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RMS <em>Titanic</em> Sails
What’s to worry? RMS Titanic departs Southampton.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster in 1912. What better time to think about lifeboats?

One way to start a discussion is with some vintage entertainment. On the centenary weekend of the wreck of the mega-liner, our local movie palace near the Hudson River waterfront ran a triple bill of classic films about maritime disasters: A Night to Remember, Lifeboat, and The Poseidon Adventure. Each one highlights an aspect of the lifeboat problem. They’re useful analogies for thinking about the existential risks of booking a passage on spaceship Earth.

Can’t happen…

A Night to Remember frames the basic social priorities: Should we have lifeboats and who are they for? Just anybody?? When William McQuitty produced his famous 1958 docudrama of the Titanic’s last hours, the answers were blindingly obvious – of course we need lifeboats! They’re for everyone and there should be enough! Where is that moral certainty these days? And whatever happened to the universal technological optimism of 1912? For example, certain Seasteaders guarantee your rights – and presumably a lifeboat seat – only as long as your dues are paid. Libertarians privatize public goods, run them into the ground, squeeze out every dime, move the money offshore, and then dictate budget priorities in their own interest. Malthusians handle the menu planning. And the ship’s captain just might be the neo-feudal Prince Philip, plotting our course back to his Deep Green Eleventh Century.

Tallulah Bankhead in <em>Lifeboat</em>
Think Mink and Don’t Sink: Talulah Bankhead in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat deals with the problems of being in one. For a very long time – unlike the lucky stiffs on the Titanic, who were picked up in 2 hours. Specifically, it’s about a motley group of passengers thrown together in an open boat with short provisions, no compass, and no certain course. And, oh yes, the skipper is their mortal enemy: The lifeboat is helmed by the U-boat commander who torpedoed their ship. He overawes them with seafaring expertise and boundless energy (thanks to the speed pills in his secret stash) and then lulls them by singing sentimental German lieder. At night, the captain solves his problems of supply and authority by culling the injured passengers while everyone’s asleep. He tells the survivors they’re going to Bermuda. They’re actually headed for a rendezvous with his supply ship – and from there the slow boat to Buchenwald. The point of Lifeboat is simple: What can you do in your life and environment so you never, ever end up in one?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Risk avoidance is the moral of The Poseidon Adventure. A glorious old ocean liner, the Poseidon, is acquired by new owners who plan to scrap it. But these clever operators maximize shareholder value by billing the ship’s final voyage as a New Year’s cruise to Greece. They take on every paying passenger they can find, barter with a band to get free entertainment, and drive the underloaded ship hard and fast into the stormy winter Mediterranean over the protests of the captain and seasick travelers. At this point an undersea earthquake triggers a 90-foot tsunami, and despite ample warnings this monster wave broadsides the top-heavy liner at midnight, during the New Year’s party. First the ball drops. Then the other shoe drops. The result is the ultimate “Bottoms Up!”

And the takeaway of The Poseidon Adventure applies to all of the films and to life in general, not to mention the next few generations on the planet. As David McCollough’s famously concluded in The Johnstown Flood, it can be a fatal assumption ‘that the people who were responsible for your safety will act responsibly.’

You can have a ripping good time watching these old movies. And as futurists, sociologists, planners, catastrophists, humanists or transhumanists, you can conjure with them, too. Icebergs and U-boats have ceased to menace – of cruise ships, I say nothing.

But the same principles of egalitarianism, legitimacy, non-beligerence and prudential planning apply to Earth-crossing asteroids, CERN’s operations and program, Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno manipulations, monetary policy and international finance, and NATO deployments present and future.

Or do they? And if they do, who says so?

Ship beautiful — the Aquitania on her way.

CC BY-NC-ND Clark Matthews and The Lifeboat Foundation

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Earth’s Titanic Challenges by Clark Matthews is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Famous Chilean philosopher Humberto Maturana describes “certainty” in science as subjective emotional opinion and astonishes the physicists’ prominence. French astronomer and “Leonardo” publisher Roger Malina hopes that the LHC safety issue would be discussed in a broader social context and not only in the closer scientific framework of CERN.

(Article published in “oekonews”: )

The latest renowned “Ars Electronica Festival” in Linz (Austria) was dedicated in part to an uncritical worship of the gigantic particle accelerator LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at the European Nuclear Research Center CERN located at the Franco-Swiss border. CERN in turn promoted an art prize with the idea to “cooperate closely” with the arts. This time the objections were of a philosophical nature – and they had what it takes.

In a thought provoking presentation Maturana addressed the limits of our knowledge and the intersubjective foundations of what we call “objective” and “reality.” His talk was spiked with excellent remarks and witty asides that contributed much to the accessibility of these fundamental philosophical problems: “Be realistic, be objective!” Maturana pointed out, simply means that we want others to adopt our point of view. The great constructivist and founder of the concept of autopoiesis clearly distinguished his approach from a solipsistic position.

Given Ars Electronica’s spotlight on CERN and its experimental sub-nuclear research reactor, Maturana’s explanations were especially important, which to the assembled CERN celebrities may have come in a mixture of an unpleasant surprise and a lack of relation to them.

During the question-and-answer period, Markus Goritschnig asked Maturana whether it wasn’t problematic that CERN is basically controlling itself and discarding a number of existential risks discussed related to the LHC — including hypothetical but mathematically demonstrable risks also raised — and later downplayed — by physicists like Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek, and whether he thought it necessary to integrate in the LHC safety assessment process other sciences aside from physics such as risk search. In response Maturana replied (in the video from about 1:17): “We human beings can always reflect on what we are doing and choose. And choose to do it or not to do it. And so the question is, how are we scientists reflecting upon what we do? Are we taking seriously our responsibility of what we do? […] We are always in the danger of thinking that, ‘Oh, I have the truth’, I mean — in a culture of truth, in a culture of certainty — because truth and certainty are not as we think — I mean certainty is an emotion. ‘I am certain that something is the case’ means: ‘I do not know’. […] We cannot pretend to impose anything on others; we have to create domains of interrogativity.”

Disregarding these reflections, Sergio Bertolucci (CERN) found the peer review system among the physicists’ community a sufficient scholarly control. He refuted all the disputed risks with the “cosmic ray argument,” arguing that much more energetic collisions are naturally taking place in the atmosphere without any adverse effect. This safety argument by CERN on the LHC, however, can also be criticized under different perspectives, for example: Very high energetic collisions could be measured only indirectly — and the collision frequency under the unprecedented artificial and extreme conditions at the LHC is of astronomical magnitudes higher than in the Earth’s atmosphere and anywhere else in the nearer cosmos.

The second presentation of the “Origin” Symposium III was held by Roger Malina, an astrophysicist and the editor of “Leonardo” (MIT Press), a leading academic journal for the arts, sciences and technology.

Malina opened with a disturbing fact: “95% of the universe is of an unknown nature, dark matter and dark energy. We sort of know how it behaves. But we don’t have a clue of what it is. It does not emit light, it does not reflect light. As an astronomer this is a little bit humbling. We have been looking at the sky for millions of years trying to explain what is going on. And after all of that and all those instruments, we understand only 3% of it. A really humbling thought. […] We are the decoration in the universe. […] And so the conclusion that I’d like to draw is that: We are really badly designed to understand the universe.”

The main problem in research is: “curiosity is not neutral.” When astrophysics reaches its limits, cooperation between arts and science may indeed be fruitful for various reasons and could perhaps lead to better science in the end. In a later communication Roger Malina confirmed that the same can be demonstrated for the relation between natural sciences and humanities or social sciences.

However, the astronomer emphasized that an “art-science collaboration can lead to better science in some cases. It also leads to different science, because by embedding science in the larger society, I think the answer was wrong this morning about scientists peer-reviewing themselves. I think society needs to peer-review itself and to do that you need to embed science differently in society at large, and that means cultural embedding and appropriation. Helga Nowotny at the European Research Council calls this ‘socially robust science’. The fact that CERN did not lead to a black hole that ended the world was not due to peer-review by scientists. It was not due to that process.”

One of Malina’s main arguments focused on differences in “the ethics of curiosity”. The best ethics in (natural) science include notions like: intellectual honesty, integrity, organized scepticism, dis-interestedness, impersonality, universality. “Those are the believe systems of most scientists. And there is a fundamental flaw to that. And Humberto this morning really expanded on some of that. The problem is: Curiosity is embodied. You cannot make it into a neutral ideal of scientific curiosity. And here I got a quote of Humberto’s colleague Varela: “All knowledge is conditioned by the structure of the knower.”

In conclusion, a better co-operation of various sciences and skills is urgently necessary, because: “Artists asks questions that scientists would not normally ask. Finally, why we want more art-science interaction is because we don’t have a choice. There are certain problems in our society today that are so tough we need to change our culture to resolve them. Climate change: we’ve got to couple the science and technology to the way we live. That’s a cultural problem, and we need artists working on that with the scientists every day of the next decade, the next century, if we survive it.

Then Roger Malina directly turned to the LHC safety discussion and articulated an open contradiction to the safety assurance pointed out before: He would generally hope for a much more open process concerning the LHC safety debate, rather than discussing this only in a narrow field of particle physics, concrete: “There are certain problems where we cannot cloister the scientific activity in the scientific world, and I think we really need to break the model. I wish CERN, when they had been discussing the risks, had done that in an open societal context, and not just within the CERN context.”

Presently CERN is holding its annual meeting in Chamonix to fix LHC’s 2012 schedules in order to increase luminosity by a factor of four for maybe finally finding the Higgs Boson – against a 100-Dollar bet of Stephen Hawking who is convinced of Micro Black Holes being observed instead, immediately decaying by hypothetical “Hawking Radiation” — with God Particle’s blessing. Then it would be himself gaining the Nobel Prize Hawking pointed out. Quite ironically, at Ars Electronica official T-Shirts were sold with the “typical signature” of a micro black hole decaying at the LHC – by a totally hypothetical process involving a bunch of unproven assumptions.

In 2013 CERN plans to adapt the LHC due to construction failures for up to CHF 1 Billion to run the “Big Bang Machine” at double the present energies. A neutral and multi-disciplinary risk assessment is still lacking, while a couple of scientists insist that their theories pointing at even global risks have not been invalidated. CERN’s last safety assurance comparing natural cosmic rays hitting the Earth with the LHC experiment is only valid under rather narrow viewpoints. The relatively young analyses of high energetic cosmic rays are based on indirect measurements and calculations. Sort, velocity, mass and origin of these particles are unknown. But, taking the relations for granted and calculating with the “assuring” figures given by CERN PR, within ten years of operation, the LHC under extreme and unprecedented artificial circumstances would produce as many high energetic particle collisions as occur in about 100.000 years in the entire atmosphere of the Earth. Just to illustrate the energetic potential of the gigantic facility: One LHC-beam, thinner than a hair, consisting of billions of protons, has got the power of an aircraft carrier moving at 12 knots.

This article in the Physics arXiv Blog (MIT’s Technology Review) reads: “Black Holes, Safety, and the LHC Upgrade — If the LHC is to be upgraded, safety should be a central part of the plans.”, closing with the claim: “What’s needed, of course, is for the safety of the LHC to be investigated by an independent team of scientists with a strong background in risk analysis but with no professional or financial links to CERN.”

Australian ethicist and risk researcher Mark Leggett concluded in a paper that CERN’s LSAG safety report on the LHC meets less than a fifth of the criteria of a modern risk assessment. There but for the grace of a goddamn particle? Probably not. Before pushing the LHC to its limits, CERN must be challenged by a really neutral, external and multi-disciplinary risk assessment.

Video recordings of the “Origin III” symposium at Ars Electronica:
Presentation Humberto Maturana:

Presentation Roger Malina:

“Origin” Symposia at Ars Electronica:

Communication on LHC Safety directed to CERN
Feb 10 2012
For a neutral and multidisciplinary risk assessment to be done before any LHC upgrade

More info, links and transcripts of lectures at “LHC-Critique — Network for Safety at experimental sub-nuclear Reactors”:

Twenty years ago, way back in the primordial soup of the early Network in an out of the way electromagnetic watering hole called USENET, this correspondent entered the previous millennium’s virtual nexus of survival-of-the-weirdest via an accelerated learning process calculated to evolve a cybernetic avatar from the Corpus Digitalis. Now, as columnist, sci-fi writer and independent filmmaker, [Cognition Factor — 2009], with Terence Mckenna, I have filmed rocket launches and solar eclipses for South African Astronomical Observatories, and produced educational programs for South African Large Telescope (SALT). Latest efforts include videography for the International Astronautical Congress in Cape Town October 2011, and a completed, soon-to-be-released, autobiography draft-titled “Journey to Everywhere”.

Cognition Factor attempts to be the world’s first ‘smart movie’, digitally orchestrated for the fusion of Left and Right Cerebral Hemispheres in order to decode civilization into an articulate verbal and visual language structured from sequential logical hypothesis based upon the following ‘Big Five’ questions,

1.) Evolution Or Extinction?
2.) What Is Consciousness?
3.) Is God A Myth?
4.) Fusion Of Science & Spirit?
5.) What Happens When You Die?

Even if you believe that imagination is more important than knowledge, you’ll need a full deck to solve the ‘Arab Spring’ epidemic, which may be a logical step in the ‘Global Equalisation Process as more and more of our Planet’s Alumni fling their hats in the air and emit primal screams approximating;
“we don’t need to accumulate (so much) wealth anymore”, in a language comprising of ‘post Einsteinian’ mathematics…

Good luck to you if you do…

Schwann Cybershaman

Dear Lifeboat Foundation Family & Friends,

A few months back, my Aunt Charlotte wrote, wondering why I — a relentless searcher focused upon human evolution and long-term human survival strategy, had chosen to pursue a PhD in economics (Banking & Finance). I recently replied that, as it turns out, sound economic theory and global financial stability both play central roles in the quest for long-term human survival. In the fifth and final chapter of my recent Masters thesis, On the Problem of Sustainable Economic Development: A Game-Theoretical Solution, I argued (with considerable passion) that much of the blame for the economic crisis of 2008 (which is, essentially still upon us) may be attributed the adoption of Keynesian economics and the dismissal of the powerful counter-arguments tabled by his great rival, F.A. von Hayek. Despite the fact that they remained friends all the way until the very end, their theories are diametrically opposed at nearly every point. There was, however, at least one central point they agreed upon — indeed, Hayek was fond of quoting one of Keynes’ most famous maxims: “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else” [1].

And, with this nontrivial problem and and the great Hayek vs. Keynes debate in mind, I’ll offer a preview-by-way-of-prelude with this invitation to turn a few pages of On the Problem of Modern Portfolio Theory: In Search of a Timeless & Universal Investment Perspective:

It is perhaps significant that Keynes hated to be addressed as “professor” (he never had that title). He was not primarily a scholar. He was a great amateur in many fields of knowledge and the arts; he had all the gifts of a great politician and a political pamphleteer; and he knew that “the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is generally understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else” [1]. And as he had a mind capable of recasting, in the intervals of his other occupations, the body of current economic theory, he more than any of his compeers had come to affect current thought. Whether it was he who was right or wrong, only the future will show. There are some who fear that if Lenin’s statement is correct that the best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency, of which Keynes himself has reminded us [1], it will be largely due to Keynes’s influence if this prescription is followed.…

Perhaps the explanation of much that is puzzling about Keynes’s mind lies in the supreme confidence he had acquired in his power to play on public opinion as a supreme master plays on his instrument. He loved to pose in the role of a Cassandra whose warnings were not listened to. But, in fact, his early success in swinging round public opinion about the peace treaties had given him probably even an exaggerated estimate of his powers. I shall never forget one occasion – I believe the last time that I met him – when he startled me by an uncommonly frank expression of this. It was early in 1946, shortly after he had returned from the strenuous and exhausting negotiations in Washington on the British loan. Earlier in the evening he had fascinated the company by a detailed account of the American market for Elizabethan books which in any other man would have given the impression that he had devoted most of his time in the United States to that subject. Later a turn in the conversation made me ask him whether he was not concerned about what some of his disciples were making of his theories. After a not very complimentary remark about the persons concerned, he proceeded to reassure me by explaining that those ideas had been badly needed at the time he had launched them. He continued by indicating that I need not be alarmed; if they should ever become dangerous I could rely upon him again quickly to swing round public opinion – and he indicated by a quick movement of his hand how rapidly that would be done. But three months later he was dead [2].

As always, any and all comments, criticisms, thoughts, and suggestions are welcome!

Bidding you Godspeed,

Matt Funk, FLS, PhD Candidate, University of Malta, Dept. of Banking & Finance

[1]. KE YNES, J. (1920). The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (Palgrave Macmillan, London).

[2]. HAYEK, F. (1952). Review of R.F. Harrod’s ‘The Life of John Maynard Keynes’. J of Mod Hist 24:195–198.

Some countries are a threat as possible sources of global risk. First of all we are talking about countries which have developed, but poorly controlled military programs, as well as the specific motivation that drives them to create a Doomsday weapon. Usually it is a country that is under threat of attack and total conquest, and in which the control system rests on a kind of irrational ideology.

The most striking example of such a global risk are the efforts of North Korea’s to weaponize Avian Influenza (North Korea trying to weaponize bird flu, which may lead to the creation of the virus capable of destroying most of Earth’s population.

There is not really important, what is primary: an irrational ideology, increased secrecy, the excess of military research and the real threat of external aggression. Usually, all these causes go hand in hand.

The result is the appearance of conditions for creating the most exotic defenses. In addition, an excess of military scientists and equipment allows individual scientists to be, for example, bioterrorists. The high level of secrecy leads to the fact that the state as a whole does not know what they are doing in some labs.

In addition, these dangerous countries might be hiding under the guise of seemingly prosperous and democratic countries in their military-industrial complex. This list surely do not include poorest countries (Mali) and small rich countries (like Denmark).

List of countries, like falling in this category:
Well known rogue-nations: S. Korea, Iran, Pakistan,
“superpower”: China, Russia and the U.S..
Weak rogue nation: Burma, Syria and other poor countries.
In addition, a paranoid military program could be inside the outwardly prosperous countries: Japan, Taiwan, Switzerland.
This list does not include countries with a developed, but are rational and have controlled military program: Israel, Britain, France, etc. Also, the list do not include contries, which only buy weapons, like Saudi Arabia.

There is the idea of preemptive strikes against rogue countries which goal is regime change in all these countries, and through this create a safer world. This concept can be called “Rumsfeld Doctrine”. Under this doctrine were conducted military operations in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq at the beginning of the XXI century. However, this doctrine has collapsed, as weapons of mass destruction has not been found in Iraq. A more powerful adversaries such as Iran and North Korea, were too strong for United States, and, moreover, they intensified the development of weapons of mass destruction.

The strike itself could provoke rogue nation to use weapons which are already created, for example, biological weapons. Or control over bioweapon will be lost during destruction of buildings, where they are stored. Furthermore, chaos can lead to attempts to sell such weapons. However, the longer is delayed the decision of the problem, the more these countries will have time to enrich, to accumulate, to grow up.

My opinion is that at the current stage of history we should not attempt to bomb all potential rogue nations. But in principle it is a good thing that regime of Saddam Hussein was toppled, as it is unknown, what it now would do, if it still exist. We should wait near-singularity era, when one country through the development of nanotech, and / or AI will be in a situation to disarm as painlessly as possible their potential enemies, as it will be stronger than they in thousands times. Since the exponential acceleration of progress will lead to the fact that the gap between the strongest and laggards will continue to grow and advance on the usual 2–10 years will be equivalent to the advance in centuries.

Experts regard safety report on Big Bang Machine as insufficient and one-dimensional

International critics of the high energy experiments planned to start soon at the particle accelerator LHC at CERN in Geneva have submitted a request to the Ministers of Science of the CERN member states and to the delegates to the CERN Council, the supreme controlling body of CERN.

The paper states that several risk scenarios (that have to be described as global or existential risks) cannot currently be excluded. Under present conditions, the critics have to speak out against an operation of the LHC.

The submission includes assessments from expertises in the fields markedly missing from the physicist-only LSAG safety report — those of risk assessment, law, ethics and statistics. Further weight is added because these experts are all university-level experts – from Griffith University, the University of North Dakota and Oxford University respectively. In particular, it is criticised that CERN’s official safety report lacks independence – all its authors have a prior interest in the LHC running and that the report uses physicist-only authors, when modern risk-assessment guidelines recommend risk experts and ethicists as well.

As a precondition of safety, the request calls for a neutral and multi-disciplinary risk assessment and additional astrophysical experiments – Earth based and in the atmosphere – for a better empirical verification of the alleged comparability of particle collisions under the extreme artificial conditions of the LHC experiment and relatively rare natural high energy particle collisions: “Far from copying nature, the LHC focuses on rare and extreme events in a physical set up which has never occurred before in the history of the planet. Nature does not set up LHC experiments.”

Even under greatly improved circumstances concerning safety as proposed above, big jumps in energy increase, as presently planned by a factor of three compared to present records, without carefully analyzing previous results before each increase of energy, should principally be avoided.

The concise “Request to CERN Council and Member States on LHC Risks” (Pdf with hyperlinks to the described studies) by several critical groups, supported by well known critics of the planned experiments:

The answer received by now does not consider these arguments and studies but only repeats again that from the side of the operators everything appears sufficient, agreed by a Nobel Price winner in physics. LHC restart and record collisions by factor 3 are presently scheduled for March 30, 2010.

Official detailed and well understandable paper and communication with many scientific sources by ‘ConCERNed International’ and ‘LHC Kritik’:

More info: