[Paleopsych] disaster fallacy

Steve Hovland shovland at mindspring.com
Fri Jan 7 18:39:58 UTC 2005

I think that humanity en masse is more likely
to continue along crazily, so perhaps the best
we can do is save ourselves, save our families,
save anyone who is rational enough to listen
and prepare.

When I am doing photography, I compete with
a bunch of people who have fallen into the habit
of flying around the world taking pictures.  I am
deliberately concentrating on one world class
city, San Francisco.  When the peak oil s***
hits the fan I will have established myself as
the go-to- man in the Bay Area for a lot of people.

Steve Hovland

-----Original Message-----
From:	Paul J. Werbos, Dr. [SMTP:paul.werbos at verizon.net]
Sent:	Friday, January 07, 2005 10:28 AM
To:	The new improved paleopsych list
Subject:	[Paleopsych] disaster fallacy

At 04:52 PM 1/6/2005, Michael Christopher wrote:

> >>"Why did you do this to us, God? What did we do to
>upset you?" asked a woman in India this week, a
>heart-wrenching question asked in common these past
>few days by Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and
>--What a horribly mistaken question! To attribute
>natural disasters to the will of a powerful being
>whose judgment is beyond question is such a horrid
>thing to do to oneself and one's children. Blaming
>other humans cannot be far behind, if it preserves the

The press says it happened already.

In a way, it is not totally surprising. Some people asked:"Who
would want to kill hundreds of thousands of Moslems, and is the most
powerful person who would want to do so?" So they concluded: "It must be 
George Bush.
As Osama says, the US is the great Satan, and Satan has great powers, so of 
he did this..." If I believe the press... there are many, many people who have
followed this obvious human-style logic.

Aside from the obvious issues of therapy... the real zinger question is
as follows:  since we too are human, and not born any better than these 
crazy people,
what is it that we are being equally crazy about?

Yesterday, my family had me watch a DVD which offers one possible answer:
The Day After Tomorrow. When it came out,  the press was full of
righteous indignation about this "speculative transparent anti-Bush 
I didn't see it then... in part because I don't GO to the movies much at 
all anyway.

But... I wonder how much our defensive reactions are a kind of hiding from 
reality as
bad as the example Michael mentioned?

Certainly the "little Ice Age" scenario for this century is very 
speculative (SO FAR AS I KNOW,
being a scientist but nonspecialist.). But so far as I know, it is just as 
speculative to say it won't
happen as to say it will. OK, that's a comment on the limits of my knowledge.
In this context, I regret I did not sit in in the recent NSF workshop on 
this topic.
It would be nice to have a sense of the conditional probabilities here. But 
I didn't see
anything really crazy in the movie... except perhaps the relatively happy 

All along, I have been thinking... OK, in the worst case we might lose 
about half the human economic base
over about a century. But on a logarithmic scale, that is not nearly so bad 
as two or three
other risks -- such as proliferation and possible use of WMD, or the 
long-term impact of
the stagnation which might result if people overreact against technology, 
or perhaps even
some kind of spiritual crisis -- all of which threaten outright extinction. 
The movie brings
home the point that "half" may still be rather unpleasant, and that Little 
Ice Ages have been a bit faster
than a century in the past.

Yes, we shouldn't expect it to happen... but it seems more likely, say, 
than the 3 percent probability asteroid
they thought we were facing briefly a week ago. A rational person does not 
ignore such odds. It would be
like crossing a street without looking both ways, at an hour when the odds 
are 30-to-1 against a car hitting you.

Now -- the movie raises the valid point in logic that we should not waste 
half the world's GNP growth over the next century, with certainly,
in order to avoid, say, a 10 percent POSSIBILITY of losing half of it. It 
does not
mention how Kyoto has a bigger impact on GNP than on CO2, under today's
circumstances. (And I do not know if it is really 10 percent probability. 
Could be much more or less,
conditional upon knowledge which exists which I have not calibrated. But I 
certainly would NOT defer
to biased political partisans on either side.)

HOWEVER -- WHAT IF the actions needed to cut CO2 by a factor of 6 in 30 
years happen to be almost
exactly the same as what we need to reduce the probability of the OTHER more
definite types of catastrophes involving dependence on imported oil and gas?
(It used to be "imported oil" -- but things have changed in a very serious 
way already
over the past few decades.) Do any of you folks have opinions about the 
work of Cavallo
at DHS, like his paper in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists?
What if those actions look as if they would actually end up bringing a 
long-term net PROFIT to
the economy, instead of costing trillions?

After the movie... I came away with a sort of shock a bit different from 
what most people would
legitimately experience. Some people would feel self-righteous in the 
following way:
"I have marched against CO2, so I'm OK." No way. That's like marching for 
I does no good at all if it does not actually strengthen real action. Maybe 
some epsilon benefit,
but no more. So OK... having human weaknesses... there is an element of 
self-righteousness in my reaction
too. I like to believe I have done more than anyone else on earth to 
actually push us to a real solution that
could prevent that kind of risk. (Did I send copies of my slides describing 
my proposal for a
"Middle Way" strategy on CO2? It has some resemblence to -- and citation of 
-- the work by Marty Hoffert et al
published in Science a year and a half ago -- but it is different in 
carrying it forward to the action implications.
And besides, Marty did give me a chance to feed into the Science paper a 
bit as well.)

But... I have a long history of making the right point at the right time, 
but not energetically enough.
This time, I have probably been more effective in the use of time to that 
end, but even so I
have "day job" stuff (restarting next Monday) and some unique 
responsibilities in basic science...
and maybe one lesson from the movie is that this deserves more full-time 
championing of the right
logic than I am yet putting into it. On the other hand .. full-time 
champions and correct logic
do not always go together, and the champions these days (outside of 
industry) usually
aren't into the kinds of partnerships that might address the gap... too 
much ego out there...

Maybe the Clinton/Gore partnership was very effective at one time, in this 
kind of way, but
Gore drifted away from a lot of his original search-for-the-truth role. 
Political flattery can be ever so seductive
to so many people...


Well, enough words. Back to restudying magnetic monopoles... while I still 
have a chance...



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