Futurology III

Dear Readers:

Today we continue with Lyttenburgh’s essay on Futurology.  In our last installment, Lyttenburgh explained the differences between quantitative and qualitative technological advances, among various other interesting points.  Personally, I am still trying to figure out, in my head, if the cross-stitch was the precursor of the screen pixel!  But everybody, stretch those brain muscles, because here we go again with

On the painfully naïve modern iteration of Futurology:

 

Part II:

Progress via Stick Without a Carrot

… the history of science is the only history which displays cumulative progress of knowledge; hence the process of science is the only yardstick by which we can measure the progress of mankind.”
– Laurence J. Peter.

“Progress” is one of the most abused words of our time. One has to recall the novel “1984” by George Orwell (which absolutely anyone likes to quote, but not to read and understand) and the amazingly prophetic practice drawn from there, whence the words themselves were murdered by abbreviations and acronyms, which resulted in progressively (pun intended!) broader and broader interpretations and definitions of the words. And when a word can mean anything – it basically means nothing, and is as good as dead.

Laurence J. Peter – was he Mephistopheles?

Instead of abandoning the use of the word altogether, or trying to invent your own neologisms for describing old terms, I argue that we must fight constantly in this one War, where literally all humans take active part, and where there are no bystanders – in the Semantic War.   The meaning of words is always important, because we think in words.

As could be deduced from the epigraph (or from the intro to this essay) I too understand Progress in purely quantifiable, scientific terms and criteria. Any other “broadening” of the term to be applied to, say, the social sphere is absolutely unwarranted and serves nothing but to prop with (originally, ages ago) a solid conception one’s weak arguments.

Another category of people, who routinely abuse, plunder and despoil the term “Progress” of its meaning to grant a vestige of legitimacy to their incoherent rants (all in the name of scoring some points, power and influence) are, without any doubt, modern “Futurologists”. They are always oh-so-ready to chart and predict its development. But do they even understand what makes Progress “tick”?

Have brain – will fear.
“Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.”
– Robert A. Heinlein

It’s all about War.

Robert A. Heinlein

Progress is the marketed product advertised as something inherently Good. Enemies of Progress are cast as the Enemies of Humanity, who are On the Wrong Side of History ™. At the same time – Progress is the child of Fear, Suspicion and Violence (yes – because it IS Progress it’s allowed to have 3 Parents).

Even without apocalyptic Earth-shattering WW3, our world could be described as rather battle-scarred, frightened and still bleeding in many places. A “victorious” human world, indeed! And after each “victory” it vowed more than ever to make the “Never Again” a reality for change. But the fact that all of the “victories” have been achieved due to the threat or the use of arms, is a significant, world-shaping one.

It’s an undeniable fact that military necessity does stimulate the development of science and technology. What we don’t realize in our everyday lives is just how much it influences such development. As I mentioned earlier when talking about aviation – a curio and a hobby that became a fad for a few enthusiasts just a decade previously, then during the 4 years of the Great War turned into a formidable factor on the battlefield, with its developments “leaked” into the civilian sphere in the form of mail and passenger planes. Come the peaceful interwar period which didn’t see such stunningly fast pace of aviation development. The Free Market is Content to have Dirigibles as the go-to means of trans-Atlantic transportation – or big passenger sea ships, still willingly ignorant of the potential dangers of unrestricted submarine warfare (after all – it’s not like such a danger will happen again, right?). But WW2 did change that forever – a few years gave us also military jets , which allowed the civilian sphere to apply the technology for jet airliners in the post-war years, burying the concept of transport dirigibles for good.

Agnus Dei was literally the Bombe….

The same goes to all categories of the Technological Ages I’ve mentioned in the previous part. With atomic power it’s the most obvious, no need to dwell here.  Cybernetics became a real applied science due to a combination of factors, not the least of which had been the need for better cryptographic machines during the War and more powerful computation assets for the Manhattan Project.  Space Science has the bloody foundation of von Braun’s previous service to his then bosses plus the urgent need to find an alternative to the possibly non-viable idea of the intercontinental bomber as the medium of the atomic bomb delivery. No one in the 1950-70s really thought that rocket science, space exploration and interconnected sciences should be viewed primarily through the prism of “commercially profitable” lenses.

Now let’s look at scientific spheres generally more or less ignored by military budget allocators. For example – the pharmaceutical industry. How about some revolutionary progress here? What-what? Over 9000 new cough candies and anti-headache tablets? That’s it? That bad? No-no, you can’t call it “progress”, when you just rebrand your own product, change the name and the color of the pills, and now try to pass it as a “revolutionary innovation”! And, no – the extortion of money for the much needed medicines is hardly a new, good, progressive thing.  How come?  Those naïve Futurologists of ages past, be they in early XX c., 1950-s, 1970-s or late 1990s all committed the same mistake– they presumed that all spheres of science will be advancing at the same (usually – very fast) pace. They still do make this presumption, in fact. If their fine fantasy would have been true then by now, by late 2010s we ought to have the long promised cure of cancer, applicable organ cloning with the development of procedures of their safe transplantations… and a complete annihilation of late winter/early spring cold! The vast majority of these “pharma” prophecies were made before the AIDS/HIV epidemic (which Futurology failed to foresee), which changed only one thing – now we are promised a wonder cure from it too – just wait for it!

Don’t like to serve the interests of the military industrial complex? Oh – too bad! There are only a few other venues to revolutionary (qualitative, as per the previous part) advances in your field of science. Unless… we are talking about a fleeting and untangential prestige factor. Let’s start with the bad news – only countries firmly on the authoritarian/totalitarian pole of the political specter will be really interested in that. Only the so-called non-democratic governments with direct powers of interfering into the economy via central planning can allow themselves to fund something of dubious utility and commercial non-viability. On the other hand – if successful, self-proclaimed democracies might decide to follow suit – the presence of a non-democratic rival/antagonist as a potential “kickstarter” of the whole journey down the road of Progress is a must.

In the end, military necessity (i.e. the fear itself) and the principles of prestige (i.e. animalistic need for dominance, only with some veneer of civilization) are the chief locomotives of Progress. Any Progress. First the development must happen in the applied “violent” part of the techno-scientific spectrum (with all possible risks taken and survived), and only then, later, will it be adopted in due time by the “civilian” counterpart. But not vice versa.

[Part II of “Futurology” to be continued tomorrow]

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12 Responses to Futurology III

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    Yet another thing that didn’t make it into the “final cut” was this short but to the point clip, illustrating the situation in the pharma sphere:

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    • yalensis says:

      When I click on that link above I get a message that this is copyrighted material, owned by NBC, and blocked in the U.S. Presumably because it’s from their “House” TV show.
      Maybe people in other countries can see it, not sure.

      There was another link in your draft which I edited out of the “final cut” for that same reason, but maybe should have included, was not sure what to do about it.
      As an editor, I mean.

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      • Lyttenburgh says:

        “When I click on that link above I get a message that this is copyrighted material, owned by NBC, and blocked in the U.S. Presumably because it’s from their “House” TV show.”

        D’oh!

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        • davidt says:

          At least down here in New Zealand, one can view the video on YouTube. As for your articles themselves, I suspect they might be more suited as the basis for a general discussion among a few people in a convivial setting after dinner. I am sure that I would learn quite a bit. On the other hand, perhaps not surprisingly, I would quibble/disagree with many things that you say. I often think that your intellectual endeavours are somewhat beside the point- that doesn’t mean that I am unimpressed by your erudition and intelligence, just that I think that you often “fight” the wrong battles. I have sometimes wondered how you, as a Russian patriot, would explain the huge difference in life expectancy between people, in say, Australia and New Zealand, and Russia.

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          • yalensis says:

            Dear David:
            As an editor, that decides it for me: In the future I’ll go ahead and include links to videos even if I get that message that the content is unavailable. Now that I know it’s only in the U.S. that this happens.

            As for the rest of your comment, I’ll leave it to Lyt to respond, but I personally think you are being unfair. So far, Lyt’s essay has garnered an average of over 100 readers from a dozen or so countries around the world. I think this is a perfectly valid result for an erudite essay posted on a blog which is, itself, geared to a niche market.
            Neither Lyt nor myself is getting paid for the hours of labor that we put into these posts, we are doing this in order to stimulate some discussion.
            The main problem here is — and this is a problem with my blog as a whole — that it doesn’t garner many comments. It garners readers and views, but for some reason people are shy about leaving comments.

            It would be terrific if people left comments and debated the various intellectual points.
            You, as a mathematician, could debate them too, instead of just saying you “quibble”.
            Maybe you could be more specific and launch an actual discussion.
            Bringing up life expectancy (which I take as a gratuitous jab at Russia) is a deflection that has nothing to do with what Lyt is writing about here, that’s a different topic. Given that, your comment just comes off as sniping negativity. And also kind of mean-spirited.

            Instead, you should be encourating Lyt to continue his writing — remember that he is penning all of this in a language which is not his native tongue, which is impressive in itself — whilst also adding constructive criticisms, if you have them.

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            • davidt says:

              I certainly didn’t mean to be mean spirited, and only made a general comment because I had already made the point about YouTube. It was a lazy man’s device to suggest the topic for an after dinner discussion. I suspect that Lyttenburgh perfectly understands my respect for his knowledge and intellect, and I am especially aware that he is not writing in his native language. As far as my comment about life expectancy goes I just think that a proper understanding of the Russia’s, and the Soviet Union’s, relative failure in this area would be interesting and potentially useful. (My interest in the Russian medical system was piqued many years ago by some slightly acerbic comments that Paul Erdos made.)

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            • yalensis says:

              FYI, I have done a few blogposts from time to time about Russian medical issues, if you look under the category “Medicine and Health”. They may or may not be of interest to you, there is nothing earth-shattering, just some pieces from the newspapers.

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  2. Lyttenburgh says:

    Oh, familiar faces (okay, nicknames, really) ahoy! Hello, davidt. Nice to see you commenting here.

    Why am I writing articles, essays, comments and blogposts online? Easy to answer! C’est mon plaisir. Going back to the stuff mentioned in this essay of mine – I have finite amount of time to spare on such activities, so I have to choose between several options, as to how do exactly that. If you go out and drink beer with sukhariki with my friends I, consequently, not spending this time watching TV, playing video games, reading books or magazines, surfing the net or writing comments. I can do above-mentioned stuff, and I *do* do it. So, due to combination of facts mentioned in the intro and some other stuff I decided to expand my own idea and thoughts on this stuff, which later blew out of proportion and took the form of this essay.

    You write that my scribblings “might be more suited as the basis for a general discussion among a few people in a convivial setting after dinner”. Maybe. I’m not a blogger. I have no obligation to “deliver” content. I write when I wish to write on topics that are of interest and concern to me. If there are people who are interested in that – good! If there are none – I’m okay. Some people on their net-platforms post pics of kittens, of food, of boobs and/or cars and vistas from their latest tourist trip. How is this different from the “general discussion after dinner”? Or, to be more precise, why should the Net be any different than our real-life, when we, live, discuss among our peers the same things that we “post” and write about on-line – pets, snacks of various quality, boobs. Said “peers” are different all around, btw, with different tastes and subjects for discussion.

    There is a saying that “a poet in Russia is more than just a poet!” and the general tendency to ascribe to the wordsmiths (be they poets or prosaics, or even lowly pundits) some mystical power and higher Calling. I’m not. Once again – I’m not a preacher, I’m not a prophet, I’m not Olgino’s kremle-bot. I’m not here to “convert” people. I write (on-line) on topics of my interest. I will be the first to disagree with the opinion that what I do constitutes some “intellectual endeavours” – too official, too high horse for me. What you call “fighting the battles” is just trolling, dissing, flaming and shitposting (sometimes – in the most polite way possible) for me. When asked, why he fights, Portos answers “I fight because I fight!”. I could have easily wrote instead of this multi-model essay just a short commentary (“Kurzweil is kh…lo, la-la-la-la!”) and be done with it. Could have. Easily. That’s would be totally fitting for the reigning Internet Culture. Instead I wrote this. Why? Ultimately, because I made this conscious choice.

    What I’m talking about in this article is much broader than a discussion of just one field of Futurology. It’s a talk about more universal, fundamental things, which I wrap in the Aesopian tongue. You can easily extrapolate this in other spheres. You, davidt, might disagree with me and the points I make. Excellent! Last year, we had absolutely amazing boughurt here on pages of Awful Avalanche with Ryan Ward, which resulted not only in, ah, “frank exchange of opinions”, but also in two articles published therein – one by Ryan and one by me. Say, how many after-dinner chats result in that? Not many, would be my educated guessimate. So, if you, obviously, read my points and you have “quibbles” with that – go ahead, post them! I will only welcome this and will surely read and comment.

    In the end you ask me about the difference in life expectancy between Russia and two countries of Antipodes. You are asking me as “a Russian patriot”. Why? You don’t need to be a Russian patriot to speak knowledgeably about this stuff – you must be knowledgeable. Being a patriot doesn’t make you an expert in every single field pertaining to your country. I’m bloody humanitry, not a demographics and healthcare specialist like, say, Mark Adomanis. He, btw, had a mental meltdown since 2014 and now is firmly in the camp of those who wish nothing good for Russia, while extolling the Western Darlings de jour. Yet, so far, IMO, this didn’t result in him becoming a cheating hack, who’s writings on the subject of his expert field should not be trusted.

    So me, not being a specialist in this sphere, patriot or not, will only offer you my own educated guess – just products of my rather limited knowledge in the sphere. I can’t speak with any kind of authority here, so my words as a source for some sort of understanding would be just a little bit less than entirely worthless. I’d answer absolutely correct and equally non-informative, that Russia and these two countries you’ve mentioned are different – that’s why. Or I could go into details and particulars, which, in itself, could not suffice an entire scientific explanation – like, that Russia had its “Rough 90s”, while Australia and New Zealand – did not. Or I could employ absolutely bullshiting tactic of scientific pretentiousness and “explain” it all via, say, The Rule of Big Numbers. Because Russia is bigger and more populous than Australian and New Zealand put together, it has a completely different scale of issues and distribution of stuff than these two countries. In the most primitive terms – because Russia has more kms of roads on it surface than Australia and New Zealand, and because it also has more drivers, the chances of car accidents are higher and, therefore the life expectancy is lower. Science like and full of intellectualism, yes. Also – complete bullshit.

    Or are you not interested in that? Are you interested, indeed, how Russian patriot (this one particular) explains that? This one particular Russian patriot in his life doesn’t care about comparative analysis of his country’s index of life expectancy and the ones of New Zealand and Australia. For me this question once again reminds me of V. Shukshin’s short story “Срезал” and the mind-blowing question of “The problems of shamanism in the Far North”. For me this particular question – “Why the life expectancy of Australia and New Zealand is better than in Russia” – and many like it is somewhere between the “Contemporarily problems of the shamanism in the Far North” and “Which sort of apples should be planted first after Mars’ inevitable terraforming”.

    Would I like to see improvements in the quality of life and just about everything in Russia? Yeah, as, probably, anyone who loves his or her country. How do I respond to the fact that somewhere in the world people are having something better than we in Russia? I respond absolutely calmly. Yeah – so what? Could I magic(k)ally change this fact overnight? No, I can’t. And, again, I’m absolutely calm about that. The only thing I can do is to increase my own life expectancy which I do in my limited efforts. Orthodox Christianity (not sure about other denominations) teaches – “Save yourself, and you will Save all around you”.

    Once again – thank you for your comment, davidt. Hope you will stick around and keep commenting.

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  3. davidt says:

    I am on my way back to Sydney, so I have another excuse not to say anything substantial, not that I could. I (try to) read most things that you write. Perhaps I might just say that you fascinate me more than what you write. (I would say something similar about Yalensis.) That is meant as a serious compliment, and to both of you.

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    • yalensis says:

      Dear David: Thanks for your comments. Please keep commenting, or, if you wish, you are welcome to write an entire blogpost. On this, or any other topic, of your choosing.
      Just let me know, and we can arrange it.
      I am always looking for good content to post!

      Like

      • davidt says:

        I have neither the ability nor knowledge to write anything of value. I am quite genuinely impressed by the quality and depth of the articles that you and Lyttenburgh produce. I couldn’t do anything similar. Best.

        Like

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