I am Human, I'm American, and I'm Addicted to Oil...


An advertisement for BMW cars -and freedom, and power, and sex, and status.... (Click to enlarge)

“Selfish behaviors are reward driven and innate, wired deeply into the survival mechanisms of the primitive brain, and when consistently reinforced, they will run away to greed, with its associated craving for money, food, or power. On the other hand, the self restraint and the empathy for others that are so important in fostering physical and mental health are learned behaviors – largely functions of the new human cortex and thus culturally dependent. These social behaviors are fragile and learned by imitations much as we learn language". Dr. Peter Whybrow - "American Mania"


The vast majority of Peak Oil writing and discussion centers around the upcoming date of an all liquids peak and what the subsequent decline rate will look like. There is also active debate on how we can best replace the coming shortfall in fossil energy with renewable flows. Fewer discussions are about relocalizing a global economy dependent on cheap transportation fuels, and how best to live in a world with lower energy availability. Yet fewer still delve into who we are, how we got here, and what and why we use energy. Essentially, the majority of our energy conversations, at conferences, schools, institutions, and the blogosphere, focus on the means, and not the ends. The ends generally remain unquestioned. There seems to be an implicit assumption that worldwide energy demand will continue to grow something akin to a natural law. But in an economic system based on self-interest on a finite planet, the true drivers of demand will need to be better understood beyond the microeconomic mantra "price will change behavior".

This post looks at our own history on the planet, outlines how the ancient-derived reward pathways of our brain are easily hijacked by modern stimuli, and concludes that in very real ways, we have become addicted to the 'consumptive behaviors' linked to oil. "Traditional" drug abuse happens because natural selection has shaped behavior regulation mechanisms that function via chemical transmitters. Just as an addict becomes habituated to cocaine, heroin or alcohol, the 'normal person' possesses the neural architecture to become habituated via a positive feedback loop to the 'chemicals' we receive from shopping, keeping up with the joneses (conspicuous consumption), pursuing more stock options and profits, and other stimulating activities that a large social energy surplus provides. Typically, in order to overcome addictions, it is usually not enough to argue about which year the drug supply is going to begin its decline. It's a better path to understand the addiction, admit it before one hits rock bottom, and either begin the cold turkey process or become addicted to something else.


Timeline of human evolution - Source: Dr. William Stanton (Click to enlarge)

To understand how and why our demand for oil and energy services continually increases, and what behavioral constraints if any, we will encounter when an energy decline occurs, it will be necessary to review 'some' evolutionary history. For those versed in biology it will be a quick refresher - for those not, it shouldn't be too painful, but maybe a little.

All life on earth originated from the same single celled organisms. We are used to thinking in terms of months, years, decades, etc. so it's difficult to grasp millenia let alone millions or billions of years. As can be seen in the above graphic, modern humans history on the planet takes up a very small % of the time of life on earth and an even smaller % of the time since Earth was first formed. We share a great deal of our genes with simpler organisms such as mice or wheat, and considerably more with dogs or other primates like chimpanzees. Of the genes actually used, or ‘conserved’, we share more – over 60% with fruit flies and over 96% with chimpanzees. We are all kin, somehow traceable back several billion years to the origin of life on earth. I am not only related to my friend Euan Mearns, but to a lesser extent his dogs, and still lesser extent, the plants in his yard.

Charles Darwin’s maxim of evolution: "Multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die" has gradually, but definitively shaped who we have become as humans today. This theme has been expanded by modern biological research to focus less on 'the strongest' in the physical sense, and more on the concept of 'relative fitness' (or inclusive fitness), that those adaptations that are successful in propelling genes, or suites of genes, into the next generation will have had an adaptive advantage, outcompeting those that were deleterious or did not keep up with environmental change. Evolution does not have 'purpose', it just combines time (a great deal of it) with the substrate of life and hones and culls as eons pass. A male spider is sometimes consumed by the female after they have sex. This obviously is a bummer for the male spider, but can be explained by evolution if the nutrition provided for his offspring (carrying his genes) outweighs the sum of his future mating opportunities. Thus the spider, when presented with a 'hot female spider' was not 'calculating' the odds of being eaten vs. how many nutrients were in his body, but performing a behavior that was successful for his ancestors, and therefore chemically 'felt right'. All of life has arrived in 2008 by some path like this, including and especially human beings.

Fossil hominid skulls - Image Copyright Smithsonian Institute
A more detailed description Doug Theobold, Phd (Click to enlarge)

* (A) Pan troglodytes, chimpanzee, modern
* (B) Australopithecus africanus, STS 5, 2.6 My
* (C) Australopithecus africanus, STS 71, 2.5 My
* (D) Homo habilis, KNM-ER 1813, 1.9 My
* (E) Homo habilis, OH24, 1.8 My
* (F) Homo rudolfensis, KNM-ER 1470, 1.8 My
* (G) Homo erectus, Dmanisi cranium D2700, 1.75 My
* (H) Homo ergaster (early H. erectus), KNM-ER 3733, 1.75 My
* (I) Homo heidelbergensis, "Rhodesia man," 300,000 - 125,000 y
* (J) Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, La Ferrassie 1, 70,000 y
* (K) Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, La Chappelle-aux-Saints, 60,000 y
* (L) Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, Le Moustier, 45,000 y
* (M) Homo sapiens sapiens, Cro-Magnon I, 30,000 y
* (N) Homo sapiens sapiens, modern

Man split off from the rest of the apes about 5-6 million years ago (my). It is estimated that our earliest hominid ancestors, the australopithecenes were the first to walk upright. Can you imagine the excitement and attraction to the first few pairs of these creatures that started walking on two legs instead of four? Must have been cool!
Tens of thousands of generations of various stages of human ancestry passed in Africa, the big cats and environmental hazards keeping hominids close to or under local carrying capacities, with no real need to migrate. Genetic analysis shows that the intelligence that distinguishes us as homo sapiens is of comparatively recent origin-emerging perhaps a mere 200,000 years ago, compared to the millions of years that the hominid line has been in evolution. Modern humans ultimately emerged around 125,000 years ago and remained in small hunter gatherer tribes until the invention of agriculture around 10,000 years ago. It was not until we started 'spending' our energy bounty in the late 1700s that our population began its moonshot trajectory. The average American today uses around 60 barrel of oil equivalents of primary energy each year- depending on the assumptions this represents over a hundred annual energy 'slaves', for each of us.

The Triune Brain (Mclean) viewed through the lens of natural selection (Click to enlarge)


I have (briefly) gone through evolution of the triune brain several times on TOD before. The various layers and mechanisms of our brain were built on top of eachother, over millions and millions of iterations, keeping intact what worked and adding on what changes and mutations helped the pre-human, pre-mammal organism survive. The neocortex developed on top of, and in complex synergy with, the older brain structures of the limbic system and the primitive reptilian core. Brain structures that functioned poorly in those ancient environments are no longer around. Gradually, organisms became more complex. We are, all of us, descended from the best of the best at surviving and procreating, which in the environment of privation and danger where we spent the most 'iterations' of our evolving, meant acquiring necessary resources, achieving status, and possessing brains finely tuned to natural dangers and opportunities.


Status historically has been a signaling mechanism that has minimized the costs of competition, whether for reproductive opportunities, or for material resources. If you place 10 chickens in an enclosure there will ensue a series of fights until a pecking order has been established. Each perceives who it can and cannot beat and a status hierarchy is created, thus making future fights and wastes of energy less common. Physical competition is costly behavior which requires energy and entails risk of injury. Status is a way to determine who one can profitably challenge and who one cannot. Within humans, status has become highly refined by what culture dictates – popularity, physical looks, wealth, fast cars, political connections, etc. Biologists have shown that historically, the only way to reliably demonstrate one's quality during courtship is to display a high-cost signal such as a heavy peacock's tail, an energy expending bird-song concert, or a $100,000 sports car. Only these costly "handicap" signals are evolutionarily stable indicators of their producer's quality, because cheap signals are too easy for low-quality imitators to fake (Zahavi and Zahavi, 1997). In this sense 'waste', (from an energy and materials perspective) has been evolutionarily selected for! It follows that the larger a cultures energy subsidy, the more opportunity there is for ‘status badges’ to depart from traits correlated with basic needs (e.g. strength, intelligence, adaptability, stamina, etc.) In many societies, achieving cultural success appears to lead to biological (genetic) success. Though ‘what’ defines status may be culturally derived, the fact that humans ‘have’ status hierarchies is part of our evolved nature. Our ancestors at the bottom of the pecking order, ceteris paribus, are not our ancestors. This is all outlined in the evolutionary theory of sexual selection.


Not only did our physical systems evolve through the long process of natural selection, but so did our mental organs. The brain itself utilizes about 40% of all available genes. When it comes to self preservation, nature is especially parsimonious in shaping the brains survival systems to become extraordinarily efficient. Incremental biases in how our brains recognize, process, and react to the world around us either contributed to our survival and thus were carried forward, or died out. Of major importance in the millions of years of hominid adaptation was the concept of 'salience', which is related to curiosity, novelty and reward seeking. Salience is noticing what is important, or different; what contrasts from the usual. All of the various precursor hominid species to modern man evolved under conditions of privation and scarcity, at least until 20-30,000 years ago, (which is too short of time to meaningfully impact millions of years of neural sculpture). Salience recognition is part of the mesolimbic dopamine reward pathway. This system of neurons is integral to survival efficiency, helping us to decide on a minute by minute basis what in the environment should command our attention. Immediate feedback on what is 'new' was critical in staying out of harms way as well as procuring food. Because most of what happens around us each day is predictable, processing every detail of a familiar habitat wastes brain energy and could also be a deadly distraction. Thus when our ancestors were living on the savanna they paid little attention to the stable profile of the mountains on the horizon but were alert to any change or movement in the bush, on the plains, or at the riverbank. Those more able to detect and quickly process 'novelty' in the ancestral environment were more likely to survive and pass on their genes. Indeed, modern experimental removal of dopamine receptor genes in animals causes them to reduce exploratory behavior, a key variable related to inclusive fitness in animal biology. Novelty also played a role in sexual selection as well. Recent theorists have pointed out that perceptual biases (e.g. greater responsiveness to large, bright, high-contrast, loud, rhythmic, or novel stimuli) can influence the direction of sexual selection and the details of courtship displays (e.g. Endler, 1992; Ryan & Keddy-Hector, 1992; for review see Geoffrey Miller). Small differences between species in these perceptual biases could lead to large differences in the courtship displays they evolved.

By instinct then, we are geared for individual survival - we are both reward driven, and curious. Indeed it was these two core traits which the father of economics himself, Adam Smith, predicted would be the drivers of world economic growth in "Wealth of Nations". According to Smith, uniting the twin economic engines of self-interest (which he termed self-love) and curiosity was ambition – "the competitive human drive for social betterment". Charles Darwin, about 70 years later after reading Adam Smiths “Theory of Moral Sentiments” recognized the parallel between the pursuit of wealth creation and the competition for resources that occurred among species. More recently, books by Peter Whybrow "(American Mania)"and Michael Shermer (The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and other Tales from Evolutionary Economics) have suggested that our market system of allocating resources and 'status' was the natural social culmination for an intelligent species finding an abundance of resources.

But, as we shall soon see, the esteemed Scottish philosopher could not have envisioned heli-skiing, Starbucks, corporate jets, yachts, and other stimulating and pleasurable objects that his modern descendants compete for and so easily become acclimated to. I doubt he ever conceived of Peak Oil either.

The major brain dopamine pathways (Thanks to Dr. Peter Whybrow) (Click to enlarge)


"Americans find prosperity almost everywhere, but not happiness. For them desire for wellbeing has become a restless burning passion which increases with satisfaction. To start with emigration was a necessity for them: now it is a sort of gamble, and they enjoy the sensations as much as the profit.” Alexis DeTocqueville, Democracy in America 1831

An explosion of neuroscience and brain imaging research is showing that all drugs of abuse activate the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system, the neural network that regulates our ability to feel pleasure and be motivated for “more”. When we have a great experience – a glance from a pretty girl, lovemaking in the woods, a plate of fresh sushi, hitting 777 on a $5 machine, catching a lunker pike, watching a sunset, hearing a great guitar riff etc. – our brain experiences a surge in the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine. We feel positively charged, warm, ‘in the zone’ and happy. After a while, the dopamine gets flushed out of our system and returns to a baseline level. We go about our lives, looking forward to the next pleasurable experience. The experience gets logged into the brains limbic system, which in addition to being the center of pleasure and emotion, holds our memory and motivation circuits. We now look forward to a repeat performance. These cravings have their beginnings outside conscious awareness. Recent brain imaging research shows that drug and sexual cues as brief as 33 milliseconds can activate the dopamine circuitry, even if a person is not conscious of the cues. Maybe that’s why they hide artistically shaped sexual images in advertisements for whiskey and such. Historically, this might have been waiting hours for some movement in the brush that signaled ‘food’, or the sound of a particular bird that circled a tree with a beehive full of honey. Our pattern recognition system on the Pleistocene would have had a grab-bag of various environmental stimuli that could ‘excite’ our brains towards action that historically had correlated with resources (usually food). The whole system evolved from the biological imperative of survival. Food meant survival, sex meant survival (of genes or suites of genes), and having second helpings of both literally meant survival of the species. The brain’s reward pathway thus records both the actual experience of pleasure as well as ensures that the behaviors that led to it are remembered and repeated (irrespective of whether they are ‘good’ for the individual – they ‘feel good’, which is the mechanism our brain has left us as a heritage of natural selection).






Rescorla Wagner Learning Function (Click to enlarge)

The mechanisms of habituation (and subsequent substance abuse and addiction) originate in how we learn. Dopamine responses comply with basic assumptions of formal learning theory. With biological origins, learning depends crucially on the discrepancy between the occurrence of a reward and its prediction. The importance of such prediction errors is derived from Kamin’s blocking effect (1969) which postulates that a reward that is fully predicted does not contribute to the learning of a stimulus or action, even when it has been repeatedly paired with the stimulus or action. This is conceptualized in the associative Rescorla-Wagner learning rules, according to which learning advances only to the extent to which a reinforcer is unpredicted and slows progressively as the reinforcer becomes more predicted.

Dopamine activation has been linked with addictive, impulsive activity in numerous species. Dopamine is released within the brain not only to stimuli an organism finds rewarding but also to those events which predict rewards. It has long been known that two groups of neurons, in the ventral tegmental and the substantia nigra pars compacta areas, and the dopamine they release, are critical for reinforcing certain kinds of behavior (Dayan and Montague, 1997; Glimcher, Dorris and Bayer, 2005; Schultz, 2002). Wolfram Schultz measured the activity of these dopamine neurons while thirsty monkeys waited for a tone which was followed by a squirt of fruit juice into their mouths. After a regimen of fixed, steady amounts of juice, the volume of juice was doubled without warning. The rate of neuron firing went from about 3 per second to 80 per second. But after several trials, as this new magnitude of reward was 'habituated to', the firing rate returned to the baseline rate of 3 firings per second. The monkeys had habituated to what was coming. The opposite happened when the reward was reduced without warning. The firing rate dropped dramatically, but then returned to the baseline rate of 3 firings per second.

The first time we experience a drug or alcohol high, the amount of chemical we ingest often exceeds by an order of magnitude the levels of naturally occurring neurotransmitters in our bodies. That experience, no matter how brief, is stored in the amygdyla and hippocampus, important centers for motivation and memory. Getting drunk with your mates, getting high on a ski-lift, removing the undergarments of a member of the opposite sex for the first time –all initially flood the brain with dopamine alongside a picture memory of the event linked to the bodys pleasurable response to it. And we look forward to doing it again, because we want to repeat that 'feeling'. But in a modern stimuli-laden culture, it becomes a trick. After each upward spike, dopamine levels again recede, eventually to below the baseline. The following spike doesn’t go quite as high as the one before it. Over time, the rush becomes smaller, and the crash that follows becomes steeper. The brain has been fooled into ‘thinking’ that achieving that high is equivalent to survival (even more so than with food or sex which actually do contribute to survival) and the ‘consume’ light remains on all the time. Eventually, the brain is forced to turn on a self defense mechanism, reducing the production of dopamine altogether – and weakening the pleasure circuits function. At this point, the addicted person is compelled to use the substance not to get high, but to feel normal – since theres little or no dopamine response being produced by ones own body. The person has reached a state of anhedonia, or inability to feel pleasure via normal experiences. Furthermore, being addicted raises the risk of having depression; being depressed increases the risk of self-medicating, which then leads to addiction, etc. in a positive feedback loop (with negative consequences)

Habituation and eventual addiction to a substance (the graph says endorphins, which relate to opiates, but similar patterns exist for dopamine) (Click to enlarge)

When exposed to novel stimuli, high levels of curiosity (dopamine) are generated, but it is the unexpected reward that causes their activation.
If I order a fantastic array of sushi and the waiter brings me my check along with a breath mint, I am going to have a plunge in dopamine levels which will create an immediate craving for food. It is this interplay between expected reward and reality that underlies much of our behavioral reactions. Ultimately, repeated use of a dopamine generating ‘activity’ causes tolerance. Withdrawal results in lower levels of dopamine and continuous use is required to keep dopamine at normal levels, and even higher doses to get the ‘high’ levels of initial use. (1)

Taking this further, the Rescorla-Wagner learning function 'shape' seems to be common in life -kind of like the 80/20 rule. Here we see it with happiness and GDP. There is something important here....


“Most of these people in the nations of the United States are extremely eager in the pursuit of immediate material pleasures and are always discontented with the position they occupy. They think about nothing but ways of changing their lot and bettering it…An American will build a house in which to pass his old age and sell it before the roof is on. He will plant a garden and rent it just as the trees are coming into bear. He will take up a profession and leave it, settle in one place and soon go of elsewhere with his changing desire. Yet at the end of the year crammed with work he has little spare leisure. His restless curiosity goes with him traveling up and down the vast territories of the United States.” Alexis DeTocqueville, Democracy in America1831!

ALL humans share the same general neurocircuitry that can be hijacked by intense and pleasurable stimuli. But some are more at risk than others, both genetically, and as is increasingly apparent in the fast paced OECD world, by culture. Just having a genetic predisposition to a certain condition doesn’t guarantee that the condition will happen. In order to ‘switch on’, certain genes must interact with or be triggered by environmental factors. If that doesn’t happen, the addiction will not occur. Temperament and character are the 2 key components that comprise individual personality. Their distinction is inherent when we separate instinct and inborn habits from free will and what we learn. 'Character’ emerges over time through self-awareness - it is learned behavior shaped largely by the family and the culture we grow up in. "Temperament' on the other hand, is an inborn pattern of emotional style that starts to unfold in childhood and persists into adult life. Temperament is strongly heritable, accounting for approximately 40% of behavioral variance in twin studies.

Professor Robert Cloninger has developed an organized system of evaluating human temperament and character and explaining their variations. Utilizing a large database from over two decades of research, Cloninger has integrated objective psychological testing of individuals with the growing knowledge of the brains anatomy and chemical messenger systems. His research confirms that patterns of temperament are heritable, but further suggests that different personality patterns reflect variation in the genetic programming of neurochemical communication. The common behavioral patterns of temperament appear to reflect the balance of activity among the dopamine, norepenephrine and serotonin systems (the 3 information superhighways linking the ancient brain stem to the neocortex). His research has identified behavioral clusters that describe 4 major temperament styles -the poles of which are 'harm avoidance' (shy) and 'novelty seeking' (bold).

Cloninger's analysis integrates common patterns in which we interact with others and how we respond to social challenges. Briefly, individuals with harm avoidance temperament are generally shy and anxious in the face of social competition. (Research in humans and other primates suggest this pattern is associated with a dominance of serotonin in the brain messenger systems). On the other hand the temperament clusters of reward dependence, persistence, and novelty seeking – the 3 behaviors that overlap with curiosity – are linked to the activity of the brains reward system as well as to the dopamine and norepenephrine superhighways. When we are 'curious' and try some new snack, play a new video game, write a good rebuttal to a Stuart Staniford post, or meet somebody we really like, it is our dopamine reward pathways that are activated, reminding us to repeat the experience. This pleasurable reinforcement begins a positive feedback loop – a reward- and an individuals response to and dependence on that reward is a large part of what defines ones type of temperament.

Individuals who are fascinated by novelty and risk are less anxious and fearful when confronted with uncertainty or danger. On the flip side, they are also easily bored, (for example by reading long oildrum posts with low 'graphic/text' ratios). The association of exploratory behavior across species (genetic ‘conservation’) with the D4 receptor complex suggests that the dopamine circuitry has played an important role in mammalian adaptation to changing environments throughout evolution. Thus, it is the novelty seeking temperament that is important in understanding exploratory (migratory?) behavior. This temperament style appears to reflect genetic differences in the dopamine reward system of the brain. Those scoring high on this scale are bold and curious individuals, who enjoy exploration and challenge and are risk takers with thick skins in social situations.


“In Europe, we habitually regard a restless spirit, a moderate desire for wealth and an extreme love of independence as great social dangers, but precisely these things assure a long and peaceful future in the American republics” - Alexis DeTocqueville "Democracy in America" 1831(this guy was a freakin' prophet!)

“America was set apart in a special way. It was put here between the oceans to be found by a certain kind of people. A beacon of hope to the rest of the world” Ronald Reagan – A Time for Choosing 1984

An invasive species will be defined as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health” - Executive Order 13112 signed by Bill Clinton in February 1999

The fact that patterns of temperament are strongly heritable has obvious implications for understanding the restless curiousity and risk taking that is so characteristic in American culture. 98% of all humans who have ever lived on the planet never moved from their birthplace.(9) Beginning in Africa, as few as 500 humans migrated northward into Europe and Asia, which began the population seeding of the rest of the world around 120,000 years ago. Fast forward to the 17th-19th centuries, a relatively empty America was rumoured to be a land of opportunity and full of resources. Typical migrants to our shores were self-selected and for a variety of individual reasons, chose to come here (with the exception of slaves). Whether it was to escape oppression, to better ones-self and family with the promise of riches, or to quest for new lands and experiences, America has become a melting pot of immigrants in the past few centuries. If only 2% of the worlds population is migrant, then it logically follows that Americans, in their risk to starting life anew are a self selected subgroup of that émigré population. At the time of its first Census in 1790, the United States was home to a population of just over 4 million people. But today, 98%+ of our 300 million residents were either born elsewhere and migrated here or born into families that migrated to the United States in the last three centuries. (The other 2% being Native Americans). This phenomenon is not confined to first generation migrants – over 20% of Americans change their residence every year and this trend has been in place since the 1950s.(1)

There has been considerable genetic testing on a suite of alleles accompanying the D dopamine receptor, which in some tests showed a high correlation with novelty/impulsivity, especially at the DRD4 polymorphism. Lack of funding (and perhaps lack of political correctness) has precluded the obvious hypothesis tests to see if Americans really are more 'genetically' wired for novelty/impulsivity. Though the brain sciences have made major advances in the past decade, they are still in their infancy in what they might accomplish. Parsing behaviors down to one particular allele, though possible, also doesn't seem too likely. However, the premise that Americans are genetically/culturally more prone to risk taking, impulsivity, novelty-seeking, and therefore addiction, is the main theme of the excellent book "American Mania" (a book which I've heavily borrowed from in this post) by Dr. Peter Whybrow, who heads up the Semel Neuroscience Institute at the UCLA Medical School. I find this thesis, especially given my personal history on Wall Street and my travels around the world, a compelling one.


Americas Addictions - Time Magazine July 2007(Click to enlarge)

It would be pretty hard to be addicted directly to oil. Its toxic, slimy and tastes really bad. But it can be quite possible to become addicted to the energy services that oil provides. Within a frenetic culture of 'more', it is no wonder we have so many addicts. By instinct we are geared for individual survival-curious, reward-driven and self-absorbed – modern technology has now become a vector for these cravings. Material wealth and abundant choice available in contemporary US society are unique in human (or animal) experience – never before in the history of our species have so many enjoyed (used?) so much. High density energy and human ingenuity have removed the natural constraints on our behavior from distance, time, oceans and mountains. For now, these are largely developed nation phenomenon - people living in a hut in Botswana or a yurt in Mongolia are just not exposed to the 'hijacking stimuli' of an average westerner, especially one living in a big city in the United States, like New York, or Los Angeles.

Many activities in an energy rich society harness this difference between expected and unexpected reward. Take fishing for example. If my brother and I are out on a lake fishing and we get a bite -it sends a surge of excitement through our bodies - what kind of fish is it? how big is it? etc. We catch it and its an 8 inch perch. Cool. A minute later we catch another 8 inch perch - wow there must be a school! After 45 minutes of catching nothing but 8 inch perch, our brain comes to expect this reward, and we need something bigger (or at least different) to generate the same level of excitement - so we will likely move to a different part of the lake in search of 'bigger' prey. (though my brother claims he would never tire of catching fish no matter the size or species I think he's lying).

But given the above mechanics of the habituation process of 'real' drugs, one can understand how some initially benign activities can morph into things more destructive. Weekly church bingo escalates to $50 blackjack tables; Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, several years down the road results in monthly delivery (in unmarked brown packaging) of "Jugs" magazine or cybercams locked in on some bedroom in Budapest; a ride on a rollercoaster evolves into annual heli-skiing trips, etc. Video game sales just reached $18 billion annually (and are getting more violent by the year - Lord of Rings type stuff is too mild..) Globalization and cheap travel has enabled an explosion of internet matchmaking, where 10s of millions of singles ostensibly seek a mate, but all too often get habitutated to the actual seeking process itself. Many sites now cater to short term encounters (adultfriend finder has 21 million members). So what started off with a small yearning for flowers may end up with exposure to more and more extreme stimuli.

Even and especially the internet can hijack our neural reward pathways. Though becoming addicted to more 'information' doesn't use a great deal of energy, relatively speaking, it, and other similar repetitive activities gradually bring us a step closer to the point of anhedonia, the state where we can't experience pleasure by normal things anymore unless our circuitry is tickled in the way we have become accustomed to. For better or worse, the first thing I do in the morning is a)check what time it is, b)start the coffee machine then c)check my email, to see what 'novelty' might be in my inbox. Bills to pay, and emails from people who are not important or interesting, wait until later in the day, or are forgotten altogether. Then I walk the dog. At least I don't own a television.

Don't you just WANT to click on some of these? (Click to enlarge)

Novelty. Novelty. Novelty. Always something new in the inbox... (well, an email from Vladimir Putin would certainly qualify). I wonder how I would react if we all had to go back to dialup?...I suspect I would have a plunge in neurotransmitter levels...(hypothesis: true, n=3, lightning storms) Today there is news of undersea internet cables being cut, or damaged near Iran, who as of noon central, has no internet access. The horror... Of course, news events like this seem more 'novel' to us if they are flavor enhanced with a rationale. "US is preparing to invade Iran so cut its undersea cables" is a good deal more 'stimulating' to our brains than 'undersea cable grinds on some rocks'. The internet is almost a perfect vehicle to hijack our reward systems.)

Regarding sex, there are few healthy men on the planet today that in social settings do not respond, outwardly or otherwise, to the attention of a high status, attractive 20-30 something woman. This is salient stimuli, irrespective of the mans marital status. But here is one example of where nature and nurture mesh. Despite the fact that 99% of our history is polygynous, modern culture precludes men from running around pell mell chasing women - we have rules, laws, and institutions like marriage and such. Though 'habituation' of various things, may at least partially explain the 60%+ divorce rate in modern society. Grass is greener and such...

Seriously, the entire brain and behavior story is far more complex than just one neurotransmitter and its reward pathway. But the pursuit of this particular 'substance' is clearly correlated with anxiety, obesity, and general increasing of conspicuous consumption in our society. (1) We did not evolve in such a world, where every waking moment carries its own microemergency. Prolonged exposure to such conditions tends to confuse our ancient protective mechanisms, exhausting the bodys stress arousal systems and lowers our resistance to disease. Our success is making many of us sick.

That dopamine is directly involved is pretty clear. Parkinsons Disease is a condition where dopamine is lacking in an area of the brain necessary for motor coordination. Here is a fMRI photo of dopamine levels of a Parkinsons patient vs. a control. The Parkinsons drug, Mirapex, increases dopamine levels in that area of the brain, but since pills are not lasers, it also increases dopamine in the reward pathways (and other areas). There are numerous lawsuits currently pending by Parkinsons patients who after taking the drug, developed sex, gambling, shopping and overeating compulsions (Journal of Neurology Sep 2005).

Why are Americans so much fatter than Europeans? (Click to enlarge (or don't))

Food is also an area that can trick the brain. We evolved in situations where salt and sugar where rare and lacking. When we taste Doritos or Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie, our reward pathways say 'yes yes - this is good for you!!', at the same time our 'rational' brain realizes that science has shown we are becoming obese from eating too much of the wrong type of foods, and lack of exercise. For most (myself included) my rational brain is batting about .250 or less. Americans lead the world in obesity(Percentage of population with Body Mass Index > 30 SOURCE - OECD FACTBOOK 2005 – ISBN 92-64-01869-7 – © OECD 2005). Since we are exporting our culture (via the market system) to developing countries, it is no surprise that China is following in our footsteps. From 1991 to 2004 the percentage of adults who are overweight or obese in China increased from 12.9% to 27.3%.(8) Furthermore, we can become habituated to repeated presentation of the same food type - we quickly get tired of it and crave something different. We like variety. In food and in other things.

(Side note: recently I've been cooking for myself - I cook too much and share the leftovers with my dog. He now shuns his regular food (unless he's starving). Apparently he is experiencing food habituation as well (which is bad for me because now he is a perpetual beggar).


As has been previously written about on theoildrum.com here, the economic term for impulsivity is steep discount rates, which means we weight the present predominantly more than the future when making decisions (consciously or otherwise). (I am beginning to think this phenomenon is really the ecological maxim, The Maximum Power Principle, integrated with culture) The discounting model of impulsiveness (Ainslie, 1975) implies that discount rates are positively correlated with impulsivity. On average, heroin addicts' discount rates are over double those of controls. Furthermore, in tests measuring discount rates and preferences among opium addicts, opioid dependent participants discounted delayed monetary rewards significantly more than did non-drug using controls. Also, the opioid-dependent participants discounted delayed opium significantly more than delayed money, more evidence that brain chemicals are central to an organisms behavior and money and other abstractions are secondary. Subsequent research has also shown that deprivation of various addictive substances even further steepens a subject’s preference for immediate consumption over delayed gratification. This grid summarizes some of the latest research statistics on addiction to various substances causing steep discount rates. (source - Intertemporal Choice - Chablis et al. -The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2007). In a world with so much choice, so many stimulating options vying for our attention, perhaps more and more of us are addicted to ...time.


Source - "The Overspent American" - Professor Juliet Schor (Click to enlarge)

Though we might claim otherwise, we always want more. Many desires have negative feedbacks however. I can only eat about 3 cheeseburgers before my stomach sends a signal to my brain that I am full - if I ate 4 or 5 my stomach and esophogus would eventually fill up so that I couldn't physically eat another bite. This is not so with virtual wealth, or many of the "wanting" stimuli promoted in our culture. In ongoing research Professor Juliet Schor of Boston University demonstrates that no matter how much we (the study was on Americans) make, we always say we'd like to make a little more the following year. Similar research, by UCLA economist Richard Easterlin followed a cohort of people over an 16 year period. (he is the eponymous coiner of the "Easterlin Paradox" which points out that average happiness has remained constant over time despite sharp rises in GDP per Capita.) The participants were asked at the onset to list 10 items that they desired. (e.g. sports car, snowmobile, house, private jet, etc.) Over the 18 year study, all age groups tested did acquire some of the things they originally desired. But in each case, their desires increased more than their acquisitions. This phenomenon he termed the "Hedonic Treadmill". Brain research shows that we get a higher buzz by pursuing the type of 'status' symbols (in this study, cars) that society attaches value to. In my opinion, this behavior is at the heart of the Peak Oil problem, and gives me less confidence that we are just going to 'tighten our belts' when the energy situation gets a little tougher and more expensive. That is unless, we change what we want MORE of.

In evolution, (and other fields), this is known as the Ratchet Effect, where once a certain level is reached there is no going backward, at least not all the way. An example of this is obesity - as we get fatter the body creates more adipocytes (adipose tissue). But this system doesn't work in reverse - even though we can lose some of the weight gain, the body can't eliminate these new cells- they are here to stay - thus the ratchet effect.

Our gradual acclimation to substances and activities that hijack our reward system is increasingly forcing us (collectively) to live in the moment. Unwinding this cultural behavior may prove to be difficult.


These sensations we seek in the modern world are not only available and cheap, but most are legal, and the vast majority are actually promoted by our culture. If the rush is tied to something that society rewards then we call it ambition, if its attached to something a little scary, then we label the individual a ‘risktaker’ and if its tied to something illegal – then they are an ‘addict’ or substance abuser. So has culture decided which drugs are 'good' to pursue?

Drugs - legal and illegal vs energy footprint(Click to enlarge)

This is obviously a hypothetical chart, so I will follow it with a hypothetical question. What would society look like if Starbucks dispensed marijuana and Home Depots were giant opium dens? Would we be better off, collectively? (Caffeine is akin to horizontal drilling of oil - it maximizes current production at the cost of higher future depletion).

Drug addiction is defined as "the compulsive seeking and taking of a drug despite adverse consequences". If we substitute the word ‘resource’ for ‘drug’, have we meaningfully violated or changed the definition? That should depend on the definition of ‘drug’ – "a substance that a person chemically comes to rely upon" is standard. Proximally, a drug is a physical substance, but ultimately, it is any activity or substance that generates brain chemicals in a pattern we habituate to. Thus, it is not crude oils intrinsic qualities we crave but the biochemical sensations we have become accustomed to that arise from creatively using the energy embodied in it.

Take stock trading for example. Neuroscience scans show that stock trading lights up the same areas as picking nuts and berries do in other primates, suggestive of what our ancestors must have 'felt' as they tried to increase resources. In my opinion, there are three (at least) 'objectives' one gets from investing/trading in the market, in varying degrees in different people. Neoclassical economics suggests it is the efficient allocation of capital to the company that rewards the investor for risk. I hypothesize that people trade for a)money/profit, b)to be ‘right’, and c) for the excitement/dopamine of the unexpected nature of market movements. While they are not mutually exclusive, it is not clear to me which objective dominates, especially among people who have already attained infinite wealth (technically their annual expenses divided by the t-bill rate). This I witnessed first hand for many years as my billionaire clients on average were less 'happy' than the $30k a year clerks managing their accounts. The rich want 'more' because they were habituated to getting more - its how they kept score. Unless you inherit it, you don't get to be a billionaire if you are easily satisfied. Old brain - new choices.

Regarding compulsive shopping, if this were a rational process, and our choices were influenced only by need, then brand name t-shirts would sell no better than other, less expensive shirts of equal quality. The truth is that many shopping decisions are biased by corporate advertising campaign or distorted by a desire to satisfy some competitive urge or emotional need. Payless Shoe Stores has just set up a website campaign for women who love shoes, etc. If the statistic in www.storyofstuff.com stating that 99% of what we buy ends up as trash within 6 months is correct, then we really have created an entropic machine (I don't know how to check that source - but the video is worth watching).

Not shown on the chart would be many activities falling in the lower left part, both legal and low energy: gardening, reading books, playing games with the family, going for hikes, thinking, sleeping, playing sports, etc. Also not shown might be the hugest dopamine rush of them all - attaining high political office. Unlike heroin and opium which work on opiate receptors and 'satiate' the user, dopamine is a 'wanting' drug. One more orgasm, one more pair of shoes, one more million in the bank, one more social approval, one more check of my email, one more political notch, etc. I wonder what a brain scan of Hillary Clinton during a debate would look like compared to someone on cocaine. I'm guessing pretty similar. (fMRI machines, in order to function, have enormous magnets, and thus only work in lab settings - they cannot be made to be mobile in the forseeable future, but that would be fun)

Also missing on the graphic is violence. Recent research shows that the dopamine we (males) receive from aggression rivals that of food or sex. This is not encouraging.


The Global Carrot for 6.6 billion and growing is What and Whom?(Click to enlarge)

So what are the drivers of economic growth and resource depletion? The "aspiration gap" is economic-speak for the relative fitness/status drive towards who/what is at the top of the status hierarchy. Envy is a strong motivator. A friend recounted that when he last visited Madagascar, the 5th poorest nation on earth, the villagers huddled around the one TV in the village watching the nations most popular TV show 'Melrose Place', giving them a window of desire into Hollywood glitz and glamour, something to strive for... More recently, a prince in the royal family of U.A.E. paid $14 million for a vanity license plate "1". "I bought it because it's the best number," said Khouri, whose family made its fortune in real estate. "I bought it because I want to be the best in the world." Etc. ad infinitum...

The above graphic is a rough normal distribution of the world population. Modern developed nations are competing for profits, yet we are doing so smack in the face of declining energy surplus. When a new child is born, he has all the genetic material he will ever have - from that moment his genes interact with the environment indicating what to compete for. What will a child born in the 21st century 'learn' to compete for? Currently, most people pursue money, though some compete for social status in other ways - politics, knowledge, etc. Modern fMRIs show artificial cultural objects associated with wealth and social dominance elicit activation in reward-related brain areas (Erk 2002). Thus, the large looming problem is that the Chinese (and other rapidly developing nations) don't just aspire the wealth of average Americans - they want whole hog to be millionaires. The only way this can happen is that after basic needs are met, the definition of 'millionaires' changes (or I suppose, central banks could dramatically increase the money supply)

A Hypothetical human timeline of stimulation opportunities (Click to enlarge)

The standard ecological IPAT equation measures the impact of a country/activity on the environment. Impact = Population X Affluence X Technology. Obviously population is key, but given the aforementioned research, I think a better approximation of ecological impact would be Population X Cultural Carrot X Available Novelty Activities, or some such. The main drivers of resource depletion and human consumption are more humans competing for more stuff that has more novelty.


I recently returned from a weekend trip to Las Vegas. On the plane home, full of disconsolate, exhausted zombies, it struck me that Vegas is a microcosm of modern society in several important ways.

1)On the plane ride to Vegas, everyone was giddy, sociable, even manic, anticipating all kinds of unexpected reward in the Babylon of 21st century. Once you get off the plane, its like you are on one extended 72 hour search for unexpected reward. Can't find it here. Let's go there. Craps, horses, poker, women, golf, swimming, booze, craps, massage, sleep, craps, women, sushi over and over. It's society compressed into a weekend. (that trip was my last).

2)I probably know more about the issues surrounding Peak Oil than 99% of people on the planet. Yet among the bright lights, freely flowing drinks, friendly company, and non-stop excitement, not only did I forget about our pending date with a global oil peak, but for about a 12 hour period, under influence from friends, Peak Oil actually seemed impossible. There is no way all this glitz and glamour could end - the vitality in the casinos was viral. The recency effect, and other psychological phenomenon are very powerful indeed to thus anesthetize a peak oil curmudgeon like myself. (2 hours back at the cabin reading the Drumbeat straightened me right out). My point is that few will believe until events force them too. I've known this for a while, but this little personal vignette sealed the concept.

3)There is a shared mythology in America (and spreading) that we can each enjoy fame and opulence at the top of the social pyramid. Even though everyone (I think) knows the odds are stacked against them - they have hope they will be the big winner. 78% of Americans still believe that anybody in America can become rich and live the good life(15). The reality is that the longer one gambles in Vegas, the higher the odds are stacked against you. In our economic system, not everyone can be Donald Trump by definition - there are not enough resources - its the carrot of possible reward that keeps people working 50 hours a week until they retire at 65. All cannot be first. All cannot be wealthy, which makes capitalism, on a finite resource planet not dissimilar from a Ponzi scheme.

4)Vegas may be a canary in our societal coalmine, as the just-in-time delivery model has to run just-right in a desert community importing food, water and energy. Already, there are studies showing there may not be enough water for flat consumption by 2020, let alone enough for planned expansions and a new airport. The Mirage may one day be aptly named.

Given what I've outlined in this post, perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a 'new gambler' is to hit 777 or win big on his/her first trip - its sets up a mental feedback system via the amygdyla and reward pathways that raises expectations in the future, thus making the allure of one armed bandits, etc. difficult to just walk past. A similar setpoint may occur with skiing, buying a new car, making ones first million, or any number of socially sanctioned activities using energy....


"The experience with drug enforcement shows that prohibitions of recreational drugs drive up prices, stimulate illegal activity, have only a moderate negative effect on consumption, and impose unacceptable costs in terms of high crime, expansion of prison populations, and deterioration of relations with the foreign countries that supply the outlawed products." Economist Robert Barro, "Getting it Right: Markets and Choices in a Free Society"

This post has explored some of the core underlying drivers of our demand economy. The self-ambition and curiosity that Adam Smith hailed as the engines of economic growth have been effective indeed over the past 200 years. But Adam Smith cautioned in "Moral Sentiments" that human envy and a tendency toward compulsions, if left unchecked, could undermine the empathic social relationships that were essential to his economic model and the successful long term operation of free markets. Smith lived before the creation of the megacorporation, before 24 hour global e-commerce and before stock options and NASCAR. Amidst so much choice and wealth, we are discovering some uncomfortable facts backed up by modern neurobiology that confirm Adam Smiths fears. In an era of material affluence, when wants have not been constrained by limited resources, the evidence from our modern American experiment suggests that humans have trouble setting limits on our instinctual cravings. And our rational brains just have a hard time acknowledging this glaring fact.

This post has likened the chemical sensations we receive from many socially available stimuli in our fast paced world to the same brain patterns that occur with illicit drugs. "Addiction" can mean many things to many people. I am quite certain a psychiatrist would refuse to diagnose me with 'an oil addiction'. But perhaps not an ecologist. The literature from economics as well as psychology and neuroscience suggest that when an addict (broadly defined) is exposed to higher prices, conventional economic theory does not hold. Since the rational actor model has now been disproven time and again so as to almost be an economic footnote, this should not come as a surprise.

In conclusion, dear reader, I have thrown a great deal of information your way. In retrospect this probably should have been several posts, but when I begin to write its kind of like a Jasper Johns painting. I hope it is clear(er) that we have both biological and cultural constraints on our behavior and that finding the next billion barrels may or may not prove to be a good thing. If you have read this far, you don't have to worry about having serious addiction issues. An addict would likely not have had the patience to read 8,000+ words..;-)


1. If we do manage to increase societies aggregate energy gain, this surplus will be split amongst the entrepreneurs and consumers and ripple through the economic system like a deposit in a fractional banking syste. Thus, What Price Progress?

2. I have come to the conclusion that we cannot change our penchant to want more. We can only change how we define the 'more'. Put aside Peak Oil and Climate Change for the moment. We have it in us to ‘direct’ how our brains get ‘hijacked’. We can choose to go for a jog/hike instead of sending 10 emails and websurfing, we can choose to have a salad instead of a cheeseburger, we can choose to play a game or read a story with our children instead of making 5 business phone calls, etc. But most of these choices, in my opinion, require prior planning. Because ‘at the moment’, our brains will fall into the neural grooves that modern culture has worn into them. It takes conscious plans to change these behaviors, and for some this will be harder than for others (for me very hard). But in choosing thusly, we are likely making ourselves as individuals healthier and happier, with the positive externalities of using less energy and slowing and eventually reversing the societal stimulation feedback loop.

3. It sounds corny, but to maximize the ratio Dopamine/Energy may make more sense than many economic formulas. The brain is clearly not as simple as just one of over 100 neurotransmitters - but in our culture, dopamine looms large. However, in addition to maximizing Dopamine/Energy, we know that we will want MORE in the future. So we have to build that in to the equation, and only aspire to maximize Dopamine/Energy, as in keep the first derivative positive but second derivative negative (or zero). Perhaps maximizing ==>(Unexpected Reward-Expected reward)/Entropy might be a more complex but loftier goal. Food for thought.

4. In the 1970s resource concerns spawned analyses on net energy (Odum), limits to growth(Meadows et al) and criticism of the neoclassical economics model (Georgescu-Roegen, Daly), but the planet was still comparatively empty, and cheap resources still abounded. However, things are really starting to change - the global rich are at least beginning to realize the implications of peak oil, even if they don’t believe it is imminent. They will gradually understand that a GINI coefficient rising towards 1.0 and accelerating ecosystem destruction will not leave them or their children much of a place to enjoy their money. This means there is a real possibility of educating local, regional and national leaders (of course via the rich and powerful) towards a different system. It's now in their interests.

5. In my opinion, the United States has a monumental (though long odds) opportunity to shift the worlds carrot away from conspicuous consumption. As leaders of the free world, we need to set an example that others will follow. The only thing standing in the way is the overwhelming pursuit of profits as our end goal, despite the rationale for the economic system being continually debunked. At a minimum there needs to be government regulation of some areas of the market. Costs that have long been externalized need to be accounted for. Perhaps a system where the market system allocates and votes on 'luxury items' while government manages the commons and basic goods. I do admit that Europe is a good deal further than we are on many of these fronts. My fear is that Americans 'ingenuity' will focus entirely on replacing our energy supply with lower EROI renewables, and thus not only miss the larger prize, but win the booby prize. (My next post will be on The Tragedy of the Energy Investing Commons)

6. The planet is finite: there is only so much land, oil, water, dolphins and gold. No matter how efficiently we use our resources, if there are more users competing for more stuff, we will eventually run out of goods. However, information is limitless. We can explore, research, study, and learn as much as we wish. With the caveat that 8 hours of reading be balanced by hearty physical exercise, information is one thing we can compete for that uses few resources. Look at theoildrum.com as one example. Vernadskii dreamt of a system he called “noosphere” – a biosphere driven by human intellect, spirituality, knowledge, and understanding. This has a shot.....(but then, what would we DO with the information...?

7. Pursuing activities or strategies that strengthen/highlight the zen master of brain neurotransmitters - serotonin, through diet, exercise, and elimination of high dopaminergic feedback loop behaviours, could have big benefits. On a more radical note, though they don’t realize it yet, researchers are moving closer to a vaccine against the excesses of capitalism. Ibogaine might warrant another look as well....

8. If we can be neurally hijacked, what does it suggest about television, advertising, media, etc? The majority of the current neuro-economic information accessed in this post is a byproduct of studies funded by neuromarketing research! How does 'rational utility' function in a society where we are being expertly marketed to pull our evolutionary triggers??

9. In retrospect, this has not been a post about Peak Oil. From the perspective of perpetual wants in an existing system, Peak oil may only appear to be a crisis, but it could also be the needed catalyst for change. We, collectively, are in charge, but need to look at the real big picture, with science, hope and community.

Footer This amazing photography work artistically frames some of the impacts of the ideas in this post.)

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I wonder to what degree this path we have been on has been manipulated, deciding the outcome?

I watched "A Century of the Self" about Bernays and the birth of public relations/advertising, and it seems that when ever humanity has had a choice of paths to take there has been a huge billboard slapped up appealing to our most base instincts, herding us in the direction of instant gratification.

I understand that in the end we still decided to be manipulated but what part does the direction or content of the manipulation, (being IMO hollow and self-destructive) play in where we now find ourselves?


I suggest reading Work Without End : Abandoning Shorter Hours for Right to Work; Benjamin Hunnicutt; Temple, 1988. It chronicles the rise of modern American consumerism and the efforts of business leaders and Protestant do-gooders (idleness is the tool of the devil) to fight shorter work weeks in the 1920s and 1930s.

"franklin roosevelt 32 hour work week hugo black"


"kellogg 32 hour work week great depression"

will return some web sites with a bit on this moment in history when consumerism was pushed as the "right to work."

Thanks paul - I have scanned "work without end" and understand the circumstances of the era.

Then I would ask if it is not possible for the right circumstances to occur for "the masses" to be herded in a new, different, and nondestructive direction?

We just need the right shepherd to come along with the right video to support the movement. (no I'm not talking about Al).

if it is not possible for the right circumstances to occur for "the masses" to be herded in a new, different, and nondestructive direction?

LOL at the meme shift in our own TOD herd.

Many snow melts ago, when I first started dropping comments into the flowing river of TOD thoughts, I suspect I was considered a lunatic kook. The discussions were all about Hubbert curve trajectories and deep drill oil extractions.

I started suggesting that we humans might be "herd" animals who operate on the basis of irrational "sound" logic, and thus, that the convincing of the "masses" about the dangers of Peak Oil may be a difficult task. After all, their eyes glaze over when you start talking PO.

Now it has become fashionable and acceptable here to talk about ourselves as being "herded" and guided by a good shepherd.

How times have changed.

Let me add one more complication to the dopamine level analysis presented by Nate Hagens (excellent job Nate): mental model building.

We humans never experience the "real world". Instead we build complex models inside our brains of what the world outside is most probably like. We use these models to predict likely outcome. If a model continues to fail miserably (but we nonetheless managed to survive), we either modify our model to better fit with observations or we modify our observations. (Example: Take Yergin's model of the infinite global oil pool as modified by new observations of "above ground" contingencies and the consequential undulating plateaus.)

A good shepherd has to first appreciate the existing models in the herd's brains before he can try to slowly remold those models into new ones that will lead to better behavior.

What are the major models that run in our heads?
You already know:

1. Money and economics.
2. Group status, popularity and group acceptance.
3. Fitting in with the norm (being "mainstream")
4. Modeling ourselves and our fellow species mates as being "rational" creatures
5. (you fill in some more)

We have many times talked about the cognitive dissonance that occurs when we leave these Oil Drum pages and step into the "real" world. The people "out there" are going about with their normal lives; driving SUV's, buying stock options, getting rich, getting powerful, becoming "successful" in the eyes of their peers, voting for "change", voting for "conservatism", clapping their hands and stomping their hooves in unison at political "conventions" because they are with the "winners" and not the losers.

It's all part of how our herd models the world.

Best ever, Nate

Ph.D material.

The Money quote:

"Subsequent research has also shown that deprivation of an addicted substance even further steepens a subject’s preference for immediate consumption over delayed gratification."

I like this definition of the MPP:

The Maximum Power Principle states that all open systems (Bernard cells, ecosystems, people, societies, etc.) evolve to degrade as much energy as possible while allowing for the continued existence of the larger systems they are part of. [[1]]

And that we are natural born liars:


"Nor did a prince ever lack legitimate reasons by which to color his bad faith. One could cite a host of modern examples and list the many peace treaties, the many promises that were made null and void by princes who broke faith, with the advantage going to the one who best knew how to play the fox. But one must know how to mask this nature skillfully and be a great dissembler. Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions."
-- Niccolò Machiavelli

Studies have shown that people are not "rational" (in the Bayesian sense). Although the notion that people are "rational utility maximizers" was common a hundred years ago, only economists are still taught it. Scientists now know that human behavior is driven by "irrational" brain chemistry and then "rationalized" after the fact:

"When a split brain subject is subjected to tests where the left half of their brain does not know the correct answer, it will often make something up based on the information it does have." [[11]]

In the late 50s, the social scientist Erving Goffman made a stir with a book that stressed how much time we all spend on stage, playing to one audience or another. Goffman marveled that sometimes a person is "sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality."

What modern evolution theory brings to Goffman's observation is an explanation of the practical function of self-deception: we deceive ourselves in order to deceive others better. In his foreword to Richard Dawkins' THE SELFISH GENE, Robert Trivers noted Dawkins' emphasis on the role of deception in animal life and added, in a much-cited passage, that if indeed "deceit is fundamental to animal communication, then there must be strong selection to spot deception and this ought, in turn, to select for a degree of self-deception, rendering some facts and motives unconscious so as not to betray -- by the subtle signs of self-knowledge -- the deception being practiced." Thus, "the conventional view that natural selection favors nervous systems which produce ever more accurate images of the world must be a very naive view of mental evolution." [[12]]


In banking circles, a 20% drop in housing values is almost unheard of. Just about every house sold in the last ten years could come under the axe.

"As long as trillions in losses remain concealed or unresolved, the basic system for deploying capital will remain paralyzed.-Kunstler

Should the Saudi’s effectively decouple their oil from the US Dollar, the United States, for all practical purposes will cease to be a World power as it economy will collapse completely as the US Dollar has no value in and of itself due to the staggering debt of the Americans. Without oil they are nothing.

Re: Without oil they are nothing.

So the new god is oil? I often here Christians say: "Without God they are nothing." Nice to know Peak Oil thinkers are so rational. End of sarcasm. I suspect that Americans will survive better than most if the Saudi's decouple from the dollar. So what will they accept? The Euro dosen't even have a country behind it; it is pure fiction backed by only a promise and full convertibility to the dollar. European exports to the U.S. would collapse as the Euro skyrocketed. The U.S. economy would boom as globalization brought on by the strong dollar reversed big time. The Yen is from a country that produces no oil or ethanol. The Ruble? Give me a break. The Saudi's have little choice but to accept the dollar, albeit more of them due to their rapidly falling value, because the alternatives are no better in a fiat money world. If they don't trust holding dollars just trade them for gold or whatever as soon as they show up.

"I suspect that Americans will survive better than most if the Saudi's decouple from the dollar. So what will they accept?"

Gold, silver, copper, cement, uranium? Any thing of useful value would be more welcome than organized debt (fiat currency) from the biggest subprime borrower in the world. It is not a good idea to lend to governments with large debt loads, you might not get your capital back.

Regarding the post on Natural born liars:

Anthropologists use the words emic and etic for explanations of social behavior. The emic explanation is how people explain their own culture whereas the etic explanation is how an outsider, who is supposedly impartial (i.e., the anthropologist), explains it. What this means is that people evolve a certain culture in response to their ecology (I am taking the World System's view here) and then make up stories to justify/explain it as well as to use as a teaching aid for their children. Every fable, fairy tale and morality story is teaching people how they should behave. These children will become the next generation of good, god fearing, moral villagers, whatever that culture defines as good, god fearing and moral. Natural born liars is just another phrase for social propaganda and conditioning. We believe what we believe because believing that way helps us cooperate with our neighbors and get something beneficial for ourselves. A good example of this is the need for efficient, reliable and sober workers for the factories during the industrial revolution. This created the idea of the Protestant work ethic.

Of course, the dirty secret is that anthropologists don’t apply these techniques to their own cultures. We are, after all, the ‘impartial’ ones.


From a cultural materialism point of view I see various social movements like Slow Food, Downshifters, Voluntary Simplicity, Relocalizers, etc. as ahead of the curve. They will be considered odd-balls, ignored, scorned, etc. by mainstream culture up until the time when the material conditions plus some leadership starts aligning with them. In one possible scenario, these movements will be co-opted by existing institutions because the big institutions have the means and the historical cultural clout to drive change.

I see them expressing the Shadow (in a Jungian sense) of the dominant culture. The dominant culture is exploitive, fast-paced, globally integrated, competitive, unequal, rational/quantitative, views the universe as a pile of inanimate natural resources to be quantified and utilized as rapidly as possible, etc, etc. So all the "various social movements" you list (hmm, we need some kind of umbrella term here...) are expressing the opposite of that - slow, non-competitive, local not global, emotional/intuitive not rational, socially just, viewing nature/environment as sacred, not quantitative, etc, etc

Especially, it seems to me, not quantitative. And so prone to doing things like advocating biofuels "because they are more sustainable" without understanding the consequences of what will happen if they scale.

Jung would say (I think) that our tasks, as individuals and as a society, is not to become our Shadow, but rather to integrate our shadow into the dominant (ego) personality.

I think that the dichotomy that you propose is too simple minded. On the Energy Blog you will find many enthusiastic supporters of biofuels who are clearly part of the competitive, growth oriented main, stream culture. Also there are many "greens" promoting biofuels, local food production etc who are planning to have their 401K fund growing at 8% per year forever, and are thus clearly part of the main stream culture. They see "green" technology as a way pursuing constant increases in wealth in a less destructive manner,not as a means of slowing down or sharing resources more fairly.

Human beings have a rational faculty that they use to solve specific concrete problems, but I do not see much sign that people's larger life goals are much driven by rationality. People are strongly resistant to major disruptions in the manner of living to which they have become habituated. When such disruption is threatened a strong irrational denial mechanism starts operating. In my perception smart, analytical people are subject to this denial just as much as more intuitive people. Their denial may be more subtle than that of more intuitive people, but the confidence with which many of them predict a hundred more years of economic growth seem to me to be more strongly driven by wishful thinking than by an objective evaluation of the probabilities.

To my mind the most rational response to resource depletion is to forge new social agreements which voluntarily limit consumption and which share resources fairly. I have been told over and over that this idea is impractical, unsalable, inconsistent with human nature, etc. I have even recently been accused of being insane for holding this idea. Nevertheless, from a purely physical point of view this is clearly the most sensible response to the crisis we are facing. Furthermore, in the long run we must create economic institutions that do require constant growth for healthy functioning. If we cannot get our brains around this idea today, why do we believe that people a hundred years from today will be able to do so?

'Localization' is not my mantra for achieving this goal. As transportation energy costs grows economies of scale based on centralized production will change, but barring a catastrophic collapse of energy supplies we should expect a continuous change of economic efficiency and not an abrupt transformation from centrality to locality. Of cource if social structures collapse then radical localization may be forced on us even if it is not the most efficient choice from a purely physical point of view. Insisting that we go on growing until necessity forces us to do otherwise increases the likelihood of such a social collapse.

Great job, Nate!

Everyone, please Digg this.

Dear Nate,

Lucid and interesting. I got a warm, pleasurable, high, when reading parts of your article. I enjoy watching people's minds at work. I like it as much as listening to music, which it's probably closely related to.

This was very well done, and deserves a long comment than I have time to make at present, but I'm impressed.

My only observation would be that to the extent that the argument rests (and this, is of course, not the only thing it rests on) evolutionary psychology, IMHO, it is extremely important to note that evolutionary psychology does not meet the criteria of falsifiability, and is essentially speculative, rather than scientific. My own personal preference is to treat it as such.

Obviously, the majority of your argument rests on more provable, and observed scientific research, but in such a well analyzed argument, I do think it is important to note that evolutionary psychology doesn't have the same merits as contemporary scientific study. Sometimes it makes a whole lot of sense, as back-spinning stories often does, but it is generally not a fact.


Bravo Nate!
I just finished Best of The Brain from Scientific American, which meshed with your article nicely.

I have two adopted daughters, both under six. They are very different characters from each other and from me. I am very risk averse, and was hopelessly shy as a child. Older daughter is very sociable, an adventurous eater, inquisitive, fast learner (by rote), and has a very low boredom threshold. She is none the less emotionally fragile. Younger daughter is addicted to highly processed carbohydrate, quite happy to bumble along by herself for hours, and loves routine and security. I can't help wondering which one will do better in the post-peak world they will grow into. I try to limit their access to over-stimulation (chocolate, television, the internet etc.) but it is difficult - children are designed by evolution to get what they want from parents, even if it is now mal-adaptive.

Very interesting, and very thought provoking. The thing I find fascinating are the differences between people who have the addictive personality (who seem easily drawn into some sort of activity, and have a great difficulty stopping), and those who do not have this personality trait.

I wonder though to what extent that there are stimuli that can replace the ones we have now that can replace the high-energy stimuli that we have become accustomed to. Adrenaline junkies in particular are drawn to fast vehicles of one kind or another, but bombing down a steep hill on a bicycle could be just as big of a rush as driving a car fast.


I found your last paragraph especially interesting. I live in the boondocks. I've been to one movie in the last 25 years, stopped getting broadcast tv years ago, haven't had a vacation in 30+ years,etc.

What I find interesting is a perennial questions from friends who visit us for the first time, "What do you ,i>do?" In essence, they cannot see the possibility that just living life and the reality around me is enough. This may be one thing that differentiates active doomers from the mainstream - they are more content or get more reward from simply living.

BTW, I did the business trip years ago and one thing I learned as a chemical plant manager was that I wanted time, not money and stuff.


Good response. The delayment of gratification can be a discipline related to a higher order examination of life's meaning and consequent goal-setting. And the recognition that some gratifications are frequently destructive can be the means to enable the nullification of their seeking. While I'm not Buddhist, one teaching is, "One who is captivated by desire is not truly free."

This much is true, but the vast majority of people in our society have no such discipline. For that matter, the vast majority never bother to examine the meaning of life, and just go from day to day looking for something new and entertaining in an attempt to fight off the boredom of everyday living.

I suppose that it is possible that the vast majority of people will come to re-examine their lives - perhaps in times of hardship this is inevitable. But the greater danger is that in times of hardship people will instead fall in behind a demagogue of some sort who promises a return to the "golden age".

Or one could say: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Luke 12:15

While I'm not Buddhist, one teaching is, "One who is captivated by desire is not truly free

Do a google on the Buddhist term SAMSARA

"The only person who could stop one’s cycle of Samsara was the one who was traveling through their path."


This is an interesting point. I grew up on a farm myself, and while it was many years ago, I can appreciate the fact that life is considerably different and simpler in such a setting At the time we weren't bored. We had only one TV and one TV station (there were more in the city of course, but that was too far to get a good signal), so TV wasn't a big part of my life.

We had radio - some of my fondest memories as a kid are listening to a baseball game on the radio on a summer afternoon. My fiancee doesn't get why I don't really watch the TV screen when baseball is on. She thinks I am not watching, which I guess is a literal truth.

It would be easy for me to point at the youth of today and dismiss them as obsessed with trivial nonsense. It is hard to pick out one kid to criticize however as one thing that is more universal about kids is the desire to have friends and be popular, and the kids always pick up on the fads from other kids even if you keep it out of your own house.

Even today, my brother refuses to get cable TV as he knows that the kids will just fight over the TV all day long if he were to let them. The problem is that the kids go over to our mother's house, the first thing they do when they get there is flip on the TV and start watching crap.

Thanks for the article, Mr. Hagens!

Why was television not included in the list of addictions? (Is it because Snoozeweek sucks?) More than 99% of us 'Merkins have at least one in the house, and the average 'Merkin watches four hours a day. I think it is more than a plug-in drug or even an addiction. It is a 'supernormal stimulus.'

A supernormal stimulus (aka superoptimal stimulus) is the equivalent to doubling the number of feathers on a male peacock's tail-the male will have increased success mating, even if the weight of the feathers impedes his walking. Some species of birds will put large fake eggs into their nests and incubate them in preference to their own eggs. One species will use 'tricks' like these on others-some moths have huge eyespots on their wings that deter predators.

What makes a stimulus more than normal? I think an honest answer is that it is an arbitrary decision when defining supernormal, just like trying to define when interest in sex becomes an addiction. Evolution had not been required to come up with defenses against scientists dripping large fake eggs in front of sea gulls. However, presently the rich humans are living in a brave new world with novel stimuli not encountered before. Should we be surprised if some of these novel stimuli produce unintended consequences?

A television can stop a hyperactive five year old boy in his tracks for hours, and induce a metabolic rate roughly equivalent to sleeping. I'd call that supernormal. If, by adding a sprinkle of some chemical onto food, I could induce humans to eat more than is good for them, does that also qualify? Does it matter if the chemical is named 'sucrose' or 'high fructose corn syrup?' What if the food is totally artificial, like a cheezy poof thingie? Does money qualify as a supernormal stimulus? You can never have too much money, and most of us rich humans always want more. I can't begin to decide if ipods and blackberries and similar types of electronics are supernormal, as I don't own those things.

I needed someone to set rules when I was a child or I would have emptied the sugar bowl regularly. Now I know better, and limit my intake of all refined carbs. I would like humanity to 'know better,' and not just about unnaturally refined carbs.

http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=13678&cn=219 a great interview of author Deirdre Barrett, Ph.D. who is a health psychologist. Podcast available.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg14319445.100-forum-gossip-on-the-g... A short article that looks at soap operas as an addiction.

A very good point. Especially apropos after having to endure that yearly ritual known as the stupor bowl. I like getting together with friends, but I simply don't understand why anyone cares one way or another what the outcome actually is.

Sometimes when we are over at a friend's house, they turn on the TV, and it amazes me how absolutely awful most of the programs are. Yet they tune in week after week, and they go on and on about how great it is.

The ones that get me are the people that insist that they won't watch anything unless it is in high-definition. They would almost rather watch an infomercial for some do-dad to clean your toilet as long as it is in HD.

The ones that get me are the people that insist that they won't watch anything unless it is in high-definition. They would almost rather watch an infomercial for some do-dad to clean your toilet as long as it is in HD.

I remember a few people being that way when color first came out.

Yes, I agree, ignoring television, which is utterly key and core to understanding the USA mindset, is a fairly major oversight I'd say when talking about the addictive behaviors of this society. Television teaches us what we should be looking for to satisfy those weird non-existent until created by industry urges, as well as how to act and communicate etc. For 2 generations now almost it has been the primary caregiver of most children in this country, it's pretty easy to see the damage it does to the reasoning ability of people.

I always liked Jerry Mander's 4 Arguments for the Elimination of Television http://www.dim.com/~randl/telvision.htm , and tend to agree with Mcluhan http://www.marshallmcluhan.com/ that the 'medium is the message', and that message is increasing levels of detachment, lack of empathy with other humans around you, and so on. In fact, you might look at this lack of empathy to really understand why it is even at this point, most Americans still refuse to accept any responsibility for their individual actions, from the macro level greed of grotesquely overpaid corporate types, to the micro greed of individuals who would rather die than stop driving a car.

Video games and the internet are from what I can see more or less just refined, more interactive, forms of the basic 2d light emitting screen in front of your face idea, although sites like this one are about the best you can hope for re the internet actually doing real good in the short term.

This society is so deeply addicted to Television that it is virtually taboo to even discuss the question, or mention it in any context at all. If I were you I'd give that some thought re this article. You'll notice that you didn't even include the activity in your chart of addictive behaviors, and of course, if you had, the numbers would be around 99% I'd guess.

In a sense, it's the motor that drives a lot of the problems of the United States, it destroys ability to reason, perform basic logic, like figuring that if you double your resource use every 7 to 20 years, you will run out. Or even that your way of life in fact depends on resources in the first place, of course. I suspect, unfortunately, that this chronic brain distortion will make the United States the very last place to actually take the steps needed to start dealing with this situation in a meaningful way.

I had a logic teacher once long ago, I asked him if he had seen a decline in the ability of his students to do basic logic after television viewing became standard in almost all American households (1970s that is). His response? Without any question.

I just skimmed over the main article though, overall it seems like a decent argument, it is probably about time to take a closer look at what's actually driving us to leap over the cliff instead of just watching with some fascination while the process unfolds.

If I was going to pick the two main points that drive this country, I'd pick Television viewing, which enables the social components of our oil based system, and oil consumption, which enables the material components.

And in terms of addictions, I challenge you to get anyone you know to stop watching tv, they can of course 'stop any time they want', but with the vast majority of people, you're more likely to get them to go to AA or NA than to turn off and get rid of their tvs. That's worth thinking about, most Americans cannot conceive of life without Television, it forms the fabric of their daily lives, it's what teaches them what is desirable to buy, how to think, what to think, and gives them something to talk about with their coworkers.

Heres's another one that might be worth a thought: the original 7 cardinal sins might just be a biological recipe for species survival, prohibitions on behaviors that are guaranteed to destroy the tribe and species if allowed to continue without check, not moral imperatives or 'sins' as is commonly (mis)understood... It's certainly starting to look that way to me.

I always was surprised that Mander could ONLY come up with just FOUR reasons not to watch TV. ;-)

Commercial TV is the worst of it. I try to limit my viewing almost entirely to the non-commercial options. There's more than one might think if one has basic cable (I consider anything more than the bottom tier cable to be a big rip-off and total waste of money). We have UNC_TV (PBS), two C-SPAN channels (and the weekend book author talks on C-SPAN 2 are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), an educational channel run by our local school system, two local government channels, and a community access channel. Between all of these there is quite a bit of non-mind-numbing programming worth watching. It is worth having access to the local commercial network channels in case of severe weather or other important breaking news event, but that's the only time I'd watch them.

We've gradually built up a small DVD collection of classic British comedies and a few other high-quality programs worth watching over and over again when there truly is nothing of interest on. Of course, there are also books and magazines that could be read when the stupid thing is turned off -- which it frequently is.

TV is analogous to electricity - a purveyor/provider/medium, not a source. To push the analogy further, the sources are quite small subsets of humans in LA, NYC, London, Mexico City and other media production centers who devise ever more insidious ways to mine the cultural capital of our civilization(s).

I disagree completely, when you watch tv, you are using your social brain to carry out a bizarre form of (non)interaction with another human, the voice/head on the screen. It is not a neutral experience, the medium is the message, tv itself is what breaks down the social bonds.

The only time I would agree is if the tv was either off, or if some totally formless image / sound was playing on it that did not trick your brain into thinking that it was communicating with another human.

Communication is either real, material, or abstracted, disjointed, unreal, false. Interacting with a false medium of communication trains your brain to begin to alter how it handles actual communication and social interaction, it begins to treat them as false even when they are not false, this is what the lack of empathy is. For example, this communication between you and me is only partially real, the vast bulk of what constitutes true human communication is totally absent in this interchange, but at least a bit occurs.

Stating that tv is like electricity is odd, to say the least. Last I checked, my outlets don't talk to me. Radio has a lesser result like this, but not nearly as powerful, because the quality of the light, the changing lines per second etc that make up a tv image, is simply absent. That's why tv dominates our culture and radio is just a secondary medium, it's not as addictive or powerful, because it doesn't pull in as many of our senses at the same time, thus breaking down the critical processes that should be protecting us. I recommend finding a copy of the 4 Arguments book and giving it a quick read, it's a short, easy read, and I think his points have never really been shown to be wrong in any major way.

Another thing to think about: People used to do things when they listened to the radio.

I challenge you to get anyone you know to stop watching tv, they can of course 'stop any time they want', but with the vast majority of people, you're more likely to get them to go to AA or NA than to turn off and get rid of their tvs.

I myself went cold turkey on TV after the last world soccer cup. However since I now spend more time reading posts such as this one by Nate, on line, I wonder how much of that can be construed as a substitute addiction of sorts. Though I will say this, after not watching TV for all that time, I was invited by the VP of my company to watch the Super Bowl at his home yesterday, You can't easily say no to the VP. I can honestly say that watching the commercials was probably the most depressing thing I have seen lately. Sort of like being exposed to second hand smoke after giving up smoking many years ago. It was almost a traumatic experience. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the behavior that I witnessed was that of addicts who were so inured to the effects of their daily fix that they barely got any stimulation whatsoever out of their TV watching experience. Whereas I was overdosing and almost going into shock. Not a pleasant experience at all.



thanks for your assistance in spreading the work of The Oil Drum around. We really do appreciate it.

the solution to PO are opium dens

You're right.

"This story illustrates many points I have argued about. All things are relative. The most valuable things in distressful times are drugs, addictive stuff like cigarettes which cut your appetite and food. Pot was not good because it increases hunger when one is suffering from hunger, this is a horrible thing. But chewing the leaves or drinking the tea helps pain so it was medicinal, not habitual. Cigarettes are stimulants which suppress hunger."

It was quite heartbreaking. The very last thing people try to cling to is their pride. Indeed, this is where our public policies often fail! One thing I learned as a child was, never, ever let anyone STEAL anything."

And I just had a serious conversation with my Dad over this:

"Corruption, bribery and sexual sales shoot up wherever we invade. Far from bringing civilization, we bring degradation. This is why keeping occupying forces for years in any community is bad. In the US, military bases can destabilize and corrupt the towns they are located in, the chief case for this being Washington, DC. The massive budgets, the rank wastage, the selling of favors as well as the looting of the Treasury: it is absolutely the worse in our capital. Which is more like Ancient Rome than a modern democracy."

Also note how gold is portable and changeable but only within the parameters of government tolerance. And this wasn't a way to get rich, it was a way to survive but only by giving up most everything and using it for food and shelter."


Nate, great synthesis of many converging trends and evolutionary predispositions.

Would you be able to construct a .pdf from this and include a link. It would make it a bit more readable for further review.

What a pleasant surprise to read such a thoughtful and illuminating
article this morning. I'd be proud to do a doctoral defense on this essay.
Very, very impressive Nate. Many thanx


I reside in Las vegas and you are right about it being a micrcosm of
our society. I would add " the worst of our society". I am almost brought to tears when I see the waste of energy and materials going on
in the continued buildout of condos and casinos. I imagine all the rails and rail cars that could be made from that steel. I hope to retreat to flyover country in time to see the last contrail heading toward Vegas.

We have a friend who lives in Las Vegas - she recently moved there after retiring. In her case, the climate reminded her of her native Australia, and it wasn't clear to me that Vegas itself was the draw.

I have only been there twice - both for meetings. I am frankly appalled by the vulgar excess of it all. The one image I have in my mind is of an elderly woman with a walker slowly making her way across the casino - she had her gaze locked on one particular slot machine, and was determined to get there. Is this really how people want to spend their retirement? This is one of the few areas of disagreement that I have with my fiancee - she thinks that Vegas is "fun" for some reason that I have yet to comprehend. If she were to drag me there for some reason, I would much rather take my hiking boots and a camera and head up into the mountains for the day.

I don't agree. I think the image of some old woman with a walker driven to accomplish some goal (in this case to get to the slot machine) is inspirational. Have you ever walked into a seniors' residence? This old broad is doing way better than most.

I lived in Las Vegas for 12 years before returning to Kansas. The mountains and my hiking boots were what kept me sane. I grew to love the desert. It breaks my heart to see the desert covered by subdivision after subdivison especially knowing that the water/oil/whatever will run out and the desert will have been ruined for nothing.

Essentially, this means that every year each member of our species uses four centuries' worth of plants and animals

I think this is somewhat misleading. Human emissions of carbon are about 8Gt/yr, while net primary productivity is about 60Gt/year. So we only use all of the carbon from about 7 weeks worth of plants and animals. The discrepancy comes from Dr Dukes estimating the very tiny fraction of annual primary productivity that gets stored in the lithosphere to potentially become future fossil fuels, but without mentioning this, I think someone could get a very inaccurate picture.

I got hung up on the same passage. It looks to me as though the article that Dave Cohen wrote that you (Nate) refer to says:

RFs were used to estimate the amount of ancient photosynthetic product consumed annually in the form of fossil fuels. Approximately 44 Eg (44 × 10^18 grams) of photosynthetic product carbon were necessary to generate the fossil fuels burned in the reference year 1997. This is equivalent to 422 times the net amount of carbon that is fixed globally each year, or 73 times the global standing stock of carbon in vegetation.

I.e. all fossil fuels that all humanity burned in 1997 correspond to 422 years worth of accumulation of carbon. We're certainly burning more now than in '97, but I doubt we're now burning 6 billion times as much. Am I reading this wrong?

As a biologist and geologist I had a lot of problems with this post. But the biggest is the amount of carbon claimed:
1. 44 x 10^18 is an enormous number: 44x10^15 kg; 44x10^12 metric tons
2. There is about 7 barrels of oil in a metric ton--since the weight of oil is primarily carbon, I've used that number.
3. The bottom line is 44 x 10^18 is over 300 trillion barrels, or more oil than the world would use in 10,000 years at current consumption rates.

If you look at the original post, it was referring to the amount of energy (carbon) put in place originally--and I'm not sure I even believe those numbers. Also, comparing net primary production of the globe to the amount of net primary production needed to produce the oil we are burning is not a practical comparison.

A more pertinent comparison would be how much land area do we need to produce, say, biodiesel, to replace the oil we are using now? This results in an answer that may be hard to swallow, but isn't impossible. Each (US) person uses 25 barrels of oil; an acre of algae produces 8,000 gallons a year, so an acre put into algae can support more than 12 people in energy. Therefore 23 million acres can produce all the energy used in the US. This is a square 200 miles on a side.

I understand. Good point - I will change. Thanks.

I think I am beginning to understand why your Ph.D. remains unfinished. You have been working on this for the past 6 months!


I can vouch for you, though. At least the last time I saw you, you weren't nearly as fat as that mouse.

Someday, I vow to read all of that instead of just look at the pictures. I mean that.

I am trying to reconcile this article with my experiences yesterday, 2.5 blocks from my home.

The Krewes of Oceanus, Mid-City, Thoth, Babylon and Bacchus :-) passed from 11 AM to 10 PM, throwing large quantities of goods (beads, doubloons, plastic cup, stuffed toys (few of those) to a clamboring crowd with varying levels of intoxication. After a mad scramble to get beads, they would freely share (I got some decent cognac and a couple of beers from complete strangers). The joy of giving balanced with naked greed, and switching in a second from one to the other.

A very mellow crowd of almost 1 million drunks :-)

However, residues of a hangover are inhibiting higher intellectual activity.

Happy Lundi Gras !

Two more parades tonight :-)


'By instinct then, we are geared for individual survival'

And the observable human trait of altruism?

And a couple of other points to consider -

1. Immigrants - I have read (no memory of source, any longer) that 90% of Italian immigrants to America in the first decades of the 20th Century returned to Italy. It is a deeply held belief in the U.S. that immigrants come and stay, but this is not really true. You can see it real time with Mexicans - many of the Mexicans working in the U.S. never planned to spend their lives there. And won't be, for that matter.

2. Just because the media surrounds many people doesn't mean that the reality the media projects replaces the reality experienced by those who simply aren't participating. A silly example - an awful lot of people in NYC have no interest in the latest sports car. They don't have a license is just one explanation among many.

Very nice summary Nate! I too found the thesis of American Mania very persuasive (of course I work in Silicon Valley - the epicenter of it).

BTW - I need to take a couple of week's off blogging to meet another deadline. I hope to return on the 18th.

One hundred years from now our aggressive, addicitive descendants will be scratching ther heads wondering why great-grandpa was so worried about the world running out of oil.

Yes, all eight million of them !


One hundred years from now ... wondering why great-grandpa was so worried about the world running out of oil.

I think it will be obvious to them: the stuff was heavily taxed. (PDF file.)

(Please, anyone, point to a similar document about the public/private apportionment of domestic natural gas revenue.)

How shall the car gain nuclear cachet?

Hi Nate,

I hate to correct an otherwise excellent piece by one of my favourite TOD writers, but it seems you overshot some numbers here (passed by a beautiful girl?):

Biologist Jeffrey Dukes (reviewed here on theoildrum.com) calculates that the fossil fuels the average human uses in one year were made from organic matter containing 44 x 10^18 grams of carbon, which is more than 400 times the annual net primary productivity of the planet's current biota. Essentially, this means that every year each member of our species uses four centuries' worth of plants and animals

This number seemed incredibly high to me, so I checked with the source. There, it says

The fossil fuels burned in 1997 were created from organic matter
containing 44 × 10^18g C

Dukes seems to refer to total fuel consumption, not per capita consumption. Still, the number is impressive, but not so outrageously so (like, shave off 6.5 x 10^9).



I have removed the offensive statistic....;)

I find this sort of material intellectually fascinating but I wonder how far it will actually make a practical difference. After all, the elements of our nature that tend towards foolish decisions (yes I would like another drink) have been wrestled with for a long time. What is gained from describing them as 'dopamine addiction' as opposed to (eg) the Buddhist 'desire'? It seems to me that the different religious traditions have highly developed spiritual techniques which are all about 're-programming' the brain away from destructive conditioning, and we need to draw on those traditions. We need to learn how to say 'no', to defer gratification and so on, and we need to do that as a culture. Of course, that means that as a society we need to reintegrate the religious perspective and not simply rely on science to get us out of this mess, but perhaps that's just me getting on my soapbox.

Agreed with a couple of reservations:

1. Though the traditions of which you speak do have these highly developed spiritual techniques, only a very small minority actively practice them. The remainder focus on deity worship, living up to and/or enforcing their version of moral rules, and the like.

2. Thus, I would say we need to reintegrate the spiritual rather than the religious perspective. Good question on how to do this "as a society" - it's hard enough as an individual! E.g. as a practicing Buddhist I find it plenty challenging to deal with my own addictions, including to The Oil Drum, email, tortilla chips, etc.

Collectively we are incapable of saying "no", therefore the only way out is to find something new to which to say "yes". Thus far nothing new has been forthcoming.

Draw your own conclusions.

Welp, I think both science and religion and this very sentence I'm writing start from a false premise. Let me leave the false premise of my sentences alone for a minute and then come back to it after I've had a moment to distance myself from the error. It's easier to see the falsenes in something outside myself (well, lo and behold, that's the false premise itself).

Both religion and science -- all thought in fact -- share the assumption of knowingness, of standing outside the fray and studying the situation from an uninfected or superior position. Nate tried nobly to rise above this fact by humorously referring to his own addictive state, but it doens't work.

It's not a moral failing on our part, but a limitation in the nature of knowledge. Knowledge is always externally directed. Even self-knowledge, if verbally acknowledged -- gets projected elsewhere. I picture my self as I would picture an outside object. Even if my intention is to confront my imbecility head on, my biggest failure is that I always eject into the abstract at the last minute through acknowledgement. Thus I land in some outside perspective, gazing back at my failures like the lab-coated know-it-all, not like the dummy in the wreck. Picture a dog who farts and then suddenly looks around to see where the sound came from. Thought, you might say, blames its own backside, and thereby divides delusionally into two halves: the front and back half of a dog; or the scoundrel and the righteous accuser. The thinker or speaker who criticizes himself never feels that what he is saying NOW is wrong; even when he criticizes himself, it's his past he blames.

These are the problems of thought itself, and of all pursuits (science and organized religion) that depend on them. I may say "I am wrong," but I do so as an expert on my condition. You will never catch me speaking from a position that is completely without claim to some inside knowledge, some position of correctness, no matter how abject my language might sound. Were I to say "I'm an utter idiot with no saving graces" I would speak these words as someone who believes he knows what he's talking about, and would defend these assertions against those who dare to disagree!

It's precisely this unanticipated failure to remain focused on error that interests me: I pursue error and make a balls of it!

This is the problem of religion AND science. Religion talks about how to "re-program" the mind but doesn't question its assumption that it knows the direction this re-programming should take. Science gives a wonderful description of chemical behavior, but rarely allows consideration (unscientific!) of how chemistry itself might be affected by insight.

And if pushed to provide something more practical than a new mathematical thesis, science suggests ways of improving our behavior like any old religion, failing to question the assumptions of their vision of improvement, which also contains the even more hidden assumption that humanity can only "improve" but not take discontinuous leaps like an electron into a new orbit.

But it looks to me like Einstein leapt, Newton leapt, Buddha and Christ leapt, they didn't improve. They altered the entire chemistry of how things function. Evolution might look continuous, like a movie. But like a strip of film, it's composed of discontinous leaps.

We have not considered sufficiently the problem of self-ignorance. It is a more radical critique that pulls the rug out from under us. And dag nab it, we need to have our rugs pulled out. Our knowledge protects our ignorance by projecting information outside ourselves. We need to question knowledge and thought, and not presume that intelligence has anything to do with either of them. Then perhaps we'll be in position to see the world radically differently, and act accordingly.


I really appreciate your reports, thank you.

Have you read "The Great Transformation" by K. Polanyi? There the author says that free markets needed the invention of three fictitious merchandises, human labor, land and money:

Production is interaction of man and nature; if this process is to be organized through a self-regulating mechanism of barter and exchange, then man and nature must be brought into its orbit; they must be subject to supply and demand, that is, be dealt with as commodities, as goods produced for sale....

But, while production could theoretically be organized in this way, the commodity fiction disregarded the fact that leaving the fate of soil and people to the market would be tantamount to annihilating them. Accordingly, the countermove consisted in checking the action of the market in respect to the factors of production, labor and land. This was the main function of interventionism.

The absolutely free market destroys the society.

From http://sociology.berkeley.edu/faculty/evans/evans_pdf/Polanyi_intro.pdf

"The logic underlying this argument rests on Polanyi's distinction between real and fictitious commodities.
For Polanyi, the definition of a commodity is something that has been produced for sale on a market. By this definition, land, labor, and money are fictitious commodities because they were not originally produced to be sold on a market. Labor is simply the activity of human beings, land is subdivided nature, and the supply of money and credit in modern societies is necessarily shaped by governmental policies. Modern economics starts by pretending that these fictitious commodities will behave in the same way as real commodities, but Polanyi insists that this sleight of hand has fatal consequences. It means that economic theorizing is based on a lie and this lie places human society at risk.
There are two levels to Polanyi's argument here. The first is a moral argument that it is simply wrong to treat nature and human beings as objects whose price will be determined entirely by the market. Such a concept violates the principles that have governed societies for centuries: nature and human life have almost always been recognized as having a sacred dimension. It is impossible to reconcile this sacred dimension with the subordination of labor and nature to the market. In his objection to the treatment of nature as a commodity, Polanyi anticipates many of the arguments of contemporary environmentalists."


Fernando and Nate

The sequel to Polanyi's lovely work was Debord's Society of the Spectacle.
Really the mainstream of humanist Marxism. Meaning that Marxists really can't read either, but you should read both.

On a different tack, regarding your note on conspicuous consumption. I always like to recommend Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society. Not 50 years ago conspicuous consumption was a horrible faux pas, socially unacceptable, not done. My how things have changed. And it is interesting to contemplate how and why.

Cheers. You've made my day.

Today it is common to find churches flaunting material wealth and promising that if you tithe to them god will return the money with interest. Religious waves seem closely related to economic forces.



Your synthesis provides an excellent model for how we (Homo sapiens) got to where we are. I especially liked the immigration to America bit that suggests why the American culture evolved the way it did. It actually supplies me with some ammo for my thesis regarding how assortative mating (a kind of sexual selection) has accelerated over the past several hundred years to produce pocket communities of 'like-minded' individuals and a sub-division of personality types. I strongly suspect that a form of sympatric speciation is going on right in front of our eyes.

My area of interest, however, is more directed at what is going to happen in the future. Evolution is still working on the species, and I suspect that, as you indicate, things like peak oil and climate change are actually opportunities, from an evolutionary perspective, as much as they are crises for the current species. My thesis involves a further evolution of the prefrontal cortex, especially the polar patch labeled Brodmann's Area 10. We know that this patch has undergone significant evolution in the past 100-200 thousand years and I suspect that it will be put under even stronger selective pressures in the event of civilization collapse. That patch is implicated in some of the highest levels of judgment, strategic thinking, and moral motivation in humans. Under the right cultural and developmental conditions (which are rare in this day and age) it is the basis of what we generally think of as wisdom.

It is interesting to note that wisdom is correlated with moderation of risk-taking and addictions are generally absent. The communications between the prefrontal lobe, especially BA-10, and virtually all other areas of the neocortex and limbic system is the highest of any neocortical region. These are recurrent connections suggesting that the prefrontal is involved in both monitoring and modulating (general strategic control) these other brain areas/functions.

I am engaged in a research agenda to link brain function, psychology, and evolution of this capacity and its implications for the future of humanity. Some observations on the subject can be found at my blog,, and a description of the research can be found at my academic web site.
[Edit: For some reason my blog address edit doesn't stick sometimes. It is: http://www.questioneverything.typepad.com/ ]

Some references:
More at:
sapience bibliography

Gangestad, Steven W. & Simpson, Jeffry A. (2007). The Evolution of Mind: Fundamental Questions and Controversies, The Guilford Press, New York.

Gardner, Howard, (1999). Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, Basic Books, New York.

Gardner, Howard, (2007). Five Minds for the Future, Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

Gazzaniga, Michael S., (2005). The Ethical Brain, Dana Press, New York.

Geary, David C., (2005). The Origin of Mind: Evolution of Brain, Cognition, and General Intelligence, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.

Gilbert, Daniel, (2006). Stumbling on Happiness, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Goldberg, Elkhonon, (2001). The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized
, Oxford University Press, New York.

Goldberg, Elkhonon, (2006). The Wisdom Paradox, Gotham Books, New York.

Hauser, Marc D. (2006). Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, HarperCollins, New York.

Hogarth, Robin (1980). Judgement and Choice, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

LeDoux, Joseph, (1996). The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life, Simon & Schuster, New York.

LeDoux, Joseph, (2002). Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are, Viking, New York.

Marcus, Gary, (2004). The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities of Human Thought, Basic Books, New York.

Miller, Geoffrey (2000). The Mating Mind, Anchor Books, New York.

An outstanding examination of the complex DEMAND side of the equation. No overview of PO should be without a reference to this article and the Living for the Moment while Devaluing the Future article Nate produced earlier (among other TOD articles/authors).

> (noosphere) but then what would we DO with the information?

Create and perpetuate a sustainable lifestyle and population size; the possibility exists, if more people read this article, so everyone please digg.

Meanwhile, reading and posting to TheOilDrum gets to be so addictive at times...

As usual American posts are completely devoid of politics. Like the current race to the white house, not a word abpout politics, but a whole lot about politicians. At the end of the day, It will be Geo-Politics (Not Gee! Ohh! Politics) that will decide when and how the peak is reached. As the world conspires to rid itself of half its problems, ie The USA 50% of Energy/Gasoline consumption, 50% of Pollution, Americans seem to be completely unable to see this. I suppose it is like Iraq, I wonder how many Americans realized they lost that war in July 2006 to Iran. Is there anyone in the USA that has even an inkling of an understanding of the Geo-Political forxes at play here ?

Paul Shepard wrote an excellent book on the subject of this way of life, and its insanity. It's called "Nature and Madness" and you should check it out.

How are addictions cured, I wonder? Does it require hitting rock-bottom? Do 12-step programs really work? What about the use of psychadelics (igoba, I hear, is great for heroin addictions)?

Addictions can only be cured if the addict wants to change, and typically that only happens when the immediate negative stimulus outweigh the positive. Unfortunately, many things you would think would be rock-bottom (losing your job, wife, or house) actually reinforce the decent, because now you have guilt. Hard core addicts can rarely stop without help, and rarely stop without hitting real rock bottoms like almost dying, or losing something very important.

Also understand that many times destructive addictive behavior in enabled WAY too long by the people whom which it effects and hurts.

We need to recognize that what starts an addiction is a substitute for what was really needed. Food for affection, drugs for security, gambling for social connection, that kind of thing.

So to really rid yourself of an addiction requires looking at the system as a whole and correcting the actual human deficits, rather than bringing in more substitutes.

Understanding the human deficits means understanding what humans really need to be, well, human.

There are the basic necessities of life, water, food, shelter. Then, we have to accommodate our large, curious brains. We need positive social interaction, we need to master the use of our bodies. We need to learn to properly navigate our environments, physically, socially, and spiritually. We need to be able to experience emotion, and to express emotion. We need to feel safe and secure within our cultural structure. We need to be able to speak, dream, and act without fear of exclusion or abandonment. We need to be able to address pain and suffering. We need to be able to assist the cute and helpless. We need to be able to fight injustice and tyranny.

Among other things of necessity for humans.

I have heard that the alcoholics anonymous program has a long-term success rate of about 5%. I expect similar success rates with any 12-step program, "program" being the operative word. That's what they try to do, re-program you to a certain way of thinking that is nearly completely divorced from the relevant cultural environment.

i had an intuition that's what addiction is. i think then, what we're talking about is more than energy, but something existential. what is it that human living should be, and is a highly industrial society delivering those things?

my sense is that high-tech, industrial societies don't deliver real human needs, but replace real relationships with the human and the more-than-human worlds with gizmos, gadgets, and "toxic mimics" of connection (chat rooms to intimate conversations, calendars filled with activities but without friends, etc.). i often come to the oildrum with mixed feelings. on the one hand, i am thankful for the analysis and information, but i wonder sometimes whether much of the talk of peak oil is not just surface for a deeper discontent, knowing that spiritually, this way of life, is shit.

We're going to have an immense convulsion when the disloyal Christian Right realizes their beliefs have been hijacked by clever representatives of Mammon. Corporatocracy finds value of the sales associated with the run up to the putative finale to the end of days myth, but they are going to be quite sorry at the end of the run. Crack dealers aren't armed because they're tough, they're tough and armed because their customers will eventually flip on them if provided an opportunity.

Watch the Republican nominating process, specifically those who support Theocrat Huckabee vs. those who prefer Corporatocrat McCain; the obsessive/compulsive nature of end timers is probably going to overtake the obsessive/compulsive pursuit of this quarter's profits. The last, best hope for a fair election in 2008? There isn't anyone sensible to give the presidency to on the Republican side, should they even manage to make off with it again.

"Consumers Anonymous" -- That has a certain ring to it, maybe worth a try.

We're pretty much going to need a cultural detoxification, at least those of us who pass through the fossil fuel depletion choke point.

I'm blessed in one regard - just a tiny bit autistic and I simply can't stand TV - the breaking up of the story is bad enough, but breaking in with three short vignettes contrived to attract the attention of the neurotypical adult make me absolutely crazy. Really, no TV, O.J. was acquitted before I knew Johnny Cochran was black. Hunter gatherer bands are found around the cook fire at night with the elders dispensing wisdom ... and the idiot box in the living room fills this role for us now.

Breaking from the MSM (Meat Stick Media) is the first layer coming off. After that I think health is the next big problem. Even those who are physically active are still wrapped up in our consumptive consumption crazy western diet - sugar and caffeine, preferably together, nicotine for as many who will partake, and the "illegal" drugs fill their role as well, although no one likes to discuss it. The return to victory garden driven diets will do much in this area.

It is a wholly unnatural thing for a large primate to go through a day without breaking a sweat, but many of us do just this. Again the FF crunch is going to help in this regard - a walk or a bike will replace a drive for many people, and desk jobs are going to be replaced by garden jobs, or walking/biking to get to the desk at the very least.

The internet is a double edged sword. I use it to communicate with and organize various efforts, but if I did a time study I bet 50% of my net time is useless junk - DailyKos commenting, Oil Drum reading, Flickr cruising, and a thousand other things that hit those hunter/gatherer reward centers. Find an interesting link to follow here? The mental equivalent of finding a tasty fruit while gathering. Get really interested and go chasing down references on some particular area? The hunt is on! The "overstimulation" mentioned in the article is a definite problem - if one can experience, at least visually, a dozen members of the opposite sex, without any requirement for the context of a normal adult relationship, well, that'll interfere with normal adult relationships for many.

This is very interesting and I'll come back and digest it fully this evening, after I get my profit oriented internet hunter/gatherer behavior out of the way for the day.

When I watch TV I always end up "defaulting" to PBS, no commercials, or TCM, again no commercials. Other than that it has to be pretty damned important or interesting to make me stand all the adverts.

I clicked on the "You May Be A Winner" thing to see what would happen, and I don't understand. It appears to be a slow machine screen shot, I don't get it, does that mean someone won some money when they shot that?

That's right, I'm not smart enough to operate a slot machine.

This is why I don't gamble - I literally don't understand it.

I can only understand a limited number of transactions:

(1) shooting someone and taking what's on 'em - ILLEGAL.
(2) Mugging someone and taking what's on 'em - ILLEGAL
(3) Finding money or something on the ground.
(4) Selling something I have.
(5) Buying something "cheap" and selling it "Expensive" - I did this on Ebay until it stopped working.
(6) Depositing money in the bank and getting interest. Sorta.
(7) Buying a US Savings Bond and somehow they're worth more.... after some years? Never done this.
(8) Making something and selling it for more than it cost me to make.
(9) Performing for money. Whether playing music or doing electronic repairs or flipping burgers. I do action X, I get money Y.

All the fancy mumbo-jumbo with stocks, bonds, T-bills, REITS, SIVs, etc etc I know the acronyms but I don't understand 'em. Nor do I have the capability to understand any of the gambling games, poker, any of that.

My idea of making money in Vegas is going there and getting a job cleaning the hotel rooms. Or drawing caricatures of the tourists. Or playing music on the street with the hat out.

So, I "high" from gambling is literally unknown to me. I consider selling on Ebay to be gambling, but I guess it was not, since I almost always won, and when I was not making a living on it I quit, fast. I got a "high" when I'd get good money for something, but that's probably no different than the "high" from finding a lot of money in your hat from playing music on a sunny day or from selling a lot of caricatures.

The only thing I understand about gambling is that if I give them my money, it is gone. That's probably all I need to know.

Nate - I just made the rather irresponsible decision to stop drinking for a month - I was advised that February was the best month to try this and am cussing like Hell that this is a leap year. 4 days on and I don't feel too much different - sadly I have not lost much weight yet, and I don't really feel much better in the morning when I wake - normally feeling not too bad.

No doubt I am a risk taker and thrill seeker - I have a range of activities that provide the thrill - down hill skiing for one, fishing another, X country skiing and hiking, and red wine and getting 21 comments on a TOD post and so on.

A few comments and thoughts. I'm happy to visit that politically dodgy territory and ask questions about population fractionation resulting from migration. Those first 500 that left Africa and those that survived from that group were unlikely on average to be like those who stayed behind. Those that left Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia and continental Europe to settle in America and survived - seems entirely plausible that they were on average different to those who chose to stay in Glasgow, Liverpool or Lisbon. Are there other examples of selective migrations giving rise to hugely successful cultures - i'm thinking E Asia?

On Internet:

Velocity of money
Velocity of information
Velocity of entertainment
Velocity of novelty

Food for thought. And some more food for thought.

This notion that our pleasure levels may drop below a baseline following stimulation is interesting. The flip side is enduring hardship - either voluntarily or imposed and then experiencing simple pleasures than can cause a high.

The best hot shower I ever had was the day after I almost died in a snow hole.


PS - I read the whole thing.

The best hot shower I ever had was the day after I almost died in a snow hole

I'm not sure of the specific explanation for this.
but its probably related to endorphins. The best shower/meal/coffee/day of my life was after I almost died on Kilimanjaro and had to walk 20 miles down in one day sick as a dog, passing out on the trail, etc.etc.
The brain is a fascinating thing - its pretty clear that we tend to exaggerate reality - brain chemistry is auto-correlated with itself - in periods of sadness cortical brain wave and dopamine activity actually physically shrink - and the converse happens when we are happy, or just had a shower after emerging from a snow hole. Then everything else just seems better.

But the precise fact that falling in a snow hole is a once or twice a lifetime experience is probably why that shower felt so good. If you fell in a snow hole everyday - you would habituate to it eventually - then you'd need to be dropped in the hole from the helicopter, then shower, etc...;)

PS - I read the whole thing.

Lol - thanks good work- 8,000 words is a great deal of time invested, but I included the mouse picture midway just to give you that little burst to get to the end..

Yes, I've heard Sasquatches should stay below the tree line. The snow hole was one we had to dig to save our souls in the worst storm I've ever experienced on the Hardanger ice cap in Norway. After three hours of labour we climbed in out of the storm - safe at last - to find that within 5 minutes we began to suffocate as our air hole iced up - that was when the terror began...

I can almost recall every minute in vivid detail from 15 years ago, though my recollection of events is quite different to my two companions. Experiencing this and innumerable other hardships provides a different outlook on life and the level where one strikes satisfaction.

Hardship can be fun and I can't help feeling that my recent ancestors were more adapted to it than yours (and I'm not talking about the weeds in my yard). But Americans have actually shown great resilience in the face of true hardship - its just that as a nation it is a long time since you had to face it. Thus minor tragedy becomes national and then global disaster. When was the last time America as a nation faced true hardship? In the UK it was undoubtedly WWII - and that I believe was the highlight of my mother's and father's lives. Ask many 30 somethings and they will say the day Diana died.

Whilst my family were middle class I grew up with hardship relative to what I and my children know today. Ironically my kids, within reason, can have almost anything they want, it is on offer, but they are satisfied with very little. One plays internet soccer with competitors he doesn't know anywhere in the world (PS3, broad band DSL connection and recently installed wifi) and the other composes music.

Im not sure our experiences are that dissimilar, though i agree with your general sentiment. I grew up in an era where everything was easy, for certain. My first inkling that the world wasn't my own particular oyster was 5-6 years ago when I started reading books on biology and ecology - then my childhood ended (I have always loved the natural world - just didn't know how much about it)

My father was only one of 8 kids to go to college and he completed medical school, surgeon, etc. What made him different? I am not sure, but even today he is driven to accomplish things, even if they are little things - might come from the permanent mental framework instilled in him when he was young, and poor.

Its the kids I worry about, even though I have none. How are THEIR brains being shaped and set up for a normal future, let alone one where energy is more scarce. I am too fried to delve into the resources to adequately post this now - but our mylenation sheaths -kind of an insulation of our neurons aren't even completely formed until we are 25 - then its done or 'not done' forever. I'm pretty sure all the stimulation - video games, television etc that hijack our kids brains are having some detrimental long term wiring impact. Anyone expert on this please chime in.

p.s. good luck on the february booze fast. I gave it up for a whole year once (like 5 years ago). Now I'm on the coffee/ethanol diurnal shift...;-)


great post.

re the 'all the stimulation - video games, television etc that hijack our kids brains are having some detrimental long term wiring impact.'

when diagnosing adhd the key is inability to maintain focus. the one exception usually made is video games/stimulating tv as they are considered clinically to fit the needed very frequent change/response/stimulus that is a mirror of adhd.

there have also been studies claiming tv causes adhd but most therapists i know don't go this far.

believe it or not i felt u needed to connect the dots more on the oil/drug section[more words!!??]. i found i was thinking; energy/power [the amplifying of our power] might have been a better term.

certainly thesis material.

A random thought Euan

There is a phenomenon called the Stockholm Syndrome, where prisoners/hostages become attached to their captors. Keith Henson wrote about it clearly in the first pages of "Memes and the Origin of War"

Given your observation, and what I learned from research on this post, it seems to me that the 'dispersion' of expected vs unexpected reward can explain this and other behaviours. If captors/kidnappers are really savage and mean (well, they have to be, to kidnap someone) one is expecting the worst - so when some kindnesses are shown, there is huge contrast and likely a high mark in dopamine and memory attached to that event.

It probably explains why men (and women) stay with high standard deviation partners ("How can you stay with that guy - he is such a jerk?!",). Its because expected reward becomes so low that when the guy (girl) is nice and sweet and clever and romantic, etc. its a HUGE departure from what is expected. On the other hand, truly 'nice' guys who are always nice, etc. don't have a high behavioral standard deviation, so their 'niceness' comes to be expected, and well....boring.

I will ponder this because I think its important. It still doesn't make me miss my ex-wife though....;)

I am by no means an expert in this, but have read that a strategy in torture is to have someone kindly help the victim between episodes. Perhaps wash the wounds and hand feed, etc. The victim may bond strongly with this person, trust them and spill any beans they have.

You ought to write a book about how your mind plays tricks with you while you are dying on Kilamanjaro.

Ooops, sorry, I guess someone else has done that already. ;-)

You could argue that those who left Europe were the failures or castoffs, rather than the daring pioneers of a new age. The movements of peoples are really difficult to compare: many Germans were contracted to come to this country and clear land, with guaranteed pay and living conditions. How does this compare to the movements of Iberians to Latin America? Hessians who stayed even after they lost the Revolution? Transported prisoners in Georgia?

The resources of this country in those days must have seemed limitless. I wish the natural environments had been more valued in those days, rather than being condemned as "waste."

The people that set out for new territory might have been more adventurous or highly motivated. An alternative hypothesis is that they were pretty much the losers and were forced - one way or another - to move on.

You didn't see many eldest sons migrating to America or Australia; it was the younger ones that didn't stand to inherit anything. It wasn't the most well-off Irish that migrated during the potato famine. We all know, of course, about the many examples of people having to relocate because their particular brand of religion was not the preferred one. For that matter, I might also mention that the people carried off across the ocean in the slave ships were generally the losers of various inter-tribal conflicts, sold off to the white man in exchange for various trinkets.

A case could be made that those who have succeeded in staying put are those who are best adapted to their location; those that were least well adapted were forced to look elsewhere. Some got lucky and found a better place for themselves. We forget all about the ones that failed.

An alternative hypothesis is that they were pretty much the losers and were forced - one way or another - to move on.

True - but in animal behaviour studies, those that leave home territory and are successful have large increases in relative fitness. Some of the 'losers' don't make it, but the ones that do will do great - I don't have the data but I'm pretty certain there were many hardships, including a hellacious boat ride over, to contend with - had to be driven, tough and have stamina, etc. Again, it is a hypothesis that probably can never be proven. But it is plausible to me. In the end it doesn't matter dramatically - whether by genes or by culture, we have become addicted to conspicuous consumption.

In my lifestyle and that of many of my friends, I see I very high level of consumption, but most of this consumption is a rational response to real human needs. We consume large amounts of energy because it meets our needs for food and shelter, and because we can. My friends who have a lower energy footprint accomplish this primarily by being low income, not by having a less addictive personality. I don't know anyone who heli-skis, but my wife commutes 37 miles each way. The neighborhood is better here. The pay is better there. This is a rational choice that we might reconsider when gasoline gets to $10 a gallon. I have a normal human desire to visit with my daughter, son-in-law and grandson. Unfortunately, they live 6,000 miles away, so I get an airplane ticket every year or two. This is a choice that a Chinese or a Sudanese parent would also like to make, but they are much less likely to have the means. So I'm arguing that the answer to our consumption problems lies as much in the realm of economics as psychology.
However, one puzzling thing about our current society is that so many middle class people are choosing to commit genetic suicide by being voluntarily childless. Is this a subliminally rational response to the stresses and fears of modern living, or a consume more now response.

> We consume large amounts of energy because it meets our needs for food and shelter, and because we can.

What are our needs for food and shelter? Food requires have been fairly well established, though many developed countries have caloric intakes far above needs. What are shelter needs, then? 1000 square feet? 2000 square feet? 72 degrees F in the winter? 68F? 65F? I get to discuss both with my wife, who believes I need less of the former, and more of the latter (for her, anyway).

> My friends who have a lower energy footprint accomplish this primarily by being low income, not by having a less addictive personality.

Not to blow my horn by any means, but to demonstrate that there are other explanations: I live in a passive solar heated home which derives most of its electrical energy from a PV array. My vehicle is a Honda Insight, when I feel I 'need' to drive instead of bike, vanpool, etc.

I am finding TOD addictive, however....

>However, one puzzling thing about our current society is that so many middle class people are choosing to commit genetic suicide by being voluntarily childless. Is this a subliminally rational response to the stresses and fears of modern living, or a consume more now response.

Another thought you may have missed is they may have chosen not to burden civilization with more population. I know of some couples who hold to this philosophy.

It's an overtly rational response to a declining resource base. I love this planet more than I love my genes, that's for sure! Who cares whether my genes are duplicated? I don't. And I don't care whether anyone else's are either. What is important is that this beautiful earth is not burdened by more humans than it can support.

And, consumption is definitely less when one doesn't have children. No worries about whether the kid has the proper gear, attire, baby strollers, prom equipment. Most families are MUCH more consumption-oriented than are single adults.

I don't envy my friends their children. The constant anxiety of whether the kids are "falling behind," whether they are "making contacts," whether they are "living up to their potential" ... what happened to the parents living up to their own potential? Always, the kids are the excuse.

Voluntary childlessness is not at all an unhappy state. It allows time, most of all, time to really enjoy one's stay on this earth.

Our natural cravings served us well in a past environment of limited satisfaction. At a time prior to our escape from photosynthetic primary production everything was quite limited in availability. After harnessing the photosynthetic organic system for a short while we received enough of an energy surplus to support the inventors that would allow us to escape the box. Outside of the box (bounds of photosynthetic production) we have eaten and populated and fed cravings that only become greater.

We also seem to enjoy (adrenaline/dopamine) taking things from others in a violent manner. In our sports we get all kinds of wonderful chills when our team is in control and taking value from the other side. What student that cheated didn’t feel a sense of great satisfaction at having overcome the competition by stealth. We are a combative species and oftentimes it feels good.

With trillions of dollars invested in our military and considering that we have already grabbed a football (Iraq) before the game has even started, I think we can guess what is in store. Is it just a matter of time before the junior league terrorists are replaced by the Big Boys on the international scene and a really big game begins. But this is what our TV addicted like to watch on CNN or FOX, to see our side winning the big game. But how will all of our addicts feel when the oil really does stop flowing and the fireworks land too close to home.

Stuffing all of our addicts back in the box may not be possible without considerable societal friction. The expensive oil dopamine may have to be replaced by a new religious dopamine with a little narcotizing soma on side. In any case Nate, your article was some good dopamine for my mind this morning. Thanks.

Humans don't go through such changes without deferring to powers greater than themselves. I wonder what will happen here in the United States, where we have such a contingent of fanatics with a doomsday myth, and much of the raw material for a more sensible, integrated view of humans' role in the environment already in place. Perhaps Mr. Totoneila Sir's Earth Marine Legions will be involved in crowding those who are pre-rapture into suboptimal areas, as they're not going to be needing long term sustainable communities - they just have to get through seven years of tribulations.

Wow. Excellent article. Thank you for posting this. I have long thought that the best thing we can do is re-train ourselves to get our enjoyment out of things that are free and less energy-intensive, and that this is perfectly possible because our current enjoyments are also only trained brain-chemistry reward patterns.

Example: I used to crave hamburgers. Then I became a vegetarian (20+ years ago). Now I crave tofu-burgers as much as I craved hamburgers.

It's easy to re-train yourself to experience the same type of craving/reward feelings for things that are not so destructive to the environment. This even holds true for status. All you have to do is change in your mind who your mentors and idols are. If you start to respect Swamis or Zen Monks, for example, rather than millionaires, then you will start to experience the highs of feeling good about yourself the less you consume.

It's not difficult, really. Go for a week without purchasing anything and see how GREAT it makes you feel afterwards. You don't even have to give up anything with this first experiment. Buy all your coffee beforehand rather than going to starbucks each morning, for example. Cook all your meals rather than going to restaurants. Just break youself from the habit of impusle spending for one week. You will feel great about yourself afterward. You will want to write an article about your experience for the oil drum. Your status will be upped among all of your peers here. You'll see.


Farm singles?

There is a young cowboy he lives on the range.
His horse and his cattle are his only companion.
He works in the saddle and he sleeps in the canyon.
Waiting for summer, his pastures to change.
And as the moon rises he sits by his fire.
Thinkin' about women and glasses of beer.

-- James Taylor, Sweet Baby James

(note the sparse shelter and energy consumption of said cowboy)

Can this figure be correct--71.5 million americans (out of 300 million) addicted to nicotine?

I thought it a little high too - but I just lifted it from Time

I did a quick search and there were numerous numbers on smoking, but the only one I found for all tobacco is from this older report:

An estimated 66.8 million Americans reported current use (i.e., use in the past month) of a tobacco product in 1999, a prevalence rate of 30.2 percent for the population aged 12 years old or older. Of this total, 57.0 million (25.8 percent) smoked cigarettes, 12.1 million (5.5 percent) smoked cigars, 7.6 million (3.4 percent) used smokeless tobacco, and 2.4 million (1.1 percent) smoked tobacco in pipes.

so the %'s are reasonable

Also consider that the vast majority of those who have quit using are still addicts

The planet is finite: there is only so much land, oil, water, dolphins and gold. No matter how efficiently we use our resources, if there are more users competing for more stuff, we will eventually run out of goods. However, information is limitless. We can explore, research, study, and learn as much as we wish.

Good article, Nate. It’s one of the very few I have seen on TOD that focuses on how the system needs to be changed rather than trying to figure out how to preserve it or how to personally survive its collapse. We do indeed need to get away from the emphasis on endless growth, and figure out how to channel our creativity into some other activity than constantly acquiring more wealth. If the human desire for hierachical status cannot be eliminated, let it be directed in some other direction than competing to gain an ever larger right to consume economic output. Bill Gates does not keep running Microsoft because he wants to get richer. He does so because he wants the stimulation and status asociated with running a complex, important enterprise. If we were to change our economic focus to producing an economic sufficiency with minimum consumption of resources and minimum ecosystem damage, there would by many serious challenges for talented entreprenurial people. We need our best and brightest people to be doing something more important than packing more features into our cell phones, or creating advertising campaigns to convince us that we need to buy the latest, ‘hottest’ toys.

Vernadskii dreamt of a system he called “noosphere” – a biosphere driven by human intellect, spirituality, knowledge, and understanding. This has a shot.....(but then, what would we DO with the information...?

The question of “what would we DO with the information?” (with the implied dependent clause “if we weren’t trying to get materially richer all of the time”) is the question of the meaning of existence to which there is no easy answer. Victor Frankl in his book Man’s Search For Meaning said that the problem is not finding a meaning in life but learning to accept its unconditional meaningfulness. Life is a process of experience, and that experience must be worthwhile in and of itself. All conditional meanings point towards unconditional meaning. If you belive that life is a testing ground for getting into Heaven, then presumably the meaning of existence in Heaven will be contained directly in the experience of being there. If you believe that another hundred years or so of growth will bring the human race to an earthly paradise of universal abundance, then the meaning of existence in that paradise will be directly contained in the experience of living therein.

The problem with this focus on ends is that it is inconsistent with human nature. It is the process of acquiring wealth that gives us our sense of stimulation and meaning rather than the actual posession of it (Remember Bill Gates). Therefore the day when we are going be ‘wealthy enough’ to forgo more ecomomic growth will always recede over the horizon as long as our current economic institutions hold sway. We need to create a new life process which is stimulating and meaningful without the need for the constant acquistion of more material wealth. If we are incapable of figuring out how to do this today, it is not clear why people fifty or a hundred years from today are suddenly going to acquire this ability.

The Internet is that "noosphere", and it turns out to take gobs of energy to run and an Empire like ours to build it. And a world covered with wannabee Empires trying to copy us, to keep it going.

I'd rather live like the Hopi telling stories, or the European musicians of the 1500s composing the greatest achievements of man and playing them on bits of wood and so on.

One of the best things about the Dieoff will be the dieoff of the internet.

Hoard old books. Store them so their discoverers will find them usable.

The Internet is that "noosphere", and it turns out to take gobs of energy to run and an Empire like ours to build it. And a world covered with wannabee Empires trying to copy us, to keep it going.

The Internet is an expression of MAn's social nature and need to communicate.

We may go back to UUCP and point to point/store and forward, but so long as man can make VLSI level IC's - some form of UNIX and the Internet will exist, as Computers are a far better 'deal' than the secetray pool with carbon paper and patchcord switchboards.

There's a very good chance humans won't be able to make VLSI scale ICs in my lifetime.

And what's wrong with "secetarys" and "patchcord switchboards"? Patchcord stuff is cool.

One ringy dingy!

There's a very good chance humans won't be able to make VLSI scale ICs in my lifetime.

Depends on how long your lifetime is I guess. The stepper motors for VLSI are not the 1/2 million jobs of the sub 100 micron versions we now use. The Military will still want such - so as long as governments can extract taxes and feel the need for a military to defend/attack other nation states - A VLSI level of tech should stick about.

Due to dopant migration - the life of a VLSI is 50 years. So a salvage market won't be long lasting.

And what's wrong with "secetarys" and "patchcord switchboards"?

The typing pools of old represent a large Joule commitment VS what a computer can do. So on a strict Joule for information processing basis - tis hard to beat a computer for many applications.

I'd rather live like the Hopi telling stories, or the European musicians of the 1500s composing the greatest achievements of man and playing them on bits of wood and so on.

One of the best things about the Dieoff will be the dieoff of the internet.

If this is how you feel about the internet why are you wasting your time posting here?

Salience recognition is part of the mesolimbic dopamine reward pathway.

And I find this to be the most salient thing written about the challenge of Peak Oil since the last time Nate delved into the idiosyncracies of the human mind in a post here. Of course, each of his successive posts will have to get better in order to keep giving me this feeling.

Egad, what a great post.

I read a recent article about Harvard's most popular class - "Positive Psychology".

From a review of his book:

Early on, Ben-Shahar differentiates between four personality types that influence levels of happiness. The rat racer, trapped in the pursuit of endless goals, postpones happiness; the hedonist's focus on immediate gratification leads, inevitably, to a sense of meaninglessness; the nihilist has given up on the possibility of happiness. Only those who fall into the fourth category, says Ben-Shahar, are truly happy. They know how to find a balance between what he calls "present and future benefit."

Like many self-help authors, Ben-Shahar has a penchant for the catchphrase. His is that happiness is "the ultimate currency." What Ben-Shahar is getting at is that except in cases of extreme poverty, there is a low correlation between material wealth and happiness.



I would hypothesize that the 'happiest' group had a preponderance in serotonin levels countervailing the impact of dopmanine on the system. People who are naturally high (not manic high, but just a slight lilt up of the corners of the mouth) don't have such a disparity of reward between their normal baseline and some fun event, so the event is only so-so to them. I'm guessing this is a good deal genetic though early upbringing certainly has impact.

In the post I didnt talk about depression much - and how many millions of americans are on antidepressants (the numbers vary from 10 to 30 million on a quick google search). Most antidepressans are SSRIs - serotonin reuptake inhibitors - blocking the areas that serotonin would normally be flushed out into waste and keeping it in the brain longer. On a deeper, and ultimately more valuable note, I have an inkling that our diets are responsible for chronically low serotonin levels - its related to acid alkaline balance, not calories or anything like that. An alternative health care woman in Vermont really opened my eyes to this, but, sadly, I've been too busy to pursue it.

Soon, though...


we are so totally ignorant when it comes to the effects of diet on the human body and mind -If we can continue to develop knowledge I'm sure people will look back at this time and what we put in our mouths in the same way we look back at people who drank infected water and wondered why they all got ill...

Great article, much to ponder.


Hey Nate,
Wondering if you have done any study of oxytocin:


Appears related to social bonding. Might be a nice hormone to encourage.

Yes it would be something to encourage. Oxytocin is what you get from hearing a baby cry and having an orgasm (female) and having a business deal or accomplishing something with someone you trust (male and female). But its a hormone not a neurotransmitter, so while it can be 'promoted', I think its harder to do so - there has been a good deal of study on Prairie Voles and Montagne moles and sex with oxytocin.

But your general point is a good one - if we live in communities (whether those communities are real country communities or ones that are part of a larger city), there is more time for true social interaction. This is the feeling we get from social bonding and can be every bit as rewarding as a heli-skiing high - just in a different way.

Again -we can't have all of one and none of the other - but to skew our dopamaniac culture towards one of reciprocity - oxytocin generation 90/10 down to 70/30 etc. would be a good thing.

Is Mardi Gras one huge oxycotin (and ethanol) orgy ?

Best Hopes for my hangover this Ash Wednesday,


Nate, you have a knack for explaining things in a manner easily understandable by the average person. (Well, I think everyone thinks they are above average, but I'll pretend to be modest and claim I am average) Both this article and your previous discount rates article were excellent at explaining to me how my brain works.

“In Europe, we habitually regard a restless spirit, a moderate desire for wealth and an extreme love of independence as great social dangers, but precisely these things assure a long and peaceful future in the American republics” - Alexis DeTocqueville "Democracy in America" 1831(this guy was a freakin' prophet!)

Detocquelille also predicted what would become of America:

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
It is indeed difficult to conceive how men who have entirely given up the habit of self-government should succeed in making a proper choice of those by whom they are to be governed; and no one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people.2

A constitution republican in its head and ultra-monarchical in all its other parts has always appeared to me to be a short-lived monster. The vices of rulers and the ineptitude of the people would speedily bring about its ruin; and the nation, weary of its representatives and of itself, would create freer institutions or soon return to stretch itself at the feet of a single master.

Ya - I left those quotes out..

but they are scary, morbid almost...

you are very good at drudging up deep and dark quotes, Chimp. But thanks. I still am amazed he wrote all this nearly 200 years ago. Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose...

You know I’m one of those “the glass is almost fucking empty” type guys. ;-)


"...a fullness of state power such as only despotism had enjoyed indeed it surpassed all the past because it strove for the formal annihilation of the individual...Once the earth is brought under all-embracing economic control, then mankind will find it has been reduced to machinery in its service, as a monstrous clockwork system of ever smaller, more finely adjusted wheels."
~ Fredrick Nietzsche

“the glass is almost fucking empty”

The glass is never empty. Sometimes it is filled with air.

Thanks AC - those quotes go a long way in adressing my issues mentioned up top.

I will persue the author.


One of my favorite books is:

Requiem for Modern Politics: The Tragedy of the Enlightenment and the Challenge of the New Millennium
by William Ophuls

He does a great job explaining where we are heading and why. He doesn't adopt a nihilistic approach like John Gray does in "Straw Dogs".


You should know that de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America before he set sail for America. One more way for an author to get around censorship. The book is about France and if you don't know French Revolution and Restoration France you won't get that much out of the book. Please at minimum read L'ancien Regime et la Revolution Francaise to get an idea of who de Tocqueville was and how he wrote when writing directly.

There's another important addiction that was missed besides television.

Religion. Hierarchical, organized religion has hijacked the spiritual/awe/wonder pathway into the dopamine system.

I watched Century of the Self, that was quite good. Also good is Jonathan Miller's, "Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief", and "The Atheism Tapes". Both were done by the BBC in 2003/2004.

Includes interviews with biologist Richard Dawkins, playwright Arthur Miller, philosopher Daniel Dennett, physicist Steve Weinberg, Colin McGinn, and Denys Turner. Also a lot of good information on Charles Darwin and Thomas Paine.

YouTube Atheism: A Rough History Ep1, Pt1
(three one-hour episodes in total)

Google Video Atheism Tapes Richard Dawkins
(six half-hour episodes in total)

They are also available as torrents and through filesharing.

The ultimate addiction-- religion. Never does one need to confront reality--
Religion makes heroin seem child's play and benign. The ultimate escape from reality.
Once infected, almost impossible to remove the parasite from the brain.

I am not a religious person.

However, religion as an institution does have the power to motivate people to change, because it lessens their discount rates - makes people think a bit more about the future (do good, don't do bad and you will be rewarded, etc.) E.O. Wilson is trying hard to convince evangelicals about biodiversity loss and changing humanities path. Who's to say that appealing to peoples rationality, which is what my post attempts, won't trumped by appealing to religion?

(the pic with all the hominid skulls though- tough sell...)

One can say that Bronze Age creation myths are "metaphorical", even though they would embarrass a 10 year old, and Psychopathic Space Daddy's and Talking Snakes are not central to religion, but you take this psychotic nonsense away, and there in not much left.
As Dennett has pointed out, the Belief in the Belief in Religion has to be discredited, as "moderate" religious people are as responsible as the true loonies for this mess. Just like the enabler for the addict, the moderate fills the role.
It is time to break the spell.

Oh, please. That might be true of a certain monotheistic religion as practiced by a certain set of bigots with penchant for violence here in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century, but if you think every belief system is like that ... well ... maybe you'll have a different experience in your next life :-)

I'm actually a rather experienced meditator (thousands of hours), and have had a audience with the Dali Lama, and have explored many points of view. I'm not as un traveled in this as meets your eye.
After close examination and direct experience, I've come to see Mao's point of view:
"Religion is poison"

Well, this is just great...

This confirms more then ever the truth in the Thermogene collison.

We are truly doomed.

Oh, and one more thing...

I am now firmly convinced that the correct course of action is to use as much energy as I can, have as much fun as possible, and not worry anymore about PO. There's nothing to be done about it anyway.

Mardi gras works for me, but I have a sneaky thought that it may have a key for a way out.

Happy Lundi Gras (between Proteus & Orpheus parades).


Ding! Ding! Ding!

Now the important question is how will you utilize that energy, Korg? Are you going to utilize it the same way everyone else does or are you going to do something different?

You're a brilliant satyrist. At first I thought you were being serious, but by the end I was ROTFL.

Hi Nate,


re: "An addict would likely not have had the patience to read 8,000+ words..;-)"

Actually, I skimmed it for the jokes and conclusion (and will get back to re-read ASAP) :)

If you don't have time to read it, here is a mp3 from one of the leading neuroscience experts on 'reward', Dr. Wolfram Schultz - you can listen to it while you are performing your other 5 tasks...;0


Hi Nate,

Thanks, this is kind of you. The person w/out a TV also does not have an Mp3 player – but I'll definitely make note of this.

And, I appreciate your sharing your studies and thoughts.

Just a couple of comments.

1) Have you read about or studied "attachment theory" at all? It's so true - it seems to me. On so many levels. When I have just a little bit more time, I'll try to find some references. There are the studies of the interaction of infants and mothers, as well - kind of a more "holistic" view of the human "system", as opposed to the individual brain as a point of departure. Interesting stuff. (I’ve written a lot about this – my own observations, before I knew the topic existed.)

2) re: “But most of these choices, in my opinion, require prior planning.”

Nice examples of your desire/(decisions (if we posit “decisions” exist, perhaps a debatable point :)) – to change your activities and explore new possibilities. Also, I really enjoyed your observations of your experience in your former career.

In regard to “prior planning”, my observation (based on my “VH” experience) is that so much of what people ostensibly “choose” has to do on a basic level, with “attachment”, i.e., with how they related to their primary caregivers, what was comforting, for eg., and/or perhaps formed their (individual and “family) identity. Let me think of examples off the top of my head – an adult choosing first of all, to have a pet, and then to pick the exact kind of pet they had as a child – there are more complex and profound examples, just they’d take up too much space.

3) I also wonder what you make of Sharon’s comment. I have a huge stack of notes in a box that speak to her point – one of my projects put on (what appears to be) indefinite “peak oil”-induced hold.

4) The point (I can’t go back right now w/out losing my place) from the poster who wrote about the mind observing itself - reminds me of the philosopher J. Krishnamurti. I wonder what you thought of what he/she said.

5) Also, I've been contemplating that ad. There's something about it that bothers me a little and I'm not sure exactly what. On one level, it's a satire - a joke about an "object of desire". That the "actor" in the scenario would be male, not much new there, (sniff :)). Yet, at the same time - the designer's choice of the setting - interesting. It makes it (from the perhaps female-identified POV) a little bit "not a satire". I'm not really sure. Also...well, now I'm getting carried away :) Anyhow...
Along w. this, I'd also say the mention of "prostitution" (still, apologies, I can't risk losing my place!) on your interesting graph - the only "activity" that involves a human "actor" along with a human "object". Unlike the other "addictions". We notice these things - and wonder...(you know? :))

Perhaps spiritual practices such as meditation and fasting can reset our response levels to their original values.
There is a passage in the Book of Mormon that gives us a good reason for seeking riches and that is to meet the needs of others. It is in sharing and carrying others in our hearts that happiness lies not in the hoarding of goods. Jesus asked where is the profit in gaining the world but loosing your soul? On the other hand poverty is not good for our souls either as demonstrated by Maslow's hierarchy of needs. This article and many other posts on the Drum beg the question of what would the American economy be like if a share of our spending was for say providing a home for the homeless in a nation in which there are several empty dwelling per homeless family? We are moaning over a decline in housing starts when there is essentially no housing shortage. What we have is an affordability shortage caused by the greed based sickness of the rich and powerful. People around the world go hungry not for lack of food but for the lack of affordability. If anything the obesity problem shows there is too much of the wrong foods in the world. Is there really a shortage of fuel or just a misallocation?


Re: Las Vegas.

Next your there (on the Strip), close your eyes and open your ears. What you will hear is the human tongue in various European and Asian languages. True there are a lot of S. Californians on the weekends, but international tourists give the Strip its sizzle.

I have friend who drives a cab there. He says its "Europeans, Europeans and more Europeans." Life outside the strip is a dull suburbia. It,s the international tourists who fork out big buck to fly on distillate guzzling jets to there. Spend thousands to get, you will spend thousand will there.

great article Nate
I like the part abouy Vegas, I "work" there about three months a year and you nailed that. ( I have read the story, but not all comments so if I infringe on anyone's comments I'm sorry). humans are the ultimate predators,WE ASPIRE. A T-Rex was a wimp compared to us we want to devour a whole planet. Hunting and gathering wasn't good enough we had to farm then build towns, cities, empires and we still aspire for more. Will it be our downfall? Maybe, but if we end up hunting and gathering again we will try work our way back up because we are chronic addicts.

Well researched and carefully thought out; it’s great to see all this data assembled so elegantly. But the stories of how, after barely surviving Kilimanjaro hikes and snow caves, a meal or shower felt oh-so-grand, made me wonder about the basic premise of unbreakable addiction. Don’t you think that if someone, post-Peak, is sitting in a cold, dark, about-to-be-foreclosed house, they will be thinking less about NASCAR tickets or premium cable channels, no matter how “addicted” to them they are, and more about how to put food on their table? I think when Maslow’s hierarchy of needs intersects with enjoyment at the margin, our desires, like those for a hot shower or meal, will simplify greatly.


I think the key is unexpected reward. If someone is sitting in a cold, dark house, they will of course get 'dopamine' and pleasure from heat and light and NASCAR won't even enter their mind. But right now they are in a warm, lighted house and need something else to trip their triggers...

Nate, a very interesting post (but you've already read that twenty times). I wanted to question one of your minor points. I got the sense that you believe human evolution was slow with respect to the time since hunter-gatherer lifestyle. I suspect that that may not be the case. Specifically I suspect that culturally moderated evolution may operate a lot faster than that. For that be the case socially mediated selection would have to be pretty strong. Some have claimed that in western Europe until a couple of hundred years ago, the selection effect -as mediated by economic success was pretty strong. Possibly genes which favor a temperment which leads to success in a merchantilist environment may have been strongly selected for. Whether this actually happened to any significant degree is probably difficult to determine. And given that some of the implications could be politically incorrect I doubt the hypothesis is going to be seriously pursued. Nevertheless the possibility that culture/social selection may have created strong selection pressure should be considered.

I really enjoy your work. Keep it up; we need more discussion of how to shrink our culture, and this is a start. It's clear evidence of maximum power--lots of low quality information from rabble like me giving you the rah-rah, hopefully somehow reinforcing some higher quality dissertation information which suggests ways to mature our culture gracefully.

What a great way to procrastinate. I just really want to know what George Bush had to say to you in that email.

It was just a one line email. He wanted to know which was bigger; a barrel or a gallon.


thanks a million for another great post on a very interesting subject.
(I have pdf-ed it and copied it to the external hard drive for later references and rereads.)

Like Yoooon I read all the words (8 000?), and I felt the reward was in gaining further insights to human behavior.


How did you pdf it?
I don't know how to do that.


I did it with my installed pdf writer (Adobe Acrobat 8 Standard), a virtual writer that transforms documents in other formats to pdf's. Actually a great tool for (amongst other things, filing documents). I think Adobe also offers web based pdf tools, which lets the visitor to web pages convert web pages into pdf.

In the latest version of Windows (Vista), possibly from Professional and higher, there is a Windows based virtual writer, xps, that generates documents in a convenient format, but that requires an XPS reader for access. From what I understand there is under way plug ins that will make pdf and xps compatible.



Great article, that could be adapted to help explain all sorts of human behaviour and addiction. My only criticism might be that it's very US 'centric (and I can't stand American spellings). 'America' is used where I think you are referring to the US or 'North America'. It's quite male and heterosexual, in that the sexual urge although having it's roots in the propagation of the species, expresses itself in homosexual activity of men and women and the heterosexual activity of women too.

As for creating hard copy as it were. Safari on the Mac allows you to save as 'web archive' with links, pictures and text preserved as in live web browsing. Firefox for mac allows a similar save but splits the files into separate folders, which is a bit messy.

To create a pdf with working links, you can just copy and paste into a new document using Apple's Pages application. Some fonts are not converted, and dealing with page breaks becomes an issue, but it is possible to rearrange using the layout tools, setting up 'paragraph styles' for example for quotes, and making some of the graphics 'floating' and allow text to 'wrap' around or to one side.

The final step is to 'export' as a pdf document, that can then be downloaded from a web site, emailed and read on any computer platform. Again preserving the hypertext links, which is nice, so if you are on-line can go to all the links for more info, and see the pics in the larger sizes.

The nice thing about viewing pdf's is that they scale and print well, and the file sizes are reasonable.

I could have a go at making a pdf, with some suggestions for editing.

I just bought a macbookpro (so i can compete with Stuarts and Euans graphics...;), so I will try what you suggest.

Regarding, America, US, etc. yes you are correct. It was US centric because I live here and my hypothesis is that 'we' (on average) are more genetically/culturally prone to habituation. And I am male and heterosexual, and this is a blog, so I felt free to express myself, interspersed with academic research, which is neutered and non-sexual...

Thanks for pdf advice.;-)

Aren't we addicted to ENERGY? Aren't we Energy Dinosaurs? Will we meet the same fate as our distant cousins?



Where do you get the time to write these tomes?

I borrow it from the future.

Nice try, Nate.

Now look at the bulk of your comments. Jay has told you. Others have told you. I've told you. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink. And these are people who "get" peak oil.

Your odds are better with the lottery.

Thanks for this Nate, I really enjoyed it.

Especially liked the bit about Las Vegas.. I seem to have those experiences every other day. One day I’m giving a peak oil presentation to a receptive audience and I feel positive about the future of humanity, the next day I see the zombie’s streaming out of the shopping mall into the car park with some packaged dopamine in a shiny box and I despair again.

What should my motivation be for campaigning on peak oil and climate change and writing the next TOD post?


What should my motivation be for campaigning on peak oil and climate change and writing the next TOD post?

1. Because you live in a country that has a low enough population density, that random 'aha' moments from people you will never know may improve either you, your family or your tribes situation in the future, or even if you don't get such a direct benefit, you can hope they will make Australia and its environment a better place than if you hadn't campaigned.

2. Because you are contributing time and knowledge into a pool in which we all swim. In so doing you are setting a social model not based on pecuniary compensation in an attempt of painting the energy/environmental picture as close to reality as possible. We all benefit from this sharing but if only one or two of us did it, there would be less of an altruistic motivation for the rest of the community to play by the same rules.

3. To hone your own knowledge and see how realpolitik, etc. actually works.

4. If it proximally makes you feel good, you don't really require an ultimate rationale, unless there are large negative externalities (like in economics), which I don't foresee.

thanks for the note.

hehe.. thanks. I feel much better, and more motivated :-)

Great Read.

Seems like weŕe all addicted and the stuff is running out.
What are we going to do?

Start a movement to give up television etc etc read a book, meditate ...
something to distract our attention when goosebumps and cold turkey strike.


Intellectually comprehending ¨the reason why things are the way they are, when it is already ¨the way things were back then¨.Very Good but !!!

(I´m in a Linux box I see, watch the apostrophe)

Preparing for WTSHTF ??? After all itś already happened.

Peak Oil and Global warming - Same Problem


Letś start using our wits to plan the rather placid Golden Age ahead.

THE BAMKS ARE BROKE, and thatś the best new´s imaginable. Perhaps we should bury the corpses.

Peak Oil is out and about - need to stay ahead to maintain political & sociological relevanse.


I have a question regarding campaigning for Peak Oil. As a quiet member of the silent majority living in a peaceful backwater, I only just became aware of PO via my daughter. Living in a deeply conservative community where the soil is dark and skins are white, anyone who frightens the horses risks unpopularity. I am troubled that local decisions ignore oil depletion issues and would like to speak out. But how do I broach the topic? I could quickly be dismissed as : religious fanatic/wierdie-beardie/loonie left/aging hippy/end-of-the-world-doomster....
Any ideas?

The pressure to conform is very strong where you are, a major reason that I live in New Orleans.

Perhaps, "I believe that we are seeing just the first breezes of a coming oil price storm" ? It plays into rising prices (an underlying but "acceptable" fear).

Talk about a Plan B in case oil prices go out of control. Mention the Islamic Republic of Arabia replacing Saudi Arabia (another acceptable fear). Or what will we do if "someone" bombs Iran ?

Mention severe recession caused by ever higher gas prices.

Fear is an underlying but rarely spoken form of social control. Use it to your advantage.

Happy Mardi Gras,


The key to broaching a subject like Peak Oil is the way you present the topic. If you try to 'ram it down their throat', that is telling them 'this IS what is going to happen' most people immediately go on the defensive. Humans hate know-it-alls. I believe it is important to be neutral about the topic when telling someone about it for the first time. First of all, almost no one knows anything about the world's oil supply. Nothing at all, not even the current price, let alone concepts like sweet, sour, light, heavy, where it comes from etc etc. So the first time you mention it just have one key idea that you want to broach with them.
Say to them that you read an article about gasoline recently, and it mentioned that the worlds oil supply has hardly gone up in the last 2 years.
Then ask THEM if they know anything about that. Act uncertain. They wont know anything probably, so ask them if they do read or hear anything about it in the future to let you know, because you think it could be a problem for your community, and if it is going to be then maybe we should start planning for it now. From the very start try to make the idea sound like a potential exciting challenge for society.
Then every time you next see that person say you have learned a bit more and give them another fact about Peak Oil. But never preach. Get them accustomed to the concept gradually. Make them interested in it. Preaching doom from the start just triggers fear which a person easily avoids by never ever thinking giving the idea any brain time at all. They just Alt+F4 it.

The way you regard events is just a spin put on to them by your mind, according to your perception of life. If you believe life is serious then Peak Oil is going to suck. If you think life is just a game, then PO is going to be one hell of an exciting Level. And if you think the purpose of our life is for a species to populate all the stars in the universe, then, oh well, those planets will just have to evolve their own versions of Homo Foolians for themselves!

If you believe on Origin of Species through evolution you must start these questions:

(1) Why not we find any "in-between" specie, why are all the species we find are so perfect for what they are? If according to theory one specie evolve into another there must be times-in-between when it is no longer the originial specie and not yet the new-specie, that implies that for each of the 4 million species of plants and animals that exist today there would be thousands of species that are not yet perfect for what they are and in some form of transition. Why not we find such in-between species?

Lets look at an example, its said that some ancient specie of deer when find it hard to find enough grass it look to sky to find a way to eat leaves of trees, that looking at sky for millions of years resulted in their necks getting elongated and then they become giraffe. The question is why not we find any such specie which has neck longer than what it need to eat grass and shorter than what it need to eat leaves. On the same pattern you can think about other species.

According to the evolution theory it takes millions of years for any conversion from one specie to another and during the time the specie would have been in an in-between state it would not be able to gather food, survive, generate babies etc. For example if the neck of deer is too long to eat grass and yet too short to reach leaves of trees it would starve and would never be able to become giraffe.

Lets look at two organs that completely disqualify evolution theory, one is wings, other is eyes. Wings are very delicate and have to be in perfect shape and size according to the body of specie to be used. What would the specie be doing if it has lost its hands and still not developed its wings? Same with eyes, its very delicate and need to be in perfect shape to be used.

If you find a watch in desert you would be fool to think that somehow the particles of the desert have combined to form the watch. It is more logical to think that some human passing the desert would have it fallen. If desert particles can make a perfect watch then there must be millions of incomplete watches scattered in the desert.

There are ofcourse some modifications that happen in species to make the adapt to change in their environment. For example colors in human skin, different beak sizes in finches of the island which darwin visited etc. but a tranformation from one specie to another is totally ridiculous and false theory.

For more than fifty years nasa spent literally trillions of dollars to find extra terrestial life to prove darwin's theories. All waste of time, intellect and money. You can never find something that not exist no matter how hard you try.

For the efforts of linking humans with monkeys there still left important gaps that clearly shows that monkeys are a separate specie and humans are separate. What fossils you find are most probably of some monkeys. Some such frauds were found and resulted in lots of dishonor to the evolution theory.

At end I would like to say that at darwin's time most of the modern technology didn't exist. For example he didn't knew about existence of uni cellular organisms, virus, bacteria etc. DNA was not discovered and cells were not seen directly under a microscope.


You are a nice fellow so I will try and be polite. Evolution is no longer disputed. Please go out and buy ANY book written in the last 30-40 years in the field of biology (and many related fields). I can recommend The Moral Animal by Robert Wright as a general introduction. Anything by Dawkins (not the God Gene) or Ernst Mayr or just a basic college textbook on biology should be sufficient.

For more than fifty years nasa spent literally trillions of dollars to find extra terrestial life to prove darwin's theories. All waste of time, intellect and money. You can never find something that not exist no matter how hard you try.

This is most definitely not wisdom from pakistan..


Thanks Nate for calling me nice, I wish I can say the same to you.

Instead of refering me to read books written 30 to 40 years ago why not you simply try to answer some points I made.

About the nasa thing, how much budget nasa has for one year in today's dollars, multiply it by number of years nasa is in existence and you will reach some number in trillions.

What would you say about frequent claims of discovery of water on mars etc to make a point that since they have water so they would have osme kind of life.

If evolution is all so correct why not your science is yet able to explain "the evolution of evolutions" when they claim that the first life developed from non organic matter? How many times you have seen any such thing happening? How many times you can perform this in laboratory?

Come on, science is not greek philosophy that rely only on thought experiments and keep its eyes closed from the real world.

Imagine the chance of a pile of steel, rubber, chemicals etc sitting in a godown transforming by itself in a boeing 747. Imagine the chance of particles of a desert transforming by itself into a swiss rolex. How many zeros do you have to put after 1?

If you have an answer feel free to present it. If this is not appropriate forum to discuss it feel free to name any other way we can talk about it.

If you were nice you would have answer my questions instead of asking me going and finding the non existent in a pile of books.

I think youĺl find that if you sit round long enough the sands of the desert will form into a new rolex. Itś just that you ain´t got that much time.

The sudden changes in form, rather than the gradual Darwinian ones that you contest, happen periodically in all species, itś known as Quantum Evolution. Wether or not some Great Hand of God is behind it all is irrelevant; you are clearly manic - try Zoloft.

Dear WoP,

The books exist and many of us here at TOD have read them and grokked them.

It appears that you model the world from a highly religious point of view. I respect your right to believe in whatever fantasy you chose to believe in. If you believe in the infallible Intelligent Designer, make sure never to Google on the concept of "the incompetent designer".

Enough said.
Go in peace brother.

Dear Mr. "step back"

Thanks a lot for your nice comment. It would be more nice if you try to read my comments and find out that I never had any doubts about existence of those books. I only said that the answers I been looking for are non existent in those books (and everywhere else).

Do you know that people who live in fantasy do not ask questions and are happy to believe whatever is told them without weighing it on a logical scale. They also give their best effort in avoiding answering any questions.

About myself I had read lots of theories that differ from my believes, I find myself roaming around at google and wikipedia reading a lots of things.

The article you refer "the incompetent designer" has a big flaw in its title, to say that somebody is incompetent you have to match it with some similar being, you ofcourse can't compare apples with oranges. To compare God with somebody you have to first find out somebody who is similar to God. Ofcourse you will never be able to find such being as its non existent.

Nice wasting of time beating about the bush trying to avoid the basic thing, please just answer my questions if you have an answer otherwise don't waste your and other people's time. Thanks.

If Wisdomfrompakistan is actually in Pakistan the science books you suggest could get him killed by the Islamic fanatics.

if thats true, then we are really in big trouble

It's true about the fanatics, ergo... :P

WFP, you might try and download the audio file of this radio show. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/02/thats_some_memory_hole.php
It actually refutes most of your points quite succinctly. Though I have to warn you, should you venture onto that blog, that the folks who blog at Pharyngula are not as polite and measured in their responses as Nate Hagens. They have very little patience with self imposed ignorance of reality. You sir don't even rise to the level of being wrong. Huge sigh!

Ah, a very huge sigh!

Why is everybody refering me to something away from him to answer my simple questions. How much time it take to answer these really?

(1) If one specie transform into another why not we find in-between species?

Remember, specie is defined as a group of organisms that through sexual contact can't reproduce.

Lets suppose specie A transform into specie B, evolution theory say that it takes millions of years for such transformation, half way in time the specie would not be either of type A or B. Why do we find every specie in nature in perfect harmony with its environment.

(2) How could have deers survived when they have necks too long to eat grass and too short to reach leaves?

(3) How would have earlier birds kept themselves safe from predators when they had lost their arms and yet not get their wings. The thing in between is useless for fleeing them from predators.

(4) What about the genetic modifications in dna that are needed for any such transformation through species? How many times you saw it happening in laboratory or in real world?

(5) Am I wrong in saying that until some theory is proved practically through experiemnt or observation its still merely a theory and must not be taken as an established fact?

(6) Do you really believe that darwin through his simple theory can explain the complex nature of dna, cell structure etc when those fields didn't exist in his life time therefore never studied by him?

(7) Even if one specie transform into another where would have the first specie come from? You cannot say anything else than saying it got developed through some extra-ordinary not-common process through which inorganic transform into organic. Why not such processes happen now? Can you explain what are those processes?

(8) Where is the missing link between humans and monkeys?

(9) What about that 'watch found in desert' and 'boeing 747' question?

(10) If one specie is transforming into another that not just mean transformation of the visible but also of the internals of the cells down to the dna. Remember the complexity of dna is so high that if we want to write it down it would take more pages than the pages in all of the books of the library of congress. Any modification of such a complex thing needs two things, a very complex software and very high processing power. Where is the computer that do such calculations and where is the software?

(11) How can dna be so complex?

(11) How would the cell of an organism know that its the time the transformation is complete? What is the "thinking" part of the cell, from where the information come, where do it go?

In short, believe in origin of species through evolution is far far more stupid than believe in infinite growth on a finite planet.

Even if you wait long enough that desert particles transform into a rolex watch you would sure find incomplete watches around the complete watch. That is the nature of probability. If you are trying to hit the center of circle through random throws of dart you sure would have many hits around the center of circle for each hit at the center. That is if the throwing of dart is done at random. If its done through some logic/formula/pattern there need be a brain/processor doing this. Do you believe such a brain exist at cell level?

My question is that if enough time has passed that one specie transform into another specie why not we find incomplete species.

Other question is from where the first specie came from, if its from inorganic material you have to prove it either by experiment or observation as long as we are talking science.

After all, whats the value of those books Nate refer to that are written in passed 30, 40 years when after reading them no person on this valuable site full of intellectuals is able to answer my simple, elemental questions.

Let me tell you the problem of the books, audio files etc you people are refering. They take evolution as granted and start their talk from there. They never care to proof the evolution theory itself.

What about some cells "thinking" they should better become teeth while others "thinking" they should better become the digestive juices. Who is telling the cells to become teeth and not worry about their food and excretions because other cells working at other parts of body would take care of that?


Do you realize how long 4 Billion years is? If you live to 100 years old, 1 Billion years is repeating that 10 million times. That might take a while. Then repeat all that 3 more times, and see how long your beard gets! :-)

Imagine living to 1000 years old. You live to 100 and repeat that through 10 times. And finally after an absolute eternity you are 1000. Now you must do that another 999 times to become one million years old. And one million years is NOTHING in geological time. Imagine how many generations of say mice there would be at 4 generations per year. And if every offspring is just a tiny bit different to its parents....

It's all about TIMEEEEEEEEE

Magus: IMHO, in interpreting Pakistan's comments you guys are missing a few things. To get from the primordial soup (and before that the energy of the Sun), a PROGRAM must be imbedded somehow/somewhere (I am not at all religious but ignoring logic to make your point doesn't reflect well on proponents of "evolution" or "science"). NONE of us human primates has any frigging idea how a PROGRAM got imbedded into primordial soup leading to higher life forms such as human mammals so why pretend that we do?

To get from the primordial soup (and before that the energy of the Sun), a PROGRAM must be imbedded somehow

Not in the sense most people think of as "programs" or "embedding".

Chemicals have been created in a lab that naturally - as a consequence of their structure - self-replicate when lots of their precursor components are around. The existence of such chemicals - whose ability to self-replicate is a consequence of their structure - means that if you randomly make different chemicals, eventually you'll hit upon one that self-replicates. Moreover, since it self-replicates and previous chemicals did not, you'll get lots of this particular chemical.

At that point, you'll still have random things happening with basic precursors, but you'll also have lots of random things happening with this self-replicating chemical. If one of those random things makes a change that creates a new chemical that's better at self-replication, that change will propagate, since that new chemical will self-replicate faster or more efficiently than the old one.

None of this involves any externally-decided "program" be "embedded". It's basically the "million monkeys" argument - if you have a million monkeys on a million keyboards, eventually one of them will write a compilable program. Same with random chemical combinations and self-replication.

NONE of us human primates has any frigging idea how a PROGRAM got imbedded into primordial soup

There's a difference between not knowing how it happened in this particular instance and not knowing how it can happen in general, and the latter is not true - various branches of biology have some fairly substantial knowledge about how similar processes occur. You might not have any idea, but that doesn't mean nobody does.

Pitt: I guess this one is exhausted but IMHO most advocates of evolution are afraid/hesitant to accept the logical conclusion of an imbedded program as they feel it is a gateway step to thinking like a Huckabee. I personally don't feel it has to be one extreme or the other.

IMHO most advocates of evolution are afraid/hesitant to accept the logical conclusion of an imbedded program

It simply is not "the logical conclusion". That's a subjective, qualitative judgement, not an inescapable fact of logic.

It is one possibility, but there's no evidence whatsoever (that I've seen) that it's the only possibility, or even a likely possibility.

It's usually a good idea to perk up when you hear yourself stating that your interpretation is The Undeniable Truth - it's a good sign that you've just encountered an area where your actions may not be entirely rational.

I'm rushed for time, but will address a few;

> How could have deers survived when they have necks too long to eat grass and too short to reach leaves?

I assume you are referring to giraffes. You are assuming that the trees have always been as high as they are; why?

> How would have earlier birds kept themselves safe from predators when they had lost their arms and yet not get their wings. The thing in between is useless for fleeing them from predators.

They didn't 'lose their arms' first, they gain feathers for warmth, those on their front legs gave them an advantage jumping higher away from their prey.

> Where is the missing link between humans and monkeys?

You already saw images of the missing links between earlier versions of humans and chimps on the article page. For more info, see http://anthropology.si.edu/HumanOrigins/ha/a_tree.html

>What about that 'watch found in desert' and 'boeing 747' question?

What about it? That's no more scientific than someone who says we are aliens from Planet X.

You really do need to read substantive scientific findings on this, instead of just picking up your guiding life outlook from random blog postings. I suggest you pick up a copy of "Finding Darwin's God" by Kenneth Miller. You wouldn't expect to pick up calculus from a couple of blog postings, so don't think you can understand evolution the same way.

Hello Mr. Will Stewart

Thanks for your effort about trying to answer my questions. I not understand though why people always get in hurry (running from questions?) when they don't have answers.

Ok so trees were not that high? Why would then there be any need of elongation of necks at first place?

Are you saying that birds gain feathers and still had arms slowly getting useless till a time came they get so small and inactive that their bodies stopped making new ones? Why not we find such useless organs in today's species, the world we see today? If 4 million species of plants and animals have reached their perfect balance with today's environment (something very obvious by looking at nature) there must be a lots of species who have yet not reached a level of even acceptable balance with nature, where are such species?

Please don't say that Nate has found the missing link between humans and monkeys. If thats so he would have got the nobel prize.

What about my other questions about how would an individual cell know how to evolve, when to evolve and to what extend to evolve (that is when to stop). Where is the software and the processor doing all these calculations and sending signals to each of the individual cell? How can an individual cell able to understand any such message provided it has no brain of its own?

Come on, its no mid-19th-century fantasy world. We are living in the 21st century. Science can tell you which part of brain store information about what. So please tell me if you can which part of brain store and process information regarding the process of evolution? What about an earlier stage of such evoluton when that part of brain had not yet developed?

If you really believe that the missing link is found please feel free to share your source. Thanks.

The link you gave is just a claim, it has no proofs. Also there is no talk about founding of the missing link there. It contains just a tree claiming that such and such species have such and such ancestors.


This is definitely a minefield of a topic you have brought up and I must say that I am a skeptic of purely scientific explanations for reality which close out nonphysical concepts beyond the understanding of the rational mind. On the other hand I also can't buy a simplistic out of the box creation story either as that is like Santa Claus Christmas story for children. God must be able to handle a sort of complex evoutionary process and quantum mechanics and anything else "he" cares to create as a set of rules, as God is God after all. I don't bother my pretty little head too much about it. I will get the whole story after death anyway and realize that it is all readily epxlainable and quite simple from my new perspective "on the other side" of the physical/spiritual barrier.

This will appear to be heresy and naivete regardless of which side I talk to. I just try to remain openminded as these things have no effect on my daily life whereas PO and GW and market cashes do.

If the western scientific paradigm in general has screwed up the world then it will fail(gee it looks like that is happening now). If it is rooted in a basically religious monothesitic dualistic (good vs. evil) viewpoint (God as a rational being in possession of absolute truth) then perhaps some earlier or different concept is more true (better model of reality) like Buddhism or various schools of hinduism. I suspect our ideological concepts evolve like developing memes, spirally growing out of each other over time, after one dies the next builds from the best parts of the last one.

I tend to think scientific paradigm is still in diapers and has a long way to go or we would not be where we are.

For example this post and Pharmapsychology generally models human reactions as a bunch of separate chemical reactions (neruotransmitters,etc.) and ignores conscsiousness and free will. This is a typically scientific concept, take things apart and look at them under the miscroscope separately. Stuart does this and we all complain, that he misses the big picture, while getting details spot on correct but all the wrong focus perhaps as in the latest rebuttal by Jeff Vail. I suppose you WFP are basically not up in arms about evolution as such but about the general tone of the article which just reduces us to some sort of chemical reaction without free will to make decisions. This is a form of nihilism or atheism. It just makes life seem meaningless.

Atheism may be ok in and of itself as an abstraction(some say the Buddha was atheist), but the western form of atheism is a denial of a greater interconnectivity of the whole, sort of a living purpose of the system, if only for itself to form its own purpose (like Viktor Frankl's writing-inventor of LOGO therapy and Nazi concentration camp survivor).

I think survival purpose is mission critical to motivate us-individually or as a nation(best wishes for you in a hard time with the first stages of olduavai gorge in Pakistan and maybe civil war if things go wrong), call it religion or love for self or for your neighbour. Theoretical abstractions (like evolutionary theory)are just chips on the shoulders of various ideological groups to set themselves apart from other ideological groups(say religious groups)to avoid dealing with real problems of the moment, like the state of the absolute soul and our place in the world we have made for ourselves and/or been born into.

I hope you feel treated with high regard and respect here by me as a fellow believer in the allmighty and as a fellow practical person with two feet on the ground of everyday reality with worries about our future as God's children here on earth, this formerly bueatiful paradise, which we have devastated by our wanton greed and habitual selfish behaviour (modeled by Nate above in terms of neurosynaptic response without purely moral implications as I have done here).

> I not understand though why people always get in hurry (running from questions?) when they don't have answers.

Ok, so I will be late for work. Don't expect a doctoral thesis, though.

>Ok so trees were not that high? Why would then there be any need of elongation of necks at first place?

Because those with longer necks were able to get more leaves than those with shorter necks. During times of tight food supplies, the ones with the longer necks would have a better chance at survival.

> Are you saying that birds gain feathers and still had arms slowly getting useless till a time came they get so small and inactive that their bodies stopped making new ones?

(sigh) No. Do you not understand that proto-bird front legs evolved over time into wings?

> If 4 million species of plants and animals have reached their perfect balance with today's environment (something very obvious by looking at nature) there must be a lots of species who have yet not reached a level of even acceptable balance with nature, where are such species?

Ever see a lungfish?

You say the fossil evidence showing links to other ape-like creatures is 'just claims', though I'm willing to bet you claim that man was created by a supernatural being, of which you have no proof whatsoever. Sorry, the evidence for evolution of man from ape-like creatures has clear scientific evidence that you simply refuse to acknowledge.

After you've read "Finding Darwin's God" or one of the other books mentioned above, I'll be willing to discuss this subject with you further. It's clear that you've only read propaganda on the subject, and have thus far refused to look at the other side of the debate. Until then, don't ask the Oil Drum readers to be your tutors; do your homework first, then come and ask questions.

Indeed a very huge sigh. I see lots of people running around trying to answer questions that you yourself don't understand. I see them trying to be polite to you, and your tone in return, while seeming polite, is really just masking contempt.

Before these answers can be attempted, you yourself might try studying the scientific method, physics, organic chemistry, chaos and complexity theory, biology, and logic, and then you can actually delve into each one of these questions and answer them yourself. The research exists, the data is out there, and no respected biologist would even think today of questioning whether the process of evolution over billions of years is a strong enough mechanism to yield the results we see today.

In brief, though:
1. There are in-between species.

2. The necks of deer are not too short to eat leaves or grass. I have some in my yard right now. Have you ever seen a deer eat?

3. Birds ran before they flew, that's how they escaped predators.

4. The process of transcription, replication, and mutation in DNA is well understood.

5. It is wholly impractical to experiment on every living species to see that the process of evolution holds. Once understanding the very basic processes of mitosis and meiosis, or cell division and sexual reproduction, testing evolution on every species is unnecessary as every living thing on the planet is underpinned by DNA.

6. It is no longer "Darwin's" simple theory as it has been tested and verified by many thousands of scientists over the last 150 years. And yes, the ratcheting process of evolution is powerful enough over a few billion years.

7. The origin of life was the primordial soup that existed on this planet, given the spark of life by the sun's energy.

8. There are skull fossils now going back several million years which show our common ancestors.

9. The watch in the desert problem is a fallacy because it assumes that complexity can only be arrived at by something of greater complexity. This is not so, evolution shows why.

10. The computer is the universe, the software is the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, conservation of mass, and thermodynamics.

11. The ratcheting process of evolution is what makes DNA so complex.

11 (12). Asking how the cell knows it's done evolving is not a meaningful question.

In short, you have done no research of your own, taken no time toward reasoning and understanding, and you are getting angry at anonymous people on the Internet for not laying it all out for you in easily digestible chunks.

We all had to take the time to figure things like this out. You should do the same.

In short, believe in origin of species through evolution is far far more stupid than believe in infinite growth on a finite planet.

WFP, while you are more than entitled to your belief the evidence (the hard empirical data) is overwhelmingly on the side of evolution being the mechanism by which species evolve.
This is not the proper forum on which to discuss this subject which is why I linked to that talk radio show over at Pharyngula.org, if you had taken the time to listen to it you might have heard some of your questions addressed there. All 11 or 12 of your question have very straightforward answers.
You might try educating yourself starting with the basics, since you are here on this site I can assume that you are a reasonably intelligent person. Please go to this link and contact some of the people who are biologists and have dedicated their lives to this science:
Would you have much respect for someone who came to this site and said those who "believe" in Peak Oil are wrong because oil is continually generated from abiotic processes? You would roll your eyes and say that person is either ignorant or in denial of reality because you have taken the time to educate yourself and know the facts, no "belief" involved. My huge sigh was in a similar vein.

For more than fifty years nasa spent literally trillions of dollars to find extra terrestial life to prove darwin's theories. All waste of time, intellect and money. You can never find something that not exist no matter how hard you try.

WisdomfromPakistan, like you, I also do not believe in Darwinian evolution. Let me pick at the comment above for a minute though. NASA's budget this year is $17 billion, and the agency has been in business for 50 years, so the total amount spent in its history is well under $1 trillion. Not too much of that money was spent searching for life on other planets, though some has.

Aside from the dollar specifics, our inability to detect life elsewhere in the universe is an important point. There is only one electromagnetic spectrum in the universe, and the earth has been broadcasting across the whole spectrum for years. If anyone out there was looking for life, the earth would be glowing as a hot spot for about 80 years, and they should have seen us. Planets within 40 light years would have had the chance to see us and respond. Yet the SETI project hasn't picked up any sign of intelligent life trying to communicate back to us.

I understand that men want to be associated with Gods, it relieves them of the fear of actually having to die. It puts a stamp of approval on their technological efforts which although they seem more permanent and wondrous than their own bodies, will end up the same way, as dust. Look at how man struggles to erect massive tombs and stones that will in time weather away to nothing, take pictures that will one day be unrecognizable by anyone, build massive buildings and so forth that will surely outlast them and bring immortality. Even the tree huggers circle hands around the 3,000 year old tree as if it has somehow escaped their own sad fate.

In reality, technological evolution is probably pretty rare in this universe and in my view is eventually self-extinguishing because the red in tooth and claw evolution that reigns in the organic world always carries forward into the technological world. Evolution is about competing, killing and eating. Evolution is about dissipative structures that MUST have energy and nutrients and will evolve in any direction, moral or amoral to achieve it. If they do not, they die.

If there were other civilizations capable of broadcasting it is unlikely that we would intercept their transmissions since they could have arisen anytime within billions of years and would have only lasted a few hundred, a brief millisecond in geologic time.

Look around the planet at our “civilization” and tell me if you see anything that will be homeostatic or cyclic in the long run. This is a one time Roman orgy, go to the vomitorium and come back for more fossil fuel feast. The only thing that was long-lasting and cyclic was our biosystem, a true jewel in space. Somewhere there may be Gods that are sentient and live for millennia and millennia but they will not be piping throbbing jungle beats into space while their F-16s spray the landscape with depleted uranium.

1. Assumption - if there is life there must be intelligent life. Invalid assumption, life may exist without intelligent life arising.

2. Assumption - if extraterrestrial intelligent life is listening to us, they would want to respond. Invalid assumption. Presumes that extraterrestrial life is like ourselves when we have zero idea of how they view reality.

3. Assumption - because we are broadcasting right now, someone must be listening right now. Invalid assumption, as extraterrestrial civilizations may have risen and already fallen or may be yet to rise. Additionally this assumes that technological civilization, once achieved, is never lost.

4. Assumption - because we communicate in a particular manner, all other civilizations must communicate in the same manner. Invalid assumption as there may be other ways for advanced civilizations to communicate (if they even choose to do so). Our own knowledge of physics is changing and continues to change. They may not even be "listening" where we are broadcasting.

In short, the lack of extraterrestrial signals doesn't mean much at all. In fact, our excessive consumption and frivolous usage of energy resources might mark us as a dangerous species to be avoided. We just don't know.

and, more importantly, lack of extraterrestrial life does not invalidate evolution and speciation by natural selection on this planet.

(1) Why not we find any "in-between" specie

"we" do find them.

Perhaps "you" choose to ignore.

Horses make an interesting pictorial example:

(That being said, it's worth reiterating that evolution is about how lifes changes, not how it originated, so it's by no means in conflict with all religion.)

Your post summarized, polished and fine tuned some thoughts about the entire issue of Global warming, peak oil and as a result, human nature in general. Given your approach to this entire topic has been from the point of view of the brain, I'd like to point you to Actual Freedom. Actual freedom proposes a way of life, to that of enjoying the beauty of the fact that we are alive and aperceptive by means of practicing to disconnect the reptilian brain from the neocortex. The underlying principle being that our brain tends to 'strengthen' those pathways which are more used and 'weaken' those pathways that are unused. I've been trying to practice the method of Actualism and I must say I have seen very decent results in my own self.

I think, a world where people have realized the actual nature of everything will live more harmoniously and less 'expensively'.

Thanks for that Actual Freedom link,
Part of the solution will be adoption a ¨spirituality" that is real rather than ¨ïmposed by brainwashing¨
the oil drum usually getś me where I trying to go. HURRAH.

people bitch about comercials. They are oftenbetter than the programme itself and anyway I just turn off the sound and go to the bathroom or get soething to eat. I only watch news or selected series or movies. My kids watch kids DVDs, Disney and such or nature program DVDs. I find it educational socially generally until a series gets wasted at the end of its creative life. In 19th century Dickens wrote serialized novels and it developed with the public opinion. Series are similar. There is feedback like at TOD. Public opinion is a two way street. TV/Radio/popular novels/mass media is a mirror on society. Story tellign by way of mouth was before electronic or print media. Real life happens physically and in communicaiton of that physical reality, however that occurs. Faster communication just accelerates trends.

I thought this was a good primer to understand concerning how opinions are shaped.

25 Rules of Disinformation
1. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil
2. Become incredulous and indignant
3. Create rumor mongers
4. Use a straw man
5. Sidetrack opponents w name calling, ridicule
6. Hit and Run
7. Question motives
8. Invoke authority
9. Play Dumb
10. Associate opponent charges with old news
11. Establish and rely upon fall-back positions
12. Enigmas have no solution
13. Alice in Wonderland Logic
14. Demand complete solutions
15. Fit the facts to alternate conclusions
16. Vanish evidence and witnesses
17. Change the subject
18. Emotionalize, Antagonize, and Goad
19. Ignore facts, demand impossible proofs
20. False evidence
21. Call a Grand Jury, Special Prosecutor
22. Manufacture a new truth
23. Create bigger distractions
24. Silence critics
25. Vanish

It also contains this Too.

Eight Traits of The Disinformationalist

1. Avoidance
2. Selectivity
3. Coincidental
4. Teamwork
5. Anti-conspiratorial
6. Artificial Emotions
7. Inconsistent
8. Newly Discovered: Time Constant

With examples and how to avoid. Good stuff to know when hearing/reading things like MSM and such.

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!

Man do I get a load of dopamine from that!

Praise for you Nate. This a true magnum opus.

in retrospect, I should have used "Nate vs Luis" in the American vs European graphic, since you are biking stud with 6% body fat, etc...
I'm glad you learned something from it- of course, these are the ideas we discussed over many Guinesses in Ireland..
May you get some unexpected reward from your upcoming Olduvai post. My recommendation is to keep expectations low....;-)

I recall a certain photo I shown some friends. I'm 185 cm (the tallest you get around) and they couldn't believe how small I looked beside you.

You're not fat, you're just great.

Fascinating article! I'm definitely spreading the word: http://unstuff.blogspot.com/2008/02/this-is-not-about-peak-oil-and-only....

Been lurking around for a bit, but registered to express my deep appreciation for this amazing article.

Hi and thanks again, Nate,

Also wondered if you've read The Heart of Addiction by Lance Dodes.
http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Addiction-Understanding-Alcoholism-Addictive... . He seems to make a distinction between "physical" addiction and something else. You might find it interesting. What I like is the way he approaches people - asking, not assuming. And questioning their "stories about themselves" (as constructed w. the help of received plots from the surrounding culture) v. their own perceptions.

No -Ive not read it. And as I pointed out in this piece - there are numerous definitions of addiction, substance abuse, etc. Someone in the actual profession of dealing with addicts might not call oil an addiction, but it's clear the same mental mechanisms are at work. But I wonder how many addiction professionals understand the evolutionary underpinnings?

Hi Nate,

I'm not sure the ideas in the book would contradict your views - it might complement them.

Great post. Very stimulating. But think about this.

You don't spend much effort describing what is the addiction for. There is way more about the phenomenon of addiction, than about the subject of it. I've actually made a search in your paper, and it boils down to admitting that we can't be really addicted to oil, and saying that the addiction is to "the 'consumptive behaviors' linked to oil". This sounds a bit strange to me.

Should this mean that all consumptive behavior is linked to oil? If not then why aren't we addicted to the other consumption? Is it really just the consumption that we are addicted to? Or rather consumption is just a manifestation of something else? Just a way to demonstrate that you are better than others?

And that's where this goes back to culture and tradition. It's not the addiction that is really the gist of it, but rather the culture of our "civilization" that measures our success in material terms. I mean we will be always addicted to power and success. That's what's in the genes. But it's really up to the society to figure out how we measure this success: by the number of scalps on our headboard, or by the size of our truck, or by your IQ. So maybe there is still a chance, and things can start to change. After all some of us already start to get less high from a trip to Las Vegas, and find way more reward from the praise and cheers for a good post on TOD. What really matters is the metrics that become generally accepted in the society.

Yup. And its easy to prove that people get true 'happiness' from things that the economic system doesn't make money off of. The harder thing is to devise a plan/strategy to get from here to there that is both desirable and feasible.