Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Buckminster Fuller - A Guide to Spaceship Earth

So I'm currently reading Buckminster Fuller's "A Guide To Spaceship Earth."
It is absolutely fantastic.

Part of what captivates me so much about good ole' Bucky is his no-bullshit-tell-it-like-it-is-you-must-be-crazy-if-you-think-the-universe-is-not-profound attitude.  Let's take for instance the title of the document I am reading.

Consider our position.  Here we are, on a fantastic space-craft (that is really what the Earth is), ripping through seeming emptiness at thousands of miles per hour around our enormous mother-ship, the life-giving sun.  Not only are we on a space-ship zipping through space at such incredible speeds we can't even fathom them, we are on a space-ship that has been zipping through space at such incredible speeds we can't even fathom them for a duration (4 billion years!) that is probably even more difficult to fathom than the speed we're zipping at.  And to think, if it weren't for astronomy and geophysics, we wouldn't even know!!  Talk about a well engineered space-craft.  Can you even feel all that acceleration?

So that's one hell of a situation to be in.  I mean, it's a hell-enough-of a situation to be in even if you don't know about the cosmic magnitude of the circumstance, ie. that the unvierse has pooled its resources and energy budget into some exuberant structural and systems engineering on a small rock around a medium sized fire-ball somewhere along the outer spiral arm of this here Milky Way Galaxy.  But to come to terms with the facts of the matter, that HERE WE ARE, heirs of Universal Energy and Cosmic Becoming, zipping through god-knows-what-the-stuff-called-SPACE-really-is, on this fantastic Spaceship, is an altogether profound situation.

I mean what the fuck?!

Seriously.  What are we supposed to do?!  Here is this fantastically engineered space ship, equipped with full regenerative capacity and practically perennial propulsion, carrying on its own business of zipping and zapping while all sorts of myriad interesting things occur within the ships compartments and flight decks, virtually oblivious to the literally stellar circumstances of the craft they ride on.  And of course, for those that have become privy to at least the galactically local aspects of the circumstance, there isn't a guide or a manual or an instruction set or a help-forum to be found.  Wouldn't it be nice if there was an Earth-Overflow.org, hosted by advanced alien civilizations, offering help and advice and direction to us newbs in the experiment of intelligent life?

So seriously, what the fuck?!

What do we do?  Well, first of all, we must collect observations.  We must get to know what kind of ship we're on, what its engine consists of, how it operates, what its relation to the mother-ship is, and so on.  We have done a relatively good job of that.  Relative to whom?  Let's say the kangaroos and pythons.  I can only imagine that the Cetaceans have a better grip on the thing than we do, despite not being able to actually get a physical grip on anything, flippers and slippery skin and all.  But given that our spaceship is over 70% water, its conceivable that organisms exploring the water might have a better handle on the systematics of the thing than those confined to land.   Of course we're no longer confined to land, and now we fall freely from space, which is a fun-recreational-quasi-cosmic milestone that will probably lead to the death of many young adventurers tired of terrestrial-adrenaline-rushes and searching for the next kick, before it leads to productive exploration of the atmosphere and beyond.  I hope our parachute technology improves considerably, or that RedBull figures out how to actually engineer wings (I bet you it's coming, otherwise they might get sued for false advertising).

Anyways, the next step is more important.  We need to apply our observations.  If we sum the observations as such: "We are members of a species of organism which has evolved along with other organisms out of the abundant but finite resources of this planet, developing a novel form of generalized intelligence and visuo-kinesthetic capacities which allow us to manipulate and abstract upon the myriad resources of our space ship, providing many-fold opportunities for innovation and consumption.  However, we are growing at an exponential pace and ARE CERTAIN to over deplete the space-ships resources such that it will no longer be able to sustain its crew, who will be doomed to die a hollow death spinning thousands of miles per hour around a sun which can't provide fuel any more effectively than it has for the past few billion years", then we find that not only is our circumstance spectacular, it is somewhat dire, for, as any competent human being with internet access and an awareness of global events knows, we are living in a geo-political shit storm, where all of the above facts are, if not harshly denied, then blatantly ignored.

The shit-storm has everything to do with mentality.  As Bucky points out, much of it is based on thermodynamics, which established the concept entropy, which basically states that, left to itself, the organization of a system must decrease, that is, it must dissipate energy.  In other words, systems are running down.  Psychologically, this translates into the following: "If all systems are running down, then the Earth system is running down, and since there may not be enough to go around, there will certainly not be enough to go around in the future.  Thus we must protect our own and fight every man for himself.  Like in Nature, only the strong survive"

And so we have wars and republicans and democrats and trivial political flings filled with useless jabbering and basically the whole system has gotten up, exchanged its face with its ass, and sat down again.  Completely useless.  Of course, despite entropy being a universal concept, its implementation here is faulty, for while entropy runs systems down when they are LEFT TO THEIR OWN DEVICES (ie. lacking in innovative design and energy input), it may actually encourage self-emergence and novel organizational capacity in the context of innovative design and energy input.  Take the origin of life itself, for example!

So here then is our current position.  Geo-politically, we are Sisyphus pushing his rock perennially up the hill, and no matter what Camus has to say on the subject, we are getting nowhere, and certainly not enjoying ourselves.  On the other hand, armed with 1) an emerging theoretical understanding of the nature of non-equilibrium thermodynamics and self-emergence (where entropy runs systems up instead of down) and 2) an emerging practical understanding of open-source-cross-platform-free-exchange-of-ideas and self-emergent collaboration in the computer sciences, there may be some hope for us after all.

I think Bucky's vision is extraordinary.  Given enough human ingenuity, we can design ourselves out of any mess.  We need only to assemble and do.  It would also be helpful, of course, if the political system stopped interfering with every form of progress that emerges under (around?) the sun.  But in the open-source world, politics becomes irrelevant.  Border's fall down.  True power is put back in the hands of the people, so long as they are willing to share.  And with that infrastructure growing, at an accelerated pace, there may be hope for us astronauts after all.

Design will save the world.  Enjoy the rest of your flight here, on Spaceship Earth.

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