by James Wallace Harris, August 12, 2021
Last night I had an epiphany while watching the NOVA episode entitled “Great Electric Airplane Race” on my Roku PBS channel. It’s available to view online or stream with the PBS channel (but it might require a Passport membership).
The show was overwhelmingly positive about the future, and it conveyed that hope by showing rather than telling. To avert the catastrophes of climate change will require leaving fossil fuels in the ground. That means converting to other forms of energy. Air travel is a big contributor of CO2, but designing electric airplanes has tremendous challenges. The example given was for a Boeing 737. It uses 40,000 pounds of jet fuel, but the weight of the batteries to replace that jet fuel would total 1.2 million pounds. How is it even possible to overcome such a Mt. Everest of a technical obstacle?
The answer is science. The rest of the show was about how science and engineering is actually tackling the problem. Expect a great transformation in the airline industry over the next two decades. One person in the show called it Air Travel 3.0. I had no idea that these inventions were that close to going into production.
And the new technology wasn’t even the most inspiring part of the show. Miles O’Brien interviewed and profiled many entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers who were creating these new aircraft, business plans, and air control systems, and it uplifting to see so many women and minorities in leadership roles. This show proved social progress is happening too.
While I watched this episode I realized it was a vision of how things could be. We could solve our environmental, social, economic, and technical problems if we choose. That is, if we choose to be rational and scientific. This show was practically utopian in its scenes and implications. If you can, watch this episode of NOVA and meditate on what positives each scene suggests.
Of course, this isn’t proof we’ll solve our problems, just a vision of what it would be like if we tried. To succeed we need to overcome denialism. Denialism is holding us back. It’s why the pandemic rages on, it’s why we don’t commit to solving climate change. The denialists are going to destroy us.
The epiphany I had is we will succeed if everyone accepts science. Science is capable of solving our problems. The deniers don’t want to believe that for various philosophical reasons. I’m not sure if it’s possible to convert deniers into scientific believers, but that’s our pivot point between future success and failure.
For my own peace of mind, I’ve got to find more sources of inspiration like this episode of NOVA. Up till now I had given up on the future because I was convinced the deniers will bring us down. Now I want to focus on the doers. If you’re going to bet, especially psychological capital, bet on the winners.
8 thoughts on “A Bright Vision of a Positive Future”
Yes, that was a terrific Nova episode, and I agree with you, very positive. Hopefully, innovation can save us from ourselves. If the deniers will complain but stay home, fine. It’s when they get in the way of the health and safety of the rest that we have a problem.
In which science do you want me to place my bet on?
The one whose scientists are honing the tools of mass psychological control (e.g., TV)?
Or the one whose scientists are applying gain-of-function to viruses and developing other assorted means of life destruction?
Isn’t life grand when you can believe in everything showed on a screen?
(“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a really old story… such a pity no one seems to remember it anymore.)
Denialists vs. Fools = Mankind loses (as it should)
As someone with a world view based on ‘hard-determinism’ I would be inclined to point out that the notion that we can choose otherwise (free will) is a sense perception of our imagination. That said I’m optimistic that collectively and in general we humans will (so to speak) continue to learn, as well as act and behave in our own best interests in favour of survival. After all its germane to our genetic heritage (survival). The only thing in our way, well,… is the causal nature of our universe. If change that is detrimental to our ongoing existence occurs within too short a period of time, relative to our ability to adapt with technology, then our time maybe up.
On the other hand,…if that same change occurs at a relatively slower pace, then we may have the chance we need to over come the challenges to our shared existence.
Just a comment on denial. In human discourse denial has gained a negative value, when from an evolutionary perspective,…denial is our saving grace. Without the brain’s ability to disregard that which does not pose an immediate threat to our individual existence, our brain’s would have become overwhelmed long ago, and we wouldn’t be here today to have this conversation.
The distraction generated from the myriad of sensory inputs would have burned through our limited resources as we interacted with the environment and each other. The key to our success is denial! This, in turn enables the brain to focus and thereby maximize the tradeoff between the expenditure of limited resources and at the same time maximize our potential for survival.
Without denial, we would never have experienced the age of reason > the scientific revolution and our ability, through a disciplined approach, (the scientific method) to modify the environment around us (technology) in our own selfish best interests.
Before we condemn the ‘deniers’ outright,…lets keep in mind that these individuals and groups of same, are also acting and behaving in their own best interests, which is the same for any of us. The approach may differ, however we are all acting and behaving in the only way we can. There is no ‘choice’ in the matter.
I would point out the one characteristic of human behavior that resonates with me is hope. That the spirt of cooperation and collaboration (self interest in the form of what benefits us benefits me), which defines in large part. who we are as a species, may prevail over the inevitable periods of destructive competition. We have done a pretty good job to this point if the measure is survival. (Hint,..from an evolutionary perspective survival/reproduction/survival is the only measure…)
Remember life(survival) is a risk proposition in of its self. The rest as they say is out of our hands.
There’s a difference between skepticism and denialism. I see denialism as someone consciously or unconsciously saying “I don’t like this aspect of reality, so I’m going to pretend it’s not true.” That’s not a successful survival trait.
And I’m not exempt from the appeal of denialism myself. There are truths about myself and my health that I don’t want to be true.
We have the potential to solve our problems. The knowledge and resources are there. Collectively, we might not have the free will to choose as a whole to save ourselves. But there seems to be a choice. If everyone had gotten the vaccine before Delta this pandemic could have been over. If 100 million people choose not to get vaccinated, is that lack of free will, or a bad choice? I’m conflicted. I tend to believe humans don’t have free will, but we often make choices.
I would agree there is a difference between skepticism and denial, However only in degree of same.
I would submit that choice, or the ability to choose otherwise is an imaginary concept with no basis in the physical universe. It is rather an artifact of our self awareness. In other words, because our unique level of consciousness enables the specific recall of our experience (memory), and subsequently the ability to project all possible futures, we are left with the very real sense that our particular action represented only one of many possibilities, or simply,…a ‘choice’ because we ‘could have chosen otherwise’.
As social animals this sense that we could have ‘chosen otherwise’ or acted of our own ‘free will’ has proven to be a foundational aspect of our social evolution because it gives individuals within groups the shared sense that we have permission to assign blame and responsibility. In the case where we ‘believe’ an individual has acted in conflict with the collective idea of what is acceptable. This in turn gives us the ‘authority’ to sanction that individual or group. This characteristic, in turn, enables the maintenance of security in the face of our competitive nature….
Now for the hard part,…the paragraph above describes the very real sense that others could have acted differently and thereby save us all from individual and collective grief or worse. For example it only seems ‘reasonable’ that everyone would desire or ‘choose’ to get vaccinated. On the surface it’s a no brainer! More over, we have the evidentiary proof (experience) that clearly demonstrates that vaccinations save lives, not to mention prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed at the expense of others who may need other life saving procedures, and so on…
“…If everyone had gotten the vaccine before Delta this pandemic could have been over…” ‘if’ …is only one of all possibilities that we projected into the future at a point in the past from our experience (memory). This particular outcome (not getting vaccinated) did not occur>> because individuals or groups were acting and behaving in the only way they could (the causal nature of the universe). The idea that they could have chosen otherwise is illusory driven by the differences (risk appreciation, cultural sense on the limitations of authority etc., etc…) between our own actions and behaviours (to get vaccinated)
The point being,…ruminating over what could have been, whether its vaccinations or a particular breakfast sandwich may have consequences, however they are only our perceptions or interpretations of what might have been, given the endless stream of causality that is our particular expanding universe.
So what are the practical distinctions between whether the notion of choice is real or imaginary as it pertains to our conscious existence from birth to death? In a word,… Hope for the future…all other interventions have already occurred in the only way possible.
On the whole, I agree with you. Science has been able to show unconscious brain activity precedes our conscious awareness of our decisions. But I think there is room to consider the possibility of free will.
First, what has free will? If you meditate you’re aware you can observe your thoughts. The observer is separate from language. I can give an interesting case for this. Once I had a ministroke. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like lightning had gone off in my head and woke me up. I felt very strange. I looked at my wife but I couldn’t talk to her. I couldn’t even think of her name. I couldn’t think. I had no sense of words at all in my head. I wasn’t frightened. I got up, went into the bathroom, shut the door, and turned on the lights. Obviously, I had unconscious memories and conditioning so I functioning. I sat on the commode and looked around. It’s hard to describe, but I saw without knowing what things were. I sat and waited. After a while, and I don’t know how long, in my head I heard the letter A. Then, B, C, D, E.
After that my words started coming back. I thought towel, wall, mirror. I remembered my name and my wife’s name. I went back to bed. Without language, I was left with being the observer. The next day I thought maybe that’s how my cats see the world.
I’ve been struggling to lose weight for decades. Who is doing the struggling? After years of battles, I can choose not to eat the foods I want to eat, and I’m losing weight. Was that a decision? The observer does work with language. I studied and thought about dieting and how to change for a very long time, slowly learning to change myself. I believe the observer part of me did that and used language as a tool to make the decision. I never decided and then acted all at once. I had to recondition myself over years.
I’ve been researching both sides of the debate for sometime now. My sense is that although our particular level of self awareness is unique (as far as we know) I have not come across any compelling argument that would support the idea that we have an innate ability to choose otherwise or actually initiate independent action by just thinking about same. In my mind it does not make sense.
On the other hand, the brain has evolved to interact with others and the environment. the scenario is the same for amoeba and the bears in the woods. Your description of the mini-stroke was revealing. You described yourself as an observer, or disconnected from self. Maybe the sense of self and the vivid impression that we are actually acting and behaving in a manner of our own choosing are just artifacts of our imagination?
More and more I’ve been leaning toward the realization that our self awareness is just along for the ride. We are in fact simply observers of our bodies in action,…behaving in the only manner our brain’s can based on it’s genetic heritance and constant learning from the moment to moment interactions with the world around us.
What we observe in ourselves and in the actions of others either fits our own world view or not including all possible variations of same in between. Will our species survive the ongoing climate crisis. Only time will tell. In the meantime we’ll see what happens as it all unfolds. My bet is on us. Unless the speed at which the crisis unfolds overwhelms our ability to cope with technology, I think we’ll survive. Choice is something we convince ourselves is available to us, when more than likely it remains a social artifact. The endless stream of causality is unfolding in the only way possible…