The Ecosystem Myth

A very interesting article by Adam Curtis on the origins of the “self-organizing human society” myth.

What you were seeing in that interchange was the expression of a very powerful ideology of our time. It is the idea of the “self-organising network”. It says that human beings can organise themselves into systems where they are linked, but where there is no hierarchy, no leaders and no control. It is not the old form of collective action that the left once believed in, where people subsumed themselves into the greater force of the movement. Instead all the individuals in the self-organising network can do whatever they want as creative, autonomous, self-expressive entities, yet somehow, through feedback between all the individuals in the system, a kind of order emerges.

Where have I heard this before? The notion of self-organizing societies is rooted in biological studies of phenomena such as ant colonies, which superficially look self-organized but in fact are rigidly controlled hierarchies.

Of course some of the ideas come out of anarchist thought. But the idea is also deeply rooted in a strange fantasy vision of nature that emerged in the 1920s and 30s as the British Empire began to decline. It was a vision of nature and – ultimately – the whole world as a giant system that could stabilise itself. And it rose up to grip the imagination of those in power – and is still central in our culture.

Here Curtis shows that James Lovelock’s “Gaia Hypothesis” has a very clear antecedent.

But we have long forgotten where it came from. To discover this you have to go back to a ferocious battle between two driven men in the 1920s. One was a botanist and Fabian socialist called Arthur Tansley. The other was one of the most powerful and ruthless rulers of the British Empire, Field Marshal Jan Smuts.

It all started with a dream. One night Tansley had an unsettling nightmare that involved him shooting his wife. So he did the natural thing and started reading the works of Sigmund Freud, and even went to be analysed by Freud himself. Then Tansley came up with an extraordinary theory. He took Freud’s idea that the human brain is like an electrical machine – a network around which energy flowed – and argued that the same thing was true in nature. That underneath the bewildering complexity of the natural world were interconnected systems around which energy also flowed. He coined a name for them. He called them ecosystems.

But Tansley went further. He said that the world was composed at every level of systems, and what’s more, all these systems had a natural desire to stabilise themselves. He grandly called it “the great universal law of equilibrium”. Everything, he wrote, from the human mind to nature to even human societies – all are tending towards a natural state of equilibrium.

But this is a Romantic biologist’s wild speculation and it has a counter-point – that all societies are manipulated by those who want to rule – often by force.

Field Marshal Smuts was one of the most powerful men in the British empire. He ruled South Africa for the British empire and he exercised power ruthlessly. When the Hottentots refused to pay their dog licences Smuts sent in planes to bomb them. As a result the black people hated him. But Smuts also saw himself as a philosopher – and he had a habit of walking up to the tops of mountains, taking off all his clothes, and dreaming up new theories about how nature and the world worked.

This culminated in 1926 when Smuts created his own philosophy. He called it Holism. It said that the world was composed of lots of “wholes” – the small wholes all evolving and fitting together into larger wholes until they all came together into one big whole – a giant natural system that would find its own stability if all the wholes were in the right places. Einstein liked the theory, and it became one of the big ideas that lots of right-thinking intellectuals wrote about in the 1930s. Even the King became fascinated by it.

But Tansley attacked. He publicly accused Smuts of what he called “the abuse of vegetational concepts” – which at the time was considered very rude. He said that Smuts had created a mystical philosophy of nature and its self-organisation in order to oppress black people. Or what Tansley maliciously called the “less exalted wholes”.

“Less exalted wholes” was ironic considering what was to come in South Africa: apartheid.

Because, although Tansley and Smuts and their argument about power would be forgotten, hybrid combinations of their ideas were going to re-emerge later in the century – strange fusions of systems engineering and mystical visions of organic wholes.

Thirty years later, thousands of young Americans who were disenchanted with politics went off instead to set up their own experimental communities – the commune movement. And they turned to Arthur Tansley’s idea of the ecosystem as a model for how to create a human system of order within the communes.

But they also fused it with cybernetic ideas drawn from computer theory, and out of this came a vision of strong, independent humans linked, just like in nature, in a network that was held together through feedback. The commune dwellers mimicked the ecosystem idea in their house meetings where they all had to say exactly what was on their minds at that moment – so information flowed freely round the system. And through that the communes were supposed to stabilise themselves.

But they didn’t. In many communes across America in the late 1960s house meetings became vicious bullying sessions where the strong preyed mercilessly on the weak, and nobody was allowed to voice any objections. The rules of the self-organising system said that no coalitions or alliances were allowed because that was politics – and politics was bad. If you talk today to ex-commune members they tell horrific stories of coercion, violent intimidation and sexual oppression within these utopian communities, while the other commune members stood mutely watching, unable under the rules of the system to do anything to stop it.

Of course this Utopian vision reached its logical conclusion in Jamestown, Guyana in 1978. People think that Jamestown was an aberration caused by religion – which it was, except the religion was Christianity and Communism and the Ecosystem Myth mixed together by the clinically paranoid Jim Jones.

In the late 70s an idea rose up that we – and everything else on the planet – are connected together in complex webs and networks. Out of it came epic visions of connectivity such as the Gaia theory and utopian ideas about the world wide web. And human beings believed that their duty was not to try to control the system, but to help it maintain its natural self-organising balance.

At the end of 1991 a giant experiment began in the Arizona desert. Its aim was to create from scratch a model for a whole self-organising world.

Biosphere 2 was a giant sealed world. Eight humans were locked in with a mass of flora and other fauna, and a balanced ecosystem was supposed to naturally emerge. But from the start it was completely unbalanced. The CO2 levels started soaring, so the experimenters desperately planted more green plants, but the CO2 continued to rise, then dissolved in the “ocean” and ate their precious coral reef. Millions of tiny mites attacked the vegetables and there was less and less food to eat. The men lost 18% of their body weight. Then millions of cockroaches took over. The moment the lights were turned out in the kitchen, hordes of roaches covered every surface. And it got worse – the oxygen in the world started to disappear and no one knew where it was going. The “bionauts” began to suffocate. And they began to hate one another – furious rows erupted that often ended with them spitting in one another’s faces. A psychiatrist was brought in to see if they had gone insane, but concluded simply that it was a struggle for power.

And a struggle for power is exactly what you get when human societies form and interact. In a sense, all of human history makes a mockery of the utopian visions of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, for example. I have always wondered why people like to wear uniforms, but then I realise that they are accepting of a hierarchy controlled by a benevolent dictator whom they admire.

The article is well worth reading.

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Questioning Roy Spencer: Can a cooler object warm a hotter object?

In the blog post “Yes Virginia Cooler Objects can make Warmer Objects warmer still” published in July 2010, Roy Spencer makes the following claim:

One of the more common statements is, “How can a cooler atmospheric layer possibly heat a warmer atmospheric layer below it?” The person asking the question obviously thinks the hypothetical case represented by their question is so ridiculous that no one could disagree with them.


In fact, this is happening all around us, all the time. The reason why we might be confused by the apparent incongruity of the statement is that we don’t spend enough time thinking about why the temperature of something is what it is.

  and posits the following thought experiment:

Imagine a heated plate in a cooled vacuum chamber, as in the first illustration, below. These chambers are used to test instruments and satellites that will be flown in space. Let’s heat the plate continuously with electricity. The plate can lose energy only through infrared (heat) radiation emitted toward the colder walls of the chamber, since there is no air in the vacuum chamber to conduct the heat away from the plate. (Similarly, there is no air in outer space to conduct heat away from the Earth in the face of solar heating.)

The plate will eventually reach a constant temperature (let’s say 150 deg. F.) where the rate of energy gain by the plate from electricity equals the rate of energy loss by infrared radiation to the cooled chamber walls.

Now, let’s put a second plate next to the first plate. The second plate will begin to warm in response to the infrared energy being emitted by the heated plate. Eventually the second plate will also reach a state of equilibrium, where its average temperature (let’s say 100 deg. F) stays constant with time. This is shown in the next illustration:

Roy justifies what he’s done with this statement:

But what will happen to the temperature of the heated plate in the process? It will end up even hotter than it was before the cooler plate was placed next to it. This is because the second plate reduced the rate at which the first plate was losing energy.

(If you are unconvinced of this, then imagine that the second plate completely surrounds the heated plate. Will the heated plate remain at 150 deg., and not warm at all?)

In the following few posts, I’m going to question the thought experiment and have a look at the Laws of Thermodynamics and how they apply to this situation.


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Camping goes for broke – “The Invisible Judgment” just happened

After the failed prophecy, Harold Camping aims for the bleachers once again. This should be his third strike:

“We had all of our dates correct,” Camping insisted, clarifying that he now understands that Christ’s May 21 arrival was “a spiritual coming” ushering in the last five months before the final judgment and destruction.


In an hour and a half broadcast, Camping walked listeners through his numerological timeline, insisting that his teaching has not changed and that the world will still end on October 21, 2011.

“It wont be spiritual on October 21st,” Camping said, adding, “the world is going to be destroyed all together, but it will be very quick.”

Camping had previously pointed to October 21 as the last day on earth for all humanity.

His former assertion was that a faithful three percent would be physically pulled into heaven by God through the Rapture on May 21, to be followed by a five month period of great suffering known as the Tribulation, ending, finally, on October 21. On Monday’s broadcast, Camping speculated that perhaps a merciful God decided to spare humanity five months of “hell on earth.”

“Hell on Earth” if you’re not used to everyone laughing at you, certainly. But in certain people, there are inexhaustible supplies of delusional thinking ready to block out reality – just look at Usenet or James Hansen.

Richard Dawkins certainly cuts to the chase:

Q. Family Radio evangelist Harold Camping believes that he has calculated the exact date of the rapture: May 21, 2011. While many are laughing at the suggestion, Camping’s followers are taking him seriously, bringing his message of impending doom to billboards and public spaces around the country. What does your tradition teach about the end of the world? How does end time theology impact real world behavior?

A. Why is a serious newspaper like the Washington Post giving space to a raving loon? I suppose the answer must be that, unlike the average loon, this one has managed to raise enough money to launch a radio station and pay for billboards. I don’t know where he gets the money, but it would be no surprise to discover that it is contributed by gullible followers – gullible enough, we may guess, to go along with him when he will inevitably explain, on May 22nd, that there must have been some error in the calculation, the rapture is postponed to . . . and please send more money to pay for updated billboards.

So, the question becomes, why are there so many well-heeled, gullible idiots out there? Why is it that an idea can be as nuts as you like and still con enough backers to finance its advertising to acquire yet more backers . . . until eventually a national newspaper notices and makes it into a silly season filler?

I suppose the best antidote to all of this, is that Reality causes the rest of us to reexamine our basic assumptions about the world around us – and to make adjustments where necessary.

Unless you’re Harold Camping, of course.



Rapture Day+1

Today is May 22nd, 2011.

As far as I can tell no Rapture has taken place. Which means that Harold Camping was wrong.

Here are the facts:

FACTS about May 21, 2011


Who or What is Family Radio?

Family Stations, Inc. is a non-profit, non-commercial, Christian radio network. It was established in 1958 with one FM station in the San Francisco bay area. Mr. Camping along with two other Christian men purchased KEAR with the sole intent of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today there are sixty-six owned and operated radio stations throughout the U.S.

Along with these domestic stations Family Stations also broadcasts its programming from numerous international broadcast facilities throughout the world.

Who is Harold Camping?

Harold Camping is the President and General Manager of Family Stations, Inc. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 1942 with a degree in civil engineering. Mr. Camping has been a full-time volunteer since Family Radio’s infancy and has never received compensation for his service.

What Qualifies Mr. Camping to make the pronouncement of May 212011?

Mr. Camping has been a tireless student of the Bible for over five decades.The tens of thousands of hours he has spent analyzing the Bible has given him a unique perspective of the entirety of Scripture. He has dedicated his life to prepare himself to answer questions raised concerning God’s Word to man.

More facts are:

How can Family Radio be so bold as to declare a date for Christ’s return?

Given the overwhelming biblical evidence, the Family Stations, Inc. Board of Directors made a determination to dedicate all available resources to proclaim the warning of May 21, 2011. God has prepared Family Radio for this important time in history. Given the population of the world, radio and the internet are the perfect vehicles to deliver this warning.

What proof is there for the date of May 21, 2011?

The date May 21, 2011 was derived solely from evidence found in the Bible. Mr. Camping saw God had placed, in Scripture, many important signs and proofs. These proofs alert believers that May 21st of 2011 is the date Christ will return for His people and begin a period of the final destruction of the world.

What signs precede the Day of Judgment?

Jesus warned of several spiritual signs, such as the complete degradation of the Christian church, the devastating moral breakdown of society, the re-establishment of National Israel in1948, the emergence of the ‘Gay Pride Movement’, and the complete disregard of the Bible in all of society today as direct evidence of His return.

What is the Timeline of History?

The timeline of history is God’s predetermined timetable for the unfolding of God’s Gospel program for this world. In other words the length of time between the day God created this world in 11,013 B.C. and the day he will destroy it in October 21, 2011.

The discovery of this information built the foundation for what God would later reveal from the Bible as the date for the end.

Judgment Day on May 21, 2011 is the culmination of five decades of intensive biblical study by Mr. Camping and other bible teachers who have discovered the same biblical data.

So, you may ask, what happened yesterday?

What will take place on May 21?

On May 21, 2011 two events will occur. These events could not be more opposite in nature, the one more wonderful than can be imagined; the other more horrific than can be imagined.

A great earthquake will occur the Bible describes it as “such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.” This earthquake will be so powerful it will throw open all graves.The remains of the all the believers who have ever lived will be instantly transformed into glorified spiritual bodies to be forever with God.

On the other hand the bodies of all unsaved people will be thrown out upon the ground to be shamed.

The inhabitants who survive this terrible earthquake will exist in a world of horror and chaos beyond description. Each day people will die until October 21,2011 when God will completely destroy this earth and its surviving inhabitants.

And the Biblical confidence is overwhelming:

What if May 21 ends and nothing occurs?

The Biblical evidence is too overwhelming and specific to be wrong. Christ’s people can look with great confidence to this date because God promises His “beloved” He will not come upon them as a thief in the night.

God in His mercy has revealed the vital information needed to know the day. Judgment Day on May 21, 2011 will occur because the bible declares it. Anyone whom God has not saved will arrive at that day with no hope for salvation. God warns simply the “door will be shut.”

As of this morning, the Rev. Camping has gone to ground.

With his millions of dollars, which he didn’t give away even though he knew he couldn’t take it with him. Odd, that?

It would be easy to mock the Rev Camping and his followers for believing all of the above – but just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

This from the BBC:

An atheist and entrepreneur from New Hampshire, Bart Centre, is enjoying a boost in business for Eternal Earth-bound Pets, which he set up to look after the pets of those who believe they will be raptured.

He has more than 250 clients who are paying up to $135 (£83) to have their pets picked up and cared for after the rapture.

They would be disappointed twice, he told the Wall Street Journal. “Once because they weren’t raptured and again because I don’t do refunds.”

Gawker Gizmodo had a contest for people to photograph what the rapture would look like. My two favourites are:

Why was that cute dog left behind to face the Tribulation?

and this made me laugh

How could she leave having read that it was all a delusion?

Of course, many other people took the opportunity to pour atheistic ordure on Harold Camping’s biblical head.

The Maker Faire found itself on the cusp of the Apocalypse, and decided to make a button out of it

Atheist groups in the US joined in the fun

Atheists in Tacoma, Washington have been holding a “Countdown to Backpedaling” and a big party to celebrate the non-event.

Oh well. Back to finding a job…


Denis Rancourt “on the gargantuan lie of climate change science”

This is from Denis Rancourt, physics professor and self-described anarchist:

In all of human history, what was believed and promoted by the majority of service intellectuals (high priests) in each civilization was only created and maintained to support the hierarchy and the place of the high priests within the hierarchy. To believe that the present is any different regarding any issue managed by our “experts”, whether in medicine, psychology, cosmology, economics, law and governance, population health or ecology, is pure distilled idiocy.

Never mind that the whole climate change scam is now driven by the top-level financiers newly eyeing a multi-trillion-dollar paper economy of carbon trading and that this is the reason it’s now a dominant mainstream media and corporate messaging presence [1].

Never mind that this paper economy of carbon trading will be the largest financial extortion enterprise since the invention of the US-centered military-backed global finance structure of predation itself.

Never mind that establishment scientists are service intellectuals who virtually never diverge from supporting power, who at best look for sanitized and hypothetical “problems” that do not threaten hierarchy and who feed their false self-image of relevance [2][3].

Never mind also the pathetic recent historical record of science with regard to identifying or solving public health and environmental problems [4][5][6].

Never mind all that. Take the red pill by considering the climate “science” fairy tale itself and examine its story elements.

Here goes, in five story-element steps.

Read on at

Nenana Ice Classic 2011 result

In case you missed it, the official result for 2011 is in:

The Tanana River officially broke up on May 4, 2011 at 4:24 PM

Here’s the context of the date in comparison with all of the others since 1917:

and since Willis mentioned it, there is a correlation between the Nenana break-up date and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, although I think the warming recorded since the 1960s (with the trending of the breakup earlier in the year) might correlate with the growth of Fairbanks upstream.


I inverted the Nenana breakup date so that up is earlier in the year (ie warmer). The PDO data was filtered to remove the high frequency noise.

Mind the (Seismic) Gap

San Andreas Fault in California.

Image via Wikipedia

The Seismic Gap Theory in geology has been somewhat controversial, even though some of its predictions appear to be rational, ie that movement of a tectonic fault along a plate boundary should be more or less continuous unless that slippage is blocked, in which case it is liable to sudden slippage (large earthquake) if strain starts to build.

The seismic gap hypothesis states that earthquake hazard increases with time since the last large earthquake on certain faults or plate boundaries. One of the earliest and clearest applications of the seismic gap theory to earthquake forecasting was by McCann et al. (1979), who postulated zones of high, medium, and low seismic potential around the Pacific rim.

A paper by Kagan and Jackson (1991) “Seismic Gap Hypothesis: Ten Years After” appeared to find that the Seismic Gap Hypothesis did not match reality:

In the 10 years since [1979], there have been over 40 large (M ≥ 7.0) earthquakes, enough to test statistically the earlier forecast. We also analyze another forecast of long-term earthquake risk, that by Kelleher et al. (1973). The hypothesis of increased earthquake potential after a long quiet period can be rejected with a large confidence. The data suggest that, contrary to these forecasts, places of recent earthquake activity have larger than usual seismic hazard, whereas the segments of the circum-Pacific belt with no large earthquakes in recent decades have remained relatively quiet. The “clustering” of earthquake times does not contradict the plate tectonic model, which constrains only the long-term average slip rate, not the regularity of earthquakes.

But in certain places, the long term slippage of a tectonic fault is more or less continuous in terms of low level earthquakes, unless for some reason, the slippage is impeded and the strain on the fault builds until a catastrophic earthquake occurs. This appears to have happened in the recent Christchurch (Lyttleton) earthquakes.

From Wolfram Alpha, the earthquakes above magnitude 3 for the last 30 years show a continuous range of small earthquakes and then a sudden year-long gap of no earthquakes at all followed by several large earthquakes that devastated Christchurch and the surrounding area.

Earthquakes near Christchurch, NZ in the last 30 years

The gap before the Lyttleton earthquake was noted by Warwick Hughes, but his graph was a little ideosyncratic.

The more recent series of devastating earthquakes off the east coast of Japan also show a short gap of a few months before the big ones happened:

Earthquakes for the last five years near Sendai, Japan

Clearly the Seismic Gap Hypothesis has some life left in it, after all.

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