record the presence of an electric current.

There was no current in the wire to begin with, but when the magnet was thrust into the hollow center of the spiral coil, the needle of the galvanometer moved to one side of the scale, showing that a current was flowing.  When the magnet was withdrawn from the coil , the needle flipped in the other direction, showing that the current was now flowing the other way.  When the magnet was held motionless in any position within the coil, there was no current at all, and the needle was motionless.

At the conclusion of the lecture, one member of the audience approached Faraday and said, “Mr. Faraday, the behavior of the magnet and the coil of wire was interesting, but of what possible use can it be?”  Faraday answered politely, “Sir, of what use is a newborn baby?”

 

--Isaac Asimov

 

That little useless experiment was, of course, the beginning of the art of generating electricity, which civilization now depends on for its very existence, without which billions would die miserably.

 

So the bigger picture, which you yourself are the one missing, is that you have no way of determining the "wisdom" of priorities.  You cannot tell in advance, you cannot pick and choose, to determine what discovery will be forever useless to mankind and which one will provide tremendous and unexpected benefits.  Poverty is a terrible thing, but in actual fact, the rise of science as a priority in the world's endeavors has been correlated with a drastic decrease in the amount of poverty.  Scientific research is not popcorn.

 

If you feel otherwise, and are so concerned about the wisdom in our priorities, then I suggest you sell all of your astro gear and books, give the proceeds to charity, and get off the internet and rid yourself of computers and phones, since they take up valuable energy that could have gone to the poor.


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#29 DaveC2042

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Posted 15 September 2019 - 05:21 PM

Once again, though, you are misunderstanding the bigger picture.  Nothing was ever said about one affects the other directly.  This side topic is about, lack of wisdom in priorities.  I did not have to pick on the issue with homeless children in our K-12.  Could have brought up any number of numerous basic societal issues we have that demonstrate the poor prioritization of funding that in this case, go to cosmological projects that do nothing to further the society in any practical way. 

 

So the problem highlighted is not this vs. that, but that overall our society does not prioritize its resources very wisely.  As a result, we have homeless children in schools, more than 1/10th of our people living in poverty (which is really bad as for some reason the Federal Govt thinks that a single adult making $13k/yr is not in a poverty situation), etc.  So we spend billions on silly cosmological endeavors when people are dying from hunger right here where we live, and some can't get health care, etc., etc.  If you want to bring the analogy home more closely, the current situation is like all the cars breaking down in your household and you cannot fix any of them because the necessary household income to affect the repairs is being earmarked to buy a lot of popcorn.  Very wise!  Basically if a person in your community is homeless or in poverty or dying because they cannot get medical insurance, then how can anyone argue that it is still ok to spend billions to figure out a little better what may have happened at the Big Bang, or exactly what the gasses are in an exoplanet we can never reach (with current technology will take 80,000 years to get to nearest star).

Apart from missing my point above about the elephant in the room of military spending, (which is just just one particularly glaring example), you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of economics.

 

People are not hungry, or homeless, or poor because there isn't enough stuff in the world for them.  It's because we decide, collectively, to not distribute the stuff fairly.

 

A specific example is how famines work.  The economists who look at this are pretty unanimous that they are not primarily caused by a lack of food.  If there is a lack of food, you find a bit of low-level malnutrition for a while.  Famines happen when some people (generally the ones with guns) actively decide to prevent other people from getting food.  So food trucks are stopped by roadblocks, farms are torched, farmers are driven off their land and replaced by intellectuals with no clue, etc.  This is done because they have the wrong colour skin, or speak the wrong language, or pray in the wrong church, or have too much education, etc.

 

There is also a much more general point, that we consistently set things up so a small number of people wind up getting vastly more than their share, and more than they could ever need.  Often this is blamed on capitalism, but it's actually much more general, and has been a feature of pretty much every economy ever.  Think feudal lords, roman emperors, communist party leaders.

 

Sometimes this is defended as the smartest and hardest working people naturally getting the extras they 'deserve'.  There is a simple statistical argument that shows this is nonsense.  Human characteristics are pretty universally distributed normally - most people are around average, and a smaller number are above/below average, and the further from average, the fewer.  This is a reasonably well-understood consequence of the central limits theorem.  Economic wealth/income in any large economy, however, universally follows a Pareto distribution.  This has most people down the bottom with little, and progressively fewer people as you go higher and higher.  The slope and sharpness of the change vary, as does what constitutes little, and there are some 'edge effects' right down the bottom, but the basic shape is remarkably consistent.

 

Now, if economics was fairly distributing stuff to people based on their talents and how hard they worked, it's pretty obvious you'd expect a roughly normal distribution of wealth - most people would have an average amount of wealth, a small number would be rich and an equally small number would be poor.  But of course that is not even remotely the case.

 

Now I don't know how we'd arrange things so it was fair, and all the many attempts to do it have failed, so it seems pretty ingrained in us.  But picking science expenditure (or opera, or art galleries, or fine restaurants, etc) to blame is pretty ridiculous.


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#30 ggiles

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Posted 16 September 2019 - 09:21 AM

https://ourworldinda...extreme-poverty

 

Looks like we are trending the right direction to me.  Education (science) leads to freedom.


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#31 CygnuS

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Posted 16 September 2019 - 09:34 PM

I wonder what the world would be like if all 7 billion people suddenly became rich. That would be awesome because we want everybody to be successful. They would then have big houses that required a lot of energy and cars, planes, hobbies, vacations, etc etc....all of which require a lot of energy. Wait a second, that would deplete our resources and speed up global warming and nobody would be left to do manual work. Should I now want 4 billion people to remain poor? That doesn't sound nice of me. I just don't know what to think now. 



#32 llanitedave

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Posted 16 September 2019 - 10:52 PM

I wonder what the world would be like if all 7 billion people suddenly became rich. That would be awesome because we want everybody to be successful. They would then have big houses that required a lot of energy and cars, planes, hobbies, vacations, etc etc....all of which require a lot of energy. Wait a second, that would deplete our resources and speed up global warming and nobody would be left to do manual work. Should I now want 4 billion people to remain poor? That doesn't sound nice of me. I just don't know what to think now. 

Rich people tend to have significantly fewer children.  Rich people also have greater access to the latest energy-efficient technologies.  Poor people tend to cut down woodlands in marginal areas out of desperation.


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#33 DaveC2042

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Posted 17 September 2019 - 04:45 AM

I wonder what the world would be like if all 7 billion people suddenly became rich. That would be awesome because we want everybody to be successful. They would then have big houses that required a lot of energy and cars, planes, hobbies, vacations, etc etc....all of which require a lot of energy. Wait a second, that would deplete our resources and speed up global warming and nobody would be left to do manual work. Should I now want 4 billion people to remain poor? That doesn't sound nice of me. I just don't know what to think now.


This an interesting question, though possibly not for your reasons.

First up, it isn't achieved by just giving everyone more money. All that does is devalue money. This is what causes hyperinflation like in the Weimar Republic in the 1930s, or Zimbabwe more recently.

Making everyone wealthy would be about us having so much stuff (broadly) that everyone can simply have as much as they want, for free, and with no real negative consequences. (We're not rich if we destroy the world.)

I think (and I think most economists think), this is more a technological problem than an economic problem. You need some way of creating all the stuff that is essentially cost-free, and doesn't involve human labour.

It's often referred to as the post-scarcity society, and is more often a feature of science fiction than economics. Think Star Trek.

I have two suspicions.

First, we'll never achieve it technologically.

Second, even if we did get the tech, the human need to win means rich people will always find a way to make sure there are poor people. See my comment about Pareto distributions above.

I hope I'm wrong. Maybe my years in finance have just turned me into a relentless pessimist.

#34 llanitedave

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Posted 17 September 2019 - 09:06 AM

This an interesting question, though possibly not for your reasons.

First up, it isn't achieved by just giving everyone more money. All that does is devalue money. This is what causes hyperinflation like in the Weimar Republic in the 1930s, or Zimbabwe more recently.

Making everyone wealthy would be about us having so much stuff (broadly) that everyone can simply have as much as they want, for free, and with no real negative consequences. (We're not rich if we destroy the world.)

I think (and I think most economists think), this is more a technological problem than an economic problem. You need some way of creating all the stuff that is essentially cost-free, and doesn't involve human labour.

It's often referred to as the post-scarcity society, and is more often a feature of science fiction than economics. Think Star Trek.

I have two suspicions.

First, we'll never achieve it technologically.

Second, even if we did get the tech, the human need to win means rich people will always find a way to make sure there are poor people. See my comment about Pareto distributions above.

I hope I'm wrong. Maybe my years in finance have just turned me into a relentless pessimist.

You're not wrong.  But maybe, just maybe that little human tendency can be overcome or bypassed.  After all, the entire progress of civilization over history has been an exercise in overcoming and suppressing the more anti-social aspects of our human nature.  It used to be worse than it is now.



#35 CygnuS

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Posted 17 September 2019 - 11:29 AM

Rich people tend to have significantly fewer children.  Rich people also have greater access to the latest energy-efficient technologies.  Poor people tend to cut down woodlands in marginal areas out of desperation.

This also leads to another dilemma. Should we send food to countries with starving citizens to feed them? Of course we should. Only a horrible person would not want to help. But when you word the question like this it gets complicated: Should we send food to a million starving people if our actions create 10 million starving people? Either way it seems like we are going to have to live with a lot of guilt.....and I'm feeling it right now. It just seems like we lose no matter what we do.


Edited by CygnuS, 17 September 2019 - 11:32 AM.


#36 llanitedave

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Posted 17 September 2019 - 11:59 AM

This also leads to another dilemma. Should we send food to countries with starving citizens to feed them? Of course we should. Only a horrible person would not want to help. But when you word the question like this it gets complicated: Should we send food to a million starving people if our actions create 10 million starving people? Either way it seems like we are going to have to live with a lot of guilt.....and I'm feeling it right now. It just seems like we lose no matter what we do.

Probably a bit off topic, and I'm not sure how far the moderators will tolerate this line of discussion, but as DaveC mentioned above, the problem isn't really a lack of food, it's a lack of food distribution.  It's political.

 

Food aid helps in the short term, but to work long term it has to be accompanied by the kind of political reforms that allow people to become educated, employed, and invested in their society.  Once that happens, it becomes much easier for them to feed themselves.  It's not that poor people of the world are incapable of feeding themselves, they are almost always prevented from feeding themselves through injustice, corruption, war, or some combination of all three.

 

So yes, it's worth it to help, and it's also worth it to try to encourage other governments to act in a responsible manner towards their own people.



#37 Inkswitch

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Posted 17 September 2019 - 12:37 PM

Barring the governments that won't properly distribute aid, the solution seems simple.  Instead of sending money or food to those in need, send them our technology, which incidentally, was produced by research that seemed useless at the time of conception.  This way you are not giving a human a fish, you are giving them the means for an agricultural revolution that will allow them to feed themselves. 



#38 CygnuS

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Posted 17 September 2019 - 03:18 PM

Probably a bit off topic, and I'm not sure how far the moderators will tolerate this line of discussion, 

You're right so I guess we should wind this down. I still wonder how bad global warming would be today if every citizen on Earth who has been alive the past 150 years would have spent their whole life living in an industrial society. 



#39 llanitedave

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Posted 18 September 2019 - 09:00 AM

You're right so I guess we should wind this down. I still wonder how bad global warming would be today if every citizen on Earth who has been alive the past 150 years would have spent their whole life living in an industrial society. 

Or in the next 150 years, when nearly all energy is renewable...



#40 Crow Haven

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Posted 18 September 2019 - 10:16 AM


 

 

Now I don't know how we'd arrange things so it was fair, and all the many attempts to do it have failed, so it seems pretty ingrained in us.  But picking science expenditure (or opera, or art galleries, or fine restaurants, etc) to blame is pretty ridiculous.

Human nature hasn't really changed.  Doing something to force it to has been tried...and been a worse outcome.

 

Most of us do have choices we can make however...but using wisdom and taking responsibility for them seems to be lacking.

 


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#41 EJN

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Posted 18 September 2019 - 04:37 PM

If your remember SCTV, "It blowed up real good."

#42 CygnuS

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Posted 19 September 2019 - 10:43 AM

Or in the next 150 years, when nearly all energy is renewable...

I hope you're right but when the Jetson's were on Saturday mornings all the scientists said I'd have a Jetson "car" in the year 2000 and that didn't go so well. The cartoon was a little prophetic though. My wife swipes my wallet and leaves a dollar in the other hand. 



#43 Mister T

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Posted 19 September 2019 - 01:01 PM

I hope you're right but when the Jetson's were on Saturday mornings all the scientists said I'd have a Jetson "car" in the year 2000 and that didn't go so well. The cartoon was a little prophetic though. My wife swipes my wallet and leaves a dollar in the other hand. 

There a comedian who has a song titled: Where the &$@* is my jet pack?


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