Friday, 18 June 2010

Collectively humans are behaving like a batch culture of microorganisms

In response to recent reports (Guardian article 1 and 2) that Afghanistan has mineral deposits worth trillions of dollars, on which a prosperous Afghan economy could be based.

To base an economy, or a large part of it, on the exploitation of finite mineral resources, which sooner or later are going to run out, is INSANE.

Thereby you create an economy which comes to support a population and standard of living, which are non-sustainable in the long term and can only end in tragedy.

It is not just individual countries which are behaving thus, but the human species as a whole, and in so doing are following the same blind Darwinian logic as the well-known growth curve of a batch culture of microorganism:

Taken from, Ch. 6 in Prescott et al, Microbiology, 4th Ed. (Link).

The lag phase is when the microorganisms are adapting and developing their metabolism to make use of the nutrients available to them and corresponds in this analogy to human history prior to about 1800 - 1900.

The exponential phase is when the microorganisms are able to make optimal use of the nutrients available, corresponding to the modern and present period of human history (notwithstanding that man's ability to exploit resources continues to increase at its own exponential rate).

The stationary phase is when the limits of growth have been reached, because the nutrients necessary for growth have been depleted and the accumulation of waste products inhibits further growth anyway, even if nutrients are available. This is the situation we are rapidly approaching.

The death phase is when an acute lack of nutrients and the accumulation of waste products causes the microorganisms to die off, which is what awaits us, i.e. our children and grandchildren, if we continue as we are, whereby climate change and environmental degradation, as well as resource depletion and the accumulation of waste (pollutants), will also play an important role.

Microorganisms do not have a brain and thus cannot possibly understand their situation. They are bound to follow this growth curve, and are adapted to it, producing spores or the like which can survive extended periods of unfavourable conditions. The fact that millions or billions of them die at the end of each growth cycle is not an issue for them, as it is, or should be, for humans.

We have a brain which gives us the potential to understand our situation and adapt our behaviour accordingly, which we collectively deceive ourselves into believing we are making use of.

In fact, instead of using our prodigious brain to understand our situation, we use it primarily to rationalise it, to interpret reality (our environment) so as to serve our own personal, narrow and short-sighted, self-interests. So deeply immersed in, familiar with and dependent on a rationalized and delusionary understanding of our situation are we that it is very difficult to recognise, thus causing us to behave, from an environmental perspective, as if we had no brain at all.

In the natural sciences we apply our brains to understanding the material world, with great success, as evidenced by the technology which has transformed, and continues to transform, our lives; but in the political and social sciences we use it primarily to rationalise our understanding of ourselves and the human environment we live in and depend on, seeking to maintain or change it to our own narrow and short-sighted, self-interests, social and political scientists no less than anyone else, or perhaps even more so.

To make any real progress in the social and political sciences they need to be placed on a human-evolutionary, i.e. Darwinian, foundation. See


  1. It is still valid to use something nonsustainable as long as you stop using it and move onto something else before it runs out (or before you destroy it, if it is an ecosystem).
    If you need a lot of capital to build the sustainable way, using something non-sustainable but cheaper as a way of accumulating that capital is OK, surely. After all, it is what we have done so far.
    As long as we put all our resources into creating the sustainable way as soon as we can (which I am not sure we are doing fast enough)

  2. Sorry about the delay in responding, Derek, but I have been neglecting to subscribe to my own posts, and thus not been informed of any comments made.

    As to your question: it is not that we are not moving towards sustainability fast enough, but that we are not moving towards it at all, not when you look at the big picture, primarily because of the failure to recognise and develop an understanding of the perverted Darwinian nature of our situation. Until we do, we are lost cause.

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