On Specialization and Interdisciplinarity

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Over the past few decades a number of ideas that I call “big picture research programs” have appeared — big history, astrobiology, the overview effect, existential risk, SETI, the Drake equation, the Fermi paradox, the Anthropocene. Many of these are neither “sciences” nor “disciplines” in the conventional sense, but they represent the effort of scientists and philosophers to recover a comprehensive approach to knowledge in the wake of scientific specialization since the scientific revolution.

Is it possible to constitute a new science at this late date in the development of science? And is it possible to constitute a “big picture”…


Fine Tuning the Drake Equation with the Rezabek Ratio

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Starlink Satellite Constellation

After the 2013 Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress a number of those of us who participated continued to correspond about interesting ideas that came out of the conversations, and one of these ideas was that of the Rezabek Ratio. During a discussion of METI (active messaging of extraterrestrial intelligence) by Jim Benson, Heath Rezabek suggested that someone opposed to unregulated METI could broadcast a static or random signal as a masking counter-signal to a METI signal and essentially silence the outbound METI signal. Formally, this can be expressed such that the factors of the Drake equation, which terminates with the number…


Alternative Neural Architectures for Consciousness

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The issue of Science for 25 September 2020 features a crow on its cover with the headline “Avian Awareness: Carrion crows display sensory consciousness.” There are three articles in the journal on this theme, “A neural correlate of sensory consciousness in a corvid bird” by Andreas Nieder, Lysann Wagener, and Paul Rinnert, “A cortex-like canonical circuit in the avian forebrain” by Martin Stacho, Christina Herold, Noemi Rook, Hermann Wagner, Markus Axer, Katrin Amunts, and Onur Güntürkün, and “Birds do have a brain cortex — and think” by Suzana Herculano-Houzel.

Everyone who has watched crows carefully knows that they are intelligent…


Another Counterfactual Central Nervous System

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The Reflex Arc.

In A Counterfactual on Central Nervous System Development I speculated on the possibility of an evolutionary trajectory in which central nervous system (CNS) clusters developed supervening upon sensory organs, so that the organisms of such a counterfactual biosphere had “smart” sensory organs — smart eyes, for example — and perhaps the entirety of a sophisticated brain evolved supervening directly upon sensory organs. …


Overcoming the Idée Fixe of World Government

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The western historical imagination has been haunted by the collapse of the Roman Empire, here illustrated by Thomas Cole in his painting “Desolation” (1836) from the series “The Course of Empire

Ever since I first became interested in futurism in the 1970s, and I began to read everything I could find on futurism, I noticed the almost exclusive interest in world government as the political paradigm of futurism, and even at the time I thought it was odd. I still find it odd today, and so I have gone looking for explanations for the political monoculture of futurism. …


A Case Study of Norse Civilization and Some Reflections on the Methodology of the Study of Civilization

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Usually when a civilization goes into decline, its geographical extent contracts at the same time as its social and political institutions lose complexity, so that contraction and loss of complexity are correlated for causal reasons. One could distinguish the cases in which territorial contraction (perhaps caused by aggression by a neighboring power) causes loss of institutional complexity, and those cases in which the loss of institutional complexity causes the loss of territory.


The Idea of Civilization-States Becomes a Geostrategic Talking Point

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I first heard the term “civilization-state” in 2012 (cf. some brief comments on the article and Civilization-States and Their Attempted Extirpation), and then just a few weeks ago I ran across an article by Bruno Maçães, The Attack of the Civilization State.

Now Black Pigeon Speaks has made a video about civilization states, Clash of Civilizations and Neo-Turkish Caliphate Rising, in which he cites several sources of which I was unaware: The Irresistible Rise of the Civilization-State by Alex Roussinos, China, Russia and the return of the civilisational state by Adrian Pabst, and the book The China Wave: Rise of…


Cultural Evolution from Distant Past to Far Future

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We can construct an historical sequence in the development of civilization on Earth such that a small number of pristine civilizations initiate an age of agricultural civilizations, and later with the industrial revolution the paradigm of agricultural civilizations, by now almost ten thousand years old, gives way to a new paradigm. This new post-agricultural paradigm I addressed in Permutations of Post-Agricultural Civilizations: Industrial, Technological, and Scientific Formations, in which I suggested that a tightly-coupled STEM cycle entails differences of emphasis that can yield scientific, technological, and industrial engineering civilizations. We are still early in this development, and we have not…


Industrial, Technological, and Scientific Formations

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Having recently written about scientific civilization through the lens of comments by Jacob Bronowski and Susanne Langer, I have been doing more research on the idea of scientific civilization for further posts in the series. This has brought additional material to my attention, but it has also raised questions. Why focus on scientific civilization? Does scientific civilization have a special place in the future of civilization, or ought it to have a special place in the future of civilization?

In particular, what relationship does scientific civilization have to other forms of post-agricultural civilization, or what we might also call modern…


A Commentary on Susanne K. Langer on Scientific Civilization

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Susanne K. Langer 1895–1985

When I wrote about Jacob Bronowski on scientific civilization I noted that the book in which Bronowski mentioned scientific civilization was about the history of science, not about civilization, but Susanne K. Langer’s 1961 essay “Scientific Civilization and Cultural Crisisis a discussion of civilization that takes up the idea of scientific civilization in an explicit way:

“Science is the source and the pacemaker of this modern civilization which is sweeping away a whole world of cultural values. It is with good reason that we are meeting here to discuss the role of science in civilization; I would like to…

Nick Nielsen

One Man Think Tank

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