Even after more than 50 years, Lem’s Summa Technologiae is still an interesting book. It is interesting to come back to it after a very long time. I am astonished to learn that it has been translated into English only in 2013.
It is interesting to see to what extent the ideas of use, of exploitation, or resources are permeating our language. Our civilization is a parasite of our planet and it is about to destroy our biosphere and this civilization is permeating our language and our concepts and categories.
If we try to say that something has a value in itsself, we are using the concept of value that comes out of the language of use. If we say something is useless, we are using a term derived from the term “use”. The concept of “open domain” still has the idea of use inside it. We seem unable to speak or think of something that is just itself and not getting its value from what we can do with it, without using terms and concepts that come from this language of use.
We have to try to develop a totally different way of talking and thinking. We have to develop a language of the useless and valuable-in-itself that is not derived from the parasitic ontology of our growth culture, a language that does not view the useless as something negative.
In https://embassyofthefuture.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/civilizations/, I have defined civilizations as creative dissipative systems. It looks like not many people have understood what I meant by that and how terrible a thing it is.
A dissipative system is keeping its structure (or is growing) by using up some resource. It is producing entropy and it is getting rid of this entropy by using a low entropy resource and sheding high entropy waste. For example, a plant is taking up low entropy solar radiation and is radiating high entropy termal radiation. Another example is a flame. A fire turns a low entropy fuel into high entropy end products and heat radiation.
A creative system is a system that can change the way it works. It can reprogram itself. It can find new resources and new ways of using them. It can find new technologies.
Think of a fire that, when it has used up its fuel, does not burn down but changes its chemistry or its technology and starts burning something else. An intelligent fire that will find every available resource (including those unavailable at first).
Within the process of that fire burning, there will be some selection: the faster burning parts of it that have learnt more tricks will outcompete the slower parts.
Think of putting such a fire on the surface of a planet. Come back some time later and you will only find a desert.
We are such a fire. A creative dissipative system. The perfect fire. Thats us.
(The picture is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fire02.jpg).
The ultimate size of the world’s economy is a function of the amount of available resources. The economy will grow as far as the resources allow. The resources are finite. Some of them are renewable, others are not. The economy is going to outgrow the renewable fraction of the resources (actually, it has done so already). The non-renewable resources are then used up. Once they are used up, the economy is too large for the available resource base. It will then collapse.
Economic growth is not the solution, its the problem.
There is no such thing as “sustainable growth”.
Every culture seems to have something like an interface with reality. Depending on the culture, this interface has a different bandwidth. The smaller the bandwidth, the more fictional elements the world view of the culture may contain. With the widening of the interface in the process of getting a more complex culture, the fictional elements are pushed aside and at some point, the category of “fiction” is created. Before that, they are myths, now, they turn into fiction.
Our culture as a whole has a very wide interface with reality, with telescopes, microscopes etc. used to increase the bandwidth. Within it, however, subcultures are forming whose bandwidth might even be narrowing, through ideology, denialism, consumerism etc.
The high bandwidth of the scientific culture is only possible on the basis of an industrial civilization. The industrial civilization in the form we have is not sustainable (see Civilizations). When it collapses, the bandwidth will decrease again. It will not be possible to maintain the scientific knowledge we have acquired. Culture will shatter into smaller cultures with different world views.