Monday, June 15, 2009

Life Under the Regime of Science

The conquest of nature, first proposed by Francis Bacon 400 years ago, has opened up marvelous possibilities. Here is what I gleaned from some recent breakfast reading.

From the Economist:

"The National Ignition Facility: On Target, Finally" (May 28, 2009) opens with the question, "What do you get when you focus 192 lasers onto a pellet [frozen hydrogen] the size of a match head and press the “fire” button?" The National Ignition Facility at the Livermore Labs "is designed to create conditions like those found in stars." For "three thousandths of a has a power of 500 trillion watts, about 3,000 times the average electricity consumption of the whole of planet Earth."
Each laser pulse will begin as a weak infra-red beam. This is split into 48 daughter beams that are then fed into preamplifiers which increase their power 20 billion times. Each of the daughters is split further, into four, and passed repeatedly through the main amplifiers. These increase the beams’ power 15,000 times and push their wavelengths into the ultraviolet.

The pellet itself contains a sphere of deuterium (a heavy form of hydrogen, with nuclei consisting of a proton and a neutron) and tritium (even heavier hydrogen, with a proton and two neutrons) that is chilled to just a degree or so above absolute zero. The beams should compress the sphere so rapidly that it implodes, squeezing deuterium and tritium nuclei together until they overcome their mutual repulsion and fuse to form helium (two protons and two neutrons) together with a surplus neutron and a lot of heat. If enough heat is generated it will sustain the process of fusion without laser input, until most of the nuclear fuel has been used up.

From the conquest of nature "out there," the editors of the Economist turn to the conquest of nature "in here," that is, human nature, as though it's really just all the same thing.

"The Behavioural Effects of Video Games: Good Game?" is a report on two studies, one from Iowa State University and the other from Ludwig-Maximilian University in Germany, that examined the relationship between playing video games and either violent or helpful thoughts and behavior depending on whether the games were themselves violent or "pro-social." We are told, "There is a body of research suggesting that violent games can lead to aggressive thoughts, if not to violence itself." In one Iowa State experiment, "those who spent the longest playing games which involved helping others were most likely to help, share, co-operate and empathise with others. They also had lower scores in tests for hostile thoughts and the acceptance of violence as normal." In another experiment by the same researcher involving games with helping others as their theme, "three to four months later, those who played these types of games the most were also rated as more helpful to those around them in real life."

The idea behind these studies is that if you can get children to play socially cooperative games, they will grow up to be socially cooperative people. Well, yes, but there are broad limits. Human nature is not so malleable as these researchers may hope. But you don't need expensive university research to tell you that if you occupy most young people's attention with violent video games, especially if the games are realistic, and even moreso if they put the player in the place of a criminal as hero, you will inherit a generally more lawless and criminally violent society.

Once the science of manipulating children for political ends advances sufficiently, they can be used to help control their unreconstructed parents.

In The National Review, Jonah Goldberg draws attention to this MasterCard "Priceless" commercial in which a child tries to make his father "a better man" ("The Littlest Totalitarian," June 8, 2009--not available online; buy the magazine).

It presents the child as wiser than and morally superior to his father who is unshaven and looks rather thoughtless and irresponsible. Of course, as MasterCard presents it, human virtue consists in living in an environmentally responsible way and leaving as small a so-called carbon footprint as possible (or at least making fashionable gestures in that direction). If children are for the most part more virtuous than their parents, it is because they learn the cutting edge of enlightened morality from their public school teachers and their Saturday morning cartoons.

Goldberg's political warning is this:

The idea of enlisting children to the Cause is as fashionable today as it was under Robespierre. To crack the bunker walls of the family and seduce the children has always been a top priority of totalitarians, hard and soft. Progressives love to elevate the sagacity of children...because doing so gives children all the more authority when they parrot the talking points of the latest progressive fad.
Goldberg evokes unrehabilitated common sense in his closing remark: "If the man in the ad were a better father, he would have scolded his kid for the disrespect and demanded to know who was teaching him such crap."

That's not science, but it's full of wisdom nonetheless. Perhaps science has its limitations and "it's place."


Anonymous said...


The Mastercard advertisement is just one tip of the iceberg. I have a little media examination experiment if you care to indulge. When next you settle in for an evening's worth of TV viewing, keep this paradigm in mind: 1) Stupid White Male (SWM); 2) Ass-Kicking Woman (AKW); and 3) Obviously Superior Minority (OSM).

It might be easier to count the commercials without them.

R.B. Glennie said...

(my old handle was `Roundhead'; I've decided it's safe to reveal my actual name)

I've never heard Goldberg so eloquent:

*The idea of enlisting children to the Cause is as fashionable today as it was under Robespierre...*

This is so true.

In Canada here, there are `public service announcements' that feature the `scientist' / TV host / environmental nut David Suzuki.

In this spot, Suzuki is seen sitting (in a treehouse, apparently in the middle of the night) with a group of children, who are letting him know how they are `reducing their carbon footprint.'

Then, one of the children whispers to Dear (Leader) David: `Jimmy's parents don't believe in conserving...'

Beyond the obvious question as to why a 70-year-old man would be in a treehouse at night with a group of children unrelated to him, it shows the totalitarian mindset behind present-day `environmentalism'.

After all, the lad isn't informing on *his own* parents, but those of someone else.

It is startling that neither Suzuki, the producers of the spot, nor yet the energy company that subsidizes the production cost, would have stopped to think about these things.

the truth is clear: `environmentalism' is just another attempt at state control.

David C. Innes said...

Suzuki is still alive? The Canadian media establishment gets hold of someone who represents the approved views (beyond which is thoughtcrime) and then he or she is treated like a Canadian living monument. Didn't someone make him a Senator?

What you describe seems abominable. It's amazing how the corporation tow the liberal line instead of appealing to what ordinary people quietly believe.

But from within their moral frame of reference, I'm sure Suzuki stands in for Yoda, or Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid, or Shifu, the master in Kung Fu Panda.

R.B. Glennie said...

*Suzuki is still alive? The Canadian media establishment gets hold of someone who represents the approved views (beyond which is thoughtcrime) and then he or she is treated like a Canadian living monument. Didn't someone make him a Senator?*

Not, not a Senator, thank Gaia!

Unfortunately, Suzuki's position as an envrionmental extremist causes not the least bit of controversy among the Canadian media-cultural elite.

David C. Innes said...

It seems that scientists are cooling to global warming. Read Kim Strassel's "The Climate Change Climate Change: The number of skeptics is swelling everywhere" in the WSJ.