He doesn't like population growth, but has benefited greatly from population growth ...


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Initial post: Jun 10, 2010 7:17:31 PM PDT
brian0918 says:
Wells doesn't like how much the global population has grown, or the abundance that agriculture has brought to society. But Wells doesn't realize that in a much smaller society, there would not be much need for a geneticist, anthropologist, or a naturalist. If you and two other people are stuck on a deserted island, there's not going to be any free time for *abstract thought*. Every waking moment is going to be spent trying to avoid death/disease/starvation. So Dr. Wells grew up in a society that was large enough to support the kind of specialized fields for which he was highly interested - exploring nature, understanding biology, etc, yet he would like to end that possibility for future generations.

On the contrary to what all the best-selling alarmists will tell you, e do not need fewer people. We need MORE people. Imagine a world where every individual has a personal doctor, and where there is so much specialization on top of specialization, essentially splitting up the mental work, that we completely understand the brain and cause of all diseases, create cures, end hunger, etc.

Hunger/disease/death can only be ended in one of two ways: a) Wells' way (an end to human value/life), b) human advancement and division of (mental) labor. Wells' ultimate goal is evident, as all human values are fundamentally rooted in the ultimate standard of value - one's life. While Wells' simple suggestion to "want less" seems harmless on the surface, at what point would he pronounce "Mission Accomplished"? When we have all returned to the hunter-gatherer model and realized that disease/starvation/misery are much worse than we had it before? Or must more human value (and life) be eradicated. When will we have sacrificed enough to the arbitrary altar of "The Environment as an End in Itself"?

An end to human want is an end to human value, which is ultimately an end to human life.

Posted on Jun 12, 2010 11:46:56 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 13, 2010 12:05:36 AM PDT
Vince says:
Overpopulation and greed are good? And your serious?

There's a difference between understanding life and actually living it. Scientists who seek to understand life do so in lieu of actually living it the way it was meant to be. It's a hollow consolation prize. Even a successful geneticist like Wells understands that modernity has left us all broken and incomplete. Cut off from the source.

Scientific reductionism, the idea that everthing can be understood if it is broken down into smaller components, is an inherently false proposition that devalues the meaning of everything. Far from enriching the human spirit, we are led to believe that we live in a deterministic and mechanical world where the realm of the spirit is of no importance.

Yes, modern physics and mathematics are introducing new ideas that are a break from this bleak picture...but the new theories sound an awful lot like the mythological ideas of old...and so perhaps we eventually will come full circle. Perhaps science will eventually be able to explain the broader questions...but the explanations will only confirm what our ancient ancestors already knew. And how much damage will we have done to planet in the meantime?.

Only then might we realize our true mission on earth. Our mission was/is to be the caretaker and the guardian of this sacred planet. In that we have failed miserably. And our failure will lead us to more misery.

And lastly, there's an irony to your suggestion that those stuck on a deserted island would have no time for abstract thought. On the contrary, they would have far more free time than the average American worker who works a 12 hour day, if one accounts for travel time. Our hunter gatherer ancestors worked a mere 2 hours a day. The same was true for the Native Americans and the Aborigines of Australia. One of the primary reasons the Native Americans never assimilated into western culture is because they saw the long working hours of western life as a form of slavery. Many of the early English wished to live the easy life of the Native American...until the laws made it a capital offense, a torturous death in fact, to leave the English settlements. An interesting slice of American history you haven't learned.

Even at a young age, the average Native American knew everything he needed to know about how to live and survive on his own. And he had a knowlege and appreciation for the animals, plants and all things spiritual that enriched his life. Furthermore, he was self-sufficient and had the confidence that goes along with it. The average young person today, having spent his entire youth in school, graduates knowing almost nothing of any real value. He is hopelessly dependent on the system for his survival.

Suggested reading for someone as clueless as yourself? Read 'Grandfather' by Tom Brown and 'My Ishmael' by Daniel Quinn.

Posted on Jun 13, 2010 5:19:51 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 13, 2010 5:25:37 AM PDT
brian0918 says:
> living it the way it was meant to be

The "way it was meant to be" according to whom? People involved in science likely grew up with a fascination for the natural world (think Charles Darwin) and were afforded the opportunity to live out their dreams by the great division of labor that a larger population provides.

"Cut off from the source." - What does this statement even mean?

2nd paragraph, you claim without reason that the scientific method is a "false proposition". Do you care to provide the reason? Unfortunately for your claim, reduction/identification is exactly how reason works, so it would be impossible for you to provide a "reason" why reason is false. Truth/falsity depends on the framework of reason.

3rd paragraph - a lot of general claims, no rationale, and no concrete examples. Why is that?

4th paragraph - "Our mission was/is to be the caretaker and the guardian of this sacred planet." - Who gave us this mission? Who are we taking care of it for? You use these words - "mission", "caretaker" - but they do not refer to the actual concepts represented by those words, so you are committing the fallacy of the stolen concept. That is, unless you are able to identify the person for whom we are charged with taking care of the planet. You would also need to provide a reason *why* we are accepting such a mission. I do not recall signing any contract when I popped out of the womb.

5th paragraph - It is irrelevant what the Native Americans claimed was "slavery". That term has a very specific meaning, and "voluntarily agreeing to work for pay" does not fit into that meaning. You have also claimed without evidence that English people wanted to leave the colony because it would have been an easier life. You then connect that claim to a law banning people from leaving the colony, and you pretend that the former caused the latter. What is your evidence for this?

5th paragraph - you have dodged my argument by a) ignoring the fact that hunter-gatherers *do not* perform more abstract thought than those in developed societies, and b) pretending that the only explanation for long working hours is due to the very nature of scientific progress. Regarding a), you can claim all day long that hunter-gatherers have more "free time" for abstract thought, yet I do not see any examples of them thinking so abstractly. That is because in reality, all of their "free" time is spent in regards to survival, and their every moment of existence is spent toward that goal, whether planning the next day/week of activities, repairing weapons/shelter, treating wounds, etc. I would like to see a source for the claim that they only spent 2 hours "working" - most likely, this is merely the amount of time they hunted/gathered, while the rest of their time was spent in other activities related to hunting/gathering.

I would instead blame the fact that we work so many hours a day, and that it now requires two people with full-time jobs to support a family (compared to 1 in the 1950s), on the increased burden that government has placed on our lives through income/sales/excise tax, and the steady devaluation of our savings through inflation. The increasing taxes reduce our take-home pay, requiring us to work more hours for the same pay, while purposeful inflation reduces the value of the money that we do not immediately spend, requiring us to work longer and have more jobs than previously.

I have provided my rationale for blaming the government for longer working days. What is your rationale for blaming scientific progress?

6th paragraph - "knowing almost nothing of any real value" - There is no such thing as "real" or "inherent" value. Value is a relational term. Asserting that something has value begs the question, of value *to whom*?

Nobody is "hopelessly dependent" on the system. Anyone wishing to become self-reliant simply needs to learn how to do so, as with any other activity. Plenty of people have learned to become self-reliant of their own choosing.

I have thoroughly demonstrated how "clueless" I am not. Can you seriously say the same for yourself?

Posted on Jun 13, 2010 7:44:21 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 13, 2010 8:48:53 AM PDT
Vince says:
I hadn't meant for this to be a mere disingenuous debate. Clearly you are not a spiritual person or you would understand the meaning of the words and phrases i've used. I will clarify a few points and let it go.

It is entirely logical to suggest that something(the universe and beyond) has a greater meaning and purpose than the sum of its parts. Moreover, man is limited in his senses and can not see the larger and truer picture of 'everything'. Ergo he cannot see the overall design and meaning of everything through science. But has to take a leap through 'faith' and 'spirituality'.

Modern physics, such as M-theory, have postulated the existence of 11 dimensions, and the breakdown of space-time at the string level. It is also quite mainstream nowadays to assert the existence of parallel universes. If these theories are correct, if parallel universes are surrounding us and yet we are unaware of them due to the limitations of our senses...then how can we ever hope to really grasp the big picture, the meaning of it all through science?

Eastern philosophies assert that all life is sacred and sentient. It has been demonstrated that a single cell organism can make decisions that go above and beyond 'instinct'. I would further assert that matter itself is sentient to a lesser degree. Eventually Western science may catch up to the Eastern philosophies, but the damage we've done to our own psyches in the meantime will take a great deal of time to recover from.

While its true that divided labor gives someone like Charles Darwin an opportunity to pursue a worthwhile endeavor, the vast majority of the aristocratic class behaved more selfishly with their free time. And still, they were able to live off the masses of poor overworked laborers. It would seem you believe in a feudal system, where some live lavishly off the sweat of others. Hunter-gatherer societies were far more egalitarian in nature. And since religious thought is abstract thought, the worship and spiritual ceremonies of these primitive societies counts as abstract thought. Perhaps you over-value the abstract thought of your choosing.

The one thing science and modernity seems to have no interest in is ....how best to lead our lives. What is the most fulfilling path. And although I gave the example of 'self sufficiency', that specifically is not the path to a fulfilling life. No one wants to live isolated and alone. The human psyche developed over millions of years to feel fulfilled in a certain type of hunter-gatherer community. The Amish have found a reasonable alternative that works.

If you wish to know more about early American history and its laws regarding desertion of the settlements, read a history book. And while slavery has a specific meaning, I said the Indians thought it be like a 'form of slavery'. Not slavery. Trying being a bit more genuine with your response.

And lastly, your assertion that governments are the problem only reaffirms Wells' case...because govts are a result of the agrarian societies we now find ourselves in.

Posted on Jun 17, 2010 11:15:21 AM PDT
Bon Bon says:
bet those pointing out all the above are doing so while sitting inside a cushy house or office with central heat/air. You all likely drive an automobile, go to modern restaurants, grocery stores, eat cereal, and have benefited from being employed. I can't imagine who would want to be a pre-agrarian hunter gatherer. Let's be honest. The author (who uses commercial jets and is selling a book -- both benefit from large populations -- first one drives down flight prices -- second one gives author a wide customer base to buy his book) and all of us included, if forced to live in the pure wilderness, would want to give that up after a month of trying. Heck, I'll give some of the die hard enthusiasts a year. One drought, cold spell, or just going long enough without a shower would peel you right away from such silliness. Now, having said that, population growth is out of control which is a sustainability issue for the planet (too many fish in the fish tank) that harms everything with excessive pollution and consumption of resources.

Most fulfilling path? Science and modernity have no interest? The Amish?
1. a hunter/gatherer society is more concerned with primitive life issues than figuring out "What's my life mission".
2. Science and modernity increase the tools we can use for whatever purpose we desire.
Tell me that science and modernity isn't helping your life when one day you're needing a heart surgeon or an MRI.
3. The Amish? I've not researched this group heavily but they sound fairly isolated. How many Nobel Prize winners were Amish?
Aren't these folks living under a bunch of religious mumbo jumbo beliefs that simply limit their lives? That sounds dull.
If you're a child in that situation, your future is limited to doing the same tasks every previous generation has done before.
I'd prefer a world that continues adapting through modernity than to be stuck on the same wheel for eternity.

Posted on Jun 17, 2010 11:35:55 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 17, 2010 11:36:59 AM PDT
Bon Bon says:
I can agree that the book makes good points. Why not use the author's ideas if it improves your life (maybe not everyone's life).
He's right on many counts regarding modern agriculture (I'm swinging slightly off your original topic) if you want to take your discussion there. If you want, look up Monsanto and the issues involving BT cotton in India. Heck, just look up Monstanto and GMO crops. Look at how modern agriculture has developed to deplete soils of nutrients (creates dead soil), created overcrowded (entirely unnatural) commercial farms, and so forth. Look at a typical grocery store, you'll find an abundance of grain foods (loaded with preservatives to increase shelf life). Look at the corn industry that's got it's foot in everywhere from food to fuel. On these counts, I like what this book points out about modern agriculture. I'd say that these farming methods (last 60 yrs.) were encouraged for commercial gain, not to feed the world (just look at how food distribution doesn't reach needy third world nations). Modern science can do something about this by adapting former agricultural practices to incorporate a better program. That's why we have a push for green farming.

thought I'd point out practical matters rather than stay in abstract land

Posted on Jun 23, 2010 7:24:09 AM PDT
This book is filled with one logical fallacy after another. It starts off making interesting points, but then the author goes on and on making claims with absolutely no evidence to back up those claims. He states time and time again that people who would disagree with him are simply uninformed or don't understand the science, but then he skims over issues and show that he is rather ignorant of the complexity of topics. This book is typical of a scholar. Do a massive amount of research and pick out the pieces that will perfectly fit the narrative you've laid out.

Posted on Feb 25, 2011 5:42:40 PM PST
ebad says:
Have you actually watched documentaries on the lives of the Indians (aboriginals) in Borneo or south America? They are filled with violence, disease and sheer terror. They are always on the verge of starvation, and every pregnancy could mean death for the woman. There is no harmony in a world where you must kill anything that is remotely a threat to you. They do consume great amounts of hallucinogenic plants and at sometimes seem more like little bands of hippies than anything else, until you witness their terrible superstition. Imagine a world where you are literally scared of the dark, or are considering burning a young girl to death because her visit happens to coincide with your chief getting sick. Of course, she must turn into a snake at night and poison his spirit, so yeah, let's set her on fire. Society has always had idiots that idealize our ancient past, but there is a reason that life expectancy has gone up, and most people in the advanced western nations have lived comfortable easy live compared to even a hundred years ago. I heard the stories from my grandfather who homesteaded in Montana, arriving at his new home in an ox-cart. No thanks, I'll take a modern world where I have a CHOICE on how I want to lead my life.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2011 5:49:52 PM PST
ebad says:
Simple crop rotation and the planting of legumes will solve the "dead soil" problem. It was politics that got our food mixed up with our fuel. Let us drill for oil and liquefy coal and utilize nuclear power and that will all go away. The third world doesn't have money, and usually when we give them food it ruins local markets and wipes out their farmers. We should leave them alone and let them develope at their own pace.

In reply to an earlier post on May 28, 2012 9:07:22 AM PDT
R. Schultz says:
He wins; you lose.

Posted on May 28, 2012 9:09:51 AM PDT
R. Schultz says:
I think the book is about advancing the science of understanding modern human origins. Why are we suffering so much while enjoying the fruits of modern technology?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 3, 2012 1:55:05 PM PDT
You either did not read the book, or read it with blinders on. It is a tale of unintended consequences from rational decisions made by our ancestors several thousand years ago. Yes, there would be many fewer of us and our lives would not be as civilized had we not been able to domesticate grains and animals. But your characterization of what life was like for the hunter-gatherers who preceded the early farmers is completely baseless. Had you read the book you would have found that disease became more common after we became farmers because of our close contact with domesticated animals. You would have learned that the diet of the hunter-gatherer is much healthier than the carbohydrate loaded diet of the agricultural age. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, cornary artery disease and most mental illness were either unknown or much less common in less civilized times.

The very notion of civilization carries within it the idea that we have domesticated ourselves as well. Before agriculture, police, governments, religious hierarchies, armies and bureaucracies were unnecessary. Yes, there were drawbacks, but all the evidence suggests that for the people who lived in ecosystems that were sufficiently diverse, life was generally better than in early farming communities.

The downside, if it is a downside is that local human populations would collapse when the population exceeded the carrying capacity whether because of population growth or changes in the ecosystem. This seems to suggest that Malthus was indeed right for humans as for all other species. Please consider that what we have created is a global village that may now be teetering on the edge of a massive population collapse.

Posted on Sep 3, 2012 2:21:25 PM PDT
I certainly did read the book, did you? What is your answer? Turn the clock and have everybody hunt and gather? I agree there are aspects of the hunter-gathers' diet that are good, but that doesn't mean I want to become one. I want to have the choice on what I want to take or leave.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 3, 2012 4:17:59 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 3, 2012 4:20:54 PM PDT
Yes I did. But you seem to have missed the entire point of both the book and my post. It is quite impossible for 7 billion people to return to hunting and gathering. I live in the boreal forest of northern Wisconsin. If the people of this state were to turn back to wood heat and venison, there wouldn't be enough of either for more than a year. But that does not mean that a modern global culture of seven billion, most of whom do not enjoy all the choices that you and I have, can continue indefinitely on our current trajectory. In the distant past, a collapse in local conditions led to a local population collapse, often from out migration. Where do several hundred million people migrate to if we settle into a period of persistent drought?

The whole point of the book is to gain insight into how our adoption of agriculture has led to civilization, such as it is, in our time. It doesn't mean that either time was better or more natural than the other. It does mean that if we make our choices without considering the longer term consequences, we are asking for trouble. As Wells and others have noted, that is the rub. Our brains are wired by natural selection for making short term decisions with little care for generations hence.
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Total posts:  14
Initial post:  Jun 10, 2010
Latest post:  Sep 3, 2012

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Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization
Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization by Spencer Wells (Hardcover - June 8, 2010)
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