|Bonus Joules and the Knowledge Economy|
Is our Universe Stark Raving Bonkers Mad?
Chapter Three - A Holey Pilgrimage-An Insane Universe?
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Chapter 3 No 3: A response to Sam's Insane Universe.
Blog Dave McArthur 22 July 2005
Am I a refugee in my own country? A refuge from its smog? From Radio NZ? From TVNZ? From its electricity industry? That was to be my question. No longer. Now I ask What the Bleep do I know!? Maybe I am my own refugee. I flee from my greater self?
For the last few years as I have observed human activities destroy the life systems that support us I have gone on a search to understand the nature of energy. That search soon evolved into a call for us all to review the symbols we use to portray its nature and how our climate works. My appeal has been mainly directed to my generation – the 40-60 year old bureaucrats, academics, journalists, politicians and energy consultants who now dictate so much of national policy. These are the people who now most directly enable our corporate framework and form the shock troops for its psychopathic excesses.
Have you heard of my call? No? Well, that shows my inability to communicate with my peers. The other day I was privileged to share the company of my generation’s children – people with degrees, careers with no futures, mortgaged without homes and contemplating being childless. My generation has bequeathed on them such a different dream compared to what we inherited. Yet in the world of relative poverty that they live in, a spirit shone. Their eyes were alight with enthusiasm as they talked of great ideas.
In particular they were entranced by the ideas of the movie What the Bleep do we know!? Had I seen it? They were astonished I did not know of it. How could it be I did not know about it? They wished me go to it as they longed to talk with me of its ideas, its visions of energy.
Now I belong to a few networks on which “energy experts” abound – people who make livings out of educating people about “energy” and our climate, people who make money out of selling “energy” products and “trading” carbon emissions, people who sit in Parliament and make “energy policy”. These are people of my generation supposedly at the cutting edge of “energy” knowledge. Not one had made mention of the movie in their net postings.
When I saw the movie I understood why. My generation is the clever generation that has created the modern PR industry and generated the most advanced science in the psychology of mass consumption of material resources since – well - since the last great civilisation destroyed all traces of itself with greed. We have created the great Energy Conscious Age where we confuse energy forms with energy itself. We use precious energy forms as though they are as bounteous as energy. We live a miserable view of energy.
I was not surprised to note that grey heads in the audience at the movie were conspicuous by their relative absence. At the same time I observed that the physicists and neurobiologists that featured in the movie were of my generation and the ideas were the culmination of their decades of research into subatomic particles and brain cells. Note: I link you direct to the Scientist section of the movie website. This is to enable you to bypass the Hollywood pap and merchandising that dominates the home page. The Scientists include:
I suspect the audience around me shared the sensation my young friends experienced. The film offers a glimmering of something profoundly intriguing and radical, something truly amazing, something mind-boggling.
The movie is truly amazing because the possibilities it hints of are so enormous they are breathtaking. Deep down a part of us believes quantum theory works for we have seen photos of the effects of “atom bombs”. We know quantum mechanics is not airy-fairy New Age dribble. It can eradicate huge cities in seconds. However to address the potential in the discipline’s basic ideas is to stand at the seeming cliff edge of our reality and experience a greater vision beyond. To take a further fraction of a step might invite oblivion or a more magnificent life.
Knowledge of the breathtaking possibilities inherent in quantum ideas and our neurobiology can be plain scary. To contemplate them is to invite being overwhelmed by our own power. Put crudely, the ideas suggest energy is what we make of it. Our awareness creates matter. Oh, God, yeah, the responsibility is unbearable.
Well it is potentially unbearable for many of us for whom the ideas are novel and for whom the ideas are breathtaking. The ideas are not novel to me though I have yet to fully live what I know. Thirty years ago, when I was the same age as my young friends I was privileged to gain a small insight into the wisdom of yoga and become acquainted with the minds that first generated that science.
In the early 1970s we were pretty much locked into a Mind & Body frame and yoga released me to the greater possibilities inherent in a Mind-Body frame. I will just say my health was at great risk and an honest doctor told me there was nothing medicine can do for me. Of course he was talking about Western “scientific” medicine. So began my search beyond it.
The level of knowledge that sages attained those thousands of years ago simply by attending to and learning from their breath astounded me. Their insights transformed my awareness of life. My culture had taught me that the sign I am alive is the fact I can take a breath. These guys had perceived of an energy system in which the fact we can give away our breath is the most potent manifestation we are alive. Give everything away and all comes to us.
So the ideas in the movie just made me laugh at the fun of it all. I even enjoyed the filmmaker’s attempt to translate them into a human’s experience. The insights seemed as warm and familiar as the wisdom of antiquity. Glimpsing the awesome potential in the ideas was not so much a breathtaking experience for me. I was not alarmed as others may be at the idea we create matter in our minds. Rather it was a breath-giving experience. The movie reminded me of the power in me. Thank you. I forget this so easily.
The next day I walked down Lambton Quay, the main thoroughfare of Wellington, the capital city of NewZealand. I observed the flow of humanity down its pathway. People of every race and shape were represented. I asked was there anything I would change with them. How differently might I imagineer the electrons and protons that form them?
In that moment I was aware that already there was variety and complexity of humanity that was beyond my conscious imagination. Indeed I found myself wondering why I had forgotten to take such a keen interest in my creation. I gazed on all those faces and figures with all those expressions and all those postures – gay, sad, blank, exuberant, angry, tranquil, grey, red, white, brown, up, down, level, shifty, smiling… Each hinted at a myriad of experiences, insights and secrets. I glimpsed the potential inherent in Heisenberg’s great Principal of Uncertainty and felt great fondness for my fellow humans. As I gazed upon my creation I saw them anew.
And I did not feel like God above or beyond. I remained mindful that just as my awareness enables the electrons and protons of their atoms to “materialise” out of almost boundless possibilities, so their awareness enables my material being.
I then looked at the atoms manifest as streets, traffic and buildings. I arrived in Wellington in 1986, just as much of it was demolished and rebuilt in image of Chicago Economics. It should be renamed Friedmanton. Indeed the Minister of Finance at the time, Sir Roger Douglas, spoke of Wellington becoming the Zurich of the Pacific. (Part of the rational for this extraordinary belief was that our adoption of Market Economics would give us an advantage over the world because our stock exchange is in the first time zone. He forgot time is an arbitrary construct and we can create technology if we so desire that can transcend our rhythms of day and night.)
As a meter reader I passed through condemned buildings literally moments before bulldozers rearranged their atoms into piles of waste destined for the dump. I skipped through the mud of building sites, dodging pile drivers attempting to pound the earthquake-prone ground into submission. I explored the heights of the new, shining towers of concrete, steel and glass, searching their structures for the meters monitoring the flows of electrons that pulsed through them and generated light, warmth and communications.
The transformation of Wellington city was done in the images of developers and merchant bankers. Their vision bespeaks a hatred of the sun, people and the beautiful harbour the city was rebuilt in. The city landscape is the nation’s addiction to oil made manifest. In the rebuilt city we experience shades of the barbarism of the invading tribes from the north that destroyed Rome’s great innovations in the use of glass’s generating capacity and the destruction of King Ashoka’s great tree planting civilisation of India
The new Wellington is built on north-south lines so its buildings hide views of the harbour, its inhabitants live in gloomy shadows and the prevailing winds are funnelled to chill the bones of the city traveller. On calm days its canyons reek with the fumes of a transport system redesigned to burn up precious oil reserves as soon as possible. It is often a dismal,grey experience for the visitor. How different it would have been if rebuilt east-west, paying homage to the harbour and with love for the sun above. How different if people flowed through the city using a light rail system that revealed care for the atmosphere and care for our children.
Walking down Lambton Quay I realised I am surrounded by a machine designed for consuming precious oil and Gas reserves, for converting rivers into wastelands and for polluting the skies. What the!? This is my creation? With what murky element of my being does this resonate?
I have written in previous blogs that we are Trace Beings. Our conscious awareness is the most mere hint of the subconscious activities manifest in the myriad patterns of electro-chemical energies pulsing through our billions of brain synapses. Clearly there is so much of my being that is beyond my conscious awareness. I sense there is an antiquity of hidden wisdom residing in the flows and patterns of behaviour that shapes my acts. How can I tap into that wisdom more fully? How do I calm the auras of fear and doubt inherent in me that generate war and misery, that formed the worst of this city that I walk through?
Even as I am asking these questions they seem to have been answered before. I hear echoes of the great sages. In the movie someone spoke of The Jesus and the Buddha. Yes, they are the source of my echoes. The former speak of giving everything away and the latter show us how to do so with our breath. A dismissive whisper in me murmurs “How boring” “ What bullshit” and “This is just weird stuff”.
Walking down Lambton Quay I am mindful of the deep cynicism within me and surrounding me. For a decade I regularly walked through most of the offices in the glass towers around me. I witnessed the rows of people hunched over their computers, gaming and speculating on all manner of commodities – oil, Gas, Bulk-electricity, gold, national currencies and their fellow humans. Daily I hear their oddly mechanical voices reading out The Market reports on the radio. The welfare of civilisation and our environment is of little matter or consequence to them. Love and compassion are rare in their dealings.
Now the possibility exists that I can rearrange all this in the thorough way the Americans rearranged the atoms of Hiroshima in 1945 or the TwinTowers of New York were rearranged in 2001. However, regardless of the possibility that all is my creation, I have a sense these are not intelligent compassionate solutions. Time to sit a moment and reflect.
The Bleeping website contains many quotes to mediate on. The movie contains ideas that are boggling and do make one giddy at the possibilities. Niels Bohr (quoted by Teller: see French and Kennedy 1985, p182) apparently said:
“Whoever talks about Planck's constant and does not feel at least a little giddy obviously doesn't appreciate what he is talking about.”
Another great quote off the site is:
There is no reality in the absence of observation.
As I sit there reflecting on my potential power and the awesomeness of my responsibility I am mindful of something I wrote about at length in a recent blog: we are Trace Beings.
In terms of my own psychology, my actions are determined by a myriad of responses, the vast, vast majority I am not consciously aware of. Yet, on balance these primal reactions have sustained me these years as they sustained my ancestors.
I sit a bus stop in Lambton Quay, contemplating the needless squalor and ugliness around me. A group of 30 children in Iraq have just been incinerated so these buses can continue to belch their diesel fumes. Many, many thousands more will starve to death before their first kiss because the oil required for fertiliser to feed them is used to sustain this city in this form. How can I avert that horror? In the ultimate act of trust I consciously breath out and allow the universe to recharge me if it will. It does and for some reason I am reminded of the great open questions I now ask many times a day of creation/God/ the gods/my greater self/ the universe/ existence/life/whatyouwill:
would you have me do?
What I love about these submissions is that answers come to general questions I barely knew I was asking. The answers are always different and far better than I could will for. The Bonus Joules website with its alternative strategies for communicating efficient energy uses and how our climate works came as a result of submitting these open questions. When George Bush and associates took control of the White House in 2000 I experienced moments of great powerless. I saw little future or care in their thinking. It was easy to feel humanity is doomed.
My reaction was a common one. An elderly friend described to me how her knowledge of what the new president meant was “eating away” at her. The powerlessness I experienced is the same many Americans experienced after the demolition of the TwinTowers
The key unasked question I guess was: How do I respond to the lovelessness these new rulers represent? How can we best release ourselves from the addiction to oil, Gas, Bulk-electricity use and blind consumption of vital irreplaceable resources that these rulers promote?
My answers came in the form of questions. Could it be the symbols we use to portray the nature of energy are flawed? Who promotes their use and why? Does the image of Earth’s atmosphere as a greenhouse serve us well or does it simply reflect our arrogance? Is negawatts a true measure of energy efficiency? Does Carbon Trading work against a sustaining atmosphere.
Anyway WellingtonCity remains largely in the form it was the day after I went to the movie. I did not rearrange its energy flows in a spontaneous nuclear holocaust. I remained mindful I am part of creation, being the observed and the observer. I remained aware I can never truly know what bad comes from good or good comes from bad. I asked the above questions, trusted to a greater wisdom and now attempt to write this. I observe the electrons dancing on my computer screen in response to the signals I send through my fingers on the keyboard. I am mindful these words are generating new atomic structures in you as you read this. I trust I am tapping into a greater common wisdom, a deeper compassion.
My decision to engage the possibilities within you was perhaps influenced by the inspiring story I heard while insulating a mate’s ceiling the previous weekend on the National Radio Sunday programme. It was the story of the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, "Tree Planter" Wangari Maathai. We heard how she endured beatings and imprisonment for planting forests and fighting developers who then wanted to exploit them for luxury tourist markets. The Peace Prize citation can be read here.
We heard how tree planting transformed the lives of Kenyan women and the environment. Wangari would point to the brown rivers and say to soldiers “There goes our country. Protect your country by holding your rifle in one hand and a shovel in the other so you can plant trees”. She mobilised 30-40 thousand poor women to plant 30 million trees.
Her story teaches New Zealand how flawed its Carbon Trading system is. Indeed at the end of the programme it was mentioned how Europeans were now approaching them and offering carbon credits so they could use the Kenyan forests to offset their own carbon emissions. Their abhorrence of this proposal was palpable. “All these people want to do is carry on polluting as usual”. As I have argued before, “these people” referred to include many New Zealanders.
Readers of my recent blog will be aware of my argument that Carbon Trading works against the objective of reducing our carbon emissions and that acting out of love for our environment generates far greater wealth for the majority of us. That is the lesson of "Tree Planter" Wangari Maathai. It is also the lesson of Christchurch’s smogs. I am a refugee from the smog but that story can wait another day. So can the full story of why I am a refugee from the electricity industry. Just know my love of electricity endures despite all the threats I endured that my family would be raped, my home trashed and my reputation destroyed if I did not “keep right out of the electricity industry”.
I am also a refugee from National Radio and TVNZ. It is now very rare I bother to turn my television on but I happened to be watching a documentary the night of the London bombings. TV1 immediately canned its regular programmes and devoted the evening to “coverage” of the event. Similarly Radio New Zealand canned its normal content and went over to a direct BBC link. I sat there shocked at the scale of the state- sponsored violence and racism.
The London massacre is hideous. It is hideous as our present massacres in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Our media do not dump planned programmes to cover them and I do not expect London to be any different. I say that as the son of a Londoner and with relatives dear to me living in London. It was easy to predict the desecration of Muslim temples in New Zealand that followed the media coverage. Such selective reporting promotes hatred and prejudice. The following day I had my regular visit from a pair of Christian evangelists. They asked what did I think about the Muslims. I said, “I feel sorry for any one of any race or religion who happens to have oil and Gas discovered in their neighbourhood. In our age it is a recipe for misery.” End of conversation. I wonder if they will be back?
It is school holidays at the moment. It is the time for ‘termly’ activities when I investigate all those little dark corners I normally bypass when classes are operating. Then I have to concentrate on keeping the S bends clear and rubbish bins from turning into raging monsters.
Now I can get into corners and shovel out all those little piles of chewed rubbers, moth-eaten crusts and spider filled apple cores. Screwed up love-notes emerge as well as news that someone has a big bum. The deep question occurs: why are our teachers making our children write under desks and behind side boards and why does the alphabet contain only the half a dozen letters that make up the words like fuk kcuf, sux and fux? These symbols are created using crayons, pencils, glue, biros, paint (usually finger painted), compasses, coin edges and other sharp tools that help ensure the words are etched for eternity.
In case you are wondering, it’s actually a lovely, middleclass school and I am privileged to be its janitor. Normally I listen to National Radio as I work. However last week I became a refugee from its orgy of racism and violence. I accidentally came upon this station I had never heard before on the far right of the FM band. It is broadcasting interviews with the likes of Dr Colin J Campbell (Author of the Coming Global Oil Crisis), Richard Heinberg (see my review of his book The Party’s Over)
and discussions on the negative impact of the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank on sustainability. Most of the commentary is American but, hey, that’s no different to New Zealand National Radio. Our own Marilyn Waring featured courtesy of the Canadians and I was fascinated with her journey exposing the inanity and insanity of international accounting standards.
I work surrounded by the visions our children and their attempts of to make sense of the world we (I?) are creating for them. I see their spirit of hope and generosity. If they survive they will have lived through the Post Cheap Oil-Gas Age and created a global culture of care and conservation light years beyond our present greed driven economy.
Time and again, above the whir of my linoleum buffer and vacuum cleaner, I hear snippets of questions to the speakers on the radio broadcast. The audience wants to know how society can acknowledge and adapt to the enormity of the challenge posed by our dependence on dreams of unlimited oil, Gas, coal, nuclear and hydrogen options. Some admit they do not know how to communicate hope with the issues. Others answer the problem is too big and too urgent for any individual and only Government’s can address it.
If these people are right, then our children have no future. If all the great sages of history are correct and hope comes from within, then these broadcasts are telling us that there is no hope. The broadcasters are probably most courageous in fronting up with unpalatable truths about the unsustainable nature of our present civilisation and our abuse of the environment. In some cases they are able to suggest alternative strategies for living. However these strategies only take life when they are revealed in hope.
Hope is the stuff that enables us to be open to greater possibilities. And what do we bleeping know!? It looks pretty much as though hope and energy are one. The greater the hope we know the more open we are to possibilities. The greater our awareness of the nature of energy the more chances we have of creating a sustainable civilisation.
And will our children learn of energy in the form of quantum physics in our classrooms? The odds sux as there are some kcufing great fkers working against it and that’s a fukin fact. All around our classrooms are the symbols our teachers use to promote inclusiveness and openness, trust and care.
However it is not the teachers in our schools who shape the education curriculum. No. The bankers of corporations like Contact Positive Energy shape it. Their PR divisions spend countless millions re-engineering our images of energy to serve their short-term objectives. They obscure and degrade perceptions of energy efficiency practice to maximise consumption of Gas and other precious reserves.
By comparison to the corporation Bankers, teachers have few resources and skills to communicate the nature of energy to our children. Though they may teach the 26 letters in our alphabet, a greater curriculum beyond the schools means only a half a dozen letters are etched into posterity. The most powerful etching (power pun intended) is that the Bulk-electricity sector is the source of energy and power. The world is made in its image.
That is why in my last blog I awarded Trevor Mallard (Minister of Education 2000- and Minister of Energy 2005-) the Junk Joules award. It his own community in the Hutt Valley that created programmes like Energy Action. It is under his administration that the programme died, as did the Trust that created it. His government fostered the Electricity Reforms that ensured its demise and prevents the development of intelligent utility grids.
His speech congratulating Contact Positive Energy for setting up a service centre in the place of that community Trust revealed the depth of his ignorance of the nature of energy. I understood why his teachers are reduced to starter posters “Turning Electricity into Water” and his educational material teaches that carbon dioxide is “the dominant greenhouse gas.” No mention was made of the fundamental flaws in the Electricity Reforms or of the fact that Contact Energy’s education programme condemns our children to a miserable and unsustainable view of energy. I could dissect his speech in detail. I will spare you the gore.
Instead I will end with a brief note explaining the very strange cartoon that accompanies this blog. A couple of years ago the BBC broadcast a programme on our knowledge of Outer Space. This coincided with the time I was drawing the cartoon exploration of our use of symbols of holes and Black Holes in particular. A New Zealander, actor Sam Neil, fronted the ‘documentary’ series. I have a high regard for Sam’s work and sense a pretty keen intelligence.
What a dread-full experience. I watched the programme with neighbours. This is a subject where it is easy to experience awe, beauty and magnificence. The programme was full of clever graphics devoid of any of these feelings, made so by the torrid commentary. The universe became a soap opera, a cheap melodrama designed to link to the ad breaks. The topic of Black Holes came up and Sam really stirred the pool of fear and loathing that resides in us. I well recall the mother of the household I was with departing the room frustration. She said she had enough of this crap all day and this was overload.
I understood her disgust. Here was something as huge and magnificent as our universe reduced to a crass exploitation of our senses. The cartoon was a reaction in the moment to this image of energy. I contrast it to the original and inspirational television series by Carl Sagan called Cosmos. That was to experience love and enthusiasm for life. And when I am in the right bleeping frame of mind, energy is experienced as something so bleeping zany and funny.
Come on Trev, Contact Energy and its bankers, Sam, the BBC, the unknown radio station and everyone. Join the call for a review of the symbols we use to portray the nature of energy. We owe it to our children if they are to have a future. We must open the way for them to know their Quantum Beings, their Trace Beings, their Thermal Beings… There is so much more we bleeping know if we open ourselves to the powers of trust and love.
We each and all can even know a civilised and fun future.