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Unsustainable: Little Ways Environmentalists Waste the Ultimate Resource – Article by Timothy D. Terrell

Unsustainable: Little Ways Environmentalists Waste the Ultimate Resource – Article by Timothy D. Terrell

The New Renaissance HatTimothy D. Terrell
June 23, 2015
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The memo told me to get rid of my printer — or the college would confiscate it.

The sustainability director — let’s call him Kermit — is an enthusiastic and otherwise likable fellow whose office is next door to mine. Kermit had decided it would be better if the centralized network printers in each department were used for all print jobs. He believed that the environment was going to benefit from this printer impoundment.

Some sustainability advocates object to printers because little plastic ink cartridges sometimes wind up in landfills — but I saw no effort at the college to promote cartridge recycling; the sustainability policy had skipped persuasion and gone straight to confiscation.

Certainly the IT people didn’t want to maintain the wide variety of desktop printers or supply them with cartridges — but the printer on my desk was not college-supplied or maintained, and I provided all my own cartridges. Personal printers were now verboten. Period. The driver behind the policy, apparently, was the rectangular transformer box plugged into the wall, which consumed a trickle of a few watts of electricity 24/7.

A typical household inkjet printer draws about 12 watts when printing, and when it’s not, it draws about 5 watts. At 5 watts per hour, then, with a few minutes a week burning 12 watts, my lightly used inkjet would use around 46 kWh a year, which at the commercial average rate of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour translates to an annual cost of $5.06. There may be side effects, or externalities, to use a term from economics. A 2011 study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences that renewable energy advocates often cite estimates that the side effects of coal-produced electricity cost about 18 cents per kWh, so assuming that all the electricity saved would have been produced by burning coal (nationwide, it’s actually less than 40 percent), that brings the total annual cost to $13.34.

Kermit must have calculated that confiscating printers would collectively generate several hundred dollars a year of savings for the college — and allow the college to put another line on its sustainability brag sheet.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to save electricity. But Kermit had forgotten the value of an important natural resource: human time.

Time is a valuable resource: labor costs are a large chunk of most businesses’ costs. The college basically wanted to save electricity by wasting my time — and everyone else’s.

Here’s how that works. Suppose I want to print out a recommendation letter and envelope on college letterhead. Using the network printer involves the following steps:

  1. Walk down hall with letterhead and insert letterhead in single-feed tray.
  2. Return to office.
  3. Hit Enter and walk back to printer.
  4. Discover that page was oriented the wrong way and printed upside down.
  5. Return to office.
  6. Walk back to printer with new letterhead page.
  7. Return to office.
  8. Hit Enter and walk back to printer.
  9. Discover that someone else had sent a job to the printer while I was in transit and printed his test on my letterhead.
  10. Return to office.
  11. Walk back to printer with new letterhead page.
  12. Wait for other guy’s print job to finish.
  13. Insert letterhead, properly oriented.
  14. Run back to office to reduce chances of letterhead being turned into another test.
  15. Hit Enter and walk back to printer.
  16. Pick up successfully printed letter.
  17. Walk back to office, quietly weeping at the thought of repeating the process to print the envelope.

This “savings” turns into more than 12 trips to and from the communal printer, plus any time spent waiting for another print job. The environmentalist may bemoan the two wasted sheets of paper, but he would quickly remember that there’s a recycling bin beside the printer. The more significant cost of this little fiasco is human time.

Let’s suppose that’s a total of six minutes. Of course, I’ve learned the right way to orient paper and envelopes after a mistake or two, and printer congestion is rarely a problem. And I never did higher-volume print jobs, such as tests for classes, on my own inkjet anyway, so the lost time in trotting back and forth would apply mainly to one- or two-sheet print jobs, envelopes, and scanning. Suppose the confiscation of my inkjet means, conservatively, five additional minutes a week during the school year. That’s about three hours a year sucked out of my life, absorbed in walking back and forth.

Suppose, again to be conservative, my time is worth what fast food restaurant workers in Seattle are getting paid right now — $15 per hour. So the university is wasting $45 of my salary to save $13.34 in utilities. Does that sound like the diligent stewardship of precious resources?

(I will assume that any health benefits from the additional walking are canceled out by the additional stress caused by sheer aggravation.)

I am pleased to say that the desktop printer kerfuffle ended with the sustainability director backing down. We were all allowed to keep our printers, and I thereby kept three hours a year to do more productive work. Kermit and I remained on good terms, though he never took me up on my offer to provide an economist’s voice on the sustainability committee.

But we must make the most of small victories, for college and university sustainability proponents march on undeterred. If anything, the boldness and scale (and the waste) of campus initiatives has only increased. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) recently released a report showing that colleges trying to reduce their environmental impact have spent huge amounts of money on sustainability programs for little to no gain.

The unintended consequences of these programs abound. And though each initiative may destroy only a small amount of human time, the collective impact of these microregulations is a death by a thousand cuts.

Many college cafeterias are now “trayless,” in the hopes of reducing dish use and wasted food. But students must manage unwieldy loads of dishes, leading to inevitable spills, or make multiple trips (and student time is valuable, too). One study mentioned in the NAS report found that “students without trays tend to run out of hands and to skip extra dishes — usually healthy dishes such as salads — in order to better carry their entrée and dessert. This leads to students consuming relatively fewer greens and more sweets.”

A college’s “carbon footprint” has also become the object of campus policy. Middlebury College, for example, pledged in 2006 that it would be “carbon neutral” by 2016. So it has spent almost $5 million a year (over $2,000 per student) on things like a biomass energy plant, organic food for the dining hall, and staff and faculty tasked with improving sustainability. All of this has cost the college about $543 per ton of CO2 reduction. So even if one accepts the $39 per ton figure the Obama administration has stated as the value of reducing carbon dioxide emissions (and I, for one, am skeptical), Middlebury has greatly overpaid.

We can all appreciate the desire to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us. But this doesn’t mean that every environmental sustainability initiative makes sense. Overpaying to reduce CO2 emissions, as with Middlebury, means that the product of hours of our work is needlessly consumed, and we have fewer resources for other valuable pursuits.

Sustainability advocates need to remember that resources include more than electricity, water, plastic, paper, and the like. Humans have value, too, here and now. Chipping away at our lives with little directives to expend several hours saving a bit of electricity, water, or some other resource, is to ignore the value of human life and to waste what Julian Simon called “the ultimate resource.”

Timothy Terrell is associate professor of economics at Wofford College in South Carolina.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Motivated Time Prospectors – Article by Eric Schulke

Motivated Time Prospectors – Article by Eric Schulke

The New Renaissance Hat
Eric Schulke
May 16, 2014
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Think of all the people’s lots in life that you don’t have. You will regret not having more chances to stand here as you are now. It is said that if everybody put their worries into a pile and then took an equal share from the pile, then most people would be content to take back their own share of them. I was reading an article that said,

“To be sick and dying in Vegas has its own existential horror. Not only do you realize that you are going to die and that you don’t matter to the world, but you also realize that much of the world is awful and yet you still would do anything to live.”

Struggling to survive on this planet can be miserable, and yet we continue to stick with it. Why? Because we know that with life there is a chance to engage in more experience. It seems that a person can live, in part, on the desire for continued experience. That chance drives us to keep reaching for achievement and progress.

What does one want to experience in life? What does that honest-to-life list look like? If you had to draw up a complete list, could you do it, or describe the nature of it? The active wanting of experience, it seems, is a major cure to indifference toward death. It seems that it might be a life-or-death question.

We have become really good at being indifferent to the most widespread forms of death, in order to spare ourselves from stressing out on futilely trying to do something about it. Now that we have the tools and techniques, and the times have changed, we have to change that way of thinking from indifference back toward letting that horror affect us. Horror benefits us in that it is our cue to be driven to action to make sure that the horror can’t happen again. If a poltergeist starts ravaging your house, that’s your signal to get out of there, in the same way that the horror that general death, aging, and other diseases are your signal to get death, aging, and other diseases away from you and out of your cells.

Carl Sagan’s daughter once related his words that “there was nothing he would like more in the world than to see his mother and father again.” I was thinking about what an insult added to injury he must have felt in his final days, to have the paralyzing misery of impending death heaped on top of crushing pain. Let that kind of pain course through your mind, face it, bring it to a steaming rage, and let the energy power you to help execute any of the various assaults on aging and disease that are underway in laboratories in various places around the world.

In another article, I was reading about a guy whose daughter went missing in 1971, and was never found. He lived to be 102 and died in the fall of 2013. He had stated that one of the hardest burdens for him was never knowing what happened to his daughter. What misery, for all those years… Think of that… Then five days after he died, his daughter’s car was found upside down in a river; she was the apparent victim of a decades-old car crash.

I can’t fathom that life could inflict such a bitter spite upon somebody. That story stirs up the kind of despair and anguish that each death seems to deserve. It’s the kind of anguish you need to figure out how to allow in, in order to have the right kinds of drive to help pull the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension forward with us.

So once we get there, back to that place where we stand amidst realization of the horror of death, how do we face it? One good basic and natural way to do so, it seems, is to purposefully enjoy the good parts of life, and strategize and take action in helping to fix the worst of the broken things. It’s fun and fulfilling. Life isn’t bad, it’s an adventure. A tough challenge is like a choppy sea, like two armies clashing, or mountain climbers fighting the elements. The implementation of the solution of each challenge is like a Renaissance of scale, some miniature, some very large, like Caesar vs. Vercingetorix, or Charlemagne vs. the Vikings. It’s like the writings of Caesar, the writing-resurgence work of the Carolingians, Vercingetorix and the fate of an entire Celtic confederation, or the first times the Vikings set sail out beyond Greenland.

A few days ago I was thinking about a typical farm hand of Medieval times, walking outside to smell the heavy wet grass and earth of a cold wet spring day. How did they remember the great Lombard migrations, or Scandinavian raiders docking at Pisa? Who was Charlemagne to people before negationists took hold? What did they think might become of the future? Many of them must have felt lost at that kind of thought.

Focus on your heartbeat, feel it pulsing. Theirs pulsed like that. They thought of their hearts stopping and of how it couldn’t possibly be lost to the dust of history anytime soon. You think that, too. Their hearts are lost to the dust of history. Yours is next.

What does every year, and every moment mean to the history of everything? I read recently that if you throw a pebble, it could be offsetting the center of gravity of the universe. Every moment means everything, every moment is everything. Every moment is a world in itself, a great painting, a great work of art, a great burning torch, a water well built in inhospitable lands. Think of how many heartbeats have come to a stop, how many paintings have been burned… So many tangled groves in forests have had the wind blowing through them for all of these years, without one person, without one spoken word, in a place near a stream, where there was once a mighty, crackling stone fireplace that warmed multiple generations of families across the 6th through 8th centuries. It was a place that hosted countless memories which later tormented the souls of dying, now long-dead grandfathers.

They don’t deserve to be dead. They deserve what they earned: the world that is paying exponentially exciting, satiating, and fullfillingly valuable dividends today. This is an incredibly motivating and driving factor in what pushes me to pursue indefinite life extension. People take on a variety of diverse augmentations over time, becoming unique collections of intriguing insight – dynamic power tools for slicing and dicing the elements. We can’t afford for these wealths of rare and powerful abilities and resources to be pillaged and killed off. Sometimes it seems as if life-extensionists like me have to explain to people why it’s bad to let people be killed before we can get down to business in a worldwide effort to reach the goals that can get this done.

We are like the union for the people that make a profession out of being human. We are creating better and better pay, and we demand longer hours. I want every feasible remedy that can restore and maintain life to be a permanent fixture in this reality, for it to be harvested like air. There is no reason a heart has to give out. There is no reason we cannot prevent tangles from forming in the brain. Our organs and cells don’t have to degrade. We have tools, techniques, and brains. We will make it through these obstacles.

How long will it be before our times are old, before 2015 cars look like old classics, and thoughts of our times are most often associated with the smell of the pages of books that have been moved from their years of service on shelves, to boxes of outdated material in back rooms? Many experiences and voyages that could have happened, and could have been chronicled in those boxes, can never exist.

That’s the problem, it seems: There are experiences that could have existed, but that now never can. Thoughtful experience – there is no reason to forgo it or allow it to be lost – hence the basic, inherent reasoning for supporting indefinite life extension, it seems.

Every moment is the gold, the thing to be mined, the thing to be in awe of, to seek, pursue, and strategize toward, to work for, to feel victorious for possessing. Let’s mine more time: support the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension. Don’t be distracted by fool’s gold while the most valuable gold, time, slips through your fingers.

One of these days, we will put funeral homes across the world out of business, and it will be a great victory. We will celebrate, and the festivities will be grand. But we must get a move on now, because our chances are turning into sand.

Eric Schulke was a director at LongeCity during 2009-2013. He has also been an activist with the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension and other causes for over 13 years.

How Time and Uncertainty Can Make Us “Antifragile” – Article by David Howden

How Time and Uncertainty Can Make Us “Antifragile” – Article by David Howden

The New Renaissance Hat
David Howden
January 26, 2014
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Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (New York: Random House, 2012).

No two buzzwords define the present crisis more than “contagion” and “robustness” in the world of economists and policy wonks. The current interrelated nature of the financial system has bred a fragile situation where the success of the greater economy supposedly hinges on its individual components, such as banks that are too big to fail. To combat this fragility, economists have increasingly sought to build robust institutions. Such institutions will remain strong in the face of adverse effects if an individual component of the economy fails — be it subprime mortgages, sovereign debt, deposit-taking institutions or investment banks. This approach to the crisis stresses that if we cannot battle contagion, we had better construct strong institutions to weather future storms.

Nassim Taleb takes great issue with this approach in his new book Antifragile. His view is that constructing such so-called robust institutions is not sufficient as they continually fight yesterday’s battles. Instead the focus should be in building “antifragile” insti­tutions. Although often confused with robustness or resilience, an antifragile institution is not only unharmed by adverse events, but is actually strengthened by them. Building antifragile institutions will not only strengthen the global economic arena, but also have wide-ranging social applications.

Taleb’s latest work builds on two of his previous books, Fooled by Randomness (2001) and The Black Swan (2007). The common theme underlying all three is that there are events which are fundamentally unknowable — true uncertainties — in distinction to merely risky outcomes. Since we cannot know in advance what these events are, or what their effects will be, we should not exert too much effort in constructing contingency plans.

It is at this point that my first quibble with the book arises, and one I had with its predecessor The Black Swan. Taleb bifurcates between two definitions of uncertain events. On the one hand he invokes random or fundamentally unknowable events. Readers of this journal will be sympathetic to this definition of uncertainty, bearing close resemblance to Mises’s own use of “case probabilities”[1] (1949, pp. 110–113), or Shackle’s (1949) use of “non-seriable, non-divisible” events.[2] On the other hand, it is also clear that Taleb also thinks of uncertain events as merely rare events. These are events located on the fat or long tails on a probability distribution. Even though he thinks that these represent true uncertainty, there is no doubt that he is referring to funda­mentally probabilistic events.

This quibble aside, one can apply much of the remaining work cognizant that Taleb’s terminology differs from that of the Austrian economists, and also that the domain of his theory is slightly different than he thinks.

Something is “antifragile” if it gets stronger from a negative event. What are some examples? Taleb applies the prefix of his book liberally to outline what choices we should be pursuing. Indeed, the body of the book gives a long list of antifragile actions that, at least on one level, boil down to doing the exact opposite of what you think you should be doing.

Authors should be shocked to learn that there is almost no news that can harm a writer’s credibility, and that any publicity is good publicity (pp. 51–52). Corporations and governments that try to “reinstill confidence” should not be trusted because they would do so only if they were ultimately doomed (p. 53). Children shouldn’t be on antidepressants as this removes a source of learning from the life experience and thus make individuals less capable of dealing with unwanted events later in life (p. 61). The sinking of the Titanic was a positive disaster as it put shipbuilders on their toes, and possibly avoided an even larger accident later (p. 72). The general theme is that those who make errors are stronger than those who don’t — reliability, or antifragility — only comes when something is regularly tested by an unwanted event.

The theory has merit. Consider this lesson applied to central bank policies. In the wake of the dot-com bust a concerted effort by the world’s central banks flooded the global financial system with liquidity. The liquidation of assets that should have happened never did, and as a result lenders and borrowers didn’t learn their lesson on prudential money management. The seeds were sown for the larger crisis starting in 2007–2008 because a simple lesson was not learned when the financial system’s problems were still in relative infancy.

There is much to learn from this book and much to be wary of. At the end of the day, Taleb reckons the best test of an anti-fragile institution is Mother Nature mixed with a healthy dose of time. In chapter 21 he criticizes the prevailing orthodoxy of “neomania,” the mistaken belief that newer is better. Those institutions that have existed the longest are, in all likelihood, those that will continue to exist into the future. As an example, imagine that the year is 1988 and answer the following: which structure will last the longest, the Berlin Wall or the Great Pyramid of Giza.

In this test, as in much of the book, Taleb asks too much and too little. He asks too much because those institutions with the most longevity were once upon a time also the ones with the least. There must be a better test than longevity, as it only pushes the problem back in time to identify the source of antifragility. It cannot be turtles all the way down.

An applied example relevant to the present financial crisis would involve looking for those institutions that have been strengthened by current affairs. The crisis has taken its toll on many aspects of the financial services industry, but some general types of products have proven surprising resilient, or antifragile. Governments with prudent fiscal policies — e.g., Germany, Switzerland and Singapore — have fared well and indeed been strengthened as finances deteriorate in more profligate countries. Investment funds capitalizing on what were once unorthodox strategies, such as gold and other precious metal holdings, have out-performed more traditional investments as the financial crisis worsens. Readers of this journal will also notice that their stock in Austrian economics has increased in value over the past decade. Question begging and failed policies developed through more mainstream theories have led many former outsiders to the ranks of Austrian economists. An unwanted event caused an offsetting positive outcome in all these scenarios. That is what being antifragile is about.

Taleb asks too little by not exploring the true sources of antifragility. He comes close, alluding in many places that market-based institutions better combat the false security that planned institutions create. Explaining and elaborating on this link would do much to take the fundamental merits of antifragility to the next level. It would be, however, fodder for another book.

References

[1] Mises, Ludwig von. 1949. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 1998.

[2] Shackle, G. L. S. 1949. Expectations in Economics. Westport, Conn.: Gibson.

David Howden is Chair of the Department of Business and Economics and professor of economics at St. Louis University’s Madrid Campus, Academic Vice President of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada, and winner of the Mises Institute’s Douglas E. French Prize. Send him mail. See David Howden’s article archives.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.

Pioneers on Time’s Trail – Article by Eric Schulke

Pioneers on Time’s Trail – Article by Eric Schulke

The New Renaissance Hat
Eric Schulke
January 5, 2014
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The universe, the cities, the souls, times come and past, the big picture of it all, its fortune and fate, happenstance and chance coiling through the airwaves, weaving in and out throughout the corridors and shores and floors… We call it existence, and it’s big, really big.

History’s timeline is like a long path, and we here represent the spot on that trail that time is currently manifested as. The stars in the background are the only imprint remaining that spans history’s trail of mementos, like Dachau death marches and Choctaw trails. Even relics continue the slide as they slowly fade, mountains of their days, now chiseled away by time’s currents.

It’s all wild, legendary, mythical, incredible, and ours – each one of ours. There are worlds of complex mechanisms inside atoms, inside cells, inside creatures, inside ecosystems, on planets, in galaxies, and on and on, leaving us wondering if it really could be like an endless fractal in both directions, and desperate for a chance to know. The long, arduous labors of our prokaryotic precursors are now beginning to bud curious new transhuman fruit. Each one of us materializes on the timeline of humanity, like rickety roller coasters set up on temporary take-down stages for traveling theater, just hoping to stay on the tracks. We have conquered a planet under these circumstances. Like Alexander the Great crossing countries atop Bucephalus, we ride through the universe atop the planet Earth, trying to keep our grip on the reins while we hop from stage to stage.

Not even a percent of a percent of this territory is mapped. What does that mean for all that is outside of the speck of light we are in so far? Trillions upon trillions upon trillions of lives and scenarios are interacting and going down around us every day. You might see an ant fighting with a mutant form of a June bug and be able to contemplate their struggle, but miss the fact that this mutation will soon change the landscape of the area in profound ways. You might just dirt-bike right over the top of them without ever even contemplating that, all the while thinking about the prospects of a ranch-style house in this area and the philosophy of a progressive struggle in a capitalist climate. All this occurs while unknowns surround us. Maybe an unfathomable machine is being created on a planet whose distance we can’t conceive, illuminating answers we never dreamt possible. Maybe an amazingly complex civilization is at its height. Perhaps there are other dimensions with wonders that would blow our minds while they’re blowing our minds.

The poorest among the industrialized citizens today still have their “junky” cars, and stereos, lighters, cell phones, watches (scratch that, clocks are on cell phones now), 3 TVs with “only” 8 basic channels, “old” computers and “slow” internet connections, FDA-tested food, state-of-the-art health technology with emergency transport, malls and restaurants just down the street, the freedom to fly anywhere in the world after a few weeks’ saving, and so many other things. These are our poorest people. They are richer than the richest kings and queens of old. In the same kind of way that the poorest among us today have many times more than the richest kings and queens of centuries ago, so will the poorest of us in a post-definite lifespan world be richer than the richest Forbes List billionaire among us today.

Think of the ancient history: the richest of the kings and queens with the golden thrones, crowns, everything jewel-encrusted, exotic animals, limitless concubines, slaves, best fish tank, singing canaries, speedy buggies, salted turnips, and best open-hole bathroom that money could buy. What is that money worth to them now? Time is money, and if you don’t have any, then you’re dead broke.

Some of these ancients remain with us as mummies today. Now there’s an interesting collision of worlds. Those who could still be here, who want to be here, gave it their best shot, and are still here, now in rags begging for us to come up with a solution to bring them back to life. It was a nice try. Their notions lived on in the DNA of their progeny, working it out, better and better, building the tools and emerging today among us as cryonics, a surer form of mummification. We don’t have the cures or the salves for the mummies, but you still have a shot. You are them; you are the same people, the same blood; you are the ancients, but the future can still be theirs/yours. 1,000 BC, 2,100 AD – it’s all ancient history to the people of 45,000 AD.

We know what is going on in parts of this place we are in, but what about everywhere else? What about how it all interacts? What it all means as a whole? Do we think we can guess what is going on everywhere? We can hardly ever even guess who the culprit is in a typical television murder mystery. Can we even guess what is going on in all the buildings of one single town? Some of those points of light in the nighttime sky are entire galaxies unto themselves. Some of them are entire universes. That space between might not end.

This paper could be expanded to fill libraries with volumes on the limitless and profound, mind-blowing, unencapsulatable nature of it. No, libraries are filled with volumes on exactly that, and even those haven’t begun to scratch the surface of what it means to exist.

So here we are, pioneers on time’s trail, the precursors, surviving caravans retooling for a star trek. What does the big picture of existence have in store for us on the trail ahead?

Eric Schulke was a director at LongeCity during 2009-2013. He has also been an activist with the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension and other causes for over 13 years.

A Rational Cosmology – Treatise by G. Stolyarov II – Third Edition

A Rational Cosmology – Treatise by G. Stolyarov II – Third Edition

A Rational Cosmology - Third Edition - by G. Stolyarov II

A Rational Cosmology – Third Edition – by G. Stolyarov II

Contemporary science does not make as much progress as it could, due the fallacy of empiricism-positivism – the idea that no knowledge is certain beyond refutation and that every claim is contingent on highly narrow, particular, and expensive experiments. A Rational Cosmology, however, provides a thorough refutation of prevalent empiricist-positivist fallacies, both in content and in method. It shatters some of the erroneous philosophical interpretations of theories such as Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Moreover, it refutes the ex nihilo origin of the universe – including its manifestation in popular views of the Big Bang and Big Crunch – the particle/wave view of light, and a host of other fallacious ideas, using the proper, axiomatic-deductive methodology of identifying those theories’ conceptual flaws and internal contradictions.

As constructive alternatives to these fallacies, A Rational Cosmology presents objective, absolute, rationally grounded views of terms such as universe, matter, volume, space, time, motion, sound, light, forces, fields, and even the higher-order concepts of life, consciousness, and volition. The result is a system verified by ubiquitous observation and common sense, the underpinnings of objective science which demonstrate a knowable, fathomable reality and set the stage for unfettered progress, confidence in reason, and full-scale logical investigation of just about everything existence has to offer.

The Third Edition of A Rational Cosmology has been enhanced and edited, with augmentations and revisions to several of the previous essays. There is a new, beautiful cover design by Wendy D. Stolyarov. Furthermore, there are two additional numbered essays and more recent writings within the Related Essays section.

For the first time, A Rational Cosmology is available for free download in the form of unified files. There are four options to choose from.

Download the PDF version.

Download the MOBI version.

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The Rational Argumentator welcomes your reviews of A Rational Cosmology. You can submit them to TRA by sending them to gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com. You are also encouraged to spread the word by reprinting the information on this page or your own comments concerning the book on other media outlets.

Heidegger, Cooney, and The Death-Gives-Meaning-To-Life Hypothesis – Article by Franco Cortese

Heidegger, Cooney, and The Death-Gives-Meaning-To-Life Hypothesis – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
August 10, 2013
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One common argument against indefinite lifespans is that a definitive limit to one’s life – that is, death – provides some essential baseline reference, and that it is only in contrast to this limiting factor that life has any meaning at all. In this article I refute the argument’s underlying premises, and then argue that even if such premises were taken as true, the argument’s conclusion – that eradicating death would negate the “limiting factor” that legitimizes life – is also invalid, because the ever-changing nature of self and society – and the fact that opportunities once here are now gone –  can constitute such a scarcitizing factor just as well as death can.
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Death gives meaning to life? No! Death is meaninglessness!
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One version of the argument is given in Brian Cooney’s Posthumanity: Thinking Philosophically about the Future, an introductory philosophical text that uses various futurist scenarios and concepts to illustrate the broad currents of Western philosophy. Towards the end of the book, Cooney makes his argument against immortality, claiming that if we had all the time in the universe to do what we wanted, then we wouldn’t do anything at all. Essentially, his argument boils down to “if there is no possibility of not being able to do something in the future, then why would we ever do it?”

Each chapter of Cooney’s book ends with a dialogue between a fictional human and posthuman, meant to better exemplify the arguments laid out in the chapter and their various interpretations. In the final chapter, “Posthumanity”, Cooney-as-posthuman writes:

Our ancestors realized that immortality would be a curse, and we have never been tempted to bestow it on ourselves… We didn’t want to be like Homer’s gods and goddesses. The Odyssey is saturated with the contrast of mortal human life, the immortality of the gods and the shadow life of the dead in Hades… Aren’t you struck by the way these deities seem to have nothing better to do than be an active audience for the lives and deeds of humans… These gods are going to live forever and there is no scarcity of whatever resources they need for their divine way of life. So (to borrow a phrase from your economists) there is no opportunity cost to their choosing to do one thing rather than another or spend time with one person rather than another. They have endless time and resources to pursue other alternatives and relationships later. Consequently, they can’t take anyone or anything seriously… Moreover, their lives lack meaning because they are condemned to living an unending story, one that can never have narrative unity… That is the fate we avoid by fixing a standard limit to our lives. Immortals cannot have what Kierkegaard called ‘passion’… A mind is aware of limitless possibilities – it can think of itself as doing anything conceivable – and it can think of a limitless time in which to do it all. To choose a life – one that will progress like a story from its beginning to its end – is to give up the infinite for the finite… We consider ourselves free because we were liberated from the possibility of irrationality and selfishness.”   –   (Cooney, 2004, 183-186).
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Thus we see that Cooney’s argument rests upon the thesis that death gives meaning to life because it incurs finitude, and finitude forces us to choose certain actions over others. This assumes that we make actions on the basis of not being able to do them again. But people don’t make most of their decisions this way. We didn’t go out to dinner because the restaurant was closing down; we went out for dinner because we wanted to go out for dinner. I think that Cooney’s version of the argument is naïve. We don’t make the majority of our decisions by contrasting an action to the possibility of not being able to do it in future.

Cooney’s argument seems to be that if we had a list of all possible actions set before us, and time were limitless, we might accomplish all the small, negligible things first, because they are easier and all the hard things can wait. If we had all the time in the world, we would have no reference point with which to judge how important a given action or objective is. If we really can do every single thing on that ‘listless list’, then why bother, if each is as important as every other? In his line of reasoning, importance requires scarcity. If we can do everything it was possible to do, then there is nothing that determines one thing as being more important than another. Cooney makes an analogy with an economic concept to clarify his position. Economic definitions of value require scarcity; if everything were as abundant as everything else, if nothing were scarce, then we would have no way of ascribing economic value to a given thing, such that one thing has more economic value than another. So too, Cooney argues, with possible choices in life.

But what we sometimes forget is that ecologies aren’t always like economies.

The Grave Dig|nitty of Death

In the essay collection “Transhumanism and its Critics”, Hava Tirosh-Samuelson writes:

Finally, since death is part of the cycle of life characteristic of finite creatures, we will need to concern ourselves with a dignified death… the dying process need not be humiliating or dehumanizing; if done properly, as the hospice movement has shown us, the dying process itself can be dignified by remembering that we are dealing with persons whose life narratives in community are imbued with meaning, and that meaning does not disappear when bodily functions decline or finally cease.”   –  (Tirosh-Samuelson, 2011).
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She may have provided a line of reasoning for arguing that death need not be indignifying or humiliating (convinced me that death has any dignity whatsoever), but I would say that she’s digging her claim’s own grave by focusing on the nitty-gritty details of humiliation and dignity. It is not the circumstances of death that make death problematic and wholly unsatisfactory; it is the fact that death negates life. Only in life can an individual exhibit dignity or fail by misemphasis. Sure, people can remember you after you have gone, and contributing to larger projects that continue after one’s own death can provide some meaning… but only for those still alive – not for the dead. The meaning held or beheld by the living could pertain to the dead, but that doesn’t constitute meaning to or for the dead, who forfeited the capability to experience, or behold meaning when they lost the ability to experience, or behold anything at all.

Tirosh-Samuelson’s last claim, that death need not be dehumanizing, appears to be founded upon her personal belief in an afterlife more than the claim that meaning doesn’t necessarily have to cease when we die, because we are part of “a community imbued with meaning” and this community will continue after our own death, thus providing continuity of meaning.  Tirosh-Samuelson’s belief in the afterlife also largely invalidates the claims she makes, since death means two completely different things to an atheist and a theist. As I have argued elsewhere (Cortese, 2013, 160-172), only the atheist speaks of death; the theist speaks merely of another kind of life. For a theist, death would not be dehumanizing, humiliating, or indignifying if all the human mental attributes a person possessed in the physical world would be preserved in an afterlife.

Another version of the “limiting factor” argument comes from Martin Heidegger, in his massive philosophical work Being and Time. In the section on being-toward-death, Heidegger claims, on one level, that Being must be a totality, and in order to be a totality (in the sense of being absolute or not containing anything outside of itself) it must also be that which it is not. Being can only become what it is not through death, and so in order for Being to become a totality (which he argues it must in order to achieve authenticity – which is the goal all along, after all), it must become what it is not – that is, death – for completion (Heidegger, 1962). This reinforces some interpretations made in linking truth with completion and completion with staticity.

Another line of reasoning taken by Heidegger seems to reinforce the interpretation made by Cooney, which was probably influenced heavily by Heidegger’s concept of being-toward-death. The “fact” that we will one day die causes Being to reevaluate itself, realize that it is time and time is finite, and that its finitude requires it to take charge of its own life – to find authenticity. Finitude for Heidegger legitimizes our freedom. If we had all the time in the world to become authentic, then what’s the point? It could always be deferred. But if our time is finite, then the choice of whether to achieve authenticity or not falls in our own hands. Since we must make choices on how to spend our time, failing to become authentic by spending one’s time on actions that don’t help achieve authenticity becomes our fault.Can Limitless Life Still Have a “Filling Stillness” and “Legitimizing Limit”?

Perhaps more importantly, even if their premises were correct (i.e., that the “change” of death adds some baseline limiting factor, causing you to do what you would not have done if you had all the time in the world, and thereby constituting our main motivator for motion and metric for meaning), Cooney and Heidegger are still wrong in the conclusion that indefinitely extended life would destroy or jeopardize this “essential limitation”.

The crux of the “death-gives-meaning-to-life” argument is that life needs scarcity, finitude, or some other factor restricting the possible choices that could be made, in order to find meaning. But final death need not be the sole candidate for such a restricting factor.
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Self: La Petite Mort
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All changed, changed utterly… A terrible beauty is born. The self sways by the second. We are creatures of change, and in order to live we die by the moment. I am not the same as I once was, and may never be the same again. The choices we prefer and the decisions we are most likely to make go through massive upheaval.The changing self could constitute this “scarcitizing” or limiting factor just as well as death could. We can be compelled to prioritize certain choices and actions over others because we might be compelled to choose differently in another year, month, or day. We never know what we will become, and this is a blessing. Life itself can act as the limiting factor that, for some, legitimizes life.

Society: La Petite Fin du Monde

Society is ever on an s-curve swerve of consistent change as well. Culture is in constant upheaval, with new opportunities opening up(ward) all the time. Thus the changing state of culture and humanity’s upheaved hump through time could act as this “limiting factor” just as well as death or the changing self could. What is available today may be gone tomorrow. We’ve missed our chance to see the Roman Empire at its highest point, to witness the first Moon landing, to pioneer a new idea now old. Opportunities appear and vanish all the time.

Indeed, these last two points – that the changing state of self and society, together or singly, could constitute such a limiting factor just as effectively as death could – serve to undermine another common argument against the desirability of limitless life (boredom) – thereby killing two inverted phoenixes with one stoning. Too often is this rather baseless claim bandied about as a reason to forestall indefinitely extended lifespans – that longer life will lead to increased boredom. The fact that self and society are in a constant state of change means that boredom should become increasingly harder to maintain. We are on the verge of our umpteenth rebirth, and the modalities of being that are set to become available to us, as selves and as societies, will ensure that the only way to entertain the notion of increased boredom  will be to personally hard-wire it into ourselves.

Life gives meaning to life, dummy!

Death is nothing but misplaced waste, and I think it’s time to take out the trash, with haste. We don’t need death to make certain opportunities more pressing than others, or to allow us to assign higher priorities to one action than we do to another. The Becoming underlying life’s self-overcoming will do just fine.

References

Cooney, B. (2004). Posthumanity: Thinking Philosophically about the Future. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN-10: 0742532933

Cortese, F. (2013). “Religion vs. Radical Longevity: Belief in Heaven is the Biggest Barrier to Eternal Life?!”. Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Arguments and Rants about Immortalism. Ed. Pellissier, H. 1st ed. Niagara Falls: Center for Transhumanity. 160-172.

Heidegger, M., Macquarrie, J., & Robinson, E. (1962). Being and time. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Tirosh-Samuelson, H. (2011). “Engaging Transhumanism”. Transhumanism and its Critics. Ed. Grassie, W., Hansell, G. Philadelphia, PA: Metanexus Institute.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.