Pamphlet as distributed to the local island community, December 18, 2009

Finding the ‘Silver Lining’

in the ‘Global Warming Debate’


The Aboriginal Physics Newsletter,

ted lumley

Christmas and the New Year are coming and that’s when we try to look on the positive side of things.  Or maybe a better way to put it is that we relax so that the sharp cutting edges of current issues become blunt and, like toy rubber knives, let us laugh about things that normally put a stern look on our faces and stiffness in our spine.

If, as you read this, you can suspend the ‘stiffening up’ that seems to usually go with this topic, and let your mind relax as you might when trying to let some squiggles printed on the flat magazine page rise up and image themselves as a 3D hologram, then the ‘silver lining’ in the ‘global warming debate’ may become visible to you.

As an earth scientist, I have been witness to a lot of ‘local’ disputes over theory, but one of the big ‘global’ disputes was in the process of resolving in the era that I started working as a geophysicist; i.e. ‘plate tectonics’ or ‘continental drift’.  This theory, while originally proposed in 1915, was fiercely resisted until the 1960s when new technology brought forth incontestable evidence (actual proof of sea-floor spreading in the Atlantic) that punctured the opposition balloon.

There are parallels in that dispute and how it resolved that can give insight to the current ‘global warming debate’, as will be brought out shortly. (hint: – resistance to plate tectonics came in large part from adherence to a rigid interpretation of ‘uniformitarianism’, the geological principle that ‘the present is the key to the past’).

And since language, the medium I’m working with right now, is a ‘single-issue-at-a-time’ medium, … there is no way around going through ‘this-a-way’ of looking at the issue and then ‘that-a-way’ of looking at the same issue, which tends to rile certain people here and certain other people there, … BUT, … as I say, what my letter seeks to share transcends both the pro and contra positions associated with ‘global warming’ and says something about ‘we’, the public in general, in how we ‘split’ in the way we look at issues and the underlying source of this splitting.

I would describe this as a ‘silver lining’ because it allows us to resolve the ‘split’ without the unsatisfying result where one or other of the opposing factions are forced to relinquish their beliefs.

That is, the resolution occurs out of the plane where all the head butting is going on.

The story here is not about ‘what is going on in the world out there’, but about the ‘psychology’ that associates with two different, subtly different, ways in which we look at natural phenomena and inquire into ‘problems’.

Ok, enough already for the ‘introductory framing’.  A last reminder that; while there is ‘talk’ in this letter of ‘what is going on out there’ in the natural system of the world, the point of the letter is to do with ‘what goes on in here’, in our manner of conceiving of what goes on ‘out there’, not just in connection with the ‘global warming debate’ but with a whole raft of other debates in the science of social dynamics, economy and politics.   It is about ‘self-examination’, and two different ‘wrestling holds’ that our mind habitually uses as it tries to ‘grasp’ ‘what is going on out there’.

First, the two different but related ways of ‘framing our observations’ of dynamic phenomena, as scientists and as ‘rational thinkers’;

1. Assume that the present depends only on the immediate past. (linear/rational)

2. Assume the remote past directly influences the present. (nonlinear/non-rational)

The first ‘linear/rational’ way is the common and popular way of conceiving of ‘how things happen’.  It is the ‘causal’ model.  If we observe a ‘result’ such as a person who has just died of gunshot wounds, we use it to investigate ‘what happened’ and we explore the ‘immediate past’ (rewind the film, so to speak) until we find the ‘causal agent’ ‘holding the smoking gun’ and we take this as our ‘answer’ and conclude that ‘the case has been solved’; i.e. we have identified the causal agent that is responsible for the result.

The second ‘nonlinear/non-rational’ way is a less common and not nearly so popular way of conceiving ‘how things happen’.  It addresses phenomena such as earthquakes, avalanches and all those things where tensions build over time and then suddenly, and often explosively, release.  Those ‘tensions’ bring out the fact that ‘space’ has the ability to ‘store energy’ in the manner of a compressed spring (tension) or a stretched spring (ex-tension) and that energy is called ‘energy of place’ or ‘potential energy’.

In this second way of ‘framing our observations’ we might consider the possibility that the present also depends on the direct influence of a more distant past, associated with the development of a divided and tensioned community and the associated ‘ghetto’ that the murderer and his parents and grandparents had grown up in.

In physics, the difference between the two is explained by the relationship between ‘kinetic energy’ (energy of motion) and ‘potential energy’ (energy of place).  Normally one frames ones observations so that we extract information on ‘what things do’; e.g. rocks that fall down the flanks of mountain slopes and/or rocks that are dropped into a rock pile.  ‘kinetic energy activity’ is activity in which ‘the present depends only on the immediate past’, whereas ‘energy of place’ is like a ‘time-capsule’ that defers the release of its energy, perhaps slowly releasing it (slumping in the rock pile) or perhaps suddenly releasing it (in an ‘avalanche’).

By this ‘delayed action’ that associates with ‘energy-of-place’, the present is directly influenced by the distant past, a real-life situation which the standard ‘linear/rational’ modeling assumption, where the ‘present depends only on the immediate past’ is not equipped to deal with.

For example, ‘ice’ is one of these ‘delayed energy release capsules’.  Melting ice is like a vacuum cleaner that sucks in kinetic energy and lowers temperature (the measure of average kinetic energy in a substance) in the process.  Many such temperature-lowering ‘vacuum cleaners’ have been ‘deposited’ by natural cycles of relative warming and cooling in the remote past; e.g. as implied by ice-core data;

paleo-deposits of ice directly influence the present from the distant past

paleo-deposits of ice directly influence the present from the distant past

Because of the delayed release built into these temperature-lowering consumers of kinetic energy, the present temperature is directly influenced by the remote past.

But this time-delayed release of energy is not constrained to ‘inorganic’ dynamics as human beings have this same capacity for nonlinear/non-rational behaviour.   It is in general characterized by ‘memory’ and ‘thresholds’ and it is referred to by such phrases as ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’.  The recent collapse of the economy also falls into this nonlinear/non-rational category.

As Edgar Peters observed in ‘Chaos and Order in the Capital Markets’ (1991), classical economic theory assumes ‘the rational investor’ which means an investor who deals with news as it comes to him, meaning that his behaviour in the present depends only on the immediate past (yesterdays news reports etc.).   However, the typical investor does not behave ‘rationally’.    Observations of investor behaviour show, for example, that if a typical investor hears one instance of bad news about one of his investments, he may not respond to it, but, if he hears three pieces of bad news within a period of eighteen months, he will sell.  This means that the present behaviour of the market is directly influenced by the remote past; i.e. the economy is ‘really’ nonlinear/non-rational but we nevertheless continue to use ‘linear/rational’ economic theory because there is no good theory for nonlinear dynamics, but that doesn’t suggest we should ignore the tensions that can build in the economy, as with the growth of snow on mountain flanks that precede an avalanche (rising market value puts rising pressure on the base of real value to the point where the tensions can suddenly release).

So, we can get a sense when something is ‘overextended’ and about to ‘snap’, whether we are talking about snow piling up on mountain slopes or about economies.

Debates continually arise, in areas where dynamic phenomena are modeled, in regard to using ‘linear/rational theory’ to (try to) deal with ‘nonlinear/non-rational phenomena’, and modern students of economics continue to be dissatisfied with how entrenched classical economic theory has become.  We don’t hear much about it but there are dissident economist factions and there are guidebooks for students to give them a ‘heads-up’ on what is wrong with economic theory.  Articles in the wake of the recent ‘recession’ express it as follows;

“The most important thing that the global financial crisis has done for economic theory is to show that neoclassical economics is not only wrong – it’s dangerous.”

This ‘splitting’ into factions on the basis of using ‘linear/rational’ theory where, arguably, the phenomenon in question demands ‘nonlinear/non-rational’ theoretical treatment is pervasive in the world today.

One more example may bring it ‘closer to home’ (more personal) prior to reviewing the ‘global warming debate’.

The following is from an article in the Christian Science Monitor addressing the Iraq war of 2003 to bring down the regime of Saddam Hussein.  Note how the word ‘memory’ crops up in the authors summarizing of the dynamic;

“The memory of colonization by Western powers is still fresh in the minds of many Arabs. From Algeria, Lebanon, and Syria, to Egypt and Iraq, the legacy of foreign military presence led not to economic and political growth on par with the foreign power, but rather its opposite. The people were subjugated to foreign rule and puppet rulers. Nationalistic leaders were silenced or exiled. Territory was divided and new and seemingly arbitrary boundaries created. Natural resources were exploited and markets were cultivated to foster dependency rather than development.”

The suggestion is that there are ‘tensions’; i.e. ‘energy of place’ that has accrued over a long period of time so that the region is ‘spring-loaded’ (or stretched like an extended rubber-band) and periodic releases of this tension manifest ‘locally’.  If one assumes that the present depends only on the immediate past, then when there is an outbreak of trouble, one rewinds the film to look for the causal agent that is holding the smoking gun, and, voila, another ‘Saddam Hussein’.

Having ‘identified’ the agent that is the presumed ‘cause’ of the problem, the linear/rational theory would predict that the removal of the causal agent will resolve the problem … hence a war to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein, and when this has been done, it is, …  ‘mission accomplished’.

Here’s where we come upon a complex aspect of nonlinear/non-rational phenomena wherein things that are remote from one another in spacetime can end up by coming together.  This is described by David Bohm in terms of ‘stirring two distinct drops of different coloured ink’ into a clear viscous fluid.  When the two coloured drops are stirred in, to the observing eye it seems as if all of the contents are ‘the same’ (everything is ‘the same colour’) but if we stir backwards, all of dispersed particles of colour collect in their respective proper droplet.  Thus, if an observer came in ‘later’ and started (reverse) stirring the ‘homogeneous’ solution, it would seem as if a subset of the population had an inherent ‘common destiny’ separate from the rest.  Similarly, the colonizers and the colonized may seem like a homogenous mix, but there is an implicit order in the mix that relates to the dynamics of the remote past.

Unlike equipment that stirs coloured droplets into a clear viscous fluid so that their ‘different colour’ becomes invisible, and then un-stirs them back into droplets, we cannot un-do the ‘colonizing’ that continues to be ‘in the memory of many Arabs’ though that invisible implicit order persists and may help to shape emergent behaviours at a much later date, underscoring the fact that the present not only depends on the immediate past but is also directly influenced by a more distant past.

If we then use ‘linear/rational theory’ on this ‘nonlinear/non-rational phenomenon’, then we are condemned, like Sisyphus, to a life of endlessly rolling a rock up the hill to have it roll down again.

Even though we have to deal with the periodic outbreaks, we don’t have to apply ‘linear/rational theory’.  When we say that ‘there is evil in the world’ (as Barack Obama, following in the footsteps of George Bush and others has just done in his Nobel prize acceptance speech), this tends to freeze us in linear/rational theory mode.   It is an implied commitment to ‘eliminating the local evil agent’ and thus to ignore the ultimate source of the dynamic that derives from a more distant past.   It constitutes a ‘petrified opinion’ and as Mark Twain said;

“Loyalty to petrified opinions never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world — and never will.”

It implies that once we destroy the evil causal agent, we will have removed the source of the turbulence in the region; i.e. it implies that the present depends only on the immediate past, that the causal agent can be identified by rewinding the film, and then removed.   But if we allow that the present can also be directly influenced from the remote past, then this alleged ‘causal agent’ can instead be viewed like a ‘snapped elastic’ that was over-extended by regional tensions or the ‘energy-of-place’ accruing from a distant past.

We still have to deal with ‘snapped elastics’ but like dealing with someone breaking into our house with murderous intent, while we may be forced to ‘take him out’ in the act of stopping him from doing harm, we do not have to assume that the negative energy ‘starts’ within his interior (that ‘he is evil’) but we can leave open the possibility that tensions in the society have wound him up to the snapping point.  In this case, we would acknowledge that we were not ‘resolving things’ by taking him out of the picture since ‘resolving things’ would require the impossible act of un-stirring the cream back out of the coffee.  However, just as ‘tensions’ can build historically, so can harmonies build historically, and this becomes a possibility (to supplant tensions with harmonies) if we do not insist on staying strictly with ‘linear/rational theory’ that insists that the present depends only on the immediate past.

Increasingly, in our present-day society, there are ‘divisions’ arising amongst people, IMPLICITLY, as to which of these assumptions, ‘linear/rational’ or ‘nonlinear/non-rational’, we should use as the basis for our world view and our collective actions.

This is no less true in the case of ‘global warming’.

If one lives in an area where accumulations of snow, perhaps from avalanches along the flanks of a mountain range, often do not completely melt in the summer following their deposition (e.g. close to the poles, layers of packed snow remain like growth rings in a tree, preserving the memory of conditions that prevailed in the remote past).   So, if there were un-melted mounds in your living area, from accumulations in, say; 2003, 1997, 1964 and 1937, and your job was to measure and report on the temperature in the region, your ‘thermometer’ would give you a ‘net result’ (but the result of ‘what’?) without informing you of the causal origins; i.e. the temperature in the present would be directly influenced from the remote past, rather than the present temperature depending only on the immediate past.

If the temperature in 2010 rose slightly over its value in 2009, and you knew that the 1937 snow mound had finally disappeared in the early spring of 2010, then you could surmise that the rise in temperature was due to the cessation of its influence (consuming kinetic energy by melting) just as if you had four blocks of ice to cool your house every summer up through 2009 and then in the summer of 2010 you used only three blocks of ice; i.e. the living space temperature would increase relative to the prior years.

That is, in the real world (where nonlinear dynamics are the more comprehensive view), the assumption that the present depends only on the immediate past does not hold, or rather, it does hold but it is inadequate in describing the overall phenomena since it fails to take account of the present being directly influenced from a more distant past.

This is why Marina Leibman, senior scientist at the Cryosphere Institute in Russia, rejects the notion of ‘global warming’, describing it as an ‘invented horror story’.

“There is no global warming caused by human activity, first because greenhouse gases do not affect climate. They do not affect climate. That is a physical theory, it is an invented horror – it does not exist.” Leibman dismisses reports of increased thaw of permafrost as invented reports made by scientists in need of money. “– Marina Leibman, Chief Scientist, Earth Cryosphere Institute, Russia interviewed by ITN news

Leibman is implicitly acknowledging the fact that if large expanses of permafrost (up to 30,000 years old) were to melt, the impact on temperature and greenhouse gases would be huge, and, being a case of the present being directly influenced by a more distant past which would radically overshadow any recent human activity of the type where ‘the present depends only on the immediate past’, such a development  would contradict the very (linear/rational) ground that ‘global warming’ dependently stands on.  The wag-the-dog nature of ‘global warming’ seems to outcrop here.

These slow-acting kinetic-energy consuming ‘time-capsules’, cryospheric paleodeposits of ice, are essential moderators of global temperature.  They make the system of climate inherently nonlinear/non-rational and the only way that they can be ignored so that linear/rational theory can be safely applied, is by a little bit of scientific ‘hocus pocus’ called ‘ceteris paribus’, the assumption whereby the nonlinear effects can be assumed to be of constant influence so that the dominant influence on the dynamic will derive from the linear play of the variables we are interested in, in this case, the alleged causal relationship between greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere and global temperature.  This would appear to be a very shaky ‘ceteris paribus’ indeed.

Psychologically, because it gives us a sense of ‘helplessness’, we prefer to avoid thinking in terms of ‘invisible order’ having been ‘stirred in’ to the system of climate like cream is stirred into coffee, and the same goes for the systems of economics and politics.  But although we cannot ‘unstir’ these invisible energy buildups that linger and threaten, nor therefore make our system neat, linear, rational and tidy, we can still keep these effects in mind as we employ linear/rational theory (if we have nothing better); i.e. we can keep our eye out for the imminent sudden release of tensions, in the economy, in socio-political relations as well as in the climate, and we can reflect on the fact that our present actions are also stirring invisible order into the space we inhabit which will have a time-delayed harvest that can contribute to the cultivating of  harmony or dissonance.

As Mach’s principle of relativity implies;

“The dynamics of the habitat condition the dynamics of the inhabitants at the same time as the dynamics of the inhabitants are conditioning the dynamics of the habitat’.

So, if we based our modeling on nonlinear/non-rational assumptions rather than exclusively on linear/rational assumptions, not only are the man-made greenhouse gases made to appear as an UNLIKELY ‘causal source’ of overall temperature fluctuation, greenhouse gases in general are made to appear as UNLIKELY sources of overall temperature fluctuation since both of these theories are based on the notion that ‘increases of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere cause increased global temperatures’ ‘right now’, which rests dependently on the assumption that the present depends only on the immediate past.

The point here is that depending on which assumptions (linear/rational or nonlinear/non-rational) are used, the same data will be interpreted in a very different way, since the temperature curve does not ‘really’ represent ‘current conditions’ but is instead the composite of direct influences deriving from the remote past.  That is, in the nonlinear/non-rational view, there is no meaningful entity that could be called ‘current dynamic conditions’, not in the ‘health of the economy’ and not in the social dynamics of regions tensioned by the dynamics of centuries.  The dynamic conditions which are measured in the present are the sum of time-delayed loading and unloading of ‘energy of place’.   Kinetic energy dynamics, the kind we can see and measure, are bound together with their invisible conjugate, the energy of place (space).

The following comment gives an example of how a scientist (John Christy) that intuits the applicability of the nonlinear/non-rational modeling assumptions in the system of climate sees the measurement challenge;

“Scientists are mere mortals casting their gaze on a system so complex we cannot precisely predict its future state even five days ahead.”

In these [global warming] model vs. data comparisons, we find gross inconsistencies – hence I am sceptical of our ability to claim cause and effect about both past and future climate states. . . . Mother Nature is incredibly complex, and to think we mortals are so clever and so perceptive that we can create computer code that accurately reproduces the millions of processes that determine climate is hubris (think of predicting the complexities of clouds).”  — John Christy

[“John Christy is Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and has served as Lead Author of both the IPCC and CCSP reports]

Ok, this quote was not a signal to bring out the boxing gloves.  My aim throughout this letter is to ‘pivot from’ but, ‘go beyond’ the ‘global warming debate’ to share the view that there are two different sets of assumptions that we can (and do) employ in ‘framing’  the nature of observed dynamics of all types, that can split the meaning we lend to the data (the data does not speak for itself; e.g. temperatures do not inform us of how much of them derives from man and non-human nature, how much from the present and how much from the past).  That is, in regarding ‘what is currently happening’, we can;

1. Assume that the present depends only on the immediate past. (linear/rational)

2. Assume the remote past directly influences the present. (nonlinear/non-rational)

What governs which assumption we choose?  Using the example of the Middle East, we have noted that there are historically stoked tensions in the region, though these tensions, having been ‘stirred in’, sit there invisibly and quietly (apart from word signals) in the manner of tensions in the accumulation of snow on the mountain slope or tensions across the opposing faces of a fault.  This stoked and ordered ‘energy-of-place’ manifests indirectly, through periodic violent energy releases.

Military minds, and the mindset that associates with most police and justice systems employ the linear/rational model and stand in the ready to respond to particular outbreaks of violence.  Here we assume (we train ourselves to assume) that the present depends only on the immediate past.  Thus we rewind the film, identify the causal agent that is ‘holding the smoking gun’ and proceed to deal with him.  That is the job of the military.  And one doesn’t have to have a badge and uniform to think in the manner of the military.

At the same time, there is a tendency in human nature to take credit for having ‘sorted things out’ and ‘resolved them’ even when the blunt manner of achieving their ‘resolution’ may stir yet more tensions into the already spring-loaded energy-of-place, that those coming after us will have to deal with (e.g. the colonizers that raped and pillaged have left more than a legacy of ‘stolen land’ to their descendants.).

The ‘silver lining’ in all of this is that the ‘global warming debate’ appears to be bringing a lot of things to a head at the same time, and there seems little doubt that the source of the differences in view, below the plane of the conflict, is going to become apparent and thus to resolve this seeming paradox as to why experienced scientists can find themselves in such stark disagreement. (i.e. over their implicit choice of modeling assumptions rather than in their different interpretations of the data.)

The linear/rational model works very well for a large class of dynamic phenomena.  If a volcano erupts and throws a massive quantity of ‘particulate matter’ into the atmosphere, it registers immediately so that, for that particular sub-phenomenon, we can say that the present depends on the immediate past (but we can’t generalize that to ‘the present depends ONLY on the immediate past.

The paleo-deposits of ice in the cryosphere, the area of study of Marina Leibman at the Russian Cryosphere Institute, have a time-fuse that delays their influence spreading it out over time.  The climate has laid many such ‘ice-eggs’ at different times and locations and they typically steam up and melt in the warmer seasons, gobbling up kinetic energy in the process, so as to lower the temperature from that which it otherwise would have been.  We don’t have a full inventory of the deposition time, location and size of these ‘ice-eggs’ and if we did, it wouldn’t be the whole story anyhow, since rotting trees and other systems in nature similarly source direct influences on the present from the more distant past, making the climate system very ‘nonlinear/non-rational’.

Only if all of the phenomena contributing to the ‘present temperature’ were of the volcanic eruption type (delivering results immediately and not dilly-dallying) could we confidently employ the linear/rational assumption that ‘the present depends only on the immediate past’.

The notion that ‘increases in greenhouse gases cause increases in global temperature’ rests dependently on our being able to regard the climate system as a linear/rational system.  Otherwise, the excellent-APPEARING correlation between greenhouse gases and temperatures (in the tiny recent interval) does not affirm a causal relationship.  In which case, there is then good reason to open up consideration to the possibility of other ways of understanding the source of the shape of the curve that the global temperature manifests as a function of time.  For example, as Christy notes;

“All models cause “reflecting” or “cooling” cloud-cover to shrink as GHGs [greenhouse gases] rise, allowing the sun to heat the Earth (positive feedback). Thus, it is the reduction of cloudiness that causes the main warming in models, not the direct action of GHGs. In the real world, my colleague Roy Spencer and others, have found that cooling-clouds actually expand when the Earth warms, thus creating a thermostatic cooling affect (negative feedback). Hence, the temperature impact of rising GHGs is much less due to this apparent significant negative feedback – and this fits very well with the relatively slow current rate of atmospheric temperature increases.”

This would suspend the notion that increases in greenhouse gases are a dominant modulator of the shape of the global temperature curve, which would be in concert with Marina Leibman’s (Cryosphere Institute) view and the views of many Russian scientists.

Interpreting an upswing in the global temperature curve as ‘warming’ would only be valid if all of the phenomena contributing to the global temperature were ‘delivering results immediately and not dilly-dallying’.   However the paleo deposits of ice DO ‘dilly dally’ as has been discussed and therefore we cannot say whether the upwards inflection of the global temperature curve reflects a decline in the kinetic-energy-consuming influence of melting/sublimating paleo-deposits of ice, rather than a contemporary increase in the infusing of kinetic energy into the climate system.

The person who had many different sizes and ages of ice blocks in their living space, some getting smaller very quickly, some more slowly (depending on their situation), and some melting away entirely, monitoring the room temperature and knowing that it was partially due to current (immediate past) influence from kinetic energy-augmenting solar irradiance (and current associated entrapment and reflection of solar irradiance) on the one hand and partially due, on the other hand, to the opposing negative kinetic energy influence from ice-melt, would have a difficult time separating out the kinetic energy increasing contribution from the kinetic energy lowering contribution.

Intuition might suggest that short term fluctuations would be due to influences in the immediate past, but that is not what the nonlinear/non-rational theory would suggest; i.e. it would contend that there is no way to analytically separate out the two sources of influence.  The problem is like trying to separate out whether a violent outburst in the Middle East is due to current energy inputs or to the release of energy from past spring-loading of regional tensions.  In the end we come back to the definition of the two types of energy; potential energy which facilitates the consumption and regurgitation of kinetic energy, and kinetic energy which oscillates between ‘active duty’ and ‘hibernation’ as potential energy; i.e;

“Two expressions for energy occur in the mathematical description, each of which changes, although the sum does not vary. It is thus possible to introduce mathematically and rigorously the concepts of potential energy, depending on position, and kinetic energy, depending on velocity. The introduction of the two names is, of course, arbitrary and justified only by convenience. The sum of the two quantities remains unchanged, and is called a constant of motion. The total energy, kinetic plus potential, is like a substance.” — Einstein and Infeld in ‘The Evolution of Physics’;

In this discussion, MY MOTIVE IS NOT to argue the actual case, but to instead address the deeper, underlying issue of how we choose between two different framing assumptions and how this choice leads us to put different emphasis on different portions of the data set.  The rational military mind can focus on the current anomaly or ‘dynamic figure’ while the non-rational intuitive mind can suspend such focus and open up its awareness to the unfolding flow or ‘dynamic ground’.

For example, there is no dispute as to the fact that the portion of the data set used to allege the causal relationship between the increases in greenhouse gases and the rise of temperature is tiny compared, for example, to ice core data sets.  The following ice core temperature graph starts from the end of the last ice age, 10,000 years ago and puts recent temperature rises into relative context.

the causal relation between increasing GHG and temperature increase is based on a small interval

the causal relation between increasing GHG and temperature increase is based on a small interval

If it were true that there is not a strong causal relationship between greenhouse gases and global warming as Russian and other scientists maintain, then we could all breathe a lot easier.  Our children in particular, who are most vulnerable to nightmarish scenarios that have their parents in a state of serious alarm; e.g. the threat of nuclear annihilation impressed upon the children of the 1960s;

“… of 3,000 children and adolescents surveyed, …95 percent expressed a serious concern about the danger of war and 44 percent lived in fear, waiting for war. … There is also cynicism, sadness, bitterness, and a sense of helplessness. They feel unprotected. Some have doubts about planning families or are unable to think ahead in any long-term sense.”

The silver lining here is that what is showing up in this debate on global warming is confusion over two possible ways to frame the observed data which are not being overtly declared.  The same situation prevails in debates on our economic and political systems.

The currently dominant ‘global warming’ model is a linear/rational model that assumes that the present depends only on the immediate past.

But there is strong evidence that it is not adequate for dealing with climate, and if this is the case, the door is open to consider a strong body of data that suggests that greenhouse gases are not the cause of global warming, a view held by many Russian scientists and by John Christy who was/is a lead scientist on the IPCC panel.

Since this same situation prevails in many different fields of scientific inquiry, the time is right to be overt as to which of two available ‘framing assumptions’ we are employing and why;

1. Assume that the present depends only on the immediate past. (linear/rational)

2. Assume the remote past directly influences the present. (nonlinear/non-rational

Disputes arise as well, in the social, economic and political spheres, as to whether the dynamics of social collectives can adequately be described by assuming that the members of the collective are ‘rational’; i.e. that we can assume that their behaviour in the present depends only on the immediate past.  Our intuition informs us that this assumption is not supported by our experience.  This has been confirmed in the economy through unpredicted periodic economic avalanche-like collapses.  In spite of this, we continue to use classical economics which assume the rational investor.

In the realm of politics, while we intuit that the periodic outbreaks of violent unrest cannot be entirely attributed to the immediate past but go back to the building of regional tensions in a more distant past, we continue to respond to the situation as if the linear/rational model applied; i.e. we identify the local causal agent and take action to remove it, a removal which because of our assumption, may be done in such a manner as to stir up more tensions in the region.

Insofar as the ‘global warming debates’ may be exposing the deeper source of our tendency to split and polarize on the issues, in a very intense and paradoxical manner, we have much to gain from these debates.

That is, we are going to have to ask ourselves how it can be that Marina Leibman sits in Russia asserting and believing (like many other people whose hearts are in the right place) that;

“There is no global warming caused by human activity, first because greenhouse gases do not affect climate. They do not affect climate. That is a physical theory, it is an invented horror – it does not exist.”

… while there are riots in the streets of not-so-far-away Copenhagen where people not only believe in the reality of that ‘invented horror’ but regard it a moral imperative to act to combat it and are demanding actions from the establishment authorities to deal aggressively with it.

There is a silver lining in this.  Sorting out what is going on here is the imperative.  And when we do, we shall bring to the surface that which has been known for some time, that there are two different ways to frame our inquiry and that both have utility, though the simpler of the two is not adequate for all situations.

Why has there been such resistance to bringing in the nonlinear framing assumptions?

Apart from the fact that ‘simple stories propagate easily’ (and the linear/rational framings of complex phenomena are usually very simple;  e.g.  ‘higher GHG emissions cause higher temperatures’), there is the role of ‘ego’.

The ‘ego’ is central to this resistance.  We have a tendency to ‘believe’, whether we are a bank manager, an entrepreneur, a farmer in the new world, or a politician, that the present results depend only on immediate past.   This makes us, by the proof of holding the smoking gun, the causal agent of results that might otherwise be seen as ‘emanations from a more distant past’; i.e. from the spring-loading of the living space we are included in’.  The emergence of two new communities implies a spatial tension; i.e. they imply a road connecting the two of them, and the road implies an inn to accommodate, feed and re-provision the travellers of the road.   When the inn appears, the camera footage will rewind and it will be the innkeeper holding the smoking gun that will be identified as the causal agent that is responsible for creating the inn.

We say that the careless smoker causes the forest fire, but when the forest is sopping wet, the same action causes no fire.  We say the fiery politician like Adolph Hitler causes conflagration in Europe, but in a contented and harmonious Europe there is no conflagration.  And we say the astute innkeeper creates the successful inn-keeping business, but in the middle of the desert there is no successful inn-keeping business.  Without tensions in the audience, the comedian’s joke would not cause laughter.

What is ‘flawed’ in all these ‘causal representations is the failure to give due causal credit to the dynamic ground and instead attributing all causal credit to the dynamic figure.  This is a Western cultural habit, a kind of mental short-cut, which was not there in aboriginal and medieval cultures.   The short-cut is also ‘built in’ to classical science as noted by Henri Poincaré’

“We recognise at the outset that the efforts of scientists have always tended to resolve the complex phenomenon given directly by our experience into a large number of elementary phenomena. And to do this in three different ways : first, with respect to time. Instead of taking into account the progressive development of a phenomenon as a whole, we simply seek to connect each moment with the one immediately preceding. We assert that the present state of the world depends only on the immediate past, without being directly influenced, so to speak, by the memory of a more distant past. Thanks to this postulate, instead of studying directly the whole succession of phenomena, we may confine ourselves to writing down “its differential equation” ; for the laws of Kepler, we substitute the laws of Newton.”  —  Henri Poincaré, ‘Science and Hypothesis’

The ‘global warming debate’ is ‘blowing the cover’ of this un-stated “framing preference” that lies beneath many disputes in all fields that invite rational inquiry.

In many cases, the linear/rational framing assumption will serve us well; e.g. in dealing with all those phenomena where memory and energy-thresholds are not a significant factor, such as in mechanical systems.  But it appears that the earth climate system is not one of those, even though the linear/rational framing assumption may appear to work for selected sub-phenomena such as volcanic eruptions.  (This is deceptive since the boost of kinetic energy from the volcanic eruption superimposes itself on a temperature curve which is an inseparable mix of contributions of kinetic energy from the immediate past and significant measures of negative kinetic energy liberated from the melting of paleo-deposits of ice which directly influence the present from the distant past).

In this case, the causal relation between greenhouse gases and global temperatures may turn out to be the artefact of the application of inadequate modeling assumptions.

The current structure of government and corporation employs a compensation scheme that regards the senior authorities in these organisations as the ‘causal agents’ of ‘their organisation’s results.’  While many senior authorities in these organisations speak in glorified terms of the contribution they and the organisation make to the community, occasionally one hears ingenuous quips such as F. Ross Johnson’s (former president/CEO of RJR Nabisco)  “Some genius invented the Oreo. We’re just living off the inheritance.” implying that the organisation, the dynamic figure, is the result of the dynamic ground it is included in, not the creator of it.

There is a lot riding on these issues, emotionally and financially, and it would seem wise not to close the door on alternative understandings prematurely.

The paradox of radically opposing views of the same phenomenon in the ‘global warming debate’ provide us with a unique opportunity to get to the root of the rising frequency and intensity of conflicting viewpoints and to see old issues in new ways.   Why not finally bring our ‘framing assumptions’ out into the open?

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Footnote: There is no questioning of the destructive nature of ‘pollution’ implied in any way in the above letter.  While ‘emissions’, in the ‘global warming hypothesis’ are referred to global averages, ‘pollution’ is a phenomenon that associates with local imbalance in the concentrations of ‘pollutants’ such as Nitrogen oxides, oxides of Sulphur, particulate matter etc. which are known to give rise to acidic conditions that can kill local ecosystems and de-oxygenate coastal environments.   As well, too high a concentration of carbon dioxide relative to oxygen in a local environment can asphyxiate oxygen-dependent organisms, just as too high a concentration of uranium in a local environment can cause a nuclear reaction.  That is, pollution is a problem that arises when the natural range of relative concentrations in the local environment is thrown out of balance.  If emissions are managed so that they do not gather and concentrate to the point they become toxic, they can participate in natural cycles of renewal (as with sewage etc.), thus with pollution, it is not a question of ‘reducing emissions’ per se but in sustaining local balances and ensuring that emissions are taken care of by natural cycles of renewal.  The smokestack and the septic field are devices that can disperse effluent emissions, rendering them less harmful to the environment (or in some cases, innocuous or supportive).  The management of pollution is thus not to be ‘lumped in together’ with the management of total emissions (compliance with total emissions does not ensure the avoidance of undesirable local concentrations).  For example, the rise in organic wastes discharged by a rising human population is manageable providing that local concentrations are avoided and effluent is continuously transformed via natural cycles of renewal.   In managing pollution, then, it is not simply a question of reducing the amount of these emissions but of ensuring their continuous transformation in renewal cycles.

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The Aboriginal Physics Newsletter

ted lumley

back cover of pamphlet


Our habit is to assume that the storm-cell is the cause of turbulence in the flow of the atmosphere, when it is, in fact, the result of the turbulence (tensions) in the flow of the atmosphere.  By defining and naming the storm-cell, we invent its ‘local existence’ and its ‘local agency’.  As John Stuart Mill observed; “Every definition implies an axiom, that in which we affirm the existence of the thing defined.”

The dynamic figure and the dynamic ground are a dynamical unity, as with the dynamic unity of kinetic energy and potential energy.

The relationship between the two is given by Mach’s principle of relativity;

“The dynamics of the habitat are conditioned by the dynamics of the inhabitants, at the same time as the dynamics of the inhabitants are being conditioned by the dynamics of the habitat.”

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