Saturday, April 18, 2009

Freeman Dyson has some cool ideas

I'm a few weeks behind on posting because I'm planning my upcoming wedding, so sorry about that. This article appeared two weeks ago in the NYT magazine. Freeman Dyson is one of the world's foremost physicists and a famously creative thinker. He has some good ideas that parallel some of my thoughts in the Secret Peace.

For example, he says, "The purpose of thinking about the future is not to predict it but to raise people’s hopes.”

A large part of the article is about the environment, specifically global warming. Unlike the growing consensus, Dyson thinks global warming isn't a problem. He's not a denier; he knows it's happening, and knows it's man-made. He just doesn't think it will be a big problem, and that it's being blown out of proportion.

I totally agree. Global warming is real and is a problem, and if we had no other problems to worry about, global warming would be worth devoting all our resources to. But there are worse things in the world.

When people say global warming will have "bad" consequences, do they mean harmful to humans, or harmful to nature? I believe protecting nature is important, but humanity must take precedence. The wholesale slaughter of nature is useless and should be condemned, but as for preserving species and climates exactly as they are now, is that intrinsically necessary? Nature is ever-changing with or without us.

Helping the environment is not a bad thing, but I believe the motives to do so should dovetail with helping people. Improving air quality increases our health, developing new fuel sources will take oil money away from dictators, and so on.

Here's the logic:
  1. Global warming is only a potential problem, it's not a full-blown problem yet.
  2. It might not turn out to be as drastic as we think.
  3. even if it is drastic, it might be drastic in a good way.
  4. even if it is drastic and bad, though, we can find ways to deal with it.
  5. even if we can't deal with it, we have plenty of worse problems right now to deal with regardless. These problems are real, rather than potential; and more easily solvable, because we already have experience toward solving them.
Protecting the existing biosphere must take a back seat to addressing the evils of war, poverty, and inequality. These should demand our immediate attention.


Shelley Noble said...

I like this attitude of proper priority. Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials Best wishes to you both...

Vince Czyz said...

have you heard of the sci fi writer Samuel r. Delany? He and I just had a long e-mail back and forth on Freeman. I think he's out of his brilliant mind. I will see if I can dig up some of them.


Vince Czyz said...

Samuel: "And
> Dyson has outlined
> the way to create a super-Dyson sphere, that encircles an
> entire galaxy.
> (You get the material from dismantling entire stars. )

My pea brain has problems here since stars are 90% or more helium and hydrogen. what're we gonna build out of that? And, uh, stars are pretty hot ain't they? How exactly we gonna cool them off to get close enough to "dismantle" them? Pretty hard to dismantle a nuclear fusion furnace the size of a thousand Earths when it's in use, ain't it? You don't have to answer any of this ... I'm just thinking out loud. And mentioning the SMALL problems. The galaxy is HOW big in light years? About 100,000? So, if our workers travel at the speed of LIGHT, it's going to take them 100,000 yeears just to traverse the galaxy. Yeah, we're breaking some laws here, the law of longevity--humans won't live long enough to get across the galaxy, let alone build something to enclose it. Even if they BUILD at the speed of light, how many light years of building to cover enough surface to enclose the GALAXY? Since the galaxy is mostly empty space, I think you'd have to dismantle ALL the stars ... and that would kinda defeat the purpose, wouldn't it? I must be wrong, but I'm having a laugh at someone with twice my brainpower anyway (ignorant laugh though it may be). I think Noah's Ark is more feasible--even with all the manure Noah woulda had to shovel overboard. And the space builders will communicate HOW? since a message at one end, where there is a problem let's say, will take light years to get to somebody else? I don't think I've ever heard anything so daffy in the absence of warp drive. But then I can't solve the equations Dyson gives to his grad students with a yawn.