Friday, October 5, 2012

Wiki democracy is on the way

Representative democracy is sooo last century.

What should democracy look like? There is no standard set of features that comprise a “democracy,” though literally thousands of years of debate regarding what constitutes true democracy lie behind us.
A recent effort to quantify and classify democracies and non-democracies is the The Economist magazine’s biennial Democracy Index. It’s worth perusing as there are some surprises. The United States is in tier one, a “full democracy,” but not at the top. The Scandinavian nations are perennial chart-toppers. The top four are Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden. The U.S. is 19th on the list, just below the UK and just above Costa Rica.
Tam Hunt
Click to enlarge photo
Tam Hunt
Iraq, a fledgling “democracy,” according to our mainstream media spin, is 112th on the list and is a “hybrid regime,” only four spots above the lowest category, “authoritarian regime.” Russia doesn’t even do that well and is categorized as an authoritarian regime, at 117, despite its trappings of democracy. China does even worse, at 141, with its one-party state. Saudi Arabia worse still, at 161, lacking even a pretense of democracy. North Korea bottoms the list at 167.
The Economist ranks countries based on five dimensions: electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties. Clearly, these are not easily quantifiable and there is certainly room for debate on each dimension.
Anyway, this is just one effort among many ways to categorize democracy. This essay focuses on ways to improve even the best democracies, but also looks forward to the next few decades in terms of how even the worst countries may evolve eventually into a generally borderless and peaceful world.
We now have the tools, with the Internet, mobile computing, and many software platforms, to bring about more direct democracies in many ways – instead of the representative democracy or republic forms of government that have passed for the best type of democracy to date. The rise of “wiki government” – also known as e-democracy, wiki democracy, liquid democracy, and many other terms – is among other benefits an antidote to corruption. We can at this point in time transition to online voting for all elections, while ensuring maximum security as we do so. We can also expand the types of issues that we can vote on far beyond the traditional voting categories of voting on elected officials and, in states like California, initiatives, and occasional recalls.
Read the rest here

Monday, June 18, 2012

In Defense of Philosophy

Philosophy has come under attack by various scientists in recent years, generally because, well, they just don’t get it. This little essay is my attempt to show why.
Lawrence Krauss, an American physicist at Arizona State University and author of a number of books, stated recently that “philosophy hasn’t progressed in two thousand years.” He clarified in an Atlantic Monthly interview that he was being purposefully provocative in this statement, but this is a clear example of those scientists who just don’t get it. Krauss’s point was that whereas science progresses through the creation of hypotheses, experiments, and falsification, philosophy amounts to little more than word games that don’t really go anywhere.
Tam Hunt
This is unfortunately a rather common attitude among working scientists and even among laypeople. Richard Dawkins, the well-known British evolutionary biologist and author of numerous popular books on evolution, wrote the afterword for Krauss’s book A Universe from Nothing. Dawkins likens Krauss’s book to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in terms of its potential importance in de-throning supernatural views of the world in favor of purely naturalistic explanations.
The bottom line is that the boundaries between philosophy and science are rather arbitrary and arguably even illusory. There is, perhaps, a continuum of changes in methodology that separates the two.
Read the rest here

Principles of Beauty

My latest song and video production, featuring my father on vocals and wisdom.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

This is my latest music and video project, a little love letter to the universe, featuring my good friends Aranza Owen and Justin Stark, as well as my nephews Camden and Berkley Thompson.

Monday, April 2, 2012

On Time and Free Will

In any attempt to bridge the domains of experience belonging to the spiritual and physical sides of our nature, time occupies the key position.
—Arthur Stanley Eddington, 1928

Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for insects as well as for the stars. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.
—Albert Einstein

Even very smart people can be wrong. After all, Einstein showed with his theories of relativity that Newton, another very smart guy, didn’t have the whole picture on the nature of space or time. But nor did Einstein, it seems, as I’ll describe. It is becoming increasingly clear that Einstein was wrong about the nature of time and determinism.

What is time? For Einstein and most physicists, time is considered an additional dimension akin to a spatial dimension — sometimes described as “the spatialization of time.” We arrive at a four-dimensional universe in which time is reversible and there is no real difference between past, present, and future. Past, present, and future are all just different coordinates in an unchanging and eternal “block universe.” Einstein made this view explicit in a 1955 letter to a friend; the appearance of past, present, and future as distinct features of our experience, he wrote, is a “stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Sometimes, developments that seem like advances can actually be setbacks. Einstein’s views on time have become prevalent in science and philosophy, but what is far less prevalent is the understanding that in a world where time is an illusion and the universe is deterministic, there is no room for free will.

Free will is an active area of interest in psychology and philosophy. There is an increasing — and disturbing — trend toward a kind of hard-nosed acceptance that we don’t have free will. The attitude is something like: “Science is increasingly showing us that we are not that important. Copernicus showed us that we’re not at the center of the universe, Darwin showed us that we’re just another animal, and physics has shown us that there is nothing special about consciousness and that we suffer from an illusion of free will because past, present, and future all exist at the same time.”

This attitude, while increasingly pervasive, goes too far in my view. Much of it is, of course, correct: We are not at the center of the universe, and we have evolved just as all other creatures have evolved on this blue/green planet of ours. But we are also the leading edge of that creative process, with our highly complex consciousness and associated attributes. Even though many things are indeed beyond our conscious control, it is not the case that we are conscious automatons in a deterministic world. New physical ideas support this view, and we are now seeing the dissemination of these ideas slowly but surely, steadily eroding Einsteinian determinism.

Read the rest here.

One Solution For High Gas Prices

It is common knowledge that “there is no quick fix” for high gas prices. It’s going to be a long-term effort to reduce our reliance on oil and we’re probably in for higher prices no matter what we do in the short term or long term because we’re facing a number of macro trends, such as systemic tightness in global supplies (peak oil), ongoing international tensions with Iran, etc., and perhaps also some amount of speculation in oil prices.

But is it really true that we can’t do anything to bring down gas prices in the short term? Maybe not. There are in fact a number of policies that could have a rapid impact on demand and possibly even bring down gas prices dramatically.
One policy, in particular — banning U.S. exports of gasoline — could result in significantly lower prices for gasoline almost overnight. As far as I can tell, this policy is not being talked about at all, and it should be.

The United States became a net oil-product exporter in February 2011 for the first time since 1949. It’s important to stress, however, that “net oil products” refers to refined oil products, not to crude oil itself, which dwarfs net oil products. We still import about half of the liquid fuels we consume each year and, as I wrote recently, we only produce about 6 million barrels of crude oil per day and we consume about 19 million barrels of all liquid fuels (including biofuels and natural gas liquids, etc.).

Read the rest here.

Toward Energy Literacy

"Energy literacy" and "peak oil literacy" should be requirements for pundits – and for citizens more generally. I've followed these issues for many years now, and the poor energy knowledge among even the chattering classes and punditry still amazes me.

A recent MSNBC show allowed a guest to state, without challenge, that U.S. oil production is now at an all-time high. No one, including the host and three other guests, objected to this statement. Many articles in various media outlets are now trumpeting the new “oil boom” in the U.S.

The fact is that U.S. oil production is a bit more than half of what it was at its peak in the early 1970s. It is not even close to an all-time high. This is not a small discrepancy in facts — every pundit should know this information when discussing our current and future energy needs. Read the rest here.