Category Archives: Mail & Comment

Personal comments and letters that seem to capture an idea well

Kin and Kind – Some learning in progress?

“Kin and Kind” is an article in the Mar 5 New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer, on the remarkable career of E.O. Wilson and his quest to explain apparent “altruism” in animal behavior.  The reigning explanation for evolution is pure competition, and he’s beginning to think there must be more to it, asking “…is goodness an adaptive trait?”   I note that the very first ecologist to study complex ecological behavior, S.A. Forbes, had much the same way of raising the question, in 1887.

The question, possibly, is not how mutations affect behavior, but our having not looked squarely at what is common to the behaviors of life that are so successful.


for The Mail,

E.O. Wilson is remarkable among scientists for being willing to question his own dogma.  Where the article ends is with his next seeming breach of scientific etiquette, his now beginning to ask if “goodness is an adaptive trait”.

Very surprisingly, that is where the very first scientist to study complex organization in ecologies, S.A. Forbes actually began.    In 1887, in “The Lake as a Microcosm”, Forbes observed that somehow networks of many species evolved to respect each other enough to not make food chains highly unstable, as they would be if their competition had winners. Continue reading Kin and Kind – Some learning in progress?

Is “Sustainable Capitalism” a half step too few?

In “Beyond Firm-Level Sustainable Capitalism” John Fullerton reviews “Sustainable Capitalism” by Generation Investment Management LLP, as still not respecting our finite world.   Maximizing long term gain doesn’t make it sustainable, for example, given the difficulty people have had identifying future liabilities for currently profitable plans.   I add a graphic example, of how defining the world as what we know about it is deceiving, and results in:

simply enormous omissions from the information set we usually think of as needed for making good decisions


It’s great to see such a solid critique of Generation’s “Sustainable Capitalism”, that on the surface seems like remarkably responsive to environmental issues as an investment strategy, far more than than ANY sustainable investment plan of ten years ago.   The whole attitude toward avoiding environmental conflict, as a business strategy, may be applied inconstantly today but seems to have really swept the corporate world too.

It’s nice to see you’re thinking is still a few steps ahead, too, and seeing their approach as somewhat of a half-way measure. Continue reading Is “Sustainable Capitalism” a half step too few?

Coping with every culture having a different reality! (& what’s multiplying them)

With more and more information, and noticing that much of it travels in circles,  there’s both “information overload” and “separate information worlds”, causing the communication of ideas to lose resilience.   They’re barriers to communication, and can easily turn into “worlds of miss-information” leading everyone in them astray.

there’s both “information overload”
“separate information worlds”

CLAY JOHNSON has good links and discussion on the problem , relating to his interesting “Information Diet” book and “Information Diet Pledge“.   By self-selecting our information sources we can create a world of miss-information for ourselves, so he suggests some rules for a healthy information diet.   I wrote him the following comment on the “next steps” his “Information diet remainders“.  Below that is my comment on  his radio program on WNYC on 2/9/12.


Clay, There’s an easy step beyond noticing that no one is really the author of information that travels in circles. It’s seeing that the author is really the social network it develops in, using the information as part of a social story of one kind or another.

People speaking different languages have different realities.

The next step is noticing that such authoring social networks and cultures invent rather strongly held circles of storytelling, which are very different from each other’s. They become the “reality” the culture creates and form “silos” of thinking that people in them are then structurally separated from others by. Continue reading Coping with every culture having a different reality! (& what’s multiplying them)

What goes wrong when growth ends before its limits?

Gail Tverberg posted a very nice dicsussion of the question from her view of:

Human population overshoot–what went wrong?

My comment on her blog was:

It’s wonderful that you’re addressing this topic, long overlooked in the “alternative” as well as the mainstream scientific communities.  Gratefully there is a long trail of ecologists that bucked even their own peers in keeping the question alive.   Simple observation tells you that in nature “something goes wrong”, quite a lot!

If all the kinds of natural growth systems were to maximize their growth as a rule, they’d ALL behave like cancers.   Anyone thinking for themselves about it has to conclude something else is going on.the diversity of compact eco-systems Continue reading What goes wrong when growth ends before its limits?

Could “reality math” help the AAAS??

The theme of the AAAS meetings next week in Vancouver is “Flattening the World: Building the Global Knowledge Society”.

Reality math combines the information we do have, with what definably remains missing from our view.

There’s a method of “reality math” that allows “whole system accounting“, to combine both what we know and what we can know is missing. That’s possible for systems defined by energy conservation.  Failing to include what’s visibly missing from our data, often how energy is being used by systems that act as wholes, seems responsible for much of why our global solutions are not working, but create even more problems.

With all our information, “new math” is still needed for
what goes on within natural systems still remaining in the dark.

The following is a comment on society president Nina Fedoroff’s editoral in Science about it: The Global Knowledge Society.   I certainly agree that global networking potentially allows global problem solving, but… There are “very large holes” in our information.  The general “Natural Systems Theory” behind this view is a versatile scientific method, based on using the implications of the conservation of energy to locate and help study the wealth of complex natural organization hidden within the eventful systems by which our world works.

Continue reading Could “reality math” help the AAAS??

Did we turn “Big Media” into “Big Brother” ?

A response to today’s On The Media program (WNYC 2/4/11) on how social media is taking over our lives, pushed by perpetual growth driven giants like Google and Facebook, not to mention Apple.

Great program today, important subject.

Your conclusion that social media will now always be a global presence in our lives needs a major general exception.    If you ask whether Google’s and Facebook’s goal of ultimate power over our choices might lead to ultimate corruption, the instability of succeeding at it becomes clear.   Things that grow till their host dies, like cancer, don’t survive, as their “success” is killing their host.

Everything we admire in nature, though, actually starts its existence as a “little cancer”.

Every kind of new culture or organism starts life with a process of compound  growth, starting with a temporary process of seeking ultimate power.   That universal start-up processes works by using products from its first tiny bit of control of its environment to continually expand its control of its environment, exponentially. Continue reading Did we turn “Big Media” into “Big Brother” ?

Real Challenge for CSR Sustainability Reporting

There is a recent discovery of just how much of our real economic impacts are not traceable from the information we can find.   The problem is caused by the nature of self-managing systems, that in working by themselves they also don’t “report” or leave traceable information about how they do it.   It’s recently been shown to cause a major undercount for the energy demand of business products and services, and would seem to apply to all business impact assessment methods.(1)

There’s a very “fat tail” to the distribution of physical impacts of business, usually much larger than what is traceable, and that changes the rules of impact accounting .

Every purchase uses the whole economy

Continue reading Real Challenge for CSR Sustainability Reporting

Ever growing wealth, its sources of fictional value.

The great financial crises of the past have occurred once or twice a lifetime in every banking society throughout history.   Solutions to fix the problems that each crisis of the past exposed have all been like recent ones in one extremely important way.   They’ve always provided temporary fixes that set the stage for still greater financial crises to come.   That’s a sign that people have been asking for the impossible.

It allows the appearance that earnings from finance can keep growing in proportion to past earnings, without any goods and services involved.

A simple but seemingly valid overview is that our ever failing “fixes”, for our ever greater financial panics, all come from not realizing that our information models of finance are not the economy’s source of value.  Models and promises to follow them can indeed extrapolate to infinity.   That is not possible for the physical work of the economy that is the only real source of economic value, that the promises of finance eventually need to rely on.

When the economy grows from physically “small” to “big” relative to its resources or its own technologies or social organization, it becomes a trap for our financial system.  The financial markets are designed to search for any escape from financial constraints. Investing for rapidly growing returns, when delivering goods and services is running into more complications, draws fast money into self-fulfilling speculative manias.  They promise limitless profits, by exploiting gaps between the rules of money and the reality of a changing economy.

Rembrandt's Christ Drives Money-Changers from the Temple, 1626

Money has real value only when it corresponds to credit for deliverable physical goods and services.  The actual physical connection between goods and services and money, and our responsibility for the physical resource uses and impacts caused, are the same.   It’s that our “use” of money constitutes our way of communicating our instructions for delivering physical goods and services from exploiting those resources.

Continue reading Ever growing wealth, its sources of fictional value.

The problem with plentiful solar energy.. or any other

Over the past 50+ years there have been regular announcements of limitless affordable energy soon becoming available, such as Paul Krugman’s recent article “Here comes Solar”, with the consequences of that happening never getting discussed.   The following is as posted to the more cautions Washington Post article yesterday 11/12/11.

One of the most overlooked drawbacks of creating affordable and plentiful solar energy, or ANY other form of energy, is what we’d do with it, the consequences of mankind having access to continually doubling amounts of energy.   What if the improbable “cheap energy” solution were actually discovered?

Would cheap energy eliminate or worsen our other impact problems?

Energy is far from our only constraint on economic growth.   Energy is actually what let us do the destruction of our environment as we have already done, none of which yet result from the CO2 and other GHG’s.    Because we are already at the destructive threshold of many other environmental impact pressures we could expect growing energy use to cause even faster growing impact repercussions than we’ve experienced.   They will not come with a neat technological fixes, either.

The core unrecognized problem is that growth is a construction process.   It’s a mechanism for using the profits of a system to build a bigger and bigger system.   That involves our using our (limited imagination) to take ever expanding control of our environment to do ever more things to our environment. Continue reading The problem with plentiful solar energy.. or any other

the Story of Broke – Part II (the end of broke)

The authors of “The Story of Stuff” published a nice little update called “The Story of Broke”, about the vast sums of money the government spends on subsidizing private business….   This sequel “Part II (the end of broke)” was first posted in a comment, on how the still bigger story of broke, debt piling on top of debt, both was missing from the list of now overwhelming government costs, and has a … very natural end. Government debt provides guaranteed growing returns, whether the economy grows or not. Lenders take government interest payments and add them to what they lend back, multiplying their lending and returns.   It builds up, slowly at first then explosively, as the world’s debt burden

grows on little but the good faith and credit of government guarantees.

You’ve heard of government debt called a “safe haven”. It’s where investors put money to be “safely assured of ever multiplying returns” when they can’t find even better growing returns elsewhere. Where that debt spiral comes from and goes to has been a subject of many have tried to explain.  The view Keynes came to, that I think is the most clear headed of all, outlines the necessities for surviving a debt spiral for a market economy.  Nature would surely not shape her facts of life on earth for our approval, but most people react to the facts of life for surviving debt spirals as if to reject nature’s requirements as “socially unacceptable”, … apparently not seeing Keynes’ elegantly clear logic.   So this is written in the story telling style of Free Range Studio in their Story of Stuff. —

The End of Broke, the True Whole Story of Debt!

The BIGGER “Story of Broke” is one that starts quite small, but is designed to actually keep growing ever bigger.   As it does so it also casts its own vote in the story of business influence in government and demand for subsidies and preferential services, persuading government that’s the way to get money to pay its ever growing debt!   It’s the story of how a small amount of debt naturally grows relentlessly big, with no natural end other than either creditors spending it or both government finance and economic collapse.

the spiral of dreams
Drowning in the spiral of dreams

The whole story of debt is a very very simple little thing.   It’s that some of us earn by $units and others by $%’s… and by providing guaranteed returns to lenders, in an economy you can actually earn by $%’s till the economy collapses.  What seems like a totally innocent “little difference” in measurement, between units and ratios, makes AN INFINITE DIFFERENCE over time in life. Some people have called it “our misunderstanding of the exponential curve”, others simply call it “greed”.   The problem with this kind of greed is how very addictive it is and that it grows explosively, making a “little greed” become SO.. GREEDY, with its promise to multiply the rewards of greed forever. Continue reading the Story of Broke – Part II (the end of broke)