Where Are We

It’s quite understandable if you are wondering where we are and where are we heading. It may appear that what we discussed so far is not quite what would lead us to an understanding of how the world works. But that’s not quite so. What we are doing is getting a grip on a set of basic conceptual building blocks which we will use to build an understanding of the way the world works.

Let’s take stock. We have defined what technology is — just recipes — and as we go forward we will understand why technology matters. The world today is the way it is because of technology. We humans are able to do what we do only because of the technology that we have developed. Continue reading “Where Are We”

Reading Assignment #3

This week’s reading assignment is heavily technology oriented. You may notice that I tend to repeat myself. With good reason, I assure you.

Let’s start with a bit that is pertinent to session #2: Finite Systems, Infinite Cycles. In there we explore the idea that even if a physical system is finite (the Earth, for example), it can support infinite cycles provided that the system is open.

An open system (as opposed to a closed system) receives material from outside. The Earth receives solar energy and therefore it is capable of supporting life and all the other processes that support life indefinitely.

Because humans have invented (or discovered) technology for harnessing energy, humans are capable of transforming the material found at or near the surface of the earth to make what they find useful.

Technology, developed by the human mind, allows humans to do increasingly more sophisticated tasks. Everything we produce is the product of technology applied to nature provided stuff. Continue reading “Reading Assignment #3”

Is China Capitalist?

This question may be a bit premature at this point in the course but it’s important for various reasons. Therefore I will address it here for the benefit of those who wish to understand it now.

This is prompted by a question that Nithya asked:

In our 2nd live session, it was concluded that if Government gets into production then that country’s economy may not perform well. But, China is having a communist economy where most of the decisions and production is under government control. Still, they are the 2nd largest economy in the world. Why is it like that?

The short answer is that China is a capitalist economy, not a communist or socialist economy. India, by contrast, is a socialist economy. That distinction briefly explains why China’s economy is around 6 times larger than the Indian economy. And which is why China is poised to become the largest economy in the world in a few years, and why India will continue to be unfortunately a very poor country. Continue reading “Is China Capitalist?”

A Bit about Abstractions

To understand how something works we necessarily need to resort to and understand abstractions. Abstractions are high-level mental constructs that are expressed in language, and therefore the need for precise definitions of works used. Learning how things work requires learning vocabulary. 

So far we have introduced a bunch of vocabulary such as wealth, science, technology, energy, information, knowledge, etc. It will only become clear why these, and other concepts we will introduce as we go along, are necessary for understanding how the world works.  Continue reading “A Bit about Abstractions”

The World is Antifragile

In the 2nd session, we spoke about the bet between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. Here’s a bit more from HumanProgress.org — The Counter-Intuitive Truth about the World’s Resources (Dec 2018):

Are we running out of resources? That’s been a hotly debated question since the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb in 1968. The Stanford University biologist warned that population growth would result in the exhaustion of resources and a global catastrophe. According to Ehrlich, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate”. Continue reading “The World is Antifragile”

Property Rights

In a comment to the post “All Questions Considered” Anirudh asked:

Why should we have private property rights? Why is it considered a natural right or a fundamental human right? Are there cases where it makes sense to have shared or public land ownership?

Let’s start at the beginning. What’s property? Anything that can be owned is property. The stuff you have around you is property — someone (perhaps you) owns that stuff. Is the street lamp property? Yes but it is probably owned by the city, and not some specific person.

Private property is what is owned by an individual or an association of private individuals (such as a private corporation.) Public property is property owned by a public corporation or owned in common. Open access commons such as a pasture or a fishery (anyone can graze his cattle, or anyone can fish) is public property. Continue reading “Property Rights”

Our out-of-date Instincts

Many of our instincts have passed their sell-by date. They had a very long shelf-life but now after a few million years, they’ve expired. They are no longer good for what they were designed for. Why so? Because the world has changed and our brains have not.

Our distant ancestors (homo homo) evolved around 2.5 million years ago. Then ~250,000 years ago we, anatomically modern humans (home sapiens) arrived on the scene. Our brains have been evolving for a very long time and all during that time we lived in a world that was quite different from the modern world.

The first humans were nomadic hunter-gatherers. Only in the ~10,000 years did they settle down into groups of around 150 individuals or so, and began agriculture. To a first approximation, we’ve only been hunter-gathers living hand to mouth. Continue reading “Our out-of-date Instincts”

Betrayed by our Intuition

In the previous post, I presented an argument with two premises and asked if the conclusion in the third statement was logically valid. I repeat the argument here:

        1. Roses are flowers.
        2. Some flowers fade rapidly.
        3. Therefore, some roses fade rapidly.

Is that a valid logical argument?

Certainly we know from experience that some roses do fade rapidly. But that empirical fact does not matter here. We are concerned with the validity of the conclusion given the two premises.

As a matter of pure logic, the conclusion in (3) does not follow. Therefore the argument is invalid.