Mind upgrade required for human consciousness. It's really, really needed!! Because right now this is where we're stuck at. The highway to hell.
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What Does It Mean to Be Smart?
All of the above problems might have solutions if we can just invent the right technologies and apply them in time to avoid pain and suffering. We should be able to do this because we are smart apes, right?
This is precisely where the argument turns. We are smart. Smart enough to create technologies like agriculture and machinery that seem to solve certain immediate problems. We seek more certainty in our food supply so we plant and tend crops. We have to settle down in one place to do this but that, at first, seems a side benefit. We want to get places fast, and do harder work faster so we invent machine-based tools that require external sources of energy to run. We solve a problem, the problem of increasing demand for the products, by making those products more rapidly. At every turn, the smart ape has solved a problem of immediacy and done so with extraordinary results.
What this ape has also done is ignore a meta-problem. Every problem solution carries with it the seeds of another problem of greater scope. Dilworth sees the pattern clearly. It turns out that the entropy version of the Second Law of Thermodynamics explains this situation. In the process of humans inventing ways to do what is to them useful work (and solve problems) they are effectively decreasing the local entropy in their vicinity. That is, they are increasing the order (e.g. building functional structures and equipment) for themselves. But the Second Law tells us that every gain in order in a system can come only at the expense of an even greater increase in disorder (entropy) of the larger, embedding system — the environment. So even as humans increased the “value” of their human-built world, they did so at the greater expense of the environment. Order and organization on the Earth have decreased overall (think, for example, about biodiversity - a measure of organization/complexity), as the Second Law demands, but at a rate accelerated by the activities of humanity. The Earth system had been operating close to a dynamic equilibrium (Dilworth's first chapter provides insights into the meaning of this) prior to the evolution of humans. This is because the solar influx of energy had stabilized and even though the Earth was experiencing cycles (e.g. the ice ages) of ups and downs, on the whole, the biosphere was adaptively able to maintain its activities precisely because the rate of fluctuation was matched by the rate of evolutionary change in species. After humans got started, that dynamic state was forever disrupted, with greater energy dissipation and rejiggering of many of the large scale, long time geochemical cycles such as the carbon and hydrological cycles. All of this is now witnessed at a global scale. And it is very much the proximal cause of all of our other problems.
So here is the crux of the matter. We are smart enough to have created this situation by virtue of our capacity to increase the rate of entropy increase for the whole Earth system. But we are not smart enough to fix it. That is because of a simple fact. Smartness is for invention and solving local problems. Intelligence and creativity are great for finding new ways to increase entropy. In a perverse twist, this is exactly what biological evolution was all about! And we smart humans were simply fulfilling our biological mandates. Unfortunately, from my own perspective, that also means the greatest natural check of all, a negative feedback control, whereby humans destroy the very life support systems they need to exist, will correct the situation. Any time any system gets out of control it breaks apart. Why should the human-built system be any different?
The Vicious Circle Principle
Thus we come to Dilworth's vicious circle principle (VCP). Man gets smart enough to become inventive. He invents things that allow him to survive and through increased fitness produce more offspring. But as often as not he creates something like a surplus and nature abhors both vacuums and concentrations, so man begets more men to work off the surplus. Or he invents some variation on a need fulfilling tool that produces something men might want, even though it isn't strictly speaking in support of survival. After a while, those wants being fulfilled, man gets used to having whatever it is and it effectively becomes a new need. But then population overshoot reduces the availability of the whatever and a new problem exists. So back to the drawing board, invent something else that will fulfill the new need. And around we go again. I have not done justice to Dilworth's explication here. I only wanted to give the reader a sense of the direction the author is taking. Of course you should read his work to fill in the details. And there are many more details that he covers superbly.
This VCP, according to Dilworth's thesis, is the penultimate root cause of all problems that we are experiencing. It is the process where intervention would be needed to stop and reverse the predicament. But therein lay the greatest problem of all. The VCP exists because of our human nature and nothing short of changing that is going to allow an intervention that could halt the vicious circle dynamic.