[ExI] "Handle With Care" - NYT Article

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Tue Aug 12 19:56:20 UTC 2008

At 09:23 AM 8/12/2008 -0300, Henrique Moraes Machado ranted contra luddites:

>And then there's terraforming. We do it one way or the other since 
>we made the change from hunters to farmers. And it's totally chaotic 
>and unplanned and usually with a lot of collateral. Why not do it in 
>a more rational way?

Because... (I have a cold so my brain isn't working with any degree 
of agility, so make allowances...):

The way things were before humans intervened was "totally chaotic and 
unplanned and usually with a lot of collateral," but remembering that 
"chaotic" implies regularities and patterns not immediately evident. 
The global ecosphere evolved in this state. Humans then simplified 
chunks of the landscape and the pattern was to some extent broken or 
put on hold, but tended to reassert itself eventually. If a biome has 
evolved to use large-scale lightning-caused fires to renew itself, 
human interventions that seem "rational" are liable to cause far 
worse conflagrations at longer intervals. Monocropping looks rational 
until a plague comes along and wipes out everything, instead of just 
blighting some of the crop.

What seems to me rational (or meta-rational) is to start from a 
fairly cautious awareness of how little is really understood of the 
interactions in nature, especially the modified nature we're 
surrounded by, and that position probably more closely resembles the 
attitude of a 21st century "luddite" who goes to the dentist and uses 
a cellphone than it does a 20th century technocrat for whom 
everything could be done in a series of rational, top-down, fiat 
five-year plans. (Not that I imagine you'd favor the latter, of 
course.) We should be careful not so much concerning what we wish 
for, as in regard to the means by which we try to bring those wishes 
into reality.

<end of pious statement>

Damien Broderick

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