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Discussion > We are wasting our time; all of it.

Raff,
Sorry, missed the "Radical" in your last post which signalled a change in addressee. Apologies.

Jun 16, 2015 at 1:05 AM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

"I'll put a couple of grand on it."

"It's very difficult to make predictions, especially about the future." Neil Bohr.

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” — Albert Einstein, 1932

“Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” — William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British scientist, 1899.

I wouldn't bet on it.

Jun 16, 2015 at 7:03 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

“Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax.”

If it's true that Lord Kelvin said those things in 1899, it's hard to understand the last two in particular. Lilienthal's glider flights were then internationally known and X-rays are reported to have been used for battlefield surgery some years before.

(So far as radio is concerned, he undoubtedly had in mind that it would before long be replaced by TV, so hard to fault him there.)

There is a difference between:
(A) Saying that something is impossible or a hoax when the thing has already been demonstrated (Lord K).
(B) Being willing merely to bet against something which seems to contradict our current understanding of basic physics (Martin A).

The fact the hot fusion has remained fifty years in the future for at least the last five decades, plus the supreme inelegance of the current approach suggests that it remaining unviable would also be a pretty good bet.

Jun 16, 2015 at 11:34 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Martin A

I don't know what Kelvin knew in 1899, maybe he didn't know about x-rays because he didn't have a radio. I've checked what he is reputed to have said about the aeroplane, and, while it is widely attributed to him there is nothing in the record to confirm it. In fact he did say that humans would in the very far off be able to fly like birds. He didn't believe that radio would be a success, but was equally delighted to use he radio telegraph across the Atlantic. The x-ray quote was his. He also said:

"There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now, All that remains is more and more precise measurement."

Einstein denied the possibility of the atom bomb a mere 12 years or so before it came to fruition.

My point is, clumsily put I'll admit, that we don't know what we don't know about the future, good or bad. I'm not arguing that fusion is going to be real, I remember the cold fusion paper (was it by a couple of Russians?) it looked like a hoax to me. But you have to wonder if we'd thrown the money at fusion technology that we've thrown at climate science maybe the whole thing would be over by now. Who knows?

Jun 17, 2015 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

geronimo - well there is no doubt we are useless at predicting future technology - either things that will be or things that won't be.

And even if Lord Kelvin had had a radio in 1899, it would not have been any use to him, as there would have been nowhere for him to plug it in.

My point on hot fusion was motivated by the fact that money has been pissed at the problem in huge volumes and continues to be
"Bedevilled by technical delays, labyrinthine decision-making and cost estimates that have soared from five to around fifteen billion euros, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project is saddled with a reputation as a money pit."

Smearing expensive lipstick on the tired old pig in the hope of persuading it to fly gives the illusion of 'doing something' but, if fusion power someday becomes a reality, it will be via something new and different and currently unexpected.

Jun 17, 2015 at 4:00 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Einstein denied the possibility of the atom bomb a mere 12 years or so before it came to fruition.
Yet nowadays, there are many who deny the possibility of nuclear fusion with the same conviction. Why, when there are so many such excellent examples that prove that it cannot be done, do people still insist that they are able to predict the future? The world we accept with such equanimity is way beyond the wildest imaginings of many just 50 years ago, let alone 100!

Jun 17, 2015 at 4:47 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

RR, that was my point, Martin A's point above is also true, hot fusion has had a lot of money poured into it with no result, but we all agree that there's no telliing the future with technology.

You're right too about the world being an order of magnitude, or two, better than it was in the 60s even. But you know what, that improvement is precisely why we're beset by enviro loonies, the wealth today is such that parasites can focus on destroying it, little realising that environmentalism is the result of wealth and an abundance of cheap energy.

Jun 17, 2015 at 5:10 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

"Yet nowadays, there are many who deny the possibility of nuclear fusion with the same conviction"

RR - I don't think it is quite the same thing. In 1932 nuclear fission had not been discovered and there was no known way to release nuclear energy. Whereas the fundamental principles of fusion are known - and their use was first demonstrated in 1952 ( Ivy Mike). Controlled fusion power just requires the solution of some practicalities.

But sixty years of work towards controlled fusion has resulted in the prospect receding at a rate of about one decade per decade, so I'd be willing to bet against it becoming reality within another sixty years.

I imagine what you are really getting at is the silliness of using resources today to solve problems we imagine our descendants may have a century from now. Or perhaps the claim, all evidence to the contrary, that future climate can confidently be predicted.

Jun 17, 2015 at 5:36 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Martin A, look on the bright side. There are three times as many people alive today as in 1950. If we can get them up to Western living standards and well educated then we have a much improved chance of one or more of them making the inventive step that is required.

Yes, it will still require money and the intellectual drive to succeed. And we both know that neither of those is going to come from Greenpeace.

Jun 17, 2015 at 6:11 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Martin A; Michael Hart: to be brief – yes.

While we cannot deny that we have yet to resolve the issue, we cannot deny that there could be a break-through some time in the future. The best way to improve our chances of finding this break-through (or, at the very least, resolving that there actually is none, yet) would be to raise the standards of the whole world, in the chance that it might be a different outlook from a different culture that could be the key.

Jun 17, 2015 at 7:49 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

The best way ... would be to raise the standards of the whole world ...
How do you suggest we do that when we've not done such a great job of it for the last 100 years and more?

Jun 18, 2015 at 11:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

The best way ... would be to raise the standards of the whole world ...

How do you suggest we do that when we've not done such a great job of it for the last 100 years and more?

Jun 18, 2015 at 11:32 PM Raff

Raff, what planet are you on? People in even the poorest countries have a standard of life far better than their great grandparents did a century ago.

Jun 19, 2015 at 8:56 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

"The best way ... would be to raise the standards of the whole world ...

How do you suggest we do that when we've not done such a great job of it for the last 100 years and more?"

Wow, that tells us all we need to know about our resident snidemonger. S/he must be 12 years old, and it proves Dung's point we are "wasting our time".

Jun 19, 2015 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Martin A, Geronimo – at last, you are beginning to catch on! Ignore the twerp, and it will go away. “We” can do very little, other than to lead by example and encourage those interested in advancement to advance (i.e. NOT discourage them from investing in fossil fuels, for a start).

Jun 19, 2015 at 10:02 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Well, Raff is certainly a master craftsman of the loaded question, which, if you simply answer directly, involves implying that you concede the supposition (usually highly debatable, to say the least) with which the question has been loaded.

In this case, the supposition seems to be that "we" have failed to raise the living standards of the whole world over the past century. And, all evidence to the contrary, that living standards have not risen.

By and large people have raised their living standards by their own efforts. It's not "we" who have done it. Although improvements have frequently been aided by "our" technology, trade with "us", rule of law inherited from colonial times, and so on.

Forgetting the "we" bit, the pre-requisites for the raising of living standards seem to be:

- Rule of law which permits and protects the possession of property and which facilitates transfer of ownership at reasonable cost and prevents the arbitrary deprivation of ownership.

- Availability of cheap safe transport and means of communication. (As opposed to trade being prevented by piracy or excessive road tolls, for example.)

- Laws which permit and facilitate the lending of money at interest for business purposes. (As opposed to the mediaeval European prohibition on lending money at interest, for example.)

- Education which emphasises freedom of thought, rational enquiry and practical subjects, including the application arithmetic. (As opposed to eduction with emphasis on rote learning - holy books or other, for example.)

Jun 19, 2015 at 12:02 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Silly me, when you used an active verb ("to raise the standards of the whole world") I thought you meant we should do something. No I see what you really meant was

The best way to improve our chances of finding this break-through (or, at the very least, resolving that there actually is none, yet) would be to sit back and hope the whole world raises its standards ('cos we are not going to spend our money helping them), in the chance that it might be a different outlook from a different culture that could be the key.
Doubly silly, in fact, as that is of course the default position of the right: keep you hands off my money; look after yourself 'cos I'm not about to; wanna borrow some money to build a coal power station (but not my money of course)? And you'll have to pay for the coal indefinitely...

Martin, I said, "we've not done such a great job of it for the last 100 years and more". Are you suggesting that we really have done a great job of raising the standards in the rest of the world? How did we do it and how could we do better?

Jun 19, 2015 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

Martin, I didn't see your 12:02. Seems like you agree that "we" didn't raise world standards except indirectly.

Jun 19, 2015 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterRaff

http://www.ibtimes.com/sub-saharan-africa-falls-behind-fight-against-extreme-poverty-world-bank-report-1881460

A billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in the last 25 years. World Bank analysts estimate that the number of people living in extreme poverty globally has been cut in half since 1990. Only sub Saharan Africa has declined and part of that is due to increased population.

Jun 20, 2015 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Don't underestimate the value of leading by example. Western prosperity almost certainly persuaded Russia and China to abandon communism. Also don't underestimate the value of trickle down technology.

One of my main objections to solar panel is that that they're currently a niche technology in the west but we want others to leap frog over simple industries and industrialisation and arrive at a position we can't ourselves attain. The eco view of Africa is people living the prehistoric life but with solar powered laptops. We didn't achieve what we've got by staying scattered across the land. People congregated where the energy and hence jobs sprang up. It's no accident that many former industrial cities are built on coal fields. And yes, there are cons to the pros that urbanisation offers. Real pollution is one of them. China would have served its people far better by fitting pollution reduction equipment to their power stations than faffing about with solar or wind.

Jun 20, 2015 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2