- Knowledge is inherently non-rival. You and a million other people can use the same chunk of knowledge without diminishing it……
- Knowledge is intangible. We can’t touch, fondle or slap it. But we can – and do – manipulate it.
- Knowledge is non-linear. Tiny insights can yield huge outputs. …
- Knowledge is relational. Any individual piece of knowledge attains meaning only when juxtaposed with other pieces that provide its context. …
- Knowledge mates with other knowledge. The more there is, the more promiscuous and the more numerous and varied the possible useful combinations.
- Knowledge is more portable than any other product. Once converted to zeros and ones, it can be distributed instantaneously to one person next door or to ten million people from Hong Kong to Hamburg – at the same near-zero price.
- Knowledge can be compressed into symbols or abstractions. Try compressing a ‘tangible’ toaster.
- Knowledge can be stored in smaller and smaller spaces. …coming soon is storage at nano scale … and even tinier.
- Knowledge can be explicit or implicit, expressed or not expressed, shared or tacit. There is no tacit table, truck or other tangible.
- Knowledge is hard to bottle up. It spreads.
Saturday, 2 November 2013
After whiplashing me into recalling the quintessence of Buckminster Fuller’s Critical Path where, for openers, he states point blank
“…I am convinced that human knowledge by others of what this book has to say is essential to human survival”,
that TYGER left me no choice but to read the whole book again, now that thirty years have gone by since my first perusal. Still relevant today? You bet! Instant reflex reaction: send the book as 16th birthday present to one of my grandsons, advising that if he reads no more than the Foreword and Introduction it will have been worth his while.
For ease of reference, let me quote the full excerpt from Fuller’s Foreword again:
“My reasons for writing this book are fourfold:
(A) Because I am convinced that human knowledge by others of what this book has to say is essential to human survival.
(B) Because of my driving conviction that all of humanity is in peril of extinction if each one of us does not dare, now and henceforth, always to tell only the truth, and all the truth, and to do so promptly – right now.
(C) Because I am convinced that humanity’s fitness for continuance in the cosmic scheme no longer depends on the validity of political, religious, economic, or social organizations, which altogether heretofore have been assumed to represent the many.
(D) Because, contrary to (C), I am convinced that human continuance now depends entirely upon:
a. The intuitive wisdom of each and every individual.
b. The individual’s comprehensive informedness.
c. The individual’s integrity of speaking and acting only on the individual’s own within-self-intuited and reasoned initiative.
d. The individual’s joining action with others, as motivated only by the individually conceived consequences of so doing.
e. The individual’s never-joining action with others, as motivated only by crowd- engendered emotionalism, or by a sense of the crowd’s power to overwhelm, or in fear of holding to the course indicated by one’s own intellectual convictions."
The front cover of currently available reprints has changed since the 1983 UK first edition cover page I showed in my last TYGER blog, but the back cover blurb is worth showing, because IMHO this book is not just a decade after his death “…ahead of the parade” as the blurb dates this reprint, but even now after thirty years after his death.
And then that wily TYGER struck again: there, not far from the Buckminster Fuller selection on my bookshelves stood another volume: Revolutionary Wealth, by Alvin and Heidi Toffler [Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2006]; last read six years ago and shouting at me for a re-read. Lo and behold, it turned out to be a virtual corollary to Fuller’s Critical Path.
Both books begin with reviewing affairs of how we got here, and why and what mankind can expect having to cope with in future, though backgrounds, time and experiences provide different perspectives on both. These historical perspectives alone are worth for their insights. Both books are agreed that it is human inventiveness, knowledge – culminating in ‘Science’ – which alone have so far made humanity successful on this planet and are destined to do so in future – if we are not too stupid to forget that. Physical properties of resources provide no limits as the planet has more than enough natural resources when combined with the abundant income energy of our home star to accomplish Fuller’s challenge ".... to render the total chemical and energy resources of the world, which are now exclusively preoccupied in serving only 44% of humanity, adequate to the service of 100% of humanity, at higher standards of living and total enjoyment than any man has yet experienced."
Fuller (RBF) as well as Alvin and Heidi Toffler (AHT) show that throughout history, in a world where poverty was the normality except for minority elites, how wealth was determined, then as now, by available ‘energy’, meaning manpower through feudalism if not through direct slavery. Since the industrial revolution human ‘slaves’ have, in Fuller’s words gradually been replaced by ‘energy slaves’ (though the satanic mills have still not completely vanished). But in a world where even energy slaves are limited by scarcity while based on capital resources (coal, oil, gas, nuclear etc) the powers that control these remain intent to retain their elitist, group-fear-mandated positions especially when now confronted with the realization of global availability of abundant free ‘income energies’.
“Humans – in politically organized, group-fear-mandated acquisition of weaponry – have inadvertently developed so-much-more-performance-with-so-much-less material, effort and time investment per each technological task accomplished as now inadvertently to have established a level of technological capability which, if applied exclusively to peaceful purposes, can provide sustainable high standard of living for all humanity, which accomplished fact makes war and all weaponry obsolete.” (RBF)
[The Global Wealth Product (GWP) in 2012 was USD 71.83 trillion; world military expenditure in the same year was USD 1.756 trillion or ~2.5% of GWP. A Global Peace Index is at http://www.visionofhumanity.org/#page/indexes/global-peace-index/2013 ]
“What we do know however, as we have previously stated, is (1) that, with the unselfish use of technology, it is now possible to take care of all humanity at a higher standard of living than any have ever experienced and do so on a sustaining basis by employing only our daily energy income from Sun and gravity and (2) that we can do so in time to permit the healthy continuance of humans on planet Earth.” (RBF)
The tools employed by the ‘powers-that-be’ in essence boil down to the perpetual creation of fear, from the suggested inability of planetary resources to sustain humanity, to invoking gods avenging original sins, and further intellectual distortions surrounding climate issues. Following RBF, that last is, of course, nothing more than a further ruse to ensure that meters - and taxes - are placed between us and the free income energy of ’Sun and gravity’ .
Considering knowledge, education and science and their employment invariably also involves considerations of politics and metaphysics; science itself is under attack as President Eisenhower was first to raise in his farewell address of 17 January 1961:
" ..... threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. Of these, I mention two only.....
• A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment..... In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. ...We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
• In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.
• Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we—you and I, and our government—must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow……”
[in RBF Chapter 3 there is also a very illuminating account of how Eisenhower came to be elected in 1952 in the first place]
In my earlier blog of 04 OCT 2011, I have referred in footnote  to Helmut Schmidt: THE RESPONSIBILITY OF RESEARCH IN THE 21ST CENTURY, the former German Chancellor’s address to the Max Planck Society on its Centenary Ceremony on 11 January 2011in Berlin, from which I would like to quote just one excerpt again:
“5. In addition to all the above-mentioned problems caused by humans, we are simultaneously disturbed by the phenomenon of global warming and its consequences. We know that ice ages and warm periods have always been natural events; but we do not know how great a contribution humans will make, now and in the future, to the present-day global warming. The "climate policies" propagated internationally by many governments are still in early stages. The documents so far delivered by an international group of scientists (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC) are encountering scepticism. In any case, the goals publicly announced by some governments have so far been based less on scientific than on merely political arguments. I think it is time for one of our top scientific organisations to put the work of the IPCC critically and realistically under the lens, and then to explain the conclusions drawn from this examination to the general public of our country, in an understandable way...”
As RBF suggests:
“For only a short time, in most countries, has the individual human had the right of trial by jury. To make humanity’s chances for a fair trial better, all those testifying must swear ‘to tell the truth, all the truth and nothing but the truth.’….. If we don’t program the computer truthfully with all the truth and nothing but the truth, we won’t get the answers that allow us to ‘make it’ “.
Fuller points to a further area of distortion:
“In 1930 Einstein, ‘Mr Science’ himself, published his ‘Cosmic Religious Sense – the Nonanthropomorphic Concept of God.’ Einstein said that the great scientists such as Kepler and Galileo, whom the Roman Catholic Church had excommunicated as ‘heretics’, were, because of their absolute faith in the orderliness of Universe, far more committed to the nonanthropomorphic cosmic God than were the individuals heading the formal religious organizations.” (RBF)
In Critical Path he follows this with a long poem headed Ever Rethinking the Lord’s Prayer, explored further in his No More Secondhand God .
Discussion of Globalization figures greatly in RBF’s Critical Path, where it is found under the heading of World Game which explores the effect of doing-more-with-less of material resources resulting from the results of Design Science in the widest sense and its ephemeralisation effects of achievable efficiencies in the use of resources powered by the availability of free income energies. In that sense, the arrival of a further billion increase in population should be seen as adding the resources of a further billion unadulterated brains* to design all of humanity’s survival “at a higher standard of living than any have ever experienced”.
*to wit, see http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/ethiopian-children-handed-free-tablet-computers-to-teach-themselves-a-874936.html
Before eulogizing about AHT’s Revolutionary Wealth I recommend perusal of another eye-and-mind opener about Globalisation: 1493 by Charles C Mann, [Granta Publications, London, 2012 paperback],. I let front and back covers speak for themselves.
Revolutionary Wealth [Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2006], by Alvin and Heidi Toffler, like RBF’s Critical Path, is concerned with humanity’s continued success on Earth, under the summary heading of Wealth:
“Wealth, in its most general sense, is anything that fulfils needs or wants. And a wealth system is the way wealth is created, whether as money or not.”
Three wealth systems are described, as Waves of Wealth. I can do no better than quote some excerpts – from Chapter 3 out of forty-seven more, which further deal with the ramifications of this summary description of wealth creation.
“Human beings have been producing wealth for millennia, and despite all the poverty on the face of the planet, the long-term reality is that we, as a species, have been getting better at it. If we hadn’t, the planet would not now be able to support near. 6.5 billion of us. We wouldn’t live as long as we do. And for better or worse, we wouldn’t have more overweight people than undernourished people on earth – as we do.
We’ve achieved all this, if we want to call it an achievement, by doing more than inventing ploughs, chariots, steam engines and Big Macs. We did it by collectively inventing a succession of what we have here been calling wealth systems. In fact, these are among the most important inventions in history.”
“Long before the first true wealth system arose, we humans apparently began as nomadic hunters, killing or foraging for the barest necessities… But thousands of years ago these were little better than survival systems hardly deserving the term wealth system.
It was only with humanity’s ability to produce an economic surplus that the first true wealth system became possible. And though a tremendous number of different ways to produce such surplus have been tried, we find that over the course of history the methods fall into three broad categories….
· The First Wave of wealth, [from about ten millennia ago], as it moved across the map, created what we came to call agrarian civilisation…. …making it possible to store a bit for the bad days to come. But over time it also enabled governing elites – warlords, nobles and kings, supported by soldiers, priests and tax-and-tribute collectors – to seize control of all or part of the surplus – wealth with which to create a dynastic state and to finance their own luxurious lifestyles. They could build grand palaces and cathedrals. They could hunt for sport. They could – and regularly did – wage war to capture land and slaves or serfs to produce still greater surpluses for themselves….even as the peasants hungered and died….
· A secondary revolutionary wealth system and society – industrialism – began to emerge in the late 1600s and sent a Second Wave of transformation and upheaval across much of the planet. Historians still debate the dating and the multiple underlying causes of the industrial revolution. But we know that during that period a remarkable group of Western European intellectuals, philosophers, scientists, political radicals and entrepreneurs, drawing on the ideas of Descartes, Newton and the Enlightenment, changed the world again. The Second Wave wealth system that sprang up along with these new ideas eventually brought factories, urbanization and secularism. It combined fossil-fuel energy and brute force technologies requiring rote and repetitive muscle work. It brought mass production, mass education, mass media and mass culture. Colliding with traditional work ways, values, family structure and increasingly decadent political and religious institutions of the agrarian age, it pitted the interests of a rising commercial , urban-industrial elite against entrenched rural-agricultural elites…..
· The third and latest wave, still explosively spreading as we write, challenges all the principles of industrialisation as it substitutes ever-more-refined knowledge for the traditional factors of industrial production – land, labour and capital. Where the Second Wave wealth system brought massification, The Third Wave de-massifies production, markets and society. Where the Second Wave societies substituted the one-size-fits-all nuclear family for the large extended family of most First Wave agrarian societies, the Third Wave recognizes and accepts a diversity of family formats. Where the Second Wave built ever-more-towering vertical hierarchies, the Third Wave tends to flatten organizations and brings a shift to networks and many alternative structures….As each wealth wave swelled, it moved unevenly across the world, so that today in countries such as China, Brazil and India we can find all three waves overlapping and moving at the same time – vestigial hunters and gatherers dying away as First Wave peasants take over their land; peasants moving to cities for jobs in Second Wave factories; and Internet and software start-ups cropping up as the Third Wave arrives.
“These crude sketches only begin to hint at the differences in the world’s three wealth systems and the three great civilizations that come with them…. Compare the lives of a peasant in rural Bangladesh, a Ford assembly-line worker in Cologne and a software writer in Seattle or Singapore. Even within the same country, India say, compare the peasant in Bihar, the factory worker in Mumbai and the programmer in Bangalore. Operating in different wealth systems, they live in different worlds.
To understand the differences and where they are carrying us, we now need to go where economists and financial pundits seldom take us – to the subterranean fundamentals on which the future of wealth depends.”
And here comes the rub: the Third Wave Wealth is fundamentally different from anything else that has gone before: it is knowledge based. All earlier wealth creation efforts were based on rival resources, as in “Nguyen Thi Binh grows rice on a small paddy sixty miles south of Hanoi in Vietnam. When she is growing rice in her paddy, we cannot.”
Wealth based on knowledge (the term is used to embrace and describe all that’s known and knowable in any form, including data, information etc) is so fundamentally different that AHT summarize it, to quote
“Billions of words about the knowledge economy have been written, uttered, digitized and disputed in just about every language on earth. Yet few of those words make clear just how profoundly different knowledge is from any of the other resources or assets that go into the creation of wealth. Let us look at some of these ways:
Putting all these characteristics together, we wind up with something so unlike the tangibles with which economists have traditionally been concerned that many of them just shake their heads and, like most people, seek comfort in the world they know – the familiar way of rival tangibility. Even all these differences, however, do not complete the ways in which knowledge refuses to fit into existing economic categories”.
I make no apologies for quoting so many excerpts directly from AHT’s Revolutionary Wealth, for the simple reason that I know of no other way to convey the importance of this 500 page detailed investigation, and why I see it as an indispensable corollary to RBF’s Critical Path in the same sense as his self-assessment:
“I am convinced that human knowledge by others of what this book has to say is essential to human survival”.
A few more out of the numerous other concepts presented by AHT need to be mentioned, if only to excite curiosity to read more; these novelties are Prosumers, Producivity and Obsoledge. Some snippets for bait:
“Learning becomes a continuous-flow process. But we can’t learn everything fast enough. And that helps explain why, if some of what we think is stupid, there’s no need to be embarrassed. We are not alone in believing stupidities. The reason is that every chunk of knowledge has a limited shelf life. At some point it becomes obsolete knowledge – what might more appropriately be called ‘obsoledge’ “.
“Once we take our eyes off the money economy and mute all the econobabble, we discover surprising things. First, that this prosumer economy is huge; second, that it encompasses some of the most important things we do; and third, that even though it is given little attention by most economists, the $50 trillion money economy they monitor couldn’t survive for ten minutes without it…. Prosumer output is the subsidy on which the entire money system depends. Producing and prosuming are inseparable.”
Producivity – well, I must leave something for your direct discovery.
And then there are Chapters 20 and 21:
“Of everything found in the entire human knowledge base, including both current knowledge and obsoledge, nothing in recent centuries has increased the life span, nutrition, health and wealth of our species more than that trace element we call science. Yet among the many signs that we are changing the deep fundamentals of wealth is today’s mounting guerrilla war against science.
This war is an attempt not just to challenge scientific facts but to devalue science itself. Its goal is to change how science is conducted and to dictate what scientists may or may not investigate. At the deepest level, it aims to force a worldwide truth-shift – to reduce reliance on science as a way of validating truth. If successful, it could sidetrack the future of the knowledge economy and the chances for reducing global misery and poverty, darkening the century to come.” …
“It is, of course, a cliché to say that scientific knowledge is a two-edged sword because of its findings are exploited in destructive ways. The same is true, however, for religion and non-scientific knowledge – neither of which has unleashed a comparable flood of discoveries that have contributed to global health, nutrition safety and other social benefits.”
“Science is key to designing better, smarter, safer technology, to mapping and solving environmental crises and to stopping epidemics like SARS. We will need science to lower our reliance on fossil fuels, to provide better security, to advance medicine and to reduce wealth disparities between city and country, nation and nation.
Problems like these will be solved by decisions based not on lemming-like consensus, or religious revelation, or blind acceptance of authority but on truths observed, subjected to experiment and open to continual challenge and revision as additional knowledge is acquired. In short, the future of revolutionary wealth will depend more and more on how science is used – and respected – in society.”
“…those who wish to blindfold or silence science would not merely shrink tomorrow’s wealth and indirectly slow the alleviation of poverty but return humanity to the physical and mental poverty of the Dark Ages.
We must not allow the end of the Enlightenment to be followed by an anti-science darkening.”
Even The Economist makes front page, editorial and commentary news, with headlines like
-- How science goes wrong – scientific research has changed the world – now it needs to change itself.
-- Trouble at the lab – scientists like to think of science as self-correcting; to an alarming degree it is not.
on which I commented that having “…re-read Karl Popper's 'All Life is Problem Solving' (Routledge, London, New York, 1999/2006) in which the first chapter is headed 'The Logic and Evolution of Scientific Theory' giving in just twenty pages a most succinct description of the scientific process and its unending obligations. Always a good refresher.”
Other attacks come from sources you would least expect:
There are earlier criticisms of '~science', of course, just two I found on the shelves are
· Martin Gardner: Fads and Fallacies In the Name of Science, Dover Publications Inc, New York, 1957 [MG wrote the Mathematical Games column in Scientific American from 1956 to 1981]
· Peter W Huber: GALILEO’S REVENGE – Junk Science in the Courtroom, Basic Books, New York, 1953.
And yes, the two retrospect collections by Karl Popper also belong in this exploration of 'Critical Paths' before us:
· Karl Popper: THE LESSON OF THIS CENTURY – with Two Talks on Freedom and the Democratic State, Routledge, London and New York, 1997, 2003
· Karl Popper: ALL LIFE IS PROBLEM SOLVING, Routledge, London and New York, 1999, 2006
And so, back to the latest ‘Whole-Earth-Sat-Nav’ through the CRITICAL PATH – Alvin and Heidi Toffler’s Revolutionary Wealth – with some excerpts from their epilogue:
“At the scale of both the most minute phenomena and of the cosmos itself, we, in this generation, have learned more about nature and our species than all our ancestors combined.
We have taken up the ringing challenge Francis Bacon set out for humanity in 1603 – not to create some ‘particular invention, however useful,’ but to succeed in ‘kindling a light in nature, a light which should in its very rising touch and illuminate all the border-regions that confine upon the circle of our present knowledge.’ “
“Yet through all these changes and upheavals, one thing stands out. Nothing, not all of them together, stopped the forward advance of the industrial revolution and the spread of the new wealth system it brought. Nothing.
The reason was that the Second Wave was not just a matter of technology or economics. It originated out of social and political and philosophical forces as well, and out of wave conflict in which the holdover elites of the agrarian age gradually yielded to the forces of the new.
The Second Wave led to econocentrism: the idea that culture, religion and the arts were all of secondary importance and – according to Marx – were determined by economics.
But Third Wave revolutionary wealth is increasingly based on knowledge – and puts economics back into its place as part of a larger system, bringing, for better or worse, issues like cultural identity, religion and morality back towards centre stage.”
“As tomorrow’s economy and society take form, all of us – individuals, companies, organizations and governments alike – now face the wildest, fastest ride into the future of any generation.
It is, when all is said, a fantastic moment to be alive.
Welcome to the rest of the twenty-first century.”
Go, get yourself some Tyger Nights.....