Peak Energy Oz: Peak Oil and the Philosopher's Stone

Big Gav with an interesting discussion of some of the current trends in the peak oil meme.  Recommended. (I also recommend the Tetlock book that Dave Roberts spoke of the other day that BG talks about in this post.)

With all due respect...

I don't see what's "great" about that discussion. It's argument ad hominem, with a huge dose of tautology thrown in ("circular reasoning").

It betrays an interest in labelling everyone and everything.

"primitivists" see the collapse of industrial civilisation and human dieoff, "libertarians" see an opportunity for the market to bring new energy sources and technoloies to us,

How do we know one is a "primitivist"? Because one sees in peak oil the collapse of industrial civilization.

How do we know one is a "libertarian"? Because one see in peak oil the market bringing new energies, etc.

This is profound?

There's something a little "post-modern" about the article, that superciliousness that says, "There is no such thing as objectivity, there are only 'subjectivities.'" I know this because I am a post-modernist.

I'm waiting for psychoanalysis in all its forms to "dieoff."

I am in broad agreement with MikeB on this, it contributes nothing notable.

On the philospher's stone...

"You are dreaming.
You are with some beings, somewhere.
You are about to be shown the Philosopher's Stone.

You are given a smooth stone slab, say, 10 by 12 inches, made of a pearly, shimmering material in which an infinity of patterns fluctuates.
A piece of paper is folded and cut, then unfolded, and you have a symetrical pattern of cut holes. Laying this paper over the stone slab, you see visual events in the slab confirming the pattern cut in the paper.
You cut a different pattern; the visuals in the slab seem to corroborate the new pattern of the viewholes.
It occurs to you that the paper pattern acts as a screen, selecting from the infinite field only patterns which correspond to the viewhole arrangement, bits of other patterns which may exist in the stone are seen, if at all, as noise, since their complete symmetricity is screened out.

You understand: this is the Philosopher's Stone.

It occurs to you that all our philosophies are like the cutout patterns you lay on the stone; That corroboration by symmetricity has been sufficient to establish the particular cutout screen as 'truthful'. It is clear though that one 'truthful' symmetry excludes others, by treating their components as noise.

You realize that this applies not only to philosophical systems, but to your daily life- that we screen and select patterns which we live in, and live by, and the rest is noise. This is fundamental to our continuity of consciousness.

It occurs to you that the more cutouts there are in the screen pattern (greater complexity), the more 'truthful' symmetries will be found. The upper limit being the infinite field which we first started out with, and to which we needed to apply patterns to perceive.

The most inclusive way of seeing the stone's infinite field is then with no screen at all.

How indeed do we do that?
It requires a self induced mutation of consciousness."

Seemed pretty silly to me.  Reads more like a gossip column than anything else.  
I have to say I liked it, but then of course he said nice things about one of my pieces, so probably my opinion should be discounted in this case :-)
I thought it was a nice little deconstruction wasn't as nihilistic as was portrayed, the catch is (in that terribly Foucault-ian way) is to reintgrate it into something that we can all progress because of...

so, get to work all of you.

Gossip columnist hey ?

Harsh but fair I suppose - and the description did make me laugh :-)

I'm glad PG and Stuart enjoyed my musings anyway...

mikeB - with all due respect, I think you're misinterpreting what I said.

The only ad hominem attack I made was on Jerome Corsi, and I think he's got a thick enough skin to handle it as he hands out that sort of stuff for a living (maybe JD as well but we trade comments occasionally and there is nothing malicious in it and he doesn't seem to be offended by it).

I wasn't trying to "label" anyone and I was using categorisations which most of the recipients would use themselves (except for the conspiracy theorist and fascist descriptions perhaps, but I still think they are accurate).

If you go over to Anthropik for example you'll find they weren't offended by my description (and it prompted a bit of introspection there) and that they refer to themselves as primitivists in their own writing.

Similarly, if you go over to Lew Rockwell you'll find they refer to themselves as Libertarians - I'm using their label, not creating one - and they'd propbably agree with my description of their interpretation of peak oil too.

So the "circular argument" is unfounded - its just a simple statement of facts from my point of view. I don't claim my words are profound but you really don't seem to have got my point.

In any case, the intent wasn't to criticise or say that anyone's beliefs are right or wrong - just to note that there is a fair amount of comfirmatory bias in a lot of people's observations and a lack of objectivity which tends to make assessing the reality of the situation pretty difficult.

And I'm certainly not trying to be a post-modernist interpreter of peak oil - it was just an idle late night rant...

Ad hominem simply means "to the man" (or woman). It's not necessarily an attack, and I didn't use that word. It's about character, not issue. I just can't get into psychoanalyzing people's motives. There's no better way to trip & fall over your own biases than to pretend to read others' motives.

Your statement on "comfirmatory bias": now there's something I can relate to!

Let's talk about it:

Can't resist quoting from the source above:

This tendency to give more attention and weight to data that support our beliefs than we do to contrary data is especially pernicious when our beliefs are little more than prejudices. If our beliefs are firmly established upon solid evidence and valid confirmatory experiments, the tendency to give more attention and weight to data that fit with our beliefs should not lead us astray as a rule. Of course, if we become blinded to evidence truly refuting a favored hypothesis, we have crossed the line from reasonableness to closed-mindedness.

I wish we could get people like Mr Carroll to weigh in on peak oil.

Mistake in my quote marks: should read:

There's something a little "post-modern" about the article, that superciliousness that says, "There is no such thing as objectivity, there are only 'subjectivities.' I know this because I am a post-modernist."

I think that's a valid criticism, Mike. (note that I even changed my description to "interesting..."). Still, I think it BG raises some good points in there, namely the normative v. empirical debate that plagues this (and many others, mind you...) movement, as well as some other pieces parts of arguments.
This is a perfect example of how messy things can get when the debate between competing concepts, such as Peak Oil vs 'No Problemo', gets highly politicized and entwined in all sorts of extraneous views and personal adgendas.

One thing that  I fully agree with is that, on average, 'expert's don't predict the future any better than lay people.  In fact, the track record on expert prediction is pretty dismal, for the most part. It seems that too much information is just as much a liability as too little when it comes to making predictions. I think the reason is that with an overload of information, one is more likely to, consciously or unconsciously, pick and choose that information that best fits one's value judgements and view of the way one would like things to be. In other words, an expert in econometrics is just as likely to self-delude himself as a person with no special expertise. I've seen so many bone-headed predictions by revered experts that I tend to ignore predictions in general. (Though I make them myself.)

Does this mean that there is no point in even trying to make predictions? No, but let's face the fact that no one really knows how things will be say 10 years from now. No one.

If you want to get a good idea of how fanciful most predictions are, just take a look at a stack of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines from the period 1945 - 1960. The unbridled optimism about how technology was going to make all our lives so wonderful now looks so quaint and naive. If their predictions came true, we'd all have person robot servants and atomic-powered personal planes by now. Cars would look even more stupid and zoomy than then did in 1958.

Keep in mind that very few people predicted the internet or even the women's lib movement. People are always caught by surprise by that unexpected thing coming out of left field.

I think there is a lot of truth to this.  The more responsible prognosticators try and limit their predictions to a shorter period in the future where there is some reasonable liklihood that the predictions mean something.

Look back 100 years to 1905.  The way people lived, how they got around, and what they ate.  So many things changed.  Some of it technology, some by science.  Medical care was still in a very primative state - for example, nothing was known of viruses at that point in time.  The types of changes that are possible in a 100 year timespan can be staggering (not always the case of course - earlier centuries would seem to have had less in the way of change).  

Given the challenges we face, further change in the next 100 years is a virtual certainty, but aside from rather vague prognostications, it would be impossible to pin anything more than this down.

I believe Arthur C. Clarke predicted the internet sometime in the 60s.
His point seems to be that the doomsayers are doomsayers because they would actually like the doom.  Be that as it may, if you are looking at futures where there are probabilities of total disaster (even if low), you're well advised to plan for it.  Nobody's repealed Murphy's Law recently.
To elaborate, I would say he's calling-out the wide variety of self-fulfilling prophesies to show that they are just that and should be judged in that light.

There are far too many variables in play to make any sort of precise prediction in the short-term. For a good set of current longterm predictions, I think both Limits to Growth and Overshoot have great validity. But I do think that within the next ten years we will have a much better idea of what will transpire by 2050 than any of us have now.

If I'm asked to give a presentation now, I preface by saying, "I can describe what Peak Oil is, but please don't ask me to predict the future."

At the end, I say: "OK. so what does all this mean?" And then I summarize all the views, from dieoff to abiotic cornucopia.

Dieoff is not as easily dismissed as the latter, I'm afraid.

The variables we can cope with, the lack of accurate data we cannot.

Hirsch is so right when he stresses risk.

We should be taking the 5% probable worse case as our baseline not the 5% probable best case, which the 'official' forecasts seem to. One only has to read this to see what I mean:

Until we have credible data about recoverable reserves and decline rates for all major oilfields, plus good enough data to realistically model each field's production forward, most prediction is a guess.

What I have seen so far gives me the nasty feeling that we will not have that till past peak as we scrabble to justify the futile continued existence of our doomed fiscal and economic systems. Sorry folks :(

   Perhaps haveing spent too many years "with the alligators" has colored my judgement.I spent enought time doing emergency responce at nuke plants,to know,in my heart of hearts;

   What can go wrong ,will,at the worst possible time          

   I had only vaguely remembered that writting of colin campbell with the scary social ideas.

  I think a lot worse ones will get floated out by the crew running things these days

 We all see what we fear in peak,as well as what we want..Peak is the future,and how we deal with what we percive to be the most likely future,defines us.I spend a lot of time talking to people about peak,and am trying to design my life in such a manor that I will survive,if not prosper,during the comming "phase-change" our civilization is about to experience

Discussion,weighing possibilities with others who have a different backrounds is the only rational action a person can take with the wide variety possible outcomes of this event

And planting fruit trees....

PG, can we avoid the entirely meaningless word "meme" here at TOD? As introduced by Richard Dawkins, this word is supposed to have some special meaning in evolutionary biology (analogous to "gene") as opposed to and separate from being a synonym for a "widely dispersed idea".
oh bloody hell.  it's a word.  :)  and it's one of those words that has morphed in the 'sphere...I think of it as "essence."

and I think his post does capture some of the frustrating essence of the PO "thing" (there is that better?)...snicker

If it has indeed "morphed in the 'sphere'", I suppose I can't do anything about it. I just hope it doesn't get reified such that people (sheeple?) think it has some scientific meaning, which it doesn't. It simply means some "thing" people are talking about ... retort? ;)
So what is a better word to use ?

Lots of words get understood to mean different things by different people (fascist is another one that annoys almost everyone) - but blame the English language unless you can suggest a better alternative.

I hate "reified" for what its worth too...

reify: to treat abstractions as if they were concrete entities.



"invisible hand"


A cognitive psychologist (I think his name is Bernard Seligman) wrote a book about his studies of optomism and pessimism. He pointed out that pessimists are better predicters than optomists. On the other hand people tend to vote for candidates offering the most optimistic future. It explains why governments are usually reacting to crises instead of preventing them.