Are There Demand Limits to Growth?

On this site we typically discuss the extent and timing of our energy supply limits, (as well as planetary sink capacities and non-energy input limits). Less common are discussions on our ends, and whether our current trajectory is mentally/physically sustainable irrespective of source/sink constraints on the horizon. Tonight's Campfire questions will relate to demand limits to growth in the hypothetical situation of unlimited resources. Perhaps from a perspective of infinite abundance we might gain insight on how best to address resource shortages.

The genesis for this post was news this week that Twitter and Facebook could affect peoples morality due to the speed at which our brains process events that historically required time to reflect on and absorb. Also this week, a friend had sent me the article Is Google Making Us Stupid? I have written previously how our brains are increasingly being hijacked by a larger and larger smorgasbord of stimuli in our modern worlds. We quickly habituate to a certain stimulation level and then need higher or different stimuli to obtain the same neurotransmitter 'feeling'. Eventually, addicts reach a point where they require said 'drug' just to feel normal. The step beyond this is when even the drug doesn't get them back to baseline, and they experience 'anhedonia', or the inability to feel pleasure.

My best friends daughter is a very bright 10 year old girl who used to be a voracious reader. Last year her father bought her an Iphone and set up a Facebook account on her computer. I have observed she now can only read a paragraph in a real book before putting it down. The neural grooves, at 10, are already habituated to the faster feedback found on Facebook. I'm sure many of you have similar stories - these young people will be our future leaders, and their attention spans will be shorter than any previous generation of our species. (I feel this trend myself, perhaps related to being very involved in this website for the past few years - I find it extremely difficult to read entire books unless they are fiction. I didn't use to be this way. I am addicted to obtaining information on the internet, but ironically, I needed to obtain information on the internet to figure this out...;-)

The larger resource depletion issues we face require us to think about the future. In economic-speak we need to choose and act upon larger long term rewards as opposed to smaller short term rewards. The more addicted we are, as individuals, and as a culture, the steeper our discount rates are and less likely we can address longer term problems. Increased cognitive load also steepens discount rates. I.e. the more we multi-task in the moment, the less we evaluate 2015. Obesity and related epidemics in the US are not noticed day by day, but over 30 years show an unbelievable trajectory. Depression prescriptions are now off the charts, etc. After all, we possess fixed neural hardware of 1300 cc and our environment is capped at 24 hour days and ~80 year lifetimes - any switch in the cultural software is bound to have physical impacts.

In a developed world where (almost) all have footprints exceeding kings and queens of old, we habituate to the usual, and unexpected reward becomes a key driver of behaviour. It really makes one wonder what the natural limits of such a cultural trajectory. In 20 more years will sane skinny people be as rare as mountain gorillas? (I doubt it - before this happens Big Pharma would put everyone on naltrexone and we will be able to consume at an optimal slower pace..)

Here is tonight's Campfire thought experiment, and questions.

Imagine for a moment, that a giant umbilical cord stretched from earth into deep space, and through it we received whatever natural resource we wanted, in the quantity and at the time we wanted. At the same time this cord would allow us to expel our waste streams into space. This process would be affordable by everyone. Unlimited means.

Some questions to ponder:

- If we had unlimited affordable resources for everyone, would anything change?

- Does the cost/scarcity of goods act as a bottleneck to which of global citizenry has access to them? I.e. if the resources had NO cost (everything free), how would that differ from above?
- Is there a point when we begin decreasing neural returns to technology in humans? Where/when?
- Will our rational forward thinking aspects of our brains ever be strong enough to overcome our more primal short-term impulses?
- Are those who 'consume' too much, at greater risk for natural (or man-made) shock to the system?
- If so, wouldn't it behoove us to consume less, and perhaps substitute a unit of time and labor for energy/money, not because we are running out of cheap resources but because it would be better for us as individuals?
- When comes the inflection point where the mentally/physically "normal" are no longer the majority?

As is usual for this slot, these questions don't have answers, but in my opinion are worth discussing...

Quite a lot of questions.

Seems oriented towards electronic communication toys.

I would like to observe 'myself' since I have not that much contact with children any more. Less with the 'mainline' users who suck at the tit of demand. Those who started it all ,IMO, the yuppies who 'wanted it all and wanted it right now'.

I did know some of these back in the days when they first surfaced. And I believe that exactly where we are today is the direct result of that unbridled 'wantism?' to coin an ism that might not be extant.

Or its more known as DEMAND. Demand to drive many vehicles recklessly but never able to turn a wrench. Demand to play with those electronic toys but never gain useful intelligence,,such as degrees in those fields and hence its up to other countries citizens to profit by providing those skills to supply the gimmicks/toys/whatever.

I rarely hear of programming except in the dark soul of 'open source' and other Operating Systems..which just happen to be FREE! But we obey the mantra of Microsoft,Playstations,Xboxes and so and Open Source was a very good thing but I think except for some wayward types(ESR for one) its dead and dying.

Then IMO demand will never stop until it does. Until the last Xbox dies and the other countries who supply the knowhow dies as well.

I don't know what a 'shock' to the system means I guess. If it hasn't already been shocked by this attitude and culture then what?

Note songs lyrics and the music scores. Same beat, over and over and over. Booming out of hidden sub-woofers in small pickups and hatchbacks or whatever is in vogue, with tiny tires that I bet never leaves the pavement. So the song lyrics are just one phrase repeated over and over. No real meaning except to trip out those funky brain chems.

So where is the mental intelligence to write meaningful lyrics? Gone?
What the hell is Hip Hop all about? Nothing that I can figure except
"in your face" music. No culture except American Idol,,etc. Can't think for themselves.

What does it result in? Media control. What ever brain chemicals it releases or suppresses it seems to work very well.

Then IMO the youth of today is leading the way. What they become is what we will become. They will surely grow up and perform exactly as they now do. There demands seem to be the rule. Why I have no idea.

I spent most of my life working on electronics and that means back to the first PCs. I have NEVER as yet even went to a FaceBook, nor wouldn't recognize it if I did. Nor do I care much about whatever Twitter is. I can guess. More and more of whatever drives the brains of this generation.

I do repair some of the PCs that become unusable as a result of young adults, children and others who go to these sites.

A few weeks ago my a friend who owed a auto repair shop left his laptop for a newhire to use, ostensibly to look up repair parts etc.

His youngish wife got hold of it and in two days trashed it totally. Took me 12 hours to get it cleaned up. Many are not aware that a knowledgable person who works on them can go to the database file that contains browsing history since the browser was first used on the very first day and saves every site visited and the date/time.

I would be embarrassed to state what some of the sites she went to for hours on end. A lot of that Myspace sites. And also some very bad porn sites. Then realizing the PC was compromised she downloaded a supposed program that would repair the damage but of course this was a trojan in disguise as a 'white hat' and invited huge numbers of trojans and malware, even some that were still 'in the wild'.

This is our youth. Late 20s in age. Killing the toy, fulfilling the need to make a big splash with her friends and utterly destroying a good tool.

Demand like this will take us apart. Its already doing so.

I read a lot. I find lots of reading material on the web. That and worthwhile communications. Some news but not much. I have no TV. Instead rent DVDs of only what interests me.

Seems to me that what we will become will depend on who is growing up right now and their morality.

Am I off base on these questions or just on a rant?

I will wait til others fill in some of the blanks. Maybe my world doesn't have any answers for this generations activities.
Even if I ride a Harley they don't even glance as I motor by. They are lost somewhere, that I can't fathom. And don't wish to anyway.

Airdale-does any of this make sense or am I just dreaming it
or perhaps their brain chemicals are foreign to my brains chemcals for I lost it with them back when the yuppies started up and I already had my farms going...and why do they not JOG any more? busy with Twitting? What ever that is. And please don't clue me in. Please.And I don't even care if Obamaman has a Facebook, for its not my world out there,,mine is here.

I'm 24, and while I don't necessarily like the idea of defending my generation, I can make a few points. I have a lot of friends in many roles in the world, and to address this topic, I think they fall into two categories.

I think a significant factor is that a lot of people genuinely aren't very challenged. The 'twitterers' among them are generally also in their mid 20's, artists, naval-gazers, or people taking a very long university degree with no end goal. I frequently get frustrated with them and wonder about their motivations in life: partying, sleeping in past noon every day, making art and working just enough continue their lifestyle. They are very happy working two days a week at a coffee shop and being unapologetic hedonists otherwise. It's good to have conversations with them, but on topics like peak oil the conclusion is that "we deserve what we get and there's nothing I can do" or quickly forgetting it. But when I tell myself that their work ethic will self-correct one day, when they run out of money or something bad happens, it just never happens. There is no floor for them to hit in this world, not even this recession, so I don't think they'll ever change. (There's always food, a home, and interesting things happening. In some ways, it's uplifting to me.)

On the other hand, I have a lot of friends deep in the bottle of workohol. I'd definitely count myself among them. We all have meaningful skilled jobs, but still don't feel like we're accomplishing enough. Training every weeknight, independent research, tending multiple gardens... it goes on. But with us, there's a trend towards simplification of our lives because there's just too damn much to do. If I come to this site and get my daily dose of pessimism OR optimism, then tomorrow I have to redouble my efforts in every area because either the end is nigh OR I can do even more if I just push harder. It's stressful, but my point is that it's a growth curve of multitasking and sleep deprivation. For us, our goals are still out of reach. Land is expensive, and there's always more to learn. I can't afford to lower my information rate, I need to boost it!

So what's the solution? On the one hand it's twitterers worried about their clothes, and on the other, it's sleep-deprived multi-taskers racing through life. It's not much of a choice, and I can't think (and haven't seen) a third way. But my point would be that, from the outside, and without getting to know them, they'd look very similar: distracted young people with increasing attention-loads, without much time for things outside their sphere.

I frequently get frustrated with them and wonder about their motivations in life


We all have meaningful skilled jobs

Um. I'm 37. I would be grateful if you could explain "The meaning of life" to me.


(I also have a chemistry degree btw.)

Hi css,

I'm sorry if I came across as judgmental, but I was trying to illustrate that in my community people with very different lives will look very similar. We all find our own meaning, and we all follow our own paths. They are my friends and I care for them, but I was trying to address the lack of commitment to long-term issues. I don't think I have a meaning, but I do have hopes and a plan.


A lot of what changed in the work place happened starting in the 80s.

In my job I was exempt from drawing overtime. I had to come in many times on the weekends to work on the systems,not PC based servers back then. And schedule maintenance upgrades off hours.
I however was allowed 'comp time'. And if on a 'mission' received mission pay.

I could even schedule my own time as I saw fit. What my job requirement said was 'perform you role and use what time is needed'.

But soon the corporations looked out among the employees and instead of seeing real people as assets they saw them as disposable and costly. They changed the whole face of the American workplace almost overnight.

Why did they do this?

Part of the reason, not all of it, is that the employees comeing on board were not 'committed'. They would lie, lay out with excuses, not really care except to shmooze and what we called 'brown nosing' the bosses. Those bosses(executives) were not stupid.

Not only that they did not have the desire to work until retirement. Many just wanted to jiffy up their resumes.

The quality of the American worker nosedived.
The quality of the American executive nosedived as well but after being invaded by the workers and seeing that foreign workers were just as good and cheaper.

What you have inherited Chemist is in part what your predecessors created.

There is very few goals now in working hard. You gain nothing.The executives are a protected species and garner all the wealth.

Course I oould be wrong but I started by delivering papers on a paper route in the 50;s, was then a caddy at a golf club,worked as a stock clerk at a large dept store, worked in a auto parts store, worked at McDonnell Aircraft on the assembly line. Did 5 years in the military and still was only 24 yrs of age.

Then worked in the space program,then a large computer corp for 30 years and retired to the farm where I worked even harder. They took over a business for years,became a computer consultant and owned my own company.

I look at my nephews wasted life and those of his buddies and I see nothing that would make me wish to hire him. His brother is the same. A shaved head,tattoos, slovenly dresser,don't give a damn attitude, will not become a useful member of society.Has been fired many times.
Now has a do nothing job. Lucky to have that.

Its the modern deadly business culture and the 'perfect storm' of meeting the very poor American worker. Lots of pain out there and I don't see it getting any better.

Its a bit like the hippie days of old. There were dropouts and there were those who stayed. Didn't do the drugs, raised a family and worked hard and was rewarded for it.

Thats gone. Its over.This country has changed. We now come to the 'end games'.


Airdale, I believe that you are mistaken.

People have not changed, their work ethic has neither fundamentally improved nor degraded in the past 50 years.

What has happened is somebody sold a bill of goods to big corporate management that adults need to be "managed" as if they were children, and the workers responded to this change appropriately.

This is only a hypothesis, mind you, but since I have not seen any difference in the operation of most small businesses in my lifetime (or even in the glimpses of history I get looking back further), it seems obvious to me that the part that has changed must be due to the change in how corporations treat people.

It became obvious in the 80's and 90's that corporations had no loyalty, and people responded appropriately.

Airdale, R4ndom, You're both a bit right/wrong.

Big corp management didnt need to be "sold" the idea of managing adults as children; it is their instictive natural behaviour.

What we've seen is the continued growth of decadence of civilisation -- authoritarian mentality and authoritarian culture. (Fuller explanation of these terms in my 1987 papers,
(which you don't need to be a genius to understand why I never tried to get published),
(see also
and later elaborated/refined in
(from page 41;; though that book was carefully designed with the intention of being read from the start onwards so as to unpick readers' illusions in the necessary sequence.)

Authority structures such as big organisations (not least the most authoritarian of all, "universities") are the natural breeding ground of authoritarians. They prosper and proliferate under the inverted meritocracy selection systems, while genuinely talented independent minds get persecuted and squashed out ( In line with their intellectual shortcomings, authoritarians also tend to a preoccupation with status, they see things entirely in terms of personal advantage and control and are wouldn't know what truth was if it hit them on the nose.

The growth of big institutions has consequently caused that there HAS indeed been an increase of authoritarian mentality individuals (and meanwhile I and others I know of have no children).

Meanwhile it is simply the innate natural behaviour of these authoritarians to treat their underlings (however intellectually superior to themselves) as children to be controlled by rules imposed by "discipline" (a word misused as a euphemism for brute force).

I foresaw 35 years ago that the world system was headed for doom controlled by these timewasters but no-one ever listened to me and there was no outlet for my words. And of course the very system I described excluded me from recognition (except by a handful of people also victims of this prejudice and now dead). qed.

The foregoing explains why it is utter waste of time trying to get these "leaders" to do anything useful. And why I wrote that practical handbook on how to replace the system that imposes those "leaders" on us -- but alas too late.

As a staff programmer and team leader of my dept which was responsible for many internal mainframes I was usually presented with possible new hires to our department. I was supposed to pass judgment on them as the manager was not too savvy on the job role. However he had come up thru the ranks and his background was communications hardware, so the reason for us to judge the possible new hires.He was a very decent mgr by the way. Very upfront and usually stuck up for his team unless they were wrong and then they got a deserved asschewing and marked down on their appraisals.

And since we all had our task to perform if we hired a person who was not capable then the rest of us had to carry that person. I am speaking of college grads here. Time frame is 80s. Middle 80s at that.

I found many to be unusable. Some we did hire could not perform. They would go to meetings, some which had nothing to do with us but they were pushing to move up by learning the language(buzzwords I mean) and the lay of the land and then trying to bootstrap with bullshit.

I could go into actual events about some of them but suffice to say that most just did not have the ability nor later if hired the committment to actually learn what we did. This is not a discipline that is taught in Comp Sci. Yet one could always tell the keepers from the losers.

That background is what I base my opinions on.

After 25 years in the ditches I could tell who was bullshitting, who had the ability to become immersed and become of value and who did not.

A team which has a non-performer will have to take up that persons slack and carry them. I was happy to teach them the skills but when they kept blowing mainframes down and never did get it right. I proposed they needed to be sent to a lower level job in another dept. Say hardware or whatever.

Usually the ones who I judged inappropriate yet were hired were usually later let go or put in other roles in the corporation,if they failed there then sometimes they were encouraged to find employment elsewhere.

However a lot of non-preformers did seem to survive but not in a hard working close knit department.

Let me put it this way. If you couldn't read machine language code, couldn't learn it and the discipline that went with it you didn't need to be touching Operating Systems. Or even program products.If you failed to learn how to do a Sysgen then you didn't need to be blowing systems down and taking hundreds of users with it.

Course now we are all into server farms, and PCs but times were far different before that all came about. Yet I see kids thinking that because they play a lot of video twitch games that suddenly they are endowed with the mantle of 'Ohh he can fix computers'..when they really haven't a clue. Perhaps the Geek Squad might find them of value? Sheesshhhh.

If one wants to master this area then go start creating new open source progams for Linux. Money to be made here or there used to be. Or new Blackberry proggies ,etc. Google ESR for a taste of this or read his book "The Cathedral and The Bazaar". Free.

I digress. Yet I stick by my observations. We are slowly dumbing down. The schools and our society are responsible IMHO.

Have we not become just 'appliance users' then?
Who DEMAND more and more appliances?

Airdale-my creed,,"Ye shall not lie to the metal." meaning the processor...the code don't flow on lies,,only worthy code.
Actually silicon but well it used to be mostly metal or close to it.
Thermo-modules,CCROS,Iron doughnuts,SLTs-solid logic technology,etc

Getting a civilization going is hard work: only a few peoples have done it.

Getting a civilization going that gives all of its people anything close to a fair deal, more or less, is very hard work: even fewer peoples have managed to ever do it.

Keeping a civilization going is very, very hard work: everybody that has tried up to now has failed, except for those still in business; they are probably all in the process of failure too.

Keeping a civilization going that gives all of its people anything close to a fair deal, more or less, is very, very, very hard work. It has only recently been even tried, and the prognosis is grave.

IMHO, the fundamental problem we have here in the USA is a lack of seriousness at all levels throughout our society. Maybe that's just another term for your "decadence", but the end effect is the same. We're all trying to take the easy way out. Unfortunately, there is no easy way out, only an easy way down.

Lack of seriousness would be one manifestation of the decadence. But another manifestation would be in people and organisations quite happy to earnestly work at callously nasty scams (and other crimes), quite a lot of which have been seen in recent months. And torture and the war in Iraq probably seemed pretty serious to those at the other end, if not to those at the controlling end. Further manifestations are in the extent to which truth-tellers and other competent people get suppressed by career-boosting charlatans, especially in the medical field. Plus imposing their dictats on others such as the FDA's underhand plans to repeal DSHEA.


I believe your use of the phrase "useful member of society" implies the situation backwards from what it is.

I'm 32 y.o. and find it easiest to socialize with people younger than about age 25. Most people my age and older are living in some weird fantasy world where in their imagination, big corporate profits will soon resume growth, and that this "society" will be at all similar to today in a few years hence.

A lot of young people get it. "You all wear ties, and we'll run the companies to make infinite growth" is not a scam thinking people today will fall for.

Many of us see the scam you call "society" for what is was: a ruse to make us wear outfits that gave perverted "managers" some high on power, milk our labor, and embezzle that value into the accounts of the non-working wealthy.

So next time you see a young person with extra tattoos, creative attire (you call "slovenly"), and non-conformist hair, you will learn more if instead of seeing someone who is "not useful to society," hear our polyphonic chorus with a hip-hop beat that the leaders of the future are singing together:

Your society is not useful to us.

Our parents were able to obtain medical treatment if they worked hard at their jobs. My friends and I cannot. And we see this society's dramatic, ongoing, and irreversible deterioration. We do not want to tie our wagon to it while it sinks into the black hole of massive historical failure.

And we'll make something much, much better.

The kids are alright.

Hi Airdale,

I hear from my coworkers (a lot) that I should play the game, schmooze, whatever. I don't care to yet, though if they're right I'll hit a wall and see what the real world is like. For the time being, I like working hard and trying to accomplish real things.

Something I was trying to get at was that I don't think there is as much real failure anymore, so attention and work ethic can drift. In my generation at my age, it's not strange to have people of 24 still living with their parents, and I know my parents would/could take me back too. I think that kind of support is good and natural, but there are always people who will take advantage of a situation. On the other hand, I have a friend who was homeless for a few months, and he's one of the hardest and smartest people I know. In my humble opinion, the rising tide of the economy in the west has raised all boats, so I think in essence we can afford to work and do less. Obviously this can't last.

These might be the end times for that life, but it feels like the beginning for me. I sense I'm young and idealistic and dumb, but I think I can make something of the world and make it a little better. A lot of problems and suffering are coming, but the only way to get past the panicky state is to go and do something about it.

I turn 40 in about a week and to me..that sounded like the rants of an "old" guy. ;-)...from one old guy to another.

Are the kids of today so bad? Sure, maybe this is Generation Now and they expect immediate results but they also be more interested in urban living, more accepting of green technology and more willing to change. When I was 16, the first thing you did was get your license. I know many 20 something that still haven't gotten around to getting their license and when they do acquire a car, a Toyota Yaris is more likely to be their choice over a monster SUV.

As for the comments about the pop music of today, come on. Was Elvis any better? When the Beatles sang "She loves you ya ya ya" was that considered ground breaking intelligent pop music? Excluding a few hundred major records from an entire generation, most of the Baby Boomers music was just as cheap and plastic as the stuff today, just it was rock based versus being "beat based".

As for hiphop, yeah, sure it became a cartoon of what it was, just as rock did in the late 80s. But that doesn't mean there isn't intelligent rap music that has a message. Even mainstream stuff like Ice Cube's - Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It has more to say about what's "wrong" out there than most of the music did in the 60s. It just says it in a harder, more direct "in your face" way than was socially acceptable back in the day.

Today's kids..are still kids, but I think they're more aware of the world around them than we were as youth. The world is at their finger tips and they seem more open minded to it than we were. In Japan, young people have taken to shunning cars as they're now "uncool" which has caused a huge problem for the auto industry in the country.

As for the media control, well most of the modern media is falling apart. Why? Because the kids of today don't bother with it. It's US that keeps it maybe the kids caught on to something that we..didn't.

How many 25 year olds do you hear complaining that wind mills "spoil the view" ?

Are the kids of today so bad?

"Alas, alas, things are not what they used to be; children no longer obey their parents; everyone wants to write a book, and signs are multiplying that the world is soon coming to an end,"

--author unknown (Babylonian clay text)

I think a similar quote has been attributed to Cicero:

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book."

-- Marcus Tullius Cicero

Those are both quotes from decadent civilisations (in Toynbee's post-breakdown "universal state" stage). There are significant other parallels with the present, such as "elites" often sporting vulgar clothes and tastes.

airdale said:

Note songs lyrics and the music scores. Same beat, over and over and over. Booming out of hidden sub-woofers in small pickups and hatchbacks or whatever is in vogue, with tiny tires that I bet never leaves the pavement. So the song lyrics are just one phrase repeated over and over. No real meaning except to trip out those funky brain chems.

So where is the mental intelligence to write meaningful lyrics? Gone?
What the hell is Hip Hop all about? Nothing that I can figure except
"in your face" music. No culture except American Idol,,etc. Can't think for themselves.

The function of what most people call "classical" music (and which might be more accurately called "art" music") should be to lift people up, to get them thinking beyond themselves and beyond mundane everyday life. It should move the soul, it should make a person think, it should be inspiring. A people that produce and perform and listen to the fine music of their own and other cultures are a people that are preserving the best of the culture built by their ancestors, and are building upon it and making themselves better.

Contrast that with what most Americans listen to (and it is just "listen to", if people still even have a piano in the living room these days it is just an expensive display table for photographs) these days: a race to the bottom, a celebration of the gutter, a festival of profanities. No wonder our country is heading downhill.

The function of what might be called "traditional" or "folk" music is to bring people together, and to forge and preserve the bonds of family and community - gathering together around the piano in the evenings, or gathering together at the hoe-down.

Contrast that with what we have now: people going around EVERYWHERE with little headphones permanently plugged into their ears. Listening to their own individual music, in a world of their own, totally disconnected from the people around them - even from their own family. Even if the rest of us could hear it through loudspeakers, we wouldn't want to; the headphones are as much to block out other people's music as it is to hear their own. No wonder our families and communities are falling apart.

GIGO = Garbage In, Garbage Out. Applies just as much to people as to computer programming.

But - On my I only listen to the bbc radio. But then again, not sure how many others that applies to though, as I think most ipods don't have radio anyway. Wonderful to be able to listen to radio etc when walking/cycling to places. And does not prevent one interacting with surrounding people!

Very provocative questions, Nate.

Regarding the resources questions: I think, even with theoretically "unlimited affordable" resources, the scales would quickly tip in favor of those who enjoy the greatest advantages today. Even in such a utopia, if you don't change human nature, you'd soon see the Bernie Madoffs of the world finding ways to increase their own resources at the expense of others. They'd be able to leverage other resources -- education, connections, ambition, location -- to their advantage.

Next, the story about that 10-year-old makes me sad, but I think it's an apt commentary on our society at large. The amazing proliferation of information and access to information we enjoy today -- mobile phones, hundreds (thousands?) of TV stations, the Internet with its millions of Websites, blogs, news sites, etc. -- hasn't seemed to result in a more educated, better informed population in general. It's just too easy to access a purely Balkanized worldview: reading just the anti-climate-change blogs, watching just Fox News. On a daily basis, I see more and more evidence that we're just moving closer to an "Idiocracy"-style future (and if anyone hasn't seen that brilliant Mike Judge satire film, go out and rent it now -- it's hysterical BUT thought-provoking. The only thing is, I think Judge overestimated us ... he set his film 200 years in the future, but I think we're darned close already.)

Idiocracy is brilliant. I really think that it is about the present, not the future. If people from the 1700's could see what has become of American culture, what would they think?

"If people from the 1700's could see what has become of American culture, what would they think?"

Maybe "What everybody can read?!?!"

1. If we had unlimited affordable resources for everyone, would anything change?

I think we would go nuts. Imagine the whole Earth's population living in enormous mansions with unlimited food, energy, information, entertainment, sex, transportation, etc. Robots would cater to all our needs and whims. Everything new thing we tried would give us less satisfaction than the previous thing we did, leading to permanent boredom.

Many of us would probably seek out risky activities that took us out of our comfort zone, just for the challenge and uncertainty. I believe we have evolved to push against obstacles.

So if unlimited resources and energy are not good for us, what is the ideal level of access to these things for us psychologically? How about for the earth? Are these two the same?

Everytime someone proposes a new wonder-source for energy production, no matter how "clean," I try to get them to consider these very basic questions. I am usually ridiculed or ignored, of course.

So I am very happy that Nate is bringing them up here for discussion (although the discussion is also about access to information--a related issue, but one with distinct implications, IMO).

Recently I have turned up some rather puzzling indications...that in those final days before their annihilation...the Krell had been applying their entire racial a new which they actually seemed to hope... might somehow free them once and for all...from any dependence on physical instrumentalities.

Like you, the Krell forgot one deadly danger...their own subconscious hate and lust for destruction.

The beast. The mindless primitive. Even the Krell must have evolved from that beginning.

And so those mindless beasts of the subconscious... had access to a machine that could never be shut down. The secret devil of every soul on the planet... all set free at once to loot and maim... and take revenge and kill!

My poor Krell! After a million years of shining sanity... they could hardly have understood what power was destroying them.

From Forbidden Planet, of course.

I think this experiment has to a large degree already been performed, due to the misfortune of our discovering oil and other fossil fuels.

The longer the experiment continues, the more extreme the collapse will be, I expect. If any aliens offered miracle energy sources, I'd say we should take a pass.

It's really all just a kind of drug addiction. The drugs of choice will be changing; but whether looked at through the eyes of a spider or the eyes of an elephant, the external world will keep inexorably advancing, one second per second, as the bill for overshoot comes due.

ADHD is just one way for brains to be; hard to say whether that will be a pro or con for survival value. The Twitterers may be forming a new sort of anthill mentality. If birds are any indication, the surviving dinosaurs were the twitchy ones.

Question from a long time TOD reader: At what point do the resource restraints our world is facing make all of our electronic devices useless or so expensive or so nonavailable that we have to start doing without them?
5- 10 years? Price of course would ration their availability but would the things we need to make cell phone towers also begin to be limited? Electricity may not be so easily available for electronics plugged in to the grid, either, I know. Would the availability of batteries be limited in any way because of the components/ingredients used in creating them, too?

I think this whenever I see anyone in public using a cell phone/Blackberry, whatever. I have a computer at home and I love the digital photography playthings but I know they may not exist or work much anymore in a few years.

Interesting questions and thoughts here, thanks for them.

I hardly ever post because I'm too busy trying to take in all the ideas that all the smart/knowledgeable people post here!

thanks for TOD.

Hi gang. Another fun topic from Nate. I'm not entirely awake today but the comments to this one aren't coming thick and fast, so just a short ramble so I won't have sat out two saturdays in a row.

Have any of the rest of you folks had the experience of interacting with a student who recently got near-perfect SAT scores, yet is apparently dumb as a box of rocks? Just askin'. We had one visiting who was only 2 points shy of a perfect math score, and did get a perfect verbal. She was talking to my mom and trying to mentally calculate how many years mom had lived with her husband, knowing her current age, and the age at which she was married. She was literally unable to do this in her head, OR using a pencil and paper, and after 5 minutes gave up. And although seemingly sophisticated in some specialized subjects, there were many other disconnects. The kid isn't a drug user, except to the extent that the short-attention-span habit is similar to a drug.

Abrupt subject shift: my wife got a cheap laser pointer for christmas. She found that a young border collie we inherited would go utterly nuts chasing the beam, actually blurred movements, faster than a dog was meant to go and once it was turned off the dog would just stare into space. This is a breed which stares at things anyhow, and the laser just seemed to overload its little doggie mind. My elderly mom finally forbade my wife from using the laser around the dog, because she thought the dog's brains were going to start leaking from its ears. And y'know, I'm not sure she was wrong. The dog wouldn't eat for a long while or play with regular toys, just waited by the spot the glowing red fairy disappeared, staring. (Even now she preferentially catches small flying insects like Dwight Frye's "Renfield", but that's within what passes for normal in border collies. We have created an ADHD wolf via molding its phenotypic plasticity, which may yet outlive its progenitors).

I think that the hyperstimulation of that dog may not be unlike what some people have chosen, and that in the future many of them will be left staring, wondering where the kinetic glowing fairies went.

Personally, I don't "do" video games, don't carry a cel phone, but do have an ADHD italian wife and border collies so have one foot in each world. But in all honesty, I'd say that there are many sorts of hyperstimulation, and I have indulged in some. Even in the absence of external stimuli, a brain may be set to idle higher and react faster, pushing metabolic extremes internally even while the body is immobile. Some of my health problems these days may be due to my too often having slowed down the passage of time in the external world during past decades. It's damaging even if done as an obligation rather than an addiction.

In terms of being stupefied by the pace of modern life, it's a real thing but there are probably varying degrees of susceptibility. People like to react to things; there is some sort of privileged cognitive status for reaction versus conscious initiation of action. Personally, I allow few things to trigger this reactivity, because an entire life can be spent that way, reflexively. (please pause and think about that, and how many things your life is set up to react to). I think that video games, twittering, and much of modern culture is built around supplying stuff to react to, since "reaction" modes come so easily to our brains. But not all will fall under its sway; show a laser to a golden retriever and he'll soon ignore it.

With regards to the questions posed, speaking from a viewpoint which values other species - and the far future of humans - highly, I think that resource bottlenecks may ultimately be the only saving grace, while fearing that they are coming too late.

I doubt that a significant number of rational minds will overcome primal reactive impulses before the overshoot crashes in this century. However, that will mean that there's a lot of low-hanging fruit, in terms of steering the way the world turns out, for those which do.

Mental stimulation isn't, when it comes down to it, necessarily all that aligned with consumption. Surfing, drugs, philosophy, and breadfruit trees can be as stimulating or restful as one might want.

Not a great post on my part, I'll admit; I'm enjoying a low-stimulation day. Cheers.

Low-stimulation Greenish much better than high stimulation Blueish. Thanks for popping by.
My golden is same way. He is best of best of best of 30 generations of one breeder. A rubber band with fur and eager to please. But I, or anyone he sees, could throw a tennis ball to the point he would collapse dead- it is a built in self-destruct in some of these species (and I know people that it's happened to).

My main point in this post is at some point we are going to have to address what all this energy and stuff is for - if its keeping things neutral is one thing, but if in aggregate it is making us more and more crazed is quite another. When comes the inflection point where the normal are no longer the majority?

Very interesting post!

Here in Japan studies show that avg. number of cellphone messages a high school or jr h.s. student receives or sends is 200/day!

I have seen a group of young people together at a casual restaurant. They were eating but not talking, just texting...answering their cellphones, and checking their messages. These would probably be mostly as waste of time: unnecessary "good luck on your test!" or "did you catch the soap opera last night?"

But as the economy gets worse and worse I think things will change. One friend of mine (a housewife, not a student) said, "because of money, I don't use my cellphone anymore except for urgent reasons".

I refuse to have a cellphone and I know the day is coming when people have to choose between them or eating and they'll reluctantly choose eating. People would rather have the latest toys---40 or 50 years ago the latest toy was a car. A car let you impress everyone, feel as if you owned the world---and cut you off from the world at the same time.

Cellphones and the electronic games are the latest "cars"----but they are much cheaper than cars. You can enjoy status with them. You can engage in some sort of communication or community. But they cut you off from being "in" your immediate surroundings, like cars do.

This has been going on a long time. You can argue that when people started reading en masse (around after Shakespeare's time) these early books were an early kind of "cellphone" or "internet connection". Shakespeare's plays were performed, not read. The audience went and listened and watched---it was a large kind of immediate community. But this drama performance was just another stepping stone from earlier (less money involved, lower scale, simpler) drama performances, and these were evolved from even simpler storytelling in market squares.

Human beings have always loved complexity. Mastering it means your brain is working, that you can compete with your peers. Imagine the embarrassment of the high school student without a cellphone. Or the person 20 or 30 years ago who didn't have a car.

Finally perhaps we're on the down slope of energy availability. But that hasn't been true ever before. Status has until now been predicated on mastering complexity in all its forms (that is what we call education). But the long view tells the story: cars have been becoming unaffordable for masses of young people and they're turning to cellphones and the internet, and these things will also become unaffordable and soon! People are hopelessly addicted to modernity: a family I know had to leave the town in which they were living and go back to live with the grandparents in a mountain village because the husband lost his job. The modern town near Tokyo they left has hopelessly awful water, tons of incinerators, traffic, parking lots, pollution. Well, the family was very sad. They felt like total failures.
But I said "cheer up"--- your water will be tasty, you will have a free house, you can start a garden and you can relax. Maybe they can even get rid of their cellphones!

This guy eloquently sums up the problem with cell phones and today's society

I think very soon someone will have something like a cellphone embedded in their brain. (Or has someone done this already?)

"Toys" that enhance the ability to communicate are things that most of us crave. We are all, after all, using one of the most incredible such toys right now.

The human vocal tract is in essence just such an embedded communication-enhancing "toy" that allows us to communicate very complex signals to others of the species, even though it came at the cost of making us uniquely susceptible to dying if we try to do the two most basic function most living things do to survive--breathing and eating--at the same time.

When comes the inflection point where the normal are no longer the majority?

Why, I think the normal are always the majority, n'est-ce pas? Even when the majority are pre-programmed delusional, as you've oft demonstrated is the case.

Seen from outside the human race looking in - a vantage point which seems my default - it'd probably be hard at this point for humans to get a lot more crazed in consumptive terms, though seen subjectively from the inside of the race looking out, I suspect there's a lot of crazy left to iterate.

Your key question - whether we're worse off for the consumption and rapid-fire lifestyle - is well asked. All of us here have sampled the stimulation of reacting ever more, parsing decisions ever finer, multitasking... and yet, looking back in 20 years, we may find that our best productivity occurred when we were not subjecting ourselves to that.

Of course, the energy and stuff isn't 'for' anything in an absolute sense, and I'd agree that it isn't increasing human happiness in any commensurate way in realtime... and it's wiping out most other species and reducing the planet's carrying capacity in the longterm. So we really really oughta just slow it all down. Again, of course.

The energy and stuff insulates us - however temporarily - from the consequences of reacting as programmed, which is what feels good. Acting of our own volition, guided by logical pursuit of sane long-term goals, means sustaining a stressfully dissonant mental state. Those posting here are presumably familiar with how that feels.

Which is to say, I agree with your points. g'nite.

Thank you for your thoughtful... err... thoughts, greenish.

I think the answer to Nate's question is indeed that all this energy is used for something - first for our immediate needs, then for entertainment and - the perfect excuse for workoholism and other forms of excessive competitive or greedy behaviour - safety: personal, social, in space, in time, you name it: "I want to be financially and thereby socially safe when I retire" is a very strong motivator for me which I regularly use to trick myself into thinking despite knowing better that my workoholism is good for me.

Nate's scenario of a cornucopian world would take away the material safety considerations. In my view, such a world would mainly lead to people optimizing their joy/happiness/kicks, possibly by way of more and more stimulating gadgets/drugs/synthetic experiences - because without material limits, that's the easiest way. So the limit for demand would be all sorts of physical and mental processing limits: How much can you eat? How much information can you process? How much pleasant stimuli can you enjoy sustainably? How would such a society deal with the craving for relative wealth?



Have any of the rest of you folks had the experience of interacting with a student who recently got near-perfect SAT scores, yet is apparently dumb as a box of rocks?

Perhaps the answer can be found here (beginning at about 3:08):

Paul aka Bag of Hammers

Imagine for a moment, that a giant umbilical cord stretched from earth into deep space, and through it we received whatever natural resource we wanted, in the quantity and at the time we wanted. At the same time this cord would allow us to expel our waste streams into space. This process would be affordable by everyone. Unlimited means.

I think there is an expression shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations? Maybe ask the piggies in the middle there to ponder those questions? But as to access to that sort of desire satisfaction over generations I would ask Prince Charles, he is, besides being heir to a Realm, also an avid organic gardener.

CBC TV is running a documentary (Porndemic) on the spread internet porn, this as I type. Doesn't seem to be any limits to demand there. Pant, pant!


You're much more into psychology than I am. It's very hard for me to even engage your broader question -- it's kinda like if pigs could fly, would they still be pigs?

We do face limits in supply. And that's where I can give an opinion:

4. Will our rational brains ever be strong enough to overcome our more primal impulses?

Yes. But I think it is a matter of the collective brain becoming strong enough, backed up by organization. The collective brain is science. Organization is politics at all levels. Oil, the industrial era, capitalism, globalization, these have molded us into one tribe, humanity. That was the accomplishment. Now we are confronted with the need to start making a global accommodation with the realities of the planet and its biosphere. How many conks on the head it will take before we stabilize I don't know -- I tend to be a little doomerish there. But I remain an optimist in the deeper sense: there's no fundamental reason we cannot use the collecive brain and will power to ultimately stabilize into some kind of sustainable relationship with the planet.

Some days I have trouble lightening up I guess.

4. Will our rational brains ever be strong enough to overcome our more primal impulses?

Yes. But I think it is a matter of the collective brain becoming strong enough, backed up by organization. The collective brain is science. Organization is politics at all levels. Oil, the industrial era, capitalism, globalization, these have molded us into one tribe, humanity. That was the accomplishment.

Then there's the Big Giant Heads. The reptilian core of our brain reasserts itself when things get really bad. Species third, close kin second, self first.

I think the key point here is that the magical umbilical cord provides "natural resources", not "finished goods". There are a few natural resources that individuals use, indeed need. Water and air are obvious examples. But providing food, cars, iPhones, etc. would still require large manufacturing organizations, with a few powerful people at their top, large numbers of "factory workers", money as a medium of exchange between one's labor and the goods being produced. In short, not as much change as you might think.
If the question were changed to allow the magical umbilical cord (MUC) to provide finished goods, then you have to specify whether the MUC can provide finished goods that no one has thought of yet. Could one have asked for an iPhone back in 1990, before Apple invented it ? If so, then today the MUC can provide all sorts of de-stabilizing products, e.g., anti-gravity machines, mind reading machines, personal atomic bombs etc. If not, then there is the question of how one gets Apple to build the first iPhone, when the second is free from the MUC.

Unlimited affordable resources; you mean like N America was 12,000 years ago when the first humans walked in from Siberia?

Is a teenager talking on a mobile phone really using more resources than a hunter gather?

We don't need that umbilical cord, we have all the solar and wind energy, minerals, food most would ever want to use, but we will never have enough national parks and wild places to satisfy even 1% of our present population.

"Is a teenager talking on a mobile phone really using more resources than a hunter gather?"

I hope this was a joke. How much mining had to happen to get all the metals and other bits in that cellphone? How many bison would a hunter-gatherer have to kill to come anywhere close to that kind of impact?

All of these questions really presuppose high-level knowledge of various sorts that few people posses, in whole or part. Attempting to "answer" them is highly presumptuous. An inter-disciplinary team of "experts" may be able to make a few intelligible 30-second comments, but that's about it. With this proviso in mind, I will attempt a comment or two.

1. If we had unlimited affordable resources for everyone, would anything change?

From my observations I would say that everyone would like to have unlimited affordable (preferably free) resources. Those people who manage to achieve them--the rich--still want more, and more, and more.

It is precisely because of our finitude--limitations, like resource constraints--that we are able to make reasonable decisions and select from among options. If every whim, every fancy, every need can not only be met but be met eternally and without end, people would push the limits until they died--people would eat and eat and eat until they literally burst open. Talk about obesity and gluttony!

2. Does the cost/scarcity of goods act as a bottleneck to which of global citizenry has access to them? I.e. if the resources had NO cost (everything free), how would that differ from question #1?

No cost would be even worse than being simply affordable. Everyone would gorge themselves to death--on food, drugs, money, sports, maybe rampant murder, sadism, whatever.

3. Is there a point when we begin decreasing neural returns to technology in humans?

I don't quite understand this. I assume you mean is there a point where the "rewards" of technology start to decline.

I suppose it depends on what your values, needs, wants, desires and so forth are. I like computers, but I value my time over being able to "communicate," so I never turn on my phone except to call out in an emergency; I have no use for phones, so Twitter is a foreign object to me. But other people seem to live for and on instant communication of trivia, so for them phones and Twitter and other such things give them pleasure and meaning.

Again, this is like the first and second questions: If technological means of doing anything were available to everyone and at an affordable price or free, then we'd all be using them all the time. There is probably no limit.

4. Will our rational brains ever be strong enough to overcome our more primal impulses?

As I remember from reading Eccles, our human brains are tripartite and evolved over millions of years, though all three "brains"--the reptilean, mammalisn, and "human"--all share a common "reward" system that rewards us with "pleasure" and the release of the chemical dopamine. By "rational brain" I assume you mean the third brain, the human part of our tripartite brain.

I have no idea what you mean by strong or strong enough. Is it weakness to consciously feel and seek to feel pleasure? If so, then our brains could presumably be "strong" if we were somehow able to extinguish the reward system, leaving us with no real criterion for what we should or should not do, for if nothing gives pleasure, then nothing is really evolutionarily advantageous, so we would presumably just die of boredom.

If by strong you simply mean able to control or dominate the reptilean and mammalian brains--the instincts and the emotions--then I suppose the "strong" person would be the cold, intellectual type--filled with neuroses and suppressed instincts, nonetheless--who could somehow "control" the instincts of automatic life support and basic motor functions, and the basic instincts of territorial acquisition and defense, dominance striving, agonistic threat displays, and mating, as well as the emotional response and evaluation of experiences. I suppose some Yogis are able to do these these, or so they claim, but I'm not sure these "feats" are within the capabilities of most humans.

So, basically, no, our so-called rational brains will never overcome our primal instincts. Maybe if a species of human evolved--a transhuman?--that possessed only the rational brain, and had no emotions or instincts, then maybe.

5a. Are those who 'consume' too much, at greater risk for natural (or manmade) shock to the system?

Give a man a barrel of cocaine and he'll consume it until the body dies or the barrel is empty, whichever one comes first.

So, for the individual system--and that's all we are, a system of cells and functions "glued" together in a "self"--the answer depends on the individual system: some systems are able to imbibe great quantities of liquor, while others, like half of all East Asians, lack a gene or two and one drop of alcohol shocks their system. The same goes for pain endurance, food consumption, and probably any act that humans may perform. We already know that too many openings in the body that allow blood to flow out--as a knife wound or a bullet--will shock the system into a state of death.

Is there a limit to the social system? I'd guess yes, but I wouldn't want to guess where it is: doomers guess one way and others guess another.

5b. If so, wouldn't it behoove us to consume less, and perhaps substitute a unit of time and labor for energy/money, not because we are running out of cheap resources but because it would be better for us as individuals?

Well, gluttony and excess are universally condemned by religions (though Americans have made a religion of gluttony and excess, so I guess that's a false generalization). Both Confucius (in China) and Aristotle advocated the golden mean--moderation in all things, but again, in the West we have made excess a virtue and China has a growing--now 20%--population of obese people. Yes, it would be better for us as a society and as individuals to consume less, but I don't really think that any moral exhortations will get anywhere--only constraints in the environment will "force" us to consume less.

"people would eat and eat and eat until they literally burst open. Talk about obesity and gluttony!"

But people given access to limitless food do not in general do this, while, as you point out, wealthy people do go on wanting ever more money and "stuff."

It is this latter kind of endless desire that is the primary concern, in my opinion. If you eat till you explode, you have "solved" your problem of over consumption. But there is no point at which a person possesses so much money or things that they explode.

"Yes, it would be better for us as a society and as individuals to consume less, but I don't really think that any moral exhortations will get anywhere"

What? Nate, as you just quoted him, is advocating not such thing. He is exhorting people no morally but based on their own enlightened self interest. Or were you addressing someone else.

"--only constraints in the environment will "force" us to consume less." People physically consume, that is eat, less for all sorts of other reasons, health among them. But I would tend to agree with you here when it comes to other kinds of consumption.

Here are some scenarios for the magic umbilical cord
1) a reborn Enron corporation or their spiritual descendants want to control it
2) thinking themselves rich, aggressor countries bankrupt themselves with pointless and unwinnable wars
3) a fundamentalist group decides it is counter to their beliefs and try to sabotage it
4) h. sapiens breed like rabbits so there are no longer any undisturbed places of solitude
5) a self-appointed ruling class will decide maybe some other classes shouldn't have unlimited resources after all.

Something like this will happen if they invent a cheap safe breeder reactor that comes pre-assembled. I see no end to human conflict and inequity. I guess we'll know in a couple of decades if today's 10 year olds are smart enough to solve these problems.

The over-arching question, by itself, is moot. I have posted this reference before, and here it is again: Read the Isaac Asimov short essay titled 'Fecundity Unlimited'. Asimov works the math to demonstrate that, even waiving almost any and all constraints (travel, food, etc), the date at which it would take to convert the necessary constituent atoms for human beings in the known universe to human bodies would be approximately 11,000 C.E. He calculated this date using a very, very modest growth rate. He simply applied compound interest to the human population growth problem writ large and taken to an absurd finale. One could quibble with his numbers (size and composition of the universe, etc) but the answer would be very close to the same. Basically, in any finite Universe, geometric, unconstrained growth 'wins' and trumps all. Only in an infinite Universe does this not hold true.

If you want to blow your minds, read 'Year Million_Science at the Far Edge of Knowledge',edited by Damien Broderick [Atlas&Co.](I bought it on Amazon). This is a compilation of the most far-our cornucopian scenarios you probably have ever heard of. The first couple of essays start with the relatively tame idea (comparatively speaking) of breaking up all the planets and moons in the Solar System and creating a Dyson Sphere around the sun, then the subsequent essays go way out there.

I would posit to all of you that if humanity could achieve a steady-state (zero population growth) population of one billion (or 100 million, or some other notionally sustainable number in your minds) then we would be a lot less up in arms about how people stimulated their brains. However, science fiction illuminates some unsavory possibilities, for example 'This Perfect Day' and 'Logan's Run' to name just two.

Your last question illuminates the difficulty of the discussion:

- When comes the inflection point where the mentally/physically normal are no longer the majority?

This begs the question of what exactly is the definition of mentally and physically 'normal'? And who gets to write and enforce these definitions? Go back and read 'This Perfect Day' and 'Logan's Run' and others to get a sense of some of the possibilities when TPTB enforce their compliance with their ideas of normalcy 'The Matrix' and 'Gattica' touched on some of these issues as well, as did 'V For Vendetta'.

I have college-age children (two, following my own advice for population stability)...they both engage in video games and Facebook, as well as reading Shakespeare and Jane Austin and books about Greek, Middle Age, Enlightenment, and modern philosophies, and books about ancient civilizations. Scholarly books.

Yes, there are lots of seeming wastes of protoplasm out there who don't read or do anything more challenging than lay in front of the TV and surf porn, but don't make the assumption that anyone who uses a cell phone to text message or uses Facebook (not 'The Facebook') is automatically to be considered an oxygen thief.

I am 44, and I am happy that I have not turned into a calcified old namby-pamby who opens his door in his union suit overalls and yells 'Get Off My Lawn!' and keeps kids balls/Frisbees that fly over the my fence. I have tried Facebook out, and decided that I do not want to be a slave to it. I also have a 5-year old flip phone that suits me fine (and I do not always carry it with me, have it on, or answer it, that is what voicemail is for), and I do NOT want the electronic leash of the corporate Blackberrry. However, I do not cringe in fear and revulsion from those who happen to find these devices and services useful. 'Normal' attitudes and activities...that is a moving, evolving target. 50 years ago, 'Normal' was blacks in the back of the bus...right now, most of the sub-25 generation doesn't bat an eye over the non-issue of gay unions/marriage/etc.

Humans are evolving, both physically, mentally, and socially. Some will want to be Amish, some will want to live in gated communities with golf courses, some will want to bungie jump and play Laser-tag and go to rock concerts (Those darn kids and their satanic Elvis rock and Roll!:), and on and on.

It seems that a lot of folks are bewildered by the pace of change...this phenomenon was accurately described/predicted by Alvin Toffler in his book 'Future Shock'.

From The Wikipedia:

[Toffler argues that society is undergoing an enormous structural change, a revolution from an industrial society to a "super-industrial society". This change will overwhelm people, the accelerated rate of technological and social change leaving them disconnected and suffering from "shattering stress and disorientation" – future shocked. Toffler stated that the majority of social problems were symptoms of the future shock. In his discussion of the components of such shock, he also coined the term information overload.

His analysis of that phenomenon is continued in his later publications, especially The Third Wave and Powershift.]

It seems that the central concern of this site is what happens when fossil fuel supply can't keep up with demand...and in a bigger sense, what happens when demand outstrips resource supplies and sinks (which it already likely is...overshoot). Only within the reality of limited resources does the discussion of prioritizing and judging demands and activities make sense, and even then, there are savvy ways to influence people to change behaviors and then there is the 'Get off my Lawn' technique, which will not achieve your desired effects.

One more set of Science Fiction books ( a trilogy) for you that has avery interesting take on this discussion tonight and also is an interesting twist on the premise of 'Fecundity Unlimited':

By: Roger MacBride Allen //'The Depths of Time' //'The Ocean of Years' // 'The Shores of tomorrow'//

These books cover the material implications of humankind's expansion through the cosmos (Limits to Growth on the Galactic scale) and not so much on the sociological questions of what are 'worthy' pursuits do occupy people's intellects...but they are a good read nonetheless.

Obviously I have read some measure of Science Fiction, as well as an eclectic mix of other fictional and non-fiction topics, mainly in book form...Amazon has been a great thing for me! I have also tended gardens and bent wrenches, but right now my work/home life allows me to pay others to do most of that for me...judge that however you want, I'll join you in the Kibbutz if Mad Max time comes....

Thanks for all that, MoonWatcher. I was sitting around moping over the descent of the business I had founded to save the world to just another plain ordinary everybody-does-it business, and your evocation of Asimov and ilk cheered me up somewhat. Science fiction then had a hell of a lot of very good thinking in it, during the days when I had the stomach to read it, and Asimov was one of my favorites.

But I lost the stomach for it after the war when everything was atomic boomdoom.

So now, as I totter toward oblivion, I am toying with yet another highly conventional SF plot- the granddaughter is quizzing her grandfather (presently an infant) on why people were so stupid as to do the things they did to ruin the planet she inhabits. His answer ( of course-my answer) is

belief in an afterlife legitimizing diversion of effort from perfecting this one
an economic system founded on suicidal premises- obvious but denied by the majority right to the edge of doom- and over it
inability to recognize people in the future as me- not the same as me, but me.
ignorance of limits and the possibilities within those limits.
just plain rampant stupidity- inability to see consequences.

Grandpa then goes on to urge granddaughter to guide her life under the following:
my purpose is to make this world a better place for me-in-the-future
do nothing any grandchild will regret that I did
have fun, make friends, and contribute to the things that can indeed grow without limit- knowledge and wisdom.

Now, got any suggestions for some visionary stories that could bring a little hope to people like me?

Thanks, Wimbi.

PS .Asimov wrote a couple of pretty good joke books, bragging about how smart and clever he was-- in a funny, Brooklyn sort of way, of course.

I have to drag these out now and then. The 'elephant in the living-room' as far as the limits to exponential growth go. How can we ignore the fact that people are, albeit slowly, limiting their population? It looks like there may be 'voluntary' limits to growth.



IMO, too little too late.

I wonder how much of the voluntary reduction in growth rates is because there are many more 'fun' options than having a bunch of kids. Alternatively, cheap resources have given us the perception that 1 or 2 kids will grow up successful (culturally defined) and access to resources - if this wasn't the case (as it is not in Africa), then folks would be having 6-8 children again so law of averages gives better shot at 1-2 thriving. IOW, post peak people might start having more kids again due to lack of novelty and lack of resources..

Interesting topic, Nate. I believe this "no limits but space" experiment has been run with laboratory rats in the 1950s as Brian Skinner-era psychology experiments. The end results for breeding colonies are not pretty. As I recall, crowding causes many problems, including mother's neglect of their young, so there is at least one built-in negative feedback on growth (nod to post above). But, the salient points are that the crowding leads to a lot of fights and general biting behavior--space competition. Cessation of grooming in the rats, which I do recall for some reason, may indicate depression. Disease vectors can obviously be more effective in a crowded world. What I don't recall is how these experiments ended, or if they just stopped them after awhile. I took the psychology course in 1968, so please forgive my memory.

So, it's not utopia unless the population is controlled, somehow.

So let's say it's a "no limits but space" experiment and the world human population is controlled. Then what? Advanced technology might exploit the planets/comets/dust of the Solar System. OK, then what? Wait for warp drive and even then the nearest stars are way far away. I think a lot of us would like to have the opportunity to figure out this universe and what, if anything, lies beyond it. That ought to be a goal, but I'm not too optimistic that we'll ever achieve it. Meanwhile, we have to get through next week.

Mentally unstable cat owners repeat the "no limits but space" experiment now and then, its not pretty.

But I find it hard to relate it to the human conditions. And I anyway live in a part of the world that both has more room then is being used and increasing urbanism volontarily concentrating the population in a resource efficient way.

Reg Morrison wrote about this General Adaptive Syndrome in the closing chapters of The Spirit in the Gene. Gradual birth defects, homosexuality, aggression, etc. likely played role in previous mammalian plagues. It is interesting reading (and one of my favorite books - I've read it three times (but not recently....;-)

Hi Nate

If I look at my own situation and that of those around me then there are already limits to demand. Just taking satisfaction of basic needs, many of us in the West are already at the point of voluntary restriction. For example, I could afford to eat and drink far more than I do but I choose not to for a combination of health and satiety (I want to enjoy the meals I do eat) reasons. Likewise with other 'activities' - I could indulge myself more than I do but at the expense of a loss of enjoyment. I even restrict the size and complexity of material goods I buy (e.g. house, car, tv), not just for cost reasons but for utility and convenience as well. Partly down to a law of diminishing returns I guess? The plateauing of energy consumption per capita in e.g. Europe perhaps illustrates a plateauing in demand as much as supply? Many people still take pleasure in activities such as going for a walk or socialising with friends rather than more naked consumption.

The real problem for the Worlds resources is that this is a very West-centric viewpoint and much of the developed World has some way to go to reach the point at which satiety is an issue. 3 billion Asians getting to Western energy consumption levels is the issue, not whether the West can consume even more. So if the question is 'are there limits to demand?' then yes I think there are. But if the question is 'can the Worlds resources satisfy the limits for the Global population?' then the answrer is probably 'no'.


You can observe how humans behave with respect to plenty by looking at file sharing. Digital information tends to the infinite; that is, there is as much as you can handle.

That is as much as the digital hardware/software can handle, not the human.

You are correct. File sharing and the free software movement are an example of a Gift Economy.

Nate - I sometimes struggle to understand some of your posts, including this one, and I think that's only partly due to faults in myself!
You seem to get an impressively large quantity of stuff done, and I suspect that is what causes a somewhat lowering of quality at some points.

Partly it may be that you incline to work in more abstract levels than the norm here. But also I suspect you are not allocating enough time to clarifying your ideas and their presentation.
Psycho/brain has to be the most complicated of subjects and we struggle to usefully contain it within the articles of this length.

As one who has also studied psychology, I find a number of dubiouses in your writing. For reason just mentioned I don't expect to get to grips with it all here now.

- If we had unlimited affordable resources for everyone, would anything change?
Including unlimited physical space? (as per above leading to rat aggro).

- Is there a point when we begin decreasing neural returns to technology in humans?
People can only read/think/learn so much per hour or lifetime. I grew up in a house with just the local weekly paper, two bbc radio channels, and the books in the house plus library visits. Nowadays everyone is bombarded with vastly more than they can ever take in, and this increases the pressure for authoritarian corner-cutting as per (elaborated at p44 of ).
Also as others mention, people just follow their particular niche thread rather than engage with an unfiltered holistic local experience. The ignorance of the energy crisis is one example of this inadequacy.

- Will our rational brains ever be strong enough to overcome our more primal impulses?

False dichotomy of rational brains/impulses? Brains are not rational calculators, rather survival devices. The rational (more accurately theorising) function is employed entirely in the service of primal drives (including curiosity, quest to understand and classify). There is a failsafe fallback to the more primitive associative system (phobias, addictions, stereotype kneejerks), and this has been the subject of endless interaction under the title of neurosis for about as long as there have been mammals let alone humans.

- When comes the inflection point where the mentally/physically normal are no longer the majority?

What do you mean by "mentally normal"? Are you specifically meaning about a dimension of non-addict to addict? And in any dimension there is usually no clear divide of ab/normal, just relative degrees. If normal is defined as "usual" then it will always be the majority. Nate, I suspect you (sometimes!) need to spend more time thinking and less time writing. (But please don't disappear from here entirely....

Following on from my previous I guess you meant mentally/physically non-pathological. It does help dumboes such as myself if you get your terminology properly neat, thanks!

I see no reason why the pathological could not become the majority. Indeed I'm rather sure the pathologically starved-to-death will soon be the majority.

Point taken. Much of what I write at this point is not for new readers, because I get no personal reward from hashing out older, less interesting questions. Part of the reason for Campfire - to throw some stuff into the ring and see what comes up. I had a very busy Saturday and didn't get home until 6:30. I wrote this post in 30 minutes - sorry about the quality. Not supposed to win any awards - just get people thinking. If I was after quality, I'd write a book...;-)

Feel free to contribute your own essay as well.

I was asleep and too far away to join the campfire.
Your discussion though has generated some late thought.
Concerning human gratification (as hard-wired) it strikes me that there are very different cultures. A particular culture that becomes tipped heavily in favor of 'self-gratification' rather than pretty constant every-day gratification generated through and by interaction with others, will likely develop 'issues'. Loneliness and lack of empathy, and stereo-typical behavior might come to predominate. Restricted opportunities to reciprocate, balance, learn, teach, feel secure with, let alone bond with or develop a wide range of satisfying ('normal') body-language with other self-stable humans, cannot be a bundle of laughs. Obesity does not fill the gap.
Really pathological 'societal' answers such as Nazi group behavior (ever-more violent bullying of 'the other') certainly exploited some wide-open cracks in the 'civilized' psyche. Recently, Abu Ghraib was a bit of an eye-opener.

because I get no personal reward from hashing out older, less interesting questions.
I can appreciate that, and also the amount on the web that does little more than rehashing tends (in aggregate) to waste tons of everyone's time!

Man is not developing itself, but instead loses more and more of itself, transferring its capabilities to external electronic gadgets. The fact is that individual capabilities are diminishing.
I am thinking of Disney's Wall-E movie, without the "fairy tale" solution: people would go on lost in their electronic communication apparatus indifferent to physical stimulus and they would be physically unable to stand.

But thank God, there are limits to utopias.

When I ran for office last year, I was invited to speak at a high school on the topic of drug abuse.
My opening comment was that our most dangerous drug is television. While it got only a small chuckle, I still believe that overstimulation via rapid-fire screen changes and mini-second images is seriously damaging us all, and our future focus.
I asked the students and attendees to make a little checklist next time they watched the tube. And to record some of their impressions. How many separate images per minute? How many commercials per hour? etc.
Absorbing young minds I fear will have problems processing all that input. We see (sense) something, and it goes in our eyes, lodges somewhere in our brains, and has to be processed and stored. It involves judgement calls: how important is the information, is it something I need to remember, when and where did I see it, etc. etc.
Wouldn't be surprised if this lifestyle removes our ability for deep thought, which is IMO the reason we are put on this planet. To get to the deep stuff, not superficiality.
And in their mad quest for selling us even more stuff, the advertising folks have gotten VERY good at getting our attention.
I remember reading an article many years ago about a program shown in Japan, full of color, and fast changing images. Reportedly quite a few of the young viewers came down with convulsions and had 'fits'.
Perhaps this incessant overload is keeping us all stupid and preventing us from learning to ask important questions.
Reminds me of the old joke "Teacher, can I be excused, my brain is full?"
Don't know if this comment is appropriate to this campfire post, but can't think of a better place to put it.
Perhaps Nate's questions could be considered in light of if we were a normal culture VS a hyper-artificially demand/product stimulated one?
What do we really need VS what are we conned into thinking we need?
Kill your TV!


Cheney, "The American lifestyle is non-negotiable"
Nature, "I don't negotiate!"

PS, Nate, thanks for the topic and your good works.

Main problem with tv has been its propaganda function. It has misled people in many ways, not least assuming anything that's worthwhile will be on and endorsed by tv.
The publicity industry has stereotyped scientists and intellectuals as negative antisocial arrogant bores, and detailed study of science as something that "normal" people don't need and should steer clear of.
A most important lie is that big faceless corps are soundly trustworthy while small businesses are dodgy, the exact opposite of the truth (e.g steptoe and son, Del Boy). This applies especially in respect of local-v-global products such as food, meds, repair services.
It portrays "conspiracy theories" as mere fiction fit only for the gullible, whereas anyone actually involved in politics is well aware that conspiracies are the norm rather than the exception.

Fortunately the internet is trashing the msm monopoly, though Google's fashionable-preferring algorithm threatens to put new ones in place.

TV watching is associated with dementia 20 yrs later, as in accordance with my dementia theory published a while back: (I doubt I will ever have the time/energy to finish the update which explains that the main overload is of the neurons' own internal self-communication systems (using tau phosphorylation) starting naturally with the most complex neurons (CA1 pyramidals if I recall correctly).

The fact is that individual capabilities are diminishing.

Define "capabilities". While I agree that far fewer people today than 50 years ago have the skills to raise and slaughter a hog, I would argue that far more people have far better developed information processing skills than previously.

This is what we would expect, as changes in society change the value of different skillsets. The skill of repairing kerosene lamps was dwindling 50 years ago, but that didn't make people of that era "less capable", as they were instead developing skills that were more valuable to the world they lived in. Same now.

"Different" doesn't mean "worse"; I think that's something most "kids these days" complaints miss.

i think the line between different and worse is crossed when the 'kids these days' cannot function in what would historically have been a normal social situation. Real people, real conversation, at normal human pace, (not subsidized by debt I should add)

Hi Nate,

Thanks for the post. WRT, your observation above, quite some time ago I made a comment about my observations of the cell phone use of young persons. I have a theory that they actually want to talk "normally", which may be - more frequently and with a closer group of people than their current circumstances allow. So, to achieve that frequency level, they just turn to the cell phone. (In other words, the no longer have the "normal opportunities" for "real conversation" - so just opt to up the level.)

I'm sorry about your friend's child. She and her friends, given a "real" choice, would probably actually prefer real conversation with her/their parents, real activities, real fun. Sometimes I think it's the parents who lost the potential (or didn't understand it) - and also, there are a lack of projects in common. This, too, is a function of lack of imagination (or experience or role models) on the part of parents.

Although the scene that "takes the cake" and, in a way, either goes against my theory - or, perhaps provides an extension of it - was something I saw a few years ago. Two young women, appeared to be foreigners, coming out of a coffee shop, each with a huge, cold "whipped" drink in her hands, walking closely side-by-side, each sipping each other's drink (to get a taste), while simultaneously each was talking on her cell phone - presumably to people who weren't there.

Anyway, this is to say...there's something that reminds me of your interest in Ev's like there's a normal "baseline" of interaction - that is alienated (by different patterns and less common work or fun where people talk while doing things together; or, say, sing while doing things together, for that matter) - then more technology works to give the appearance of overcoming the alienation...but in the process of doing so, the quality of the interaction changes.

i think the line between different and worse is crossed when the 'kids these days' cannot function in what would historically have been a normal social situation.

And how many people of the 1950s could function effectively in the 1650s?

It does nothing to say that people are losing skills that were important in the past; to have a valid point, you need to demonstrate that people are losing skills that are important now.

Real people, real conversation, at normal human pace

I've found very little difference between the twenty-somethings I've talked to recently and the twenty-somethings I talked to in the 90s. They may IM more and phone less, but they're much the same in person.

I haven't seen a degredation in interpersonal skills, so anecdotal evidence is insufficient to demonstrate the argument. I have yet to find any evidence that there's anything more going on than "why, when I was a boy" pining for good ol' days that - objectively - never existed.

Huh. Some of Pitt's posts reveal considerable application of intelligence. In others such as the above he seems to have dived willingly blinkered into a rut of determined disconsensus. Pitt, the big point you are missing is the difference between skills that are only relevant in the very special context that is a corporately high-tech enabled world (how to use all these gadgets basically) versus skills that are vitally important if you aren't in that highly atypical context, such as which end of a garden fork to hold, how to catch a goose rather than get caught by it, what (not?) to do with those red berries on that tree, how to spend three hours if you have "nothing to do".

Define "capabilities".

I said that many human capabilities are diminishing, I will give you two examples:

a) social skills - I remember a time when people could live together, talk to others and have friends. Due to the fast changes of my society I witnessed the fast degradation of human relations. Now it's more about what you have to gain from others, without giving back anything more than the absolutely necessary.

b) mental skills - It is true that information processing and filtering is better, it has to be because our time have an excess of information: it is impossible to properly digest it all. However the speed of processing is not equivalent to quality of processing, quite the opposite; there is a low depth of knowledge and almost no analysis. It's like my super-fast reading mode, I can read "Lord of the Rings" in two days, yet at the end I cannot say the name of the characters - they are just graphical symbols.
I agree that machines can do most of the dirty work, yet simple math should not be one of them. It is becoming difficult to find people that can mentally calculate the change when you pay for something. It is only when the machines break down that you notice this. Memory capability is also at its lowest; my wife's aunt had a database on her head, with the telephone numbers and birth dates of all teachers working in several schools. Even if this is above the ordinary, the more usual capabilities are severely diminished.

You can state that the present society really does not require some kind of skills, and people adapt to this new reality. Yet, what is it that defines us as humans? Should we all go around in our life moving in segways into the couch until we utterly forget how to walk? I guess in such time we will decide that walking is not really necessary, much like the skill of repairing kerosene lamps. And how about a totally clean and aseptic environment? Do you know a better way to keep us free from nasty diseases? How needs an immune system anyway...

Frank Herbert's Dune books have a very important concept: it is hardship that creates capability, and softness that destroys man.

social skills - I remember a time when people could live together, talk to others and have friends.

So do I - right now.

Plenty of people have friends and conversations today, and I can pretty much guarantee you that people 50 years ago were bemoaning how things were changing. "It's not as good as when I was a boy" is less about "it" no longer being as good and is more about the speaker regretting that he's no longer young.

However the speed of processing is not equivalent to quality of processing, quite the opposite; there is a low depth of knowledge and almost no analysis.

Care to provide some evidence for this? Because all the quantitative evidence I've seen suggests that quality is improving as well; see, for example, the Flynn Effect.

Memory capability is also at its lowest; my wife's aunt had a database on her head, with the telephone numbers and birth dates of all teachers working in several schools.

And people in pre-literate societies memorized long oral histories. I wouldn't say that's evidence literacy has rotted people's brains, though.

Your wife's aunt had the ability to memorize hundreds of phone numbers; people today have the ability to quickly and efficiently use tools that put hundreds of millions of phone numbers at their fingertips. It's not at all clear that their skill is less useful in today's world.

I am not saying : "it was better when I was young...". In fact I remember a lot of things from when I was young that led into thinking the previous generations where more capable. When I was in the University in the 90's, I would look into the exams from the 80's and they would look like Greek to me. Then, when I went back to the University in 2000, I felt like a walk in the park; it was not only my skills that where better, everything was in a lower difficulty level.

As for millions of phone numbers, I am not asking for people to memorize them. Just try to say one phone number aloud and ask someone to repeat it (short time memory), it is almost an impossible task.

As for depth of knowledge: the reference to something is not equivalent to knowing it. Everybody knows Don Quixote, yet who reads the book?


Does not reading a book, fiction or otherwise count as information processing?

Well I would hesitate to say that there are far far less readers today than 50 years ago.

If you are not weaned from TV and all the other nonsense on the net then you will IMO force your brain into weird patterns or worse.

My wife's cousins young boys had problems. One started having epeliptic seizures and the other became autistic. This was directly diagnosed as due to personal computers. Game playing and the rest.

They needed to get out more and react with others in a more personal environment instead of the impersonallty of computing/facebooking,twittering or whatever.

Airdale-imo reading furthers the mind and the rest tends to weaken it
and in some cases renders them unable to communicate with others
One howeever can do Ebooks but I seriously doubt that youngster really go there

Does not reading a book, fiction or otherwise count as information processing?

Well I would hesitate to say that there are far far less readers today than 50 years ago.

And I would argue that far more people engage in substantial reading and discussion on the internet than 50 years ago. It is, for example, one of the top news sources, above both newspapers and radio.

Are people's habits changing? Sure. Are the new habits worse than the old habits? Not at all clear.

Keep in mind that "the good old days" weren't as rosy as we might like to think; 50 years ago, only 40% of Americans had completed high school, and about 40% had no more than an 8th-grade education.

One started having epeliptic seizures and the other became autistic. This was directly diagnosed as due to personal computers. Game playing and the rest.

Diagnosed by whom?

I have yet to see evidence that computers are harmful to mental development; by contrast, there is evidence that playing computer games leads to more skilled surgeons with better eyesight.

Just because something "makes sense" doesn't mean it's true. Follow the evidence.

It could be due to fluorine in the drinking water, I recommend drinking only a mixture of pure grain alcohol and ice cubes made from distilled water.

I walk to work. Even if Star-Trek style
"transporters" were available to whisk me instantly to and from work, I would still walk. I need the exercise, it helps clear my mind, and I like getting out in the fresh air and connecting with nature each day.

I grow some of my own food, and cook most of it from scratch. Even if we had the type of devices they have on Star-Trek where I could simply say "Tea, Earl Grey, hot", I wouldn't care for that. There is something primal in my blood that needs to connect with the soil. There is something satisfying about growing and fixing and eating "real food". Maybe that is all in my mind, but that doesn't make it any less real than the virtual reality in which most people now live.

I could go on, but the point is that what modern technology has on offer is not necessarilly what some of us find healthy or attractive or satisfying. Some of us just perfer the old ways. Call it a "lifestyle choice" if you will; that does not alter the fact that some are making that choice rather than following the corporate-led herd.

WNC-it is my opinion that over time a large number of people will come to see things along the lines of what you describe - we will substitute labor/time for convenience/money because we are better for it, not because we have to. But I think we are years away from that unfortunately. I really worry about the young people.


Ahmen. You broke the code.
I think most grown up kids today would not have a clue as to who Thoreau was. Or what Walden's Pond is. They miss an awful lot if their busy watching "American Idols" or the latest fad "Hannah Montana".

Or a wild idea...really studying something called History!

I told a younger cousin of mine recently about the genealogy of our ancestors. She said to me "I really don't care about that stuff."
I had no comeback to that. Says it all to me.


Very few young people nowadays have even the most basic knowledge of the Christianity which has been so central to their society's history (or Muslims the Qur'an for that matter). In previous centuries everyone knew what all the references to the road to Damascus or prodigal son and so on meant.

Economics is based on scarcity. In a world of abundance, one possible outcome is a gift economy. Valuable goods and services are given freely without quid pro quo.


In most traditional, small-scale, tribal communities there is scarcity of just about everything, but sharing and gifting is almost always the norm. I know classical economics says it is about allocating scarce resources, but it seems to be a bit more complicated than you imply.

- If we had unlimited affordable resources for everyone, would anything change?

The main change would be a "class struggle" depending on how much people allocated to themselves.

1. Satisfied / stable. Some people would avoid anhedonia altogether. On amassing wealth equal to (say) $1 million U. S., would say, "that's it, I'm out of here," and their consumption would stabilize. They would read whatever books they wanted, play whatever video games they wanted, meditate whenever they wanted, etc., and not make further resource demands. This level would vary; some would max out at $2 million, $18 billion, or $50,000. Some people would sink into anhedonia, get help, and get off whatever addictions they're on, and stabilize at some level of resource use as previously.

2. Satisfied / increasing consumption. A second class would increase their consumption cautiously, not so much that they would go into anhedonia, but always increasing it. I am not sure whether this could be maintained indefinitely given the number of neurons in the brain. I suspect not, so that eventually they would be forced into the first class above or the third class below.

3. "Hungry ghosts." Some people would sink into anhedonia, would not get help, and would not emerge. Since there are infinite resources, they would sink further and further into suffering -- sort of like the "hungry ghosts" in Buddhism, with small mouths but huge stomachs.

Now would this change anything? Obviously we have to make assumptions -- population control, or an infinite universe; people can defend themselves against those seeking a nuclear holocaust, etc.

But how is this so different from our current situation in our resource-constrained world? The main difference is that the constraint on pleasurable activities in the real world is resource limits. The constraint on pleasurable activities in Star Trek world is anhedonia. You would have a different set of things to seek / avoid, but they're still there.

The main difference to society, though, is that in our current real world, the people in an economic "anhedonia" are those controlling the economy.

- Does the cost/scarcity of goods act as a bottleneck to which of global citizenry has access to them? I.e. if the resources had NO cost (everything free), how would that differ from above?

I'm not sure I understand the question. I think the answer is that obviously cost/scarcity is a bottleneck; some will get the goods, others won't. Getting goods would not be a problem if resources had no cost. Getting pleasure, however, WOULD be a problem (see above).

- Is there a point when we begin decreasing neural returns to technology in humans?

Obviously, yes. There are only so many neurons in the brain. Since the answer seems obvious, I'm not sure I have understood the question.

- Will our rational brains ever be strong enough to overcome our more primal impulses?

Maybe, maybe not. The deciding factor is whether some who have avoided the anhedonia problem in this "Star Trek" type scenario, or resource constraint issues in the real world, can help those who are trapped as "hungry ghosts."

- Are those who 'consume' too much, at greater risk for natural (or man-made) shock to the system?

Yes. That's the problem with the U. S. A. We will suffer the greatest "shock" from peak oil because we have the furthest to fall. But if we can recover, because of still-undepleted natural resources, the U. S. could still be the best place to be post-peak.

- If so, wouldn't it behoove us to consume less, and perhaps substitute a unit of time and labor for energy/money, not because we are running out of cheap resources but because it would be better for us as individuals?

Absolutely. See Jesus, Buddha, etc. on "simple living," who saw this whole issue thousands of years before peak oil.

- When comes the inflection point where the mentally/physically normal are no longer the majority?

Wild guess: I think we've passed it, probably in the 1930's or 1940's, though I'm not sure. Obviously, we'd need a definition of "normal" here which does not depend on just averaging the human condition and declaring it normal. This is a tough question even armed with such a definition, so I'm not sure how I'd answer the question.

Are there limits to demand? By rights we should define our terms etc., but here's a quick and dirty answer.

IMHO, for most individuals (not all), it depends a great deal on the social system. Western governments, in partnership with economics departments around the world, brainwash their citizens to compete and consume. See:

< >
THE CENTURY OF SELF first, (advertising),
THE TRAP, (economics),

If consumption weren't promoted by the state AND people felt SECURE in their lives -- were "provisioned" (health care, retirement, etc.) by the state -- most would choose activities other than simply earning and consuming.

The Power of Nightmares is actually a whopping piece of propaganda deceit itself. By omission it misleads into a false history in which Islamic terrorism supposedly only begins about 50 years ago. In reality it had already begun before Mohammed had finished writing oops I mean before Allah had finished revealing his Last Testament, see for instance in 59:2-7 "Allah" enthusing about Mohammed's start of the ethnic cleansing of peaceful Jews from Arabia. A mere 14 centuries of jihad holocaust with millions of victims pretended away.

If we had unlimited affordable resources for everyone, would anything change?

Many generations ago that was indeed the situation. Then the instinct to go forth and multiply moved us on.


Limits: The largest biomass (50%+) on the planet seems to be: Ants.
No exponential growth here... at least for many millions of years.

Real exponential growth: Cancer. Grows until host incapable of supporting further cell division.

The real world? What have we here?
Mentally defective children who can neither read nor write either their native tongue nor any of the hundreds of others on the planet.

Neither have they actually been anywhere nor accomplished anything. Can they understand how their toys work? No. Nor are they able to repair anything. Like perhaps a car or bike or plane or boat. Magic Carpets all...

Put them in a real situation and they vaporize. (Try putting them in a small aircraft and ask them to go to Tierra Del Fuego...)
Put them on a modest sailboat on the East Coast and ask that they meet you in Greece... Or perhaps Tahiti... The real world beckons.

Pathetic. The formula for extinction... like all the extinct breeds before them.

What I see Nate asking is essentially a theological question. A core concept of Christianity is an afterlife. The details of this afterlife is open to debate. In the Middle Ages the afterlife meant that we would joyfully sing the praises of God for ever and ever. Mormon theology says that those worthy of celestial glory would become the god of their own planet and along with their wives would propagate their genes forever on that planet. On the one extreme we no longer need to work for our daily bread and on the other we need to manage the natural resources of our own planet and find our joy in the work of earning our daily bread.
Maslow claimed that once our biological and security needs are satisfied we go on to satisfying our esteem needs. He used the vague term of self realization which mostly involved some sort of artistic creativity or some sort of charitable work. Essentially he claimed that demand for physical resources would indeed peak unless you were severely obsessive compulsive about piling up possessions. I agree with Maslow and believe that the demand for goods would peak for most folks. Psychopaths, especially those on Wall St, are the big threat.

I'm with Thomas on theological assessment. Though I would extend it and answer Nate by asking, does peak oil mean peak personal introspection. And my personal answer would be no. For some reason self awareness brought on the need for meaning and that isn't going away. They were painting pictures of large animals they killed on caves in France 10,000 years ago, and they will be painted by someone somewhere in the future.

Regarding electronic stimulation, it isn't that old. And we are more adaptable than rats in a dumpster.

Nate, I have an improbable goal set...several difficult goals.
Probability I suceed is less than 1 in a billion...and that is just a WAG as I cannot calculate the difficulty.

Anyway, here is one of my goals.

1. Terraform thousands of planets.
2. Build and terraform many structures similar to Dyson spheres but not around stars. Around artificial light sources and total structure diameter of 1000 to 100000 miles. Even if I could build a Dyson Sphere it is likely I would not because I would not trust it to last millions or billions of years due to gravitationall instability.
3. Manufacture 5000 cubic miles of synthetic crude and other fuel supplies. Synthetic crude would be very high purity and thus vastly less poluting of heavy metals and sulfer and ? The crude would be randomly distributed in terraformed locations. Coal, NG, and Thorium also. ZERO radioactives besides Thorium.
4. Figure out some way to transport anyone who wants to colonize these locations. Dimensional Gates are better than spaceships for this.
I would do this as a gift to humanity. I would do something else for income. Not being poor would be nice.

20 years ago I figured something out; I spent the last 20 years trying to decide if I would use my unusual insight. I decided less than a month ago to go ahead and try. Success is very unlikely though.


My Oh My.
All that and I did not reply to your question.

Unlimited recources ON Earth and unlimited wast disposal?
Quality of life goes down if there is overcrowding; this scenerio would make humanity much richer per captita...but a negative is barring recource constraints human population would exceed 30 billion in less than 2 centuries. People LIKE people, BUT people also LIKE space away from people to be available.

YES! Unlimited recources would change the world.

Endless (mindless) "hot air" about "greenhouse gasses".

What, exactly, do "greenhouse gasses" have to do with anything the brainless, cretinous lawyers in congress need to address?

Except CO2, of course, without which there would be no food, no plants, no trees, nothing except deserts...

Thanks for the interesting, thought-provoking question.

I think that in order to produce a good answer, we have to look beyond individuals and look at how people work in groups. It seems, roughly speaking, that there are two responses on the individual level: anhedonia brought about by endless, voracious consumption, and a conscious decision to limit that consumption before the point of addiction.

But what happens in groups? Historically, and especially in resource-rich societies, it is the former group that controls the media and public policy. In developed countries, marketing is completely dominant in public discourse. But what marketing does is it uses the levers of social pressure to pull more people into the realm of anhedonia.

Policy decisions (and not necessarily at the governmental level) further that trend. Consider how, once upon a time, only the wealthiest of Americans could afford automobiles. Then Henry Ford figured out mass production and very large numbers could afford cars. Bonanza! But after a number of years of this, American cities changed their appearance in such a way that a car became a necessity in order to carry out basic functions. I would argue that the process was more intentional than accidental. So, even many people who may have resisted automobile ownership may have been felt forced into it by the people who embraced auto ownership.

The same is true for these social networking services. I am in my late 20's and single. I don't like the idea of using Facebook and whatnot to find a girlfriend, but it is increasingly difficult to meet people through non-electronic fora because people my age are generally unable to interact without an electronic medium. Therefore, if I ever want to find romance, it is likely that I will either have to wait until the post-acocalyptic world of economic collapse, or go into Facebook or against my desire to do so. Another example of people who choose consumption ultimately forcing their choice on those who choose non-consumption.

I imagine the hypothetical world without resource constraints would be filled with people who are unhappy with the consumerism, but would feel trapped due to all social structures being under the control of a consumerist system. I imagine that it would be a truly hellish place.

Rate Limits

Another issue regarding growth limits, though discussed, is not given the high priority it should get: Rate Limits or the limits to recoverable resources. A few good examples of such essential resources would include ground water, trees, and nutrient rich farmland. Easter Island is a popular example of this type of resource limit. Not only do Rate Limits need to considered along with the limits of finite resources such as fossil fuels, but it should also be emphasized that such naturally recovering resources can be irreversibly damaged or even destroyed if they are drawn down too far and/or too rapidly.

I am not sure if this is the place to put this comment but I find it amazing that TOD seems to be not giving it much play.

It is about limits and demand but not quite the area I believe this topic is about.


I read some post a while back that listed two articles by NPR about the agriculture situation in India. They took my breath away to put it mildly.

Seems that our green revolution from back in the past has literally destroyed their agriculture. Mostly I guess in the Punjab where their best soil is,,or was. That the crops are dying.The cost of I-N,P,K are too heavy. That the need to irrigate has lowered their water levels from what were about 4 feet down to now around 200 ft and the water is loaded with salts and other crop destroying chemicals.

The other article was that they have to keep redrilling and no longer can get loans or afford the heavier costs for drilling over and over each year and deeper and deeper.

Does this not sound ominous in the extreme? That the second most populated nation in the world is on a rapid agricultural decline?
One wonders just how bad it is and will get? And what will explode out of this country?

Demand for food. Lose of ability to raise it. This to me is what we are sowing the seeds of in this the USA. The destruction. I see it around me. Its not visible unless you drive by it day after day.

Again amazing that this seems to not be banner headlines.

Demand say hello to limits. Crash ahead

SO when then will the younger generation wake up to this?
Like the hippies of past who cried out for the land? Yeah I know they took drugs and moved on. But this time it seems like way way forever and no returning or quick fixes.

Is not the question of Demand and Limits moot then,
When we face death by technology gone mad?


Great questions, Nate! And I really like the photo. Let's see: for whom are we at war for oil? For whom WILL WE BE, so long as the oil lasts?

I agree with Thomas DePlume that your questions are variations on a theological question: are we meant to be gods? If not, what ought to be our relationship with Earth's limits - and each other?

They are fundamentally questions of scale: with what kinds of social arrangements and technological powers are compatible with human nature?

These questions come down to human needs. I would highly recommend reading what Manfred Max Neef had to say about them:

Consider how grotesque our educational system has become in it's mission to stamp out products that function smoothly in the economy. We are to believe that healthy, vital young men with testosterone boiling in their blood should be "educated" to spend heir working hours sitting at a desk, standing behind a counter, punching buttons on an automatic machine. We have convinced ourselves that Our Economy cannot "afford" to employ these young men in useful work that involves wholesome sweat and physical labor. It is a crime.

Consider how centuries of rising productivity have severed most people in "advanced" economies not only from self-sufficiency but also from livelihoods associated with the provision of real human needs. This explains the crisis of employment: we have done our level best to destroy our needs for each other. As consumers we demand the lowest prices. As investors we demand the highest rates of return. No surprise, any producer or supplier foolish enough to not embrace the latest labor-saving device is swiftly crushed.

Look around. We have plenty of employment for gasoline, diesel, coal, nuclear power, even renewables like hydro and nuclear and wind. We have plenty of employment for machines and computers. Consumers snap up anything that has a motor or engine. And we're surprised we have unemployment for people? We're surprised that we're fat and out-of shape? My god, we've all but made our legs useless for anything other than pressing accelerator pedals.

I can't believe how stupid this country is.

When comes the inflection point where the normal are no longer the majority?

In the recent past, a community of people, those who shared a country,religion,language,and any other subgrouping, like educational background, economic status, hobby etc,usually meant that you could count on some level of comfort, similarity in thought patterns etc.
Generally you found these folks in your day to day life. But people may have already become so fragmented that they do not have much to say to each other, excepting in the role they meet in. Boss and subordinate, doctor patient, bartender customer etc.

If some people see everyone as crazy, it is one thing, maybe they are the social misfit, if everyone sees everyone as crazy, then that is the end of that society. Is too much specialization killing chances of longterm bonds from forming. Of course one can still say that all this leads to meeting interesting people with vibrantly different backgrounds. But we are also turning into mere radio transmitters of other peoples ideas found on the web/TV etc. A country full of boring self absorbed people, increasingly stressed out by the complex world.
The debt we are passing along is not only the trillions of dollars, but also the mind boggling level of complexity, that has to be maintained. Multiple scientific technologies, from agriculture, mining, geology,telecom switches, to chemical processing, the house of cards of computer systems, to health care technologies, finance taxation, legal, to music and literature langauge, history...
The last few seem luxuries but actually provide the continuity, the community and create meaning on this orb hurtling thru the vastness of space and time.

I read some alien abduction stuff once. From what people remembered under hypnoisis of life on the spaceships, to obtain stability of a higher lifeform more or less permanently I would recommend sterilization of the population, extension of life span to ca. 1000 years and external births from test tube under controlled conditions(incubators,etc.). Of course population size would be strictly limited and all births artificial.

Then of course leaving earth for long travel would be no problem. Deliberate manipulation of the species for mental evolution would be necessary so we all look like "greys" with big heads and long arms. We would be very cold emotionally and logical, scientific, telepathic and peaceful beings. Whether happy or not is another matter altogether as I never met an alien personally to "ask" this question. These beings seem the modern equivalents of angels or devas in Hindu mythology.

If we could detach ourslves from our lower primal selves even by such a physical mechanism of changing our packaging is a good question. Presuming a soul, external to body, one could imagine transferring consciousness into such a being, or their consciousness into a human or into any other life form (also inanimate objects?) or even sppliting consciousness into several life forms if the consciousness were too developed (say 2-3 humans per alien, 2-3 dogs per human, etc.). I recall stories about how they needed to import / abduct young women for the sole purpose of nannying, as humans are so much more natural and spontaneous. The gift of love to the alien/ mixed children was difficult to give by such a race raised in test tubes. Also lack of genetic diversity and survival instinct was a problem as well. So no happiness and no will to live. Animal spirits, primal urges, unpredictability seem to be important.

Whether the books I read were true or good fiction posing as truth is beside the point. Perhaps it is better if one believes it, if only temporarily or partially as opposed to reading obvious sci-fi (suspension of disbelief).

I recall the discussions with one holy man from Southern India. He was dying and his followers were sad but he just replied that he would always be there as "where could he go". The premise of course being that this is all illusory. We are. We will be. We were. Time, space, all just an illusion. So "maya"/illusion. In normal life we imagine a state of bliss and chase it. This is a joke. Nothing changes.

Of course we live mentally in a lot of ideologies and are hopefully in the process of tearing down a lot of these illusions(thanks to TOD, internet, etc.), based on advertising, indoctrination, etc. The worst preconceived notions are often things we just take for granted but which someone else around us or in another country or era would have not understood at all. The biggest illusion is bodily existence the guru in India discusses but then it gets down to our basic human/aninmal nature. Language controls how we see things, feel things. Try learning and living in a foreign culture. At first it will take some getting used to before you get back to "normal" where the new culture fits without being weird. Try swtiching handedness. Great fun that one. Some actors have to do a lot of weird things to get in other people's skins, like becoming "blind" or "becoming" opposite sex for a role or by being a hobo or taking on a strange job to get the feel of it. Authors do a lot of practical research in this direction to write detective novels, film scripts etc. more genuinely.

Novels, storytelling, movies, allow us to expand our consciousness without danger. Dreams are a personal screening of personal desires, fears and perhaps connectivity to others in an extended astral existence beyond our pure corporeal existence.

I recall an Indian fariy tale where a prince got his builder to build a castle with which he was never satisfied and had to keep adding rooms. So the builder cries out to Vishnu in distress. Vishnu appears as a young boy to the Maharaj and shows him a row of marching ants. "who are they?", he asks, "your predeccessor and his servants in their current incarnation." So he immediately gets scared, seeing his future, and wants to go become a yogic hermit and is only with difficulty persuaded from this plan as his Dharma(duty) requires his presence as king.

PO should "put the fear of God" into modern man like that prince in India experienced.

The problem with the prince's story is that, at the time, people where a lot more in contact with the ideas you presented. We can find the same ideas all over the world, just in different shapes.

Today‘s people are to far gone into this mess to be even aware that they are near an abyss. Everybody that I talk to says that "something will come up" to save us at the last minute.

I just saw article in New Yorker on college students and non-medical Adderall use.

Plato complained that writing would make ppl stop thinking things out and would destroy their memory. Jumping a great leap forward to our times, practically all ‘new’ transport and communication methods have been considered dangerous, either physically or as an effect on cognition, thinking habits, society, etc. Many exs. can be called up.

The exception seem to be: mathematics - always considered a useful tool; the Post, the telephone (though no doubt one could dig up some objections about its rudeness, intrusiveness, modern nouveau rich aspect), the telegraph, and the photocopy machine. These last (like all other methods) were only repressed and controlled by those in power to limit their use by the suspect, ordinary ppl, etc.

--I remember visiting Poland before the fall of the Wall and having to fill in multiple forms with carbon copies to obtain permission to ...use the photocopy machine!--

Even today, cheap calculators are forbidden in classrooms because they might make children ‘lazy.’

The latest scares are about television and visual perception and brain processing. There may be something to it - probably there is - but the ultimate cause of whatever difficulties, ‘abnormalities’, are due to general social change rather than one shoddy input channel, in its form, setting aside the content. (TV as a free babysitter, women at work, destruction of the family unit, etc.)

Human beings are very adaptable and their brains are impressively plastic. Also, ppl who have no useful work to do (because of over-production) and no social role to play get bored, distracted, jittery, and turn to gadgets, mind numbing, crime, etc. Money/labor can then be extracted from them, often indirectly.

Our main problem has two faces:

one is political (socio-economico-political) and the other is that we have pillaged the past (fossil fuels), can’t turn the clock back, and now face a very uncertain future. Quick example: a family farm in 1925 in the US ran on sunlight and human labor, with diverse plants, livestock, crop rotation, etc. It was supposedly ‘renewable', at least set up to be 'long-lastin'..

A corn farm in Iowa today is big agri biz that produces a commodity, cheap raw materials for industry, and it runs on fossil fuels, like a factory.

To finally turn to the question, demand is shaped by various forces, culture (fashion, say), leaders, taxes, laws, monetary arrangements, and so on. As an abstract construct (Eco 101), or even a rough and ready concept used to bundle up diverse factors, ideas, considerations, it stinks. Demand is, ultimately, what happens (how many Barbies are sold, etc.) and nothing more; so it is not demand. Ergo, there are no limits, thresholds, or end point for ‘demand’..

> bit long and elliptical but the drift is clear i hope

Demand is only a problem, because we are looking at resource depletion.

A few kinds of demand have been mentioned, that cause not too heavy a burden on resources, eg, demand for information, Once the infrastructure for the internet is in place, it can take quite a while to exhaust the information already present on the web. Granted the current demand spurt is because in a short span of time we have gone from serving static images and text to streaming video, because the bandwidth was available and incremental content was free to the users.
What is the next frontier for a sudden spurt in demand here? And with the talk of tiered pricing etc, by Time warner, demand may slow once incremental content has a price put on it.
So we could go on consuming the internet without the burden of added investment of resources.

Satisfaction of demand through consumer goods is a recent phenomenon, and still has a complete sway only among the top 2 billion of the 6 billion people. Poor people also have a demand to keep themselves occupied, but they have done it in less resource hogging ways. You can spend infinite amounts of time on Chess, music, reading, porn, sex, running, chatting on the phone etc, without consuming plastics, and oil and packaging. So with resource pressures, if total collapse and social unrest are avoided with some political accomodation, it is easy for people in the US to become more like the Japanese, or Indians, or Russians and instead of tea ceremonies, and prayer and chess spend time on say cleaning guns, watching football, coaching little league, running the Boston marathon etc.

And finally, another silver lining, people are creatures of habit, and once people have their facebook, itunes, and blackberry, it is going to take something really good to wean people off their current addictions. We rarely retire any technologies, regular AM/FM is still alive, despite satellite radio. TV is going to be delivered thru satellite,cable, and the phone company. With this kind of splintering there is less money going to be available for the next big thing, which sort of puts the brakes on continued resource hogging.

The last 20 years also saw three huge resources open up for the Western countries. Cheap labor in China, India and Eastern Europe. That kind of freebie resource is just not on the horizon anymore. Not that we have run out of cheap labor, but the highly skilled top 10% of each of these three regions willing to go along with exchanging illusion for real manhours is not likely to be repeated.

My mother steers clear of the internet because the trusty tv has warned her that it is full of nasty dangers and liars and any old rubbish in contrast to the tv. Not for want of my suggesting otherwise I should explain.

Everyone seems to think that we would not be productive if we didn't "work" to pay for our living expenses...why is this ? The majority of people I know do some sort of unpaid work; would we stop doing this if we did not have to "work" to obtain the necessities in life? No I don't think so. Would people stop inventing things because they weren't paid to invent ? No I don't think so. Would we all just sit in front of the TV 20 hrs a day if we didn't have to go to work ? No I don't think so, we would be empowered to create and achieve many things we now can't do now, simply because we have to go sit in an office for 9hrs a day and don't have time...

Isn't the question you are asking really, "would a Resource Based Economy function much better than the current profit/debt based economy ?"

YES it would :)

But only if as much as is possible is mechanised/automated as quickly as possible (food and housing production for example) and no decisions are made that are not scientifically peer reviewed/proven before they are implemented. When implemented this better idea will be available for all.

I know this is far fetched, but the more I read up on a RBE the more it seems like the only way forward. And to put this point much better than me I will leave it upto Mr. Jacques Fresco from the Zeitgeist Movement: (in the technology section of the site)

"At the beginning of the Industrial Age, a great majority of people worked in factories. Today, automation comprises 90% of nearly all factories. This has displaced humans and created a large, artificial "service" industry in order to keep humans in employment for money.

This pattern is very revealing. The implication is that machine automation is constantly challenging the role of general human labor. This doesn't mean that humans will have "nothing to do" as time moves on. Quite the contrary... this implication denotes the freeing of humanity from jobs which humans do not care to engage in, so they will have time to pursue what they choose to. As an aside, it is important to point out that society today assumes a very negative posture towards humanity, retaining the belief that if human beings were not "required" to do something, they would just sit around, be lazy, and do nothing. This is absurd propaganda.

The notion of "leisure" is a monetary invention, created because of the oppressive, fascist basis of the employment institution itself. Laziness is, in fact, a form of rejection of the system. It is a quality that only exists due to the oppression and required servitude.

In a true society, there would be no such thing as the separation of "work and "leisure", for humans should be allowed to pursue whatever they feel is relevant. To put it a different way, consider the curiosity and interest of a child. He or she doesn't even know what money is...Do they need to be motivated by money to go out and explore/create? No. They have a personal interest and they pursue it without reward. In fact, the greatest contributors to our society, such as Einstein, Newton or Galileo, pursued what they did without any regard to money. They did it because they wanted to. The act of doing and contributing was their reward.

The point here is that money is not a true incentive for anything and to think as such is to assume that humans are inherently lazy and corrupt. Laziness and corruption are products of the conditioning our social system creates."