Climate change solutions: mass behaviour simulation

16 07 2009

Saving our planet from catastrophic climate change might require an unprecedented mass co-ordination of all the people on our lonely little planet.

However, it requires co-ordinated sacrifice, the west are living unsustainably, the east have not had their fair share yet, Africa is unmanageable… how will we pull it off?

Pondering this issue, I am sure none of the experts will have any good prediction of how people will behave – when will the zeitgeist be strong enough to allow governments take the massive steps required? When will china be satisfied that they have pulled up their living standards enough such that it would be fair for them to sacrifice too?

With such imponderables, it seems to me, we might gain some insight if we can create on on-line simulation, a ‘game’ if you like, with a large number of participants, each with their own minds, their own priorities, their own feeling of what constitutes justice.

In this game, some would be wealthy, those that had benefited from the industrial revolution, the slave trade, etc, etc, and fiercely protective of their way of life, many more would represent the 3rd world, the developing nations, the disenfranchised, the war-torn…

These people would thus all live in a 2nd-life style world in which carbon emissions are sure to cause catastrophe (no-one knows when!) but carbon emissions are associated with the luxuries used by the people. Will people be able to co-ordinate themselves to reduce overall emissions? Or will they each take the ‘every man for himself’ route, ensuring that the fit survive, but perhaps with a lower total survival rate?

Could such a game be set up?

It would require a committed community of computer experts (which exist) and a committed community of environmentalists (which also exist) – but do they overlap?

How could we go about trying to make this happen?

Unproven medicine : an alternative name for alternative medicine

16 07 2009

“Alternative and complimentary therapies”. They sound so nice. So warm and fuzzy. Surely they augment the cold clinical scientific approach to regular medicine, and have a more holistic approach catering to the soul and spirit as well as the flesh?

I argue not. Hear out my logic…

Any treatment that has proven to provide reliable benefit, is automatically added to the canon of ‘western’ medicine. Therefore the only treatments left available for ‘alternative’ to claim, are those that are unproven, or worse, treatments known to be actively harmful.

Promoters of alternative medicine will argue that western medicine is still woefully weak, and not tuned into holistic and spiritual matters and that such things defy proof. This is clearly claptrap. If you do a well designed double-blind, placebo-controlled test of an ‘alternative therapy’ and the outcomes are no better than for the placebo, then the participants who got the treatment are no better off, spirit or no spirit.

I personally prefer the sort of benefits that can be detected!

How did this situation come to pass, where unproven medications have such a grip?

I think there are three main ingredients:

  1. People make money from other people’s fear (in both western and alternative medicine) and that causes folks on both sides to hide or twist the facts – and also erodes the public’s trust.
  2. The fact that complimentary medicines do actually offer benefits – the well-known benefit of care and attention and also the benefit of the placebo effect – muddies the waters.
  3. It is however the human weakness of putting far too much value on anecdotal evidence that assures the future of unproven medicine.

I think that people who understand this do a disservice to our communities by giving this bad medicine the label ‘alternative’ or ‘complimentary’, so I would like to propose the term ‘unproven medicine’. I would however welcome some more lyrical suggestions!

Evil: a baseless construct

15 07 2009

This morning on BBC Radio 4’s “Though for the day”, the Right Reverend James Jones claimed “Evil triumphs when the imagination is inebriated with evil”.

So as a logician I would like to know what exactly “evil” is. Can it be measured (like energy)? Or detected by our (5) senses? Does it conform to the known laws (models) of physics?

For something so darn vague it is amazing how much we use it day to day. We blame so much on it, and justify so much in its name.

But in a strange dichotomy, if you pay close attention the the professions (medicine, law, engineering, etc) you will find scant mention of this concept – it does not help in the treatment of criminals or the mentally ill it does not explain earthquakes or building collapses – it seems has no use in the real world, but is used by politicians and preachers like a moral blank-cheque.

I therefore suggest that the concept of evil is a relic from a mystical past in which gods were invoked to explain thunder and demons to explain crop failure.

Surely all talk of someone being ‘evil’ or an act being ‘evil’ has no place in our secular world?