The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters’ is a very famous etching by Spanish artist Goya done at the end of the 18th Century. It is a self portrait of the sleeping artist representing reason, surrounded by owls and bats representing folly and ignorance respectively. An enlightenment image advocating the importance of reason and the evil consequences of its absence, it was a political statement accusing Spanish society at that time of corruption and senselessness. Thus it seems an appropriate image for our times as well.
The march of unreason seems inexorable and people are prepared to believe all kinds of nonsense regardless of the evidence, none of which is helped by the tendency of governments to say whatever suits their agendas; from children overboard to non-existent weapons of mass destruction, there is no way you can just trust secular authority to tell you the truth. You have to have the tools to tell nonsense from sense yourself. You need an understanding of logic and a basic scientific education in how the world works to have any real chance of telling bullshit from reality. Reality is not a social construct, it exists out there and it will bite you if you pretend it doesn’t. Even an approximation of reality is better than fantasy, in the same way that half an eye is better than complete blindness.
The importance of insisting on reason and evidence instead of faith and ideology in understanding the world needs all the advocates it can get. Anyone who wishes to convince me of anything is going to have to provide compelling evidence for their proposition, otherwise it will be consigned to the garage heap with homeopathy, astrology, acupuncture, crystal healing and religions of all sorts.
All knowledge is provisional, new evidence can crop up at any time, but you have to do the best you can with what you have. You won’t be better prepared for life by leaning on magic, lies and advice from those even more deluded than you are! This means accepting what ever scenario the evidence best supports until such time as you get better evidence. You also need to put some effort into investigating the evidence and this is where the interwebs is such a great tool. I LOVE the interwebs!
The Global Financial Crisis is a case in point. It is plain that the vast bulk of economists, those whose views are generally labelled ‘Classical’ do not have the foggiest idea how economies really work. They had no idea the crisis was coming and this means there can be no possibility that they know how to get us out of it. So you can be sure that whatever the establishment consensus is regarding the economy, it is wrong. That is the one thing that WON’T happen. But if you’d like to get some idea what will happen then you need to find some dissenting views.
With internet access you can do just that. And then you can see who makes the most sense. Maybe they’re all wrong, but at least you won’t blindly believe what you’re told by already failed pundits. At least you’ll know that there is uncertainty and perhaps you’ll be better prepared at least emotionally, for the recession to turn into a depression as Steve Keen and others expect it will, if it does.
I have just been reading about Ingmar Lee, self appointed “earth warrior”, he seems to be opposed to batholiths, fascinating really since I’m sure they don’t object to him. A batholith is a generally harmless lump of granitic rock lying in the landscape. Some geologists wanted to do some geophysics to find out more about some which are part of the Rockies, in order to study the formation of mountain ranges. This guy reminds me (as I have said in a comment on his blog) of the French peasants who murdered some of the surveyors sent to map the land at the end of the 18th Century. Here were all these foreigners with suspicious looking instruments who clearly must be up to no good. Probably witchcraft, better stop them or the cows will all sicken and the crops will wilt in the fields! What can’t be understood must be destroyed! Or at least what HE doesn’t understand must be destroyed.
One of the hard things about geology is that most of it is rather difficult to get to. Unless you are very fortunate most of the rocks are buried under many metres of soil and possibly kilometres of other rocks. This makes it hard to take a good look at them. Geologists however being quiet dogged types (often with beards), have come up with ways of ‘seeing’ underground. One of these is a seismic method where they set off a number of small explosive charges underground and measure the vibrations of the ground with seismographs. The echos that return give a picture of what’s under there, that’s how they can tell that the earth is made of layers, the crust, the mantle and the core. That’s also how they learn about how earthquakes happen and much more. In this case the geologists are studying mountain building, a very complex and crucially important subject for all of us since, while the formation of mountain ranges is not of much help in finding oil (Lee assumed wrongly that the geologists were looking for oil), surprisingly it has considerable importance in climatology.
The recent raising of the Himalayas for example, is thought to be a prime factor in the evolution of the Earth’s climate. Not only does the physical presence of mountains alter the air flow around them, as the rocks rise up into the air they erode faster and faster, which sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere contributing to the cooling of the climate over the last 20-30 million years. Obviously we cannot understand the climate without understanding mountain building along with many other processes. But it’s not acceptable to Lee, he knows better, the foreigners with the gadgets are out on the landscape again and the witchcraft must be stopped! Who know what might happen? The hens will stop laying and the cows stop giving milk maybe.
It’s loons like this self-righteous twit who give environmentalism a bad name. The whole point about the environmental movement used to be to use our scientifically acquired knowledge of the world to help preserve it for the use and enjoyment of future generations. People like this are turning it into a religious undertaking. It’s now often more about nature worship than understanding. You don’t have to understand something to worship and destroy for it, you can just rely on your ‘faith’ to tell you what you want to hear. Except that when you have completely got the wrong end of the stick as Mr Lee has, you end up looking like a jerk. I hope they fine him huge amounts and give the money to the geologists.