When I quit my job as an accelerator physicist, I did so largely because I didn’t think it served a social good. I felt that the work was pointless and that it made me into a social parasite. The scale of inefficiency, miscommunicated goals, and aimless goals made it clear to me that the only reason our research was funded was so that the military industrial complex could feed off of our gullible, idealistic, narcissistic energy without us feeling like we were developing weapons. It was a dirty trick.
As I stepped back, I saw that this sort of problem was everywhere in scientific work and that entire fields of research had such diminishing returns that the work was completely pointless.
As I stepped back even further, I saw this problem throughout the entire economy. Huge fractions of the workforce are trapped in pointless jobs that they cannot quit because of their student loans. In fact, on average, there appears to be an inverse relationship between the social value of a job and how much a person gets paid. Those who fix cars or teach children resent the amount that banking and internet drones get paid and the banking and internet drones resent people who can feel that their work has value.
This inefficient economic structure designed around keeping people busy is responsible for our political polarization and populism and it is caused by expansionary monetary policies. The flow of money must accelerate in order to sustain current levels of consumption because current consumption patterns can only be maintained if people consume at an accelerated rate. It is a devil’s circle.
What would happen if people slowed down their consumption to bare necessities. What would people do if they became truly free? Photography? Writing? Reading? Debating? The number of authors in the US has remained relatively constant in the post world war era.
Experiments conducted with mice suggest that leaving people up to their own devices amid abundance is a recipe for disaster. In mouse colonies filled with free food and water, mice got bored and began forming gangs that raped and pillaged until not a single mouse remained in the colony.
Perhaps this is the reason that our governments try to keep people locked away in pointless jobs on an imperceptibly accelerating treadmill of consumption. But men are not mice and mice are not designed to be kept in an artificial enclosure. They are designed to explore and expand their territories, boldly going where no mouse has gone before,.. not that I subscribe to dreams of a Star Trek utopia.
I do not think that sequestering people in laboratories is the path towards happiness, but many people today do. China is in the process of designing and building more accelerator laboratories than exist throughout the rest of the world combined. They are copying what was done in the west between 1950 and 2000 as big-science research labs, spin-offs from the Manhattan project, cropped up in every first-world country.
When the cold war started, Oppenheimer stated that the only way to avoid inevitable catastrophe was to accelerate towards the catastrophe – overshooting it. This strategy required every large country to mine every last drop of uranium and turn all of it into bombs which could be locked away, making the unthinkable truly unthinkable.
Today, the internet and automation lead us towards another, inevitable catastrophe. Picture automated war machines battling one another while people run for their lives. If one follows Oppenheimer’s logic, the only way to avoid this inevitable catastrophe is to accelerate towards it in a race to out run ourselves. That is perhaps what we are doing through the policy of accelerated economic expansion. If everyone is so busy developing automation technology, they will never have a chance to start a fight. In this framework, resistance to the acceleration is tantamount to treason.
This is certainly one way to do things. I’m just not sure it is the only way.
That is why I wrote my books.
I wanted to experience creative magic, and I did, but I also experienced the consequences of the accelerated publishing environment of the internet. Four months after I published my feminist first novel, a men’s rights activist plagiarized it with help from online ghostwriters. He then purchased 90,000 fake Twitter followers, 50 fake reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and a ton of Amazon advertising. I learned about this book when his ads appeared in my email inbox.
The book I wrote starts with a video job interview in a big, bad, brave new world. The protagonist’s work is pointless and she spends all of her time talking with AIs or with herself until she is fired. She then becomes destitute and is paid to destroy plutocrats’ property. When she leaves the city, she sees another version of herself attacked and eaten by beasts. Unable to communicate, she literally and figuratively eats fruit from the tree of knowledge and gazes into a new sort of mirror which is responsible for the deaths of most of the people in the city. Because she survives her look into the mirror, she is turned into a messiah and finds out what happened to her absent father. The mysterious person who had been guiding her life tells her that he is obsessed with her because he learns from her struggles, she runs away from him etc…
In my book, the girl was named Alix and in the book my plagiarist published only four months later, the girl was named Renee. The main difference between the characters is that I gave Alix dignity despite adversity whereas the author of Renee delighted in her degradation. He depicts her getting ridden by an “alpha male” at the end of his book.
We used to have a publishing industry that had dignity despite adversity, but with editors replaced by algorithms, this is no longer the case. Clickbait, fraud, plagiarism, and noise rule the day with impacts on our culture that only become clear in hindsight.
Noise drowns out voices that need to be heard.
Noise lulls us to sleep while immigrant children are stolen from their parents and collected in internment camps.
In a way, the history of music explains our present day noise. It is a sort of zooming in process, starting back at the dawn of the enlightenment when music was about everything. It was epic and depicted the world as a whole. Then the romantic era began and the music sang the songs of the individual soul. The joy, the despair, the currents of mood flowed in sweeping melodies. Then the world wars started and the music became focused even further with syncopated klinks of the keys depicting the zips and zaps of the currents within our minds described by scientists. The meaning could not be deciphered, but it depicted an aspect of our selves. After the world wars, the music got louder. If you take the words away, you have the banging and booming sounds, the rock and the roll of abstraction which has evolved into the pulsing heartbeat of electronica and a cacophony of white noise. This is the song of our dark age, but there are hints of a new enlightenment dawning. We are emerging from an intellectual bottleneck which will select new, epic songs to describe the world as a whole.
When the world gets noisy, we seek out a refuge, a sort of ark for the mind.
Tolkien made the ark that helped minds survive the birth of nuclear power. It preserved our absolute sense of good and evil and there was an anti-technology message: no unified field theory allowed – compartmentalize and scatter the knowledge far and wide. People are not ready for that sort of power.
Star Trek was the ark that helped minds survive the birth of the computer. It preserved our hope that technology would give our lives meaning. To boldly go where no man has gone before.. let’s ignore the fact that this boldness caused us to poison ourselves with neurotoxic triclosan and over-exposure to cheap-thrills entertainment for years and years.
Marvel Comics is the ark of today, yet what is it preserving? It tells us that there are real bad guys out there who need to be defeated and heroes are required. Thanos and others provide anti-science storylines in which science is only good as long as it is not connected to power, but the overall message is – billionaire heroes, government-created heroes, etc.. are fighting for YOU!
What would you put into your mental ark? What would you preserve as we accelerate towards an intellectual bottleneck?
The last intellectual bottleneck occured during the world wars and Einstein was the mind which had the luck to emerge intact. He avoided military service in the first war and was too old for the second. It is my opinion that this selection set physics back by a hundred years, filling our journals and archives with incomprehensible noise that is destined for the dustbin. I cringed when I saw the gravitational wave observatory win the Nobel prize and when a picture of a ‘black hole’ appeared on the front page of every major newspaper. Only the gullible and uninformed masses applauded, but they will never know that they were tricked because there is so much noise that the signal of truth cannot break through.
My novels don’t have a fight the bad guys message. The protagonist submits and escapes. She doesn’t chase the bad guy, she only tries to rescue the things she loves. Eventually, the bad guy calms down and stops causing so much destruction. His destructive impulses were driven by loveless, unsatisfied curiosity. The good in my world is the opposite of “to boldly go where no man has gone before”. In my story, eating from the tree of knowledge either caused a person to kill himself or it made him evil because he hated what he saw in the mirror, but the protagonist survived her look at herself because she didn’t have such ridiculous expectations. She served as an example for the bad guy and he became good.
I think this message can help people and that is why I wrote the books, so I shouldn´t be bothered if the message is stolen and copied. I have a roof over my head and I´m not starving. The important thing is to help people rise above the noise so that they can focus on fixing the problems in their communities.
I represent just one out of a million books being published per year in the US alone. From a larger perspective, my book is one out of 130 million books in existence in the world. For my voice to break through that amount of noise would take a lightning strike of historic proportions.
Worldwide, at any given moment, one book is being published per thousand people. If you exclude all people living on less than ten dollars a day, one book is published per hundred people. Even if you are better than 99% of the other authors you see in the slush pile, you still only have one chance in ten thousand to be read widely and one chance in a hundred to experience a reasonable amount of success. On top of this, the internet increasingly tilts the literary battleground for our thoughts towards those who are willing to engage in theft and fraud.
Perhaps this is to be expected while accelerating through an intellectual bottleneck.
(The picture in the header is from Jason deCaires Taylor.)
26 thoughts on “Acceleration Towards a Bottleneck”
There are several topics in this post that I resonate with. I will characterize them as:
1. Being heard, listened to, and ultimately understood.
2. Desiring to positively contribute, at a signficant scale, to the future of intelligent life.
3. The incredible frustration when proffered ideas are ignored, rejected, attacked, or stolen* in the vast and noisy babble of all information bazaar’s.
I retired in August 2017 and after a few months of pondering, decided to embark on developing and contributing ideas on physics/cosmology and justice. For the first year, I tried to get scientists to engage on Twitter, reddit, and email. I was largely ignored, sometimes blocked, and presumably muted quite often. But the worst case on Twitter and mostly reddit was the aggressive and hateful response from physicists to my new ideas. I don’t want to get into all the details in this comment, but it was truly dismaying and discouraging for other people to respond so nastily to a set of creative ideas aimed at helping advance the subject areas.
In my second year of this effort, I have shifted to mostly writing physics/cosmology blog articles on WordPress and posting links on various social media outlets (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and reddit). I rarely try to engage scientists any more as I view it as hopeless. Sometimes I will blurt out an exasperated Tweet in response to yet another inane pop physics article on dark matter, wormholes, or many worlds. I still hold out hope that my ideas will be noticed at some point.
J Mark Morris
* So far, I haven’t had any ideas stolen, as Kirsten experienced with her book. I suppose I won’t be surprised if it does happen at some point.
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