Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Peak Krieger": Boredom is Death

I have been reading the literature on Peak Oil. I do not find it credible, mostly because one has to tell such stories in terms of technologies and economics, and then the story is a very traditional one about how societies transform themselves. (By the way, even the evolutionist's story of extinction is actually a rather gentle one, since the evolutionist can only speak of the set of species. Which will become extinct is not at all so clear, and certainly not to be found in the evolutionist's theoretical structure. The ecologist may be more helpful. I realize that an asteroid hitting the earth can lead to massive extinctions, but this is not something within the evolutionist's or ecologist's toolkit.) The reading inspired the following...

I know that I will die. I know that I am alive and productive right now, perhaps more than ever. I know that there was a long period when I was creating "fossil fuel" and there was little demand for that fuel. The problem remains--how to decide what to do, now.  It would be nice if there were a decision model that could be applied at each present moment, much as many control theory problems convert a long term optimizing problem into a differential equation or rule that says what to do now given the immediate past. I have reason to believe that even a stochastic model, say "real options," is unhelpful.

Should I go all out, now? (2011-2013/4 should lead to two revised books, and two or three new books). Should I slow down, focusing on what counts or is most significant. Could I rely on my judgment of such? I might buy an option (or even a derivative) to hedge against uncertainties of health, disability, and mental prowess. (What sort of option or derivative would that be? Train more graduate students? Undergraduates? Retire from the present role--And leave things open?) Presumably the option's seller is Fate.)

What's even more daunting is that there will be technologies beyond my imagination. When I started my current research projects in the late 90s, I did not take seriously digital imaging, and knew nothing of digital audio. In 1967, I did some work on what we now call agent-based modeling, and  by 1971 did not find it engaging.

I have  been reading Sarah Lightfoot-Lawrence's Third Chapter, and the message there is that as in Augustine's conversion to Christianity, it is not a matter of a plan or a path, per se. It is a matter of a decision to start anew.


I shall be going all out. I may well exhaust my fossil fuels, or my capacities for interesting thought may continue unabated. Perhaps I ought smell the roses. It's just that my nemesis is boredom. That's why I want to know what's up in a seminar by ten minutes in--  It's why I am overcommitted with projects--  

Now, it is true that modern roses don't smell much. And that my ideas have not proved attractive. But in the end what is probative is the fear of death by boredom. I have seen signs of such morbidity, usually when I go to seminars. 

What does this have to do with Peak Oil? In my childhood, apocalypticism had been used to justify killing people. I am Jewish, and the characteristic feature of the tradition of Judaism I adhere to is its lack of interest in the apocalyptic, the evangelistic, and the conversionary. In the Brooklyn I come from, Orthodox Jews had just seen the Nazi genocides and also had experienced the pervasive antisemitism in corporate and public life. Recall that the elite universities often had Jewish quotas, from about 1920 on, usually quite explicitly, to be abandoned but not completely in the 15 years after the end of WWII. They fired the admissions director of my college when the class was too Jewish, too smart, and too NY.

I'd rather go full speed ahead, than allow the prudent and prejudiced and the fearful. I have every reason to believe that I am better off in a warmer world. Too much of what is sustainable is rotten, boring, and immoral.

Of course, as in Augustine, I may decide to make a big change, so that I can go all out but in a new direction. Surely, there will be legacy tasks. But I can take care of these on the side.