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  • More Zen Meditation

    Posted by John Jay on December 19th, 2007 (All posts by )

    Following on the last post, here’s another one from the Zen Master:

    If multiculturalists are correct that that the non-Western cultures are of greater moral stature than the oppressive West, then why did none of the non-Western cultures ever practice multiculturalism ?

    Quite honestly, I don’t care if a culture practices inclusion, as long as it advances science. As it so happens, cultures that do practice inclusion do so because their mindset is eclectic and evolutionary (in terms of ideas), which also happens to be the best societal fit for the scientific mindset, but the multi-cultural part is an unanticipated side effect that ultimately I do not give a rat’s about.

    Here is where I reveal my inner geek, the one that reads Hard SF. One day the Universe is going to undergo heat death. Long before that, the sun will swallow this little planet. Statistically speaking, long before that we’ll have to defend ourselves against something like a big rock hurtling towards us. We would all like to see more of this world, and make sure our descendants have a world to see. I see the purpose of society as to create an environment where the creative types among us can make life less nasty, brutish and short, and where they can help advance our understanding of the universe. Maybe that understanding will not ultimately save our race from the fate that awaits it – maybe there are no other parallel universes to escape to, but we have to try.

    Scientific advances, and especially technological advances, are based on observations of novel physical phenomena. Much of the time, those physical phenomena are under-appreciated. Did Ohl, in 1940, upon observing the P/N junction in that slab of silicon, anticipate the Internet? No way. Control over gravity, real, practical space travel, travel to parallel universes – all of those things may never be possible. But if they are, they depend on science advancing as far and as fast as possible. The real solutions to surviving in this universe will probably not resemble those tired old SF tropes. But those advances too will depend on observing some new physical phenomenon and basing a technology on it. As we mine the low-hanging fruit, the physical phenomena that will drive new technologies will become harder and harder to observe. Technological progress will stagnate sometime in the future. It will pick up again when someone stumbles across the future equivalent of the P/N junction, but we will hit a plateau. Whether we know it or not, the human race is a race – a race for survival.

    We tend to think of technological progress as linear and accelerating. That is a form of temporal bigotry. We live in charmed times. As we mine out the discoveries of the past, eventually the current pace of technological discovery will slow down. The rate of fundamental new paradigm shifts in Physics such as Relativity and Quantum Mechanics have slowed dramatically in the last 60 years. Biology is still mining the fundamental shift brought by Watson and Crick. Overall, we are in a refining phase, not in a discovery phase. That increases the pace of technological innovation, which masks the deceleration in the generation of revolutionary new ideas in fundamental science.

    Looking back at history where man lacked the infrastructure to make new devices to discover new physical phenomena, science and technology stagnated for long, long periods of time. Before the past 400 years, mankind largely spent its time flinging rocks and poo at itself. (I exaggerate. But not too much.) It’s time to get every human asset with the program, and if that means leaving non-Western cultures behind, so be it. Strong non-Western cultures, such as China, will adapt, thrive, compete more or less successfully with the West, and still retain their non-Western characters in some way. Others will marginalize themselves in a giant waste of genetic resources. Multi-culturalism as it is practiced in Western Academia today, encourages that waste of resources.

    I was talking with someone the other day who admires Native American cultures. This person said that reading about the Old West was depressing because the good guys were supposed to win. Despite a lot of unnecessary nastiness on the part of greedy Europeans, I think the good guys did win. The most illiterate backwoods American blacksmith had more knowledge about how to run a dynamic and evolutionary society than the most literate Cherokee jumping on Sequoia’s new-fangled syllabary. Native Americans by and large were living in a stone-age primitive society that had not even discovered the use of the wheel when the Europeans came. There is no chance at all that their society was ever going to evolve into something that could generate tools to defend the Earth against something as mundane as a comet strike.

    So, that’s why I see science and engineering as the edge of the sword. Everything else in society is either helping those at the edge of the sword do their stuff, or it’s screwing off.

     

    One Response to “More Zen Meditation”

    1. Shannon Love Says:

      Like most arguments from the Left, the criticism of the inclusiveness of the West arises from comparing the real-world West not to other contemporary or historical cultures but instead to a fantasy ideal. They simply fabricate and impossible standard and then castigate their social and political opponents for failing to live up to the fantasy. If you make real-world to real-world comparisons then the West comes out on top in virtually every category.

      The open and inclusive traits of Western society also make it a hotbed for science. Prior to the enlightenment, cultures worried more about loosing the information they had obtained and worried less about learning new things. They feared that novel ideas, whether generated internally or imported from other cultures, would disrupt the social organization that kept everyone alive. Enlightenment Western culture reversed this and became a culture of novelty seeking. It developed techniques for testing the new while preserving that which proved itself functional.

      You can see the contrast in comparing the sciences of the Free West to those in Communist states. Communist could do good science in physics or chemistry, areas with little political import, but they found themselves crippled in the study of biology, sociology, economics etc.