Open letter to Paul Ehrich
May 15, 2012 at 12:37 pm #2785
I sent this to Paul, so far no reply. Perhaps he will reply on this forum. If anyone else is interested in the “Luddite Manhattan Project”, please contact me. The basic idea is to produce a sustainable village, which could then seed itself and propagate, adapting to local environments. Ghandi and Peter Maurin had the idea, minus the experts who would plan and form the first seed.
Dear professor Ehrlich,
I just watched your interview on blogginheads.tv. I would like to
start a dialogue with you regarding both the theoretical aspects of
cultural evolution and the practical aspects of cultural engineering.
I think I have some relevant ideas on both these topics, for which I
provide some links as seeds for discussion. Also, I have been a
professional physicist, engineer and molecular biologist with a PhD in
Physics from Boston University. I don’t often mention my credentials
but I thought in this case it might get your attention and serve as a
filter from all the other riff-raff emails that you must get. Please
google me to see that I have published a few articles in peer-reviewed
For a beginning I must say that the problem is not that we need a
Darwin for cultural evolution, but that Darwin is incomplete for
biological evolution and if we take the lessons learned from
developmental biology (the importance of regulatory genes in
development and probably in speciation as well) and other population
biologists (the importance of small populations and reproductive
isolation in speciation) seriously, we can apply them to cultural
evolution. I believe the implications are that any global approaches
involving politicians or ignorant masses to creating homo
sustainabilis are misguided. This is not how nature does it. Nature
starts with local populations, which if successful, can propagate and
grow. The following video takes 35 minutes to watch:
In order to accomplish this task, I propose the following project, in
analogy to the Manhattan project, which worked with a handful of
For a further understanding of how this project is not about going
back to an idealized past:
Also, I am convinced that even people who want to change their
consumption habits are not going to be able to do enough to make a
difference with just this wish and understanding and that current
industrial technology for basic needs will only exacerbate all the
problems you are aware of, and some you are not aware of. I have
gotten this conviction by leaving academia and industry and living
among the people of this country most of whom have a very different
outlook than most academics.
Last, I also must say that I disagree with your using language as an
example of a meme network comparable with culture (you used the game
of going around the circle with a sentence that gets distorted).
Language has very low fitness and entropic barriers to changing words,
and slightly higher barriers to changing syntax, but nothing compared
to the meme networks that have dominated our civilization for a while.
There are differences between meme networks and gene networks having
to do with horizontal vs vertical propagation which do need to be
Looking forward to a productive collaboration.
January 31, 2013 at 8:57 pm #4289AnonymousInactive
I just read the Dec 3 post from your blog. As a guy who loves woodworking with hand tools, has a blacksmith shop in the back yard and a thumb that I hope will someday be bright green, I agree with your perspective on many levels. But the question that we’ve both been asking ourselves is how do we get there from here. If we are to find ways to transition to a more sane, sustainable, peaceful, just and humane future, we have to start where we are now- a radical reconfiguration of our way of life is necessary, but getting there will require a process of maturation, a recognition of limits, but also a destination and purpose that is still within reach of where we now stand. We need a new paradigm to at the very least midwife our way into real transition. I have some ideas about that posted under the subject, “The Homestead Earth Model.” I agree wholeheartedly that systems do not change from status quo to the unknown, that there must be extant functioning models even on a small scale to serve as viable alternatives. But I think that what we need to guide us on this path is some kind of coherent, concrete model, a new paradigm, a strategy, a movement that is more than just “sustainability” or “saving the environment.” The power of a paradigm, even a misguided one is derived from its internal consistency, its ability to describe the world, to prioritize certain values and principles, a system that reinforces its principles through positive feedback. I see the Luddite Manhattan project as one among many worthy tactics/goals, but some kind of uniting concept is needed to bring people together in pursuit of shared and mutually beneficial ends.
May 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm #4841
Matthew, I just saw your reply. I guess Paul is too busy to deign a reply. I couldn’t find your Homestead Earth Model by a quick search. Can you provide a link? I don’t think the whole earth needs a paradigm change. Small groups need a paradigm change, and the concurrent cultural isolation so they don’t get swamped by the mainstream global industrial paradigm. Such is the way of speciation, aka getting out of a local rut in the negative fitness landscape. Also, how does one get from this paradigm to another one? The answer is master memes need to be mutated, just like in biological speciation. Other mutations produce adaptations, which are small deviations about a changing maximum of fitness in gene/meme space, not speciation or a paradigm change (which requires lots of genes/memes to mutate in a concerted, system-wide way, under control/regulation of one or a few master genes/memes). Have you actually read the LMP proposals on my website? Also see:
which addresses explicitly how to get from here to there. I agree that we need many tactics/goals, but right now I see only 3 viable ones, according to evolutionary theory (though my understanding of evolution is not necessarily widely accepted). My proposal is still the only one of the 3 with no funding, probably because those with funding leverage are part of a different paradigm. What is your email? Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org
May 13, 2013 at 4:54 pm #4843
Error above:”…lots of genes/memes to mutate in a concerted,…” should be “…lots of genes/memes to change their interactions in a concerted,…”
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