Reality Blind - Vol. 1

Reality Blind

Integrating the Systems Science Underpinning Our Collective Futures

Vol. 1

NJ Hagens and DJ White

Copyright © 2021 NJ Hagens and DJ White

All rights reserved.

ISBN:

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION..................................................................... 1

..................................................................................................... 2

SECTION 1 - HOW TO THINK ABOUT REALITY.............. 6

What If What We Know Just Ain’t So?? ............................................7

The Parts and the Whole of the Elephant ........................................9

An Uncommon, But Important, Timeline ..................................... 12

The Rules of Reality ....................................................................... 14

Emergence...................................................................................... 16

Contingent Probability ................................................................... 18

On the Issue of Boundaries ............................................................20

So, How Do We Engage with Reality?...........................................22

SECTION 2 - DEEP TIME..................................................... 24

We Are Stardust ..............................................................................25

Deep Time......................................................................................27

Our Family Tree .............................................................................29

Mass and Minor Extinctions ..........................................................30

Our Earth Clock .............................................................................33

SECTION 3 - HUMAN BEHAVIOR...................................... 36

The Human Problem, and the Human Brain ................................37

Evolution by (natural) Selection.....................................................39

The Pinnacle of Creation (Not)...................................................... 41

Human Evolution...........................................................................43

The Agenda of the Gene.................................................................45

Fitness Maximizer? ........................................................................47

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Adaptation Executor ...................................... 49

If it feels good, do it, right?! ............................................................51

The Elephant and the Rider .......................................................... 53

Sexual Selection on a Full Planet... ................................................ 55

Social Status: Keeping up with the Joneses ................................... 57

You (almost) Win!! It’s the Unexpected Reward, Stupid! ............. 59

Supernormal Stimuli ...................................................................... 62

Addiction/Habituation.................................................................. 64

The Hedonic Ratchet..................................................................... 65

Evolved to be Wrong: Bias and Delusion as Adaptive Traits........ 68

Modular Minds – a Mixed Blessing................................................71

The “Interpreter” Module - Introduction ...................................... 73

Retroactive Confabulation ............................................................. 75

Belief in Belief................................................................................ 77

Cognitive Biases: a Potpourri of Biases ......................................... 80

Loss Aversion ................................................................................. 82

Cognitive Dissonance .................................................................... 84

Optimism Bias ............................................................................... 86

Confirmation Bias .......................................................................... 88

Consensus Trance...........................................................................91

Authority Bias ................................................................................ 93

Cognitive Load............................................................................... 95

Time Blindness .............................................................................. 96

Shifting Baselines........................................................................... 99

Moral Biases.................................................................................. 101

Bias X + Bias Y + Global context = Emergent Biases .................103

Ultrasociality .................................................................................106

Ingroup vs. Outgroup................................................................... 108

Our Dual Natures: Cooperation vs. Competition .........................111

Multi-Level Selection.....................................................................114

Equality and Fairness....................................................................116

On Empathy ..................................................................................118

The Games People Play – the Tragedy of the Commons and the Prisoner’s Dilemma .......................................................................121

Cultural Evolution ........................................................................ 124

Enter: The Amoeba ...................................................................... 126

The Moat Surrounding the Castle of Sustainable Futures ........... 129

SECTION 4 - ENERGY AND ECONOMY.......................... 133

Energy Part 1 – Ecology and Energy....................................... 134

Ecology and Our Life Support Systems ....................................... 134

Rabbits and Bears and Humans, Oh My… ................................. 136

Carrying Capacity (and Overshoot).............................................. 138

The Law of the Minimum .............................................................141

Bottlenecks: (Population, Genetic, and Generic)......................... 143

The 2 nd Law of Thermodynamics................................................. 147

Energy in Ecosystems: Trophic Pyramids ................................... 149

Income – Expenses = Life ........................................................... 152

Energy Part 2 – Energy and Humans ..................................... 154

Swimming (obliviously) in a sea of energy................................... 154

So, What IS Energy Anyway? ....................................................... 158

Homo Sapiens and the Family Joules ...........................................161

Humans and Fire – A Revolutionary Symbiosis .......................... 163

Brother, Can You Spare Some Surplus? ....................................... 165

Endo vs Exo ................................................................................. 167

Energy Part 3 – The 5 Pools of Carbon .................................... 169

The Bountiful Presents from the Past...........................................169

Soil................................................................................................. 171

Trees..............................................................................................174

From Sea Creatures to Gasoline (Oil) ...........................................176

Coal ...............................................................................................178

Natural Gas ................................................................................... 181

Energy - Part 4 – Our Fossil Armies........................................ 185

Our Fossil Slaves… .......................................................................185

When Ancient Sunlight Meets Modern Machines........................188

The Strength of Superheroes.........................................................190

The “Trade” - Replacing Human Labor with Fossil Energy.......192

The Coupling: Energy and GDP ..................................................195

The Metabolism of Humanity ......................................................198

Gross World Burning ................................................................... 200

Energy and Stuff! ......................................................................... 202

Energy Part 5 – Energy and Money ........................................204

What is Money?............................................................................ 204

What are “Jobs,” Exactly? ............................................................ 206

How is Money Created?............................................................... 208

What is Debt?................................................................................ 211

“A Fuel” and “it’s Money!” are Soon Parted… ............................213

Helicopters and the Future ...........................................................216

Energy Part 6 - Energy and Technology ................................. 219

The Impact of Higher Energy Prices on Mechanization .............219

Technology OR Energy vs. Technology AND Energy?.............. 222

Efficiency and Affordability? The Rebound Effect ...................... 224

Energy, Technology and Complexity........................................... 227

The Energy Cost of Getting Energy............................................. 229

Energetic Remoteness – “To be Ore, or Not to be” .................. 232

Water............................................................................................. 235

Energy Part 7 - Energy, Growth and Population ....................238

A Malthusian Perspective............................................................. 238

Modern Human Population ......................................................... 241

The “Pie” and the “Slice” – GDP/per capita .............................. 244

The Slice of Pie per Human - and the Whole Pie ........................ 246

The Modern “Exosomatic” Pyramid ........................................... 249

Energy Privilege ........................................................................... 251

Inequality...................................................................................... 253

Poverty: Wide Boundary Style ...................................................... 256

Energy Part 8 - The Carbon Pulse...........................................259

The Carbon Pulse ......................................................................... 259

Oil: You Gotta Find It Before You Can Burn It ........................... 262

Depletion ...................................................................................... 264

The Red Queen Phenomenon...................................................... 267

The Fracking Truth...................................................................... 270

A Crude Substitute........................................................................ 272

Price vs Cost (vs Value) ................................................................ 275

What if Oil cost $400 per Barrel? .................................................. 277

Draining America First................................................................. 280

Energy Part 9 - Energy Properties and Renewables ...............284

Renewables A.K.A. Rebuildables ................................................. 284

A Joule is a Joule. Or is it?............................................................ 286

Potential vs. Kinetic Energy......................................................... 288

Energy Properties ........................................................................ 290

Energy Tech: What Can’t Work, What Won’t Work, and What Might............................................................................................ 294

The Energy Underpinning our Modern World............................ 296

Transportation and Trucking ...................................................... 299

Supply Chains, Chains, Chains, Chains, Chains ......................... 302

“Renewable” Energy: Solar Photovoltaics and Stochasticity ...... 305

“Renewable” Energy: Nuclear Fission Power ..............................310

Renewables: Fusion?.....................................................................314

Renewable Energy Point #1: The Invisible Triangle ..................317

Renewables Point #2: FFEMs (Fossil Fuel Extension Mechanisms).................................................................................319 Renewables Point #3: A Story That Never Gets Fully Told – Not This Civilization............................................................................321

INTRODUCTION

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In the pages that follow you will find a story about Earth’s currently most successful large creature – the human being. But Earth’s currently most successful large creature is now in a predicament; a predicament brought about by a compelling combination of human traits and its (relatively) recent discovery of vast stores of fossil flammable fuel. Humans ’ recent discovery of flammable rock and liquid in the form of oil, coal, and natural gas has temporarily turbocharged humanity’s energy use and biomass. This “Carbon Pulse” is a brief period of human history in which much of the carbon sequestered as these substances over hundreds of millions of years is expended in just a few centuries. The resulting impacts on wealth, economies, and ecologies are earth-shattering. Humans are reaching the end of the carbon pulse. Now we face a time of change that requires a quality of “ systems thinking ” and future planning never before required of our species. You read this from a tiny spot in our enormous galaxy where energy, matter and deep time have converged to create something wholly greater than energy, matter, and time; as life — once simply created — has invested billions of years in continually re-inventing itself, attaining qualities we are only beginning to understand and appreciate. And wonder of wonders, we are related to all of it and all of them, brothers, sisters and cousins; there is no known life in the universe outside of this close family. We bring to this

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creation a self-regarding consciousness — learning, slowly, to understand ourselves and our family, while the more primitive, automatic and powerful parts of our same minds unintentionally collaborate in its destruction. We are starting to recognize that we are individually and collectively held back by unexamined assumptions and illogical “feelings” about how things seem to be, but the reality is we have huge individual and cultural “blind spots.” Ergo, we are ‘ reality blind ’. Yet this same knowledge of “who we are” gives us at least some power over it. While the path to a profoundly wonderful human future is difficult, it is not yet foreclosed. As individuals, we all will ultimately die within a century, but we each can now choose to positively affect the coming million years, trillions of human lifetimes, and the evolutionary future of thousands, even millions of species. We have powers and abilities that our ancestors could not dream of, and the freedom to use them. This will be the century which tests the human potential for mediocrity against the human potential for greatness.

There are plenty of science books out there describing the current plight of humanity – what makes this one different is:

a) Breadth : This is a wide-ranging interdisciplinary synthesis of the human predicament. We cover everything from deep time to cognitive biases to the fossil carbon monkey trap and integrate dozens of subjects that have bearing on the issues humans will face this century. Many core insights are not about specific topics but derive from the integration of important topics. b) A longer-term view : Most analysts advocate policies to adopt in the next few years or perhaps a decade, with no real longer-term context. We look deep into the coming decades (and beyond) — attempting to wend a path towards the larger prize — a long-view aspiration for human existence (which optimally is long term maximization of human achievement, experience and happiness, minimization of suffering, and co-existence with other complex life in a healthy environment). c) A neutral starting point : We have friends and colleagues from all walks of life: conservatives and liberals, rich and poor, American and Chinese, young and old. The situation in our social discourse today has become more about ‘the messenger’ than ‘the message’. The story in the pages that follow applies to all of us: the problems we face are not really anyone’s fault, yet we are all complicit in and now responsible for

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rectifying them. We hope to build bridges across typical demographic labels and spur conversations on what a sapient species might aspire to beyond our current cultural directives .

In the following pages, we will give short overviews of scientific themes central to our thesis that humans are in a predicament and why , and how we can change. It is hoped that our work will give you a greater grasp of the complex challenges facing humanity this century, as well as inspiration on how to live meaningful, effective and enjoyable lives.

“TaaL”

Here is an introduction from TaaL, our alien observer, who has volunteered to give his uncensored opinion:

(TaaL stands for T hrough a n a lien L ens - TaaL )

Greetings, humans . I’ve been asked to contribute my perspectives to this project and am happy to oblige. Indeed, I’m obliged to oblige, because such requests must b e honored under the treaty which gives my species galactic intellectual property rights to jokes about humans, which are a currently popular interstellar trade medium. So, from your point of view I’m a space alien, and from my point of view you are space a liens, except of course I know that you physically exist, and you think I’m a journalistic device. The potential downside, from my point of view, is that if you actually incorporate the stuff in this presentation into your worldview, you’ll eventually beco me less funny. Long-lived species aren’t inherently humorous—how many really funny trilobite jokes do you know? It’s the tragedy and comedy of dysfunctional species which produce the improbable jokes and stories worthy of broadcast to the stars. The thorax-slapping hilarity which can emerge from the chaos and complexity of existence. And in that regard your current situation is a thick vein of ore. My stating this is not meant as criticism. My own species was hilarious 400,000 years ago. Since then, not so much. We’re mostly just content now, which I can strongly recommend. We laugh a lot but have had to look outside ourselves for the truly preposterous. And in that, we find ourselves in your debt. Your species calls itself Homo sapiens – “wise man” - but that is a self-bestowed designer license plate at this point and is aspirational at best. An honest taxonomy places you as one of three chimp species, genus Pan. Your great distinguishing characteristic, which has opened many doors, is your symbiosis with fire; and a powerful symbiosis it has been.

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Thus, any unbiased third-party species with a fetish for Linnaean taxonomy would name you Pan ignis, the fire- starting chimp. Whether you ultimately become “sapiens” is at this point unknowable. You’re probably un der the impression that your species faces myriad problems, and after experiencing this presentation you may up that number considerably. But you really have only one problem from which all the others flow: dueling universes. You each inhabit a private virtual universe of magic, feelings, urges, color, love, significance and all else. It is linked to a physical universe which operates under entirely different rules. Yet you treat these distinct universes as a single unified reality, inappropriately imputing magic to the physical world and inerrant rationality to the virtual. In doing so you are drawn to making systematic physical errors while becoming less happy. My species was lucky enough to have the equivalent of Earth’s termites precede us on our planet by nearly a billion years, which is why I exist to make these comments; and in this universe luck is the only resource more basic to life than energy. This termite statement may seem to be a wild non-sequitur to a human mind attuned to relatively immediate proximal causality, but I assure you it is quite salient to your situation. For in our case, we had 100,000 years to make the switch from “gene agenda” to “self - aware mind,” and eventually did so after an extended humorous period. However, your world did not evolve lignin-eating bacteria until 290 million years ago, by which time tens of millions of years of unoxidized carbon and hydrocarbons had already been sequestered underground. Thus, by random chance over geological time, a ginormous monkey tr ap was set long before Earth’s monkeys themselves were a gleam in probability’s eye. Your recent discovery of these flammable rocks and liquids has temporarily turbocharged your energy use and biomass, but it also drastically shrank the time available for you to make the Big Cognitive Transition, from hundreds of millennia to hundreds of years. The fact this isn’t immediately apparent to your kind is emblematic of the predicament of any thinking species which falls afoul of what is known as the “carbon curse.” Few survive it, which is why no new funny stories are generally expected from Venus. The big secret of being a successful sapient species is that there IS no big secret. You just need to sort out physical reality from virtual reality, dealing with the luck that random chance has dealt you, before the genetic urges which got you this far manage to kill you. Which, you’d have to admit, is pretty funny.

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SECTION 1 - HOW TO THINK ABOUT REALITY

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What If What We Know Just Ain’t So??

Our minds deal in stories. We remember stories far better than we remember strings of unrelated information. Indeed, much of “thinking” is the creation of coherent-seeming stories out of disparate sensory inputs and information that flows from other people. Our own personal storylines are important to us, and our cultural stories define the way we think about ourselves in relation to others. Stories are in large part how we arrange the world in our minds. That is part of being human. However, our attraction and susceptibility to stories means that we often latch onto explanatory stories which are illusory, incomplete, and incorrect. This results in problems. As Mark Twain is purported to have noted, it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble; it’s the stuff you know for sure that just ain’t so. In the Wizard of Oz, the surface story was a green wizard with the superpower to grant wishes, while the real explanation was a projection machine run by a salesman. The citizens of Oz were expecting a wizard so that seemed perfectly reasonable to them.

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Humans like cultural stories that are simple and easy to communicate, yet our society today has grown into one of enormous complexity fractionated into hundreds or thousands of disparate areas of expertise. We say that the stock market dropped or rose due to this or that factor, but in reality, we have no idea why. We say that an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs, when in reality it was an enormously complex pattern of extinction in a unique context, and this single cause explanation ignores the asteroid impacts of similar size in history which caused no extinctions whatsoever. Humans favor poor and incomplete explanations because really good explanations about states of a complex system tend to be impossible to understand and describe. Poor and incomplete explanations are arguably better than nothing, as long as we realize their limitations; but when we treat them as though they are true, they lead us astray. Why are economies around the world slowing in their growth relative to 30- 40 years ago? Why do we all want higher paying jobs? Why do we primarily believe only what our ingroup believes? Why are we emitting carbon ten million times faster than it was sequestered? When we look around us and see that we are approaching 8 billion humans, appropriating over 30% of our planet’s plant energy productivity from the sun 1 , with domestic mammals now outweighing wild mammals by over 40:1 2 , we would benefit from looking at “real” explanations because the “proximate” or surface ones end up not explaining much at all. What we do know is that humans are part of the animal kingdom, sharing an astonishing percentage of our genes with every living thing on Earth. We are the products of ‘what worked’ during thousands of human generations and millions of pre-human generations before that. What drives us, what motivates us, as well as what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom all have real explanations — ones we need to understand and take to heart if we are to navigate the coming bottlenecks facing our civilization and our world. TaaL: The problems with narrative (stories) goes deeper than this. (It’s of course ironic to point this out to you in a narrative, but when in Rome, one lights roman candles, so I’m confined here to using linear additive data with syntax modifications.) It has been noted that human minds are evolutionarily biased and crammed with routines which make no sense these days, but to that we must add the fact that narrative never adequately or “ultimately” describes anything. It is “low bandwidth” and compensates by tr iggering pre-existing rough associations and metaphors in a single mind. This means human minds are designed to spontaneously create new mental “realities” based on any

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structurally correct sentence that is heard. This worked well enough when you existed in small tribes and all had the same histories and associations as your tribe-members, but in societies of millions or billions, this is no longer the case. This implies that nearly the entirety of human communication is of the abstract general form “ why did the chicken cross the road ?” (while pre - supposing rough mental models of both chickens and roads) which is perhaps why both systems understanding and synthesis are rare in your societies. Systems synthesis a poor emotional match for the simple narrative concepts and metaphorical associations you use to communicate your physical world and its history. You at long last have a chance to start getting that stuff right. The Bottom Line: We conflate the virtual stories of our minds, with the physical reality of the real world. So, much of what we know for sure just ain’t so.

The Parts and the Whole of the Elephant

“ There is much truth in the definition of the specialist as someone who ‘knows more and more about less and less’ .”

- Garrett Hardin , Ecologist and philosopher

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" A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects ." - Robert Heinlein , Time Enough for Love In our modern culture, it pays to be a specialist. People who have expertise on semiconductors or oil seismic exploration or arcane financial theories can earn a lot of money. We dole out science prizes and celebrity to ultra- specialized individuals who may not be able to get their shoes on the correct feet. Our educational and career paths — and the very nature of who counts as a high- status “expert” in our culture— are thus steered towards reductionist expertise and away from training competent generalists. And yet it is the tiny minority of multidisciplinary systems-literate people (systems synthesists) who can make sense of the whole. Using an elephant as an example, the challenges for our future world will be envisioned and solved by those who can perceive the entire elephant as a coherent system, and then involve the experts on the Ear, Foot, Tail, and Tusk. What do we mean by systems synthesis ? It is understanding the basics of many kinds of science and grasping how they fit and interact together in the real world. The really creative solutions and innovations tend to come from between the areas of knowledge that our culture is inclined to keep distinct from one another. Such insights do not easily happen when groups of experts meet to share information -but rather happen best in a single human brain . Moreover, knowing about something that is quite basic to one discipline will help weed out really boneheaded mistakes easily made when focusing on a single, narrow issue in a different discipline. There is nothing inherently wrong with reductionist expertise: it is a powerful method and logical tool well- suited to a population of billions of hyper-social primates. But in and of itself, reductionism generates enormous blind spots. Why is this important? Because a science-based systemic view of reality helps to screen out the stories and myths of our own cultures. Different cultures on Earth have entirely different myths which are believed. They all, however, eventually converge on the same rules for the physical world. These days, the very nature of human expertise is highly specialized, but a reasonably intelligent generalist has a better chance of making good decisions about the future.

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TaaL : Human history is replete with quite intelligent and otherwise successful cultures which simply got one (or more) things crucially wrong. Your Easter Islanders believed that resources flowed from the good will of their ancestors, and that their ancestors really liked giant stone heads. With that as their paradigm, it was only logical to cut down all the trees to aid in the construction of ever-bigger stone heads. The stone heads are still there; the island ecosystems not so much. Nor am I trying to single out the Rapa Nui for scorn, because one way or another, pretty much all 21 st century human cultures on Earth are industriously making giant stone heads in one guise or another, depending on which fragments of the picture they treat as their cultural reality. You’ve clearly arrived at this page with a pre -existing set of knowledge and beliefs. If you, dear young human, take anything from this book — and you well may — it may be an appreciation for how the aspects of your reality fit together . These days, the very nature of human expertise is highly specialized, but a reasonably intelligent generalist has a better chance of making good decisions about the future. The Bottom Line: Reductionism is quite useful, but both dangerous and insufficient. A science-based worldview which looks at all the puzzle pieces at once can make sense of things. The important knowledge now resides between the disciplines.

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An Uncommon, But Important, Timeline

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come .”

- Terry Tempest Williams

Most of us (for reasons we will go into later) are focused on issues impacting the next few hours or days or months. What’s for dinner? What should we watch on Netflix? What sort of policies should we enact? Who is going to be President, or Senator? What should we do about our city’s school board? What will the stock market do? Who will be nominated for the Supreme Court? What will tuition cost when my daughter starts college, etc.? Our present situation has been brought about by billions of similar human decisions mostly focused on the very near term 3 . However, we now live at a time of astonishing complexity and interconnectivity – more so than at any other time on this planet. Focusing on the present, while hoping that the future will somehow turn out wonderfully well, is both naïve and dangerous.

Very few people have a 10- or 30-year view of how systems connect, and

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far fewer still are thinking about what human society (and the natural world) might look like beyond the year 2100. In this way, the inferences in this book are unusual. Though the content can be applied to the issues that now dominate the airwaves, this book expressly does not address events of the next few years. We take a hard look at the underlying trends that will impact humanity and our planet for much of the coming century, irrespective of what news – and nuance -happens in the near term. Deep time is an uncommon but important timeline. Bear in mind that the average life expectancy for a mammal species is about a million years. The human species has been around for 300 thousand years, only one-third of that average, which would imply that we have at least another 700k years of productive existence, and thus trillions of happy hominid childhoods to plan for. The decisions we make today impact next year, ten years, 100 and 100,000 years into the future. TaaL: Bear in mind that the average life expectancy for a mammal species is about a million years 4 . The human species has been around for 300 thousand years, only one-third of that average, which would imply that you have least another 700k years of productive existence, and thus trillions of happy hominid childhoods to plan for. The decisions you make today impact next year, ten years, 100 and 100,000 years into the future. Deep time is an uncommon but important timeline – and current human culture is ‘time blind’.

The Bottom Line: We tend to focus just a year or two in advance, but the human story is a deep time story and our deep time future deserves a chance.

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The Rules of Reality

“Science is true whether you believe it or not.”

- Neil deGrasse Tyson

Quite simply, human minds evolved to be wrong. Wrong in very specific ways that erred heavily on the side of both individual and tribal survival and were built on a scaffolding of verbal narrative (strings of words). These verbal stories, though wildly imperfect, were the best available communications method to tie our tribes together. Yet we are no longer functioning as small tribes comprising a tiny part of the ecosystem. We have taken control of the E arth’s ecos phere — but have done so using the same stone-age thinking, biases, and inborn agenda left to us by the unthinking mechanisms of evolution. We will delve more deeply into this because it highlights our major problem: Humans never evolved to face planetary limits and are running into them at full speed. Fortunately, we have developed techniques for describing and predicting the physical world, and they are spectacularly successful — when used. These techniques are science. Science has described the rules governing our universe with ever-increasing accuracy, and we now understand generally how they work, from the behavior of subatomic particles and forces to the largest scales of the universe, and every day the picture grows slightly more complete. And is already far more complete than is necessary for us to

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decide our future and fate.

The basic laws of our universe are described by quantum theory and relativity, from which more specialized scientific disciplines progressively expand: physics, chemistry, biology, evolutionary biology, paleontology, anthropology, psychology, neurology, etc. The most basic levels are where one usually finds the limits to what is possible in this reality. It is not necessary to do an exhaustive description of all the sciences to get a good grip on the rules governing our physical reality, because the biggest constraints pop right out from the basics. Since our minds can imagine far more scenarios than are physically valid, understanding the physical world is about whittling down those scenarios by seeing which ones conflict with the “rules of reality.” One suggested filter is whether a proposition conflicts with basic physical sciences like physics and chemistry. If it does, it is almost certainly wrong. Another filter is whether that proposition conflicts with the laws of thermodynamics. If it does, it is wrong. The confabulated, myth-based and systematically incorrect storylines and feelings generated by our brains to navigate our social situations require a long list of filters to work in the physical world. As a result, we trust in breakthroughs to fix our predicament – breakthroughs that are not scientifically possible. Cars will not run on water instead of gasoline. Mars is not inhabitable. The danger of nuclear war is not trivial. Future planning requires that we be literate (understand the vocabulary of the sciences), numerate (understand the statistics and graphs), but also “ ecolate ” (ecologically competent), which always has us asking the question, “...and then what ?” regarding possible broader consequences and implications 5 . The most useful mental tool a 21 st century human could develop would be to open their mind to the possibility that a lot of the stuff much of our species believes is not real, but that physical reality (subject to firm rules) is absolutely real. TaaL: The most useful mental tool a young 21 st century human could develop would be to open their mind to the possibility that a lot of the stuff much of your species believes is not real, but that physical reality (subject to firm rules) is absolutely real. You don’t have to be trained to learn these rules of reality, simply to realize and accept that they exist. I cannot remotely work quantum mechanical calculations and have never sought to learn how. Yet I understand the domain of QM, when it applies, where it fits

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relative to other predictors of reality, and that it has never made the tiniest error in predicting physical world behavior. So, knowing how to use it isn’t necessary for me. Being aware that much of what they know is wrong opens the door to temporary suspension of the various consensus trances of your culture. But to what extent a young human can really apply a lot of this abstract-seeming stuff about virtual worlds, biases, and delusion to their inner processes, as opposed to it all seeming like a silly story, remains an open question for you to explore.

The Bottom Line: There are physical rules of reality. We find and describe them with science.

Emergence

Our universe has different rules and appearances at different size scales and levels of complex organization. These derive from the microscopic nature of reality — the shapes, forces, and potential combinations — but are qualitatively different. Complexity can arise from simplicity, or simplicity from complexity, as smaller parts fit and flow together in novel ways. Emergence creates the unexpected higher-order rules of the universe and qualities of complex systems 6 .

Pretty much everything we experience is emergent, and indeed we

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ourselves, like all life, are emergent from lower-order effects. Such effects may be directly predictable from the microscopic characteristics of their parts or be inherently unpredictable. Six-sided snowflakes can be predicted as a consequence of the shape of a water molecule, but the dynamics of a snow avalanche could not; that’s emergent on a different scale and from additional forces. Emergent effects in ecology are especially complex - scientists are largely unable to predict what will happen when an ecosystem is altered in some way. Some emergent effects self-assemble: stars are emergent fusion reactors. Hurricanes are emergent shapes from energy flow, gravity, and planetary rotation. The shape of bird flocks is emergent from the sum total of all that went into their evolutionary story and existence. The emergent shape of a murmuration of starlings (shown above) is not something that could be predicted from knowing individual bird behavior. It turns out that when starlings follow 3 simple rules, a) birds that are close to other birds move further apart, b) birds align their speed and direction and c) outer birds move closer to others, an emergent – and beautiful - result of a murmuration ensues. Some emergent effects are possible although very difficult to achieve, such as fusion outside a star, forming ultra-heavy elements, cooking a meal with microwaves, evolving a brain with self-awareness, leaving tire tracks on the moon, and other things we don’t yet know about. Our intuition has evolved to deal with the level of emergent reality which presents itself to us at human size and time scales, but that is only a small slice of reality, and the universe is far stranger than our intuition and “feelings” can grasp. That is why science is necessary t o get beyond a simplistic understanding of the world. TaaL: Emergence is a big deal. My species’ most respected scientist claims to have proven that this entire universe is emergent solely from the probabilistic nature of nonexistence, whatever the heck that means. However, Earth’s humans are immersed in emergent realities, and complexity delimited by boundary conditions at smaller scales. It remains to be seen what else may emerge from the human experiment. But new “emergent effects” are nothing to bet on for producing specific miracles on a tight timeline in the face of climatic tipping points. The way to discover them, appreciate them, and use them in the service of life is to survive a long time, because they are not obvious. You can never know what may occur at larger scales and in novel situations. You are in new territory. There may be some hope in the fact you’re in a no -analog

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situation. Yet by similar token, the death of Venus and Mars as water worlds was also emergent, so I wouldn’t get overly coc ky.

The Bottom Line: The world we see is emergent from simple rules on smaller scales, just like this book.

Contingent Probability

It may seem in retrospect as though our current reality was to some extent predetermined. After all, there is a direct fossil lineage linking human beings to the earliest life. Yet when it comes to complex chaotic systems such as those of living systems, this could not be farther from the truth. The path taken by elements of any living system are contingent on the tiniest details of history, sequence, and random happenstance. The apparent solidity of past causality and directionality is an illusion created by the human mind to retroactively impose a degree of order which does not exist. As we will see there are reasons for this teleological worldview. What is important here is to acknowledge the role of chance and happenstance in how events actually

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unfold.

The stories we are told about past events are presented as narratives with simple, well-known causal chains which appear to have proceeded with linear inevitability. Yet those who know the most about the details of history — any history, from ancient fossils to the civil war — are generally the most aware that the well-known large-scale result might have turned out entirely differently if a few random things had happened differently, or with slightly different timing or sequence. The future is just history that we cannot yet see , created by the same rules and processes which created past history and just as subject to wild variation due to small effects. It is the nature of reality that any particular future is a matter of relative probability, and that the probability changes with all events which occur. The asteroid which ended the era of the dinosaurs and gave mammals their big break owed its timing to a sequence of tiny random events stretching back to the big bang and could have been caused or prevented by the random radioactive decay of a single atom in the deep past. TaaL: Everything you do —and don’t do— alters the relative probability of specific futures and general classes of future events. Some futures that were attainable yesterday are no longer attainable today. Some futures are likelier today than they were yesterday. Some view the future with fear, expecting global heating and biodiversity loss; others view the future with complacency, seeing a smooth trajectory toward a Star Trek future. Both groups tend to assign greater certainty to their opinions than an actual probability distribution would warrant. We can use science to improve our estimate of the physical probabilities… but their certainty of occurrence remains largely in our minds. There are moments in the past 100 years of history that demonstrate contingent probability. World War I iterated itself into existence when a single driver made a wrong turn in Sarajevo, bringing an archduke into uncomfortable proximity with an armed foe, and then stalled the car when trying to put it into reverse. This resulted is the sequence of events known as WWI, which resulted in the sequence of events known as WWII, Bretton Woods, the current world order, and so on. The entire shape of world arrangement is thus traceable to a single foot slipping off a clutch pedal, which in turn could be further reduced to the coefficient of friction on that particular pedal and shoe-sole. Another example: in 1962 it was only due to a single person holdout on a Soviet nuclear sub which was being pounded by US depth charges that the sub did not fire its nuclear torpedoes in self-defense and turn the Cuban

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missile crisis into a full-on global nuclear exchange. On our planet, that guy would have a holiday named after him. His planetary heroism saved your life. You owe him everything. Bet you don’t know his name ( now you do: Vasili Arkhipov ). The Bottom Line: The future is probabilistic. The relative probability of a class of futures changes constantly based on what happens in the Now. Futures move from the possible to the impossible (or inevitable) as one draws closer to them.

On the Issue of Boundaries

The same question can have different answers depending on where one draws the boundaries of analysis for the question. The “Occupy” movement in America was concerned with more equality for U.S. citizens – the 99% vs the 1%. But under a wider boundary of more equality for all humans alive , even the poor Americans would have to share with Indians, Bangladeshis, etc. And a wider boundary of “ all humans to live now and in the future ” would mean even less wealth and stuff for the current generation, as we are using non-renewable resources at rates millions of times faster than

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they can be replenished. An even wider boundary would include other species.

Generally, the wider the boundary one uses, the more complex the answers one gets. Human tendency is to focus on the present (time bias) and what our friends/peers say and think (in-group bias) which narrows our boundaries considerably. The first principles, synthesis, and implications in this book will be perceived by people in different ways, depending on their starting vantage point, education, current focus, temperament, and other attributes. As a person looks around themselves, they naturally tend to focus on the issues that seem closest and most urgent. This does not mean that other issues — which require wider, longer term boundaries of analysis — are less important. It just means they are less prominent in our focus. We all tend to be near-sighted. Some readers of this book will zero in on the “end of growth” implications for their own family. Some readers will try to prepare their local region better for energy and fiscal depletion. And others (perhaps) will choose to engage with human mischief related to the ongoing and accelerating sixth great extinction. There is no right or wrong perspective. There are simply different boundaries of analysis, stakes, and concerns. The above graphic shows these different boundaries in a hypothetical manner. A normal person cares about all the things listed, but it is the human default to focus on the near-term and things closest to our own perceived self-interest. We need to be aware of the wider boundary implications as well. TaaL: While it may not always be apparent in my comments, I am a great fan of humans. There is no shame in being a younger intelligent species which is doing its best to work out the universe, life, and everything. My participation here is specifically to add the perspective of a species which faced many of the same problems and found a workable path to overcome them. This will, unavoidably, mean contrasting our successful paths with the paths you are now choosing, so I hope you’ll take my input in the spirit intended. The “boundaries of analysis” I advocate will tend to reflect the desirability of survival as a species into a deep time future, living a very large number of happy lives on a world with healthy and productive ecosystems; and how the pursuit of immediate self-gratification and the action it spawns will cause a world-dominating species to fall afoul of achieving meaningful deep time survival for your progeny. So, I guess I’m a wide -boundary type of alien.

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The Bottom Line: There are likely many different answers to a problem depending on where one draws the boundaries.

So, How Do We Engage with Reality?

By now you should begin to suspect that evolution may have bred out the ability for our senses to regularly and clearly see Reality . For most of our history this less-than-accurate perception suited us just fine. The challenge of our time is going to be the navigation of our large-scale physical challenges, and averting the social, political, economic, and ecological land mines that pull us in wrong directions, or just explode. There is a logical, rational sequence towards effective engagement with reality . The first step is to be aware there is a “box” in your head, which is full of ideas, thoughts, opinions, and fantasies. What is actually physically possible according to the “rules of reality” (RoR) is a small subset of this box. Recognizing this fact is further than 99% of our species ever goes. The next step is to study both our physical reality and the landmines which emanate from our virtual interface with the world: cognitive biases, social traps, heuristics, etc. Following this will be the integration of large-scale systems synthesis into a cohesive description of possible futures. From this foundation, “choices” can be made based on various ethics, or lack thereof. As we apply these filters to ‘the stuff we can think of’ we narrow down possible paths to a very small number. And finally, we add back in (or subtract) the impact from emergent properties — things we did not know at

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