Transition to a New Society

Change is needed! Are incremental modifications, so often recommended at many international forums, adequate? Experience with revolutions demonstrates they do not lead to anything good. The Club of Rome organized on December 8-11, 2012, the conference “Change the Course” remembering the April 15, 1912 sinking of the Titanic. Is it enough to change the course? The current world is substantially different from what it was, while the call implies that we would still be in the same ship. Now we are a very different “system”, likely not going to the destination that Titanic ? our civilization ? aimed to go. It seems that a profound change is required, not a revolution!

It would be interesting to analyze human activities dealing with systems that are considerably simpler than society. This is our physical universe that involves particles, forces and laws that apparently did not change for the last 13.8 billion years. Understanding of the physical universe considerably evolved during several millennia. It was and is based on observations, experimentations, measurements and common sense forming a multitude of prejudices. Technologies developed enabled us to change ourselves and the world we live in and gave us the worldview fairly different from what it was when we were hunters/gatherers. Based on observations and measurements in the past, we believed that we are the center of the world, and that stars including the Sun move around us in perfect orbits ? circles. When facts required more, circles were superimposed upon circles (incremental modifications!) until the Copernican revolution (!): Earth moves around the Sun, and with Kepler and Newton it became clear that orbits are not circular. Looking from the 20th century it is a minor change: basic concepts remained the same. Actually, the idea was not even completely new: it was proposed much earlier by Aristarchus of Samos in 3rd century BC. Nevertheless, we term it ‘Copernican Revolution’. It was not peaceful, actually it was bloody, and enemies were burned at stakes, much like the French and the October Revolutions. The end of the 19th century was a glorious epoch for physics: unification of electricity and magnetism resulting in predicting electromagnetic waves thereby incorporating optics, added to understanding energy and introducing entropy. Logically, Kelvin concluded that physics is complete and that two minor clouds would be clarified through more precise measurements. Minor clouds turned out to be the Theory of Relativity and Quantum Physics. Everything has changed: time, space, certainty, common sense. As G. B. Shaw said, “My dogma of infallibility is gone.” However, notwithstanding the fact that the uncertainty principle is the basic law of all natural sciences, quantum electrodynamics, marvelous merging of relativity and quantum physics predicts results that agree with measurements to an accuracy of billionth of a billionth. Thomas Kuhn called this profound change a paradigm shift. Obviously this paradigm shift is much more pronounced than the Copernican Revolution. But, notwithstanding the profound magnitude of the change, the new paradigm reduces to the old paradigm when conditions for the validity of the old paradigm are fulfilled so there is no conflict: old paradigm is just a subfield of the new paradigm. It seemed that quantum physics and the theory of relativity would provide a definitive description of our physical universe, and that we have the answer to the 2500 years old Thales’ question: How and from what is the universe made? In 1979 Stephen Hawking entitled his inaugural talk for the Lucasian chair “Is the End in Sight for Theoretical Physics?”, and an American science journalist J. Horgan argued (“The End of Science”, 1996) that nothing essential can come after quantum physics and theory of relativity. Though quantum physics and theory of relativity are not superseded, our present understanding based on COBE (1992), WMAP (2001), ESA Planck (March 21, 2013) and BICEP2 (announced just few days ago on March 17, 2014) as well as on many accelerator data leads to the understanding that ordinary matter (stars, planets, radiation and us) accounts for 4.9% of our 13.8 billion years old universe, while dark matter accounts for 26.8% and dark energy, 68.3%, which may be just one of the many universes in the multiverse. Our cosmos underwent a cosmic phase transition (we are familiar with phase transitions like ice turning into water and gas). Phase transition could even be involved in the creation of 3D space 10-12 seconds after the Big Bang. And this may not be the end of this marvelous story! Theory of relativity and quantum physics were full of surprises: Einstein rejected expansion of the universe (it is experimentally proven), and with many others did not believe in singularities nor in black holes (they are proven too). Randomness and uncertainty were so unacceptable to many 19th century physicists, and so were antimatter and supersymmetry, not to speak of strings and “branes”. Different from revolutions that claim to be the end, paradigm change in physics at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was a creative explosion of potential surprises.

Are any of these analyses relevant and useful for addressing the current issues characterizing our society? Physical world is just a very simple segment of the total world inhabited by life, humans in particular. Humans are rational, but also irrational, even stupid, self-modifying (though we were mainly characterized by our lifestyle as hunter/gatherer, humans today are vastly different from the age of the Agricultural Revolution and have already integrated some robots in themselves: pacemaker, implants etc.). Humans are conscious and creative. Beauty plays a significant role in Nature and in human activity (possibly more than required by evolution), and wisdom appears to be scarce. Trying to apply reasoning derived from physical systems to social systems is wrong and can be dangerous! Applying physics (albeit unfinished, but is hardly ever completed) to calculate the age of the Earth and thereby prove or disprove Darwin’s theory of evolution led Kelvin to a totally wrong conclusion. Only when radioactivity was discovered and taken into account, it was possible to get the proper result for calculating and measuring the age of the Earth. Influence of physics, mathematics and model development was often detrimental to economic studies. However, parallels could be useful if applied with a grain of salt. So, let us proceed gently.

We argued that for our world a static solution is impossible and that the business-as-usual leads to catastrophe. Contemporary world is global (it was never global to this degree), fast changing (now significant changes occur several times during human lifetime) and uncertainties are its integral part. All this is very different from what it was centuries, even decades ago and lead to change. Change is inevitable! The world undergoes incremental and paradigmatic changes where some of them could lead to catastrophe. As G.B. Shaw’s Don Giovanni said “to drift is to be in hell, to steer is to be in heaven!” We have to steer ? to select desirable changes and to avoid and suppress undesirable ones. And we have to select the means of change. We argue that revolutionary changes are dangerous, superficial and produce incomplete and inadequate effects, and should be avoided. Soedjatmoko Mangoendiningrat, former Fellow of WAAS and former rector of the UN University, argued that future is an ethical category: we are responsible for the future, we make the future, we enforce and suppress some changes and weave the paradigmatic shift. But how? Basic guiding principles are useful, just as in physics when Einstein was led by the requirement that in all frames physical laws are equal, resulting in the constant speed of light and no matter what we do we cannot catch it. Guiding principles to assure beneficial changes could be those centered on human beings.

Humans have rights and responsibilities. Our basic right is to live. Therefore, the guiding principle is human-centeredness. One could argue that our entire history was human-centered; it seems very straightforward (after all here we are. However, in centuries of the past, raison d’état was supreme over human values. Many of today’s laws and policies are very far from being human-centered e.g. an austerity program severely affecting humans). Now greed, narrow-mindedness, adherence to old, now dangerous, concepts and “tools”, prejudices and deliberate underuse and misuse of human capital are leading to catastrophe, to our collective suicide. (“There is enough for human needs, but not for rich persons’ greed”)

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