Monday, July 15, 2019

Effects of energy increase in technological evolution [Tech Evol]

This is another excerpt from David Hays, The Evolution of Technology Through Four Cognitive Ranks (1995). This is from Chapter 3, “ENERGY”, section 3.7 “Effects of Energy Increase”. In this section Hays concludes that it wasn’t until the Industrial Evolution that cultural evolution was a good deal for everyone, not just the ruling elite.

As with other excerpts from the book I preserve the mono-spaced ASCII text of the hypertext original.

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A society with greater flux of energy has more material goods, more education, longer lifespan, different kinds of government, and, in the long run, different modes of cognition. Some of these differences may be attributed largely to the plenitude of energy, but most must result when many factors change together.
3.7.1. Primary Effects

Material welfare, we might suppose, responds most directly to changes in the flux of energy. Let's look at some components:

My ratings are nothing but impressions; the reader may freely disagree. These ratings concern the typical person, with neither power nor wealth.

According to my calculations, material welfare is about the
same for a modern factory worker as for a forager:

The USA in recent years takes from the environment about 40 times as much energy per capita as a typical foraging society. Material welfare comes out about equal. Suppose we take away from the rank 1 forager half of what I have allowed, and give the modern American twice as much; then the ratio comes out a 4:1 on material welfare. But not 40:1.

Paul A. Samuelson, a renowned economist at MIT, presents a chart of "English price levels and real wage, 1270-1980" in his textbook of economics (11th edition, p. 257). The source is an article by E. H. Phelps Brown and S. V. Hopkins ( WAGEBIBL* ), and the source is careful to caution the reader about the weakness of the data. The curve for real wages is flat from 1300 to 1800 (the period when I estimate $27.66 per person per week), then rises to eight times as high in 1980 while I only arrive at a doubling.

We may ask why the economist's figures grow faster than mine, and why neither his nor mine grow faster than they do.

The most plausible answer to the first question is that my figures are wrong. (Further checking will test that answer.) But we should also note that economists have usually not given credit for unpaid work: Raising food to eat, not to sell; housework; child rearing; and so on. I believe that material welfare depends on unpaid as well as on paid work, and I may take more account of it than the economists. Also we may wonder whether the late rise in wages results in averaging in some higher-paid workers, managers, etc., who are not included in my estimate.

Nevertheless, even if it turns out that the best measure of real wages, or material welfare, grows by a factor of 16 from agriculture to advanced industrial society, that gain is small (ONLY 16:1?) in comparison with the amount of invention, innovation, and organization that has been invested. And agriculture looks to be poor in comparison with foraging. So I feel the need for an answer to the second question, whatever mistakes I have made in my calculations.

And the only answer I can believe is that increasing population density has introduced new costs that absorb the products of invention and labor. To force sufficient food from the same Earth as population grows by a factor of 1000 or 10,000, we must be clever and diligent. Shelter, transportation, and communication become more difficult: One house has to be built on top of another, traffic jams intensify, etc. My conclusion is that we have paid dearly, for 10,000 years, for our propensity to breed above replacement rate.

Joel Mokyr, whose _Lever of Riches_ (in BIBLNOTE* ) was
published after the preliminary edition of this diskbook, says,
When the resource base of an economy expands, it can do one of two things: it can enjoy higher living standards, or it can, in H. G. Wells's famous phrase,"spend the gifts of nature on the mere insensate multiplication of common life." In recent history, economic growth has occurred _despite_ population growth. Before that, as Malthus and the classical political economists never tired of pointing out, the growth of population relentlessly devoured the fruits of productivity growth, and living standards, as far as we can measure them, changed very little in the long run. (p. 7)
So my conclusion merely coincides with an old and well-argued line of thought. Since population growth turns out to be a major variable, I add an appendix describing the growth of Earth's population.

We should remember, in all of this, that material welfare is only crudely measured in dollars. Electronics comes cheap, and the fee of a good modern physician may not be higher than that of a shaman, however much more effective modern medicine may be in reducing pain and prolonging life.

3.7.2. Secondary Effects

The secondary effects of increasing energy flux are diffuse. Furthermore, they are mostly the joint effects of energy increase together with one or more of the primary effects.

Let me begin with competition. In a society where energy is scarce and costly, very little travels far between production and consumption. Most goods are offered for sale only within a narrow radius, and within that territory there are few suppliers for many goods. A peasant either shoes his own horses or takes them to the blacksmith in his own village; he does not go to the nearest town. Effectively, the blacksmith has no competitor. In the eighteenth century, the British market for iron was segmented geographically and inter-regional competition hardly occurred (Hyde, p. 48, in InRvBIBL*). Without railroads, food did not travel far; local famines could occur, and certainly market gardeners did not compete with imported fruits or vegetables. Cheaper energy enlarges market territories and makes possible more competition.

Next, new domains of resources become available. Coal could be brought from deeper underground when energy could be applied to pumping water and lifting the coal. Europe could obtain raw materials from overseas colonies; sailing ships sufficed in the beginning, but steamships enlarged the commerce. Energy must be used to produce fuel for nuclear reactors. Will space flight open a new domain of resources? One possibility is that we capture sunlight that does not reach Earth and beam it down; as an alternative to burning fossil fuel, this possibility has merit, but as a supplement it is merely another contributor to global warming.

Going further, take longevity. Energy increase aids longevity, since there is enough heat to keep everyone warm in cold weather, and eventually to cool them in hot weather. The increase in agricultural production yields more food for all, and the increases in production and distribution yield more varied diets for many. Energy is used to pump the water that carries away excrement from cities, making them cleaner and healthier, but various technologies have to advance to provide the parts of the sewage system.

Another secondary effect is education. Having more energy is a necessary condition for widespread education. General advance in technology motivates governments to educate their populations, since – from the industrial revolution onward – uneducated workers are inadequate to run the system.

Another is change in the criteria for sociopolitical prominence. As long as all work is done by human muscle, the only kind of organization is for fighting and, perhaps, ritual. The prominent persons are those skilled in organizing and carrying out combat and rites. Even in rank 2, with beasts of burden, sailing ships, and a few waterwheels, leadership does little more; some leaders may have skill at keeping a community tranquil, or skill as traders. The higher energy levels of rank 3, and the resulting increase in all sectors of the economy, raise the value of both technology and organization. Persons who can make a factory succeed rise to prominence. Some of them acquire social power. What happens at rank 4 is obscure, but my guess is that gross energy flux – input – will not go up much, net energy flux – output – will increase, and the leadership that achieves this outcome will have somewhat different qualities from those who have been most prominent in western civilization for the last century or two.

Finally, for this chapter, a secondary effect of increasing energy flux and efficiency is longer hours of work for most of the population. Ethnographers tell of simple societies in which the average person works 2 hours a day. We went up to 70-80 hour weeks, and fought our way back to 35-40 hour weeks. Why should labor-saving machines induce us to work more? Probably just because they made work useful. Human beings seem voracious, not just for food, warmth, and a dry place to sleep, but for diversity of experience and for aesthetic experience. Psychopathology may be involved somewhat, and in our present condition we may raise demand artificially with advertising and also (for example) by showing affluent homes on television. If 2 hours work a day yields all the food you want, and more work would yield nothing but unwanted food, why work another hour? If an extra hour a day earns the income to buy a fresh experience, a healthy person might decide to do the work even without propaganda or compulsion.

These, and surely many more, secondary effects of energy increase are direct: They happen regardless of higher-order patterns of culture. When higher-order patterns change, they lead to tertiary effects, my next topic.

3.7.3. Tertiary Effects

When the quantity of energy that a culture can command goes up by an order of magnitude (coal becomes available) and effi- ciency improves (Watt engine replaces Newcomen), the culture applies that energy to making more goods (cotton). In Europe, people suddenly benefitted from new opportunities:
In 1842 "'the cotton mills were in crisis. They were choking to death, as the warehouses were overflowing and there were no buyers. ... Prices fell ... until cotton was selling at six sous ... The sound of six sous seemed to act as a trigger. Millions of buyers ... who had never bought [textiles] before, began tstir. ... And the result was a major, though little remarked revolution in France, a revolution in cleanliness and the suddenly improved appearance of the poor home ... [Linen] was now possessed by whole classes who had never had any since the world began.'" Michelet, _Le Peuple_, 1899:73-74, quoted FBCC* 2:183
Thus the primary effects.

Order of magnitude changes seem to result from positive feedback loops. Steam-driven pumps facilitate mining; cheaper coal means cheaper iron; cheaper iron means more machines; and some of the machines are used to mine and move the coal, so coal gets even cheaper and around we go. Along the way, new systems come in (railroads) that trigger new loops: The railroads needed enough iron to bring the price down for all uses.

Plentiful energy (relative to earlier levels), in combina- tion with all the changes that result immediately, changes the nature of work. Almost everyone was a farmer before the indus- trial revolution; almost everyone was a hunter or gatherer before the agricultural revolution. Beasts of burden may have made possible the concentration of people in towns and cities (although the American proto-civilizations did not have beasts of burden; food was brought in by human porters). Steam-powered machines needed a new kind of worker, one who could understand instructions.

Ernest Gellner* writes that
Work, in industrial society, does not mean moving matter. The paradigm of work is no longer ploughing, reaping, thrashing. Work, in the main, is no longer the manipulation of things, but of meanings." (pp. 32-33)
Apprenticeship is not an adequate preparation for that kind of work:
"... the major part of training in industrial society is generic training ... its educational system is ... the least specialized ..." (p. 27)
Gellner believes that the need for workers with primary education led to the formation of homogeneous cultures over wide areas: If the kids must be taught, the teachers must be trained, and the trainers must have professorial education (p. 34). The educational system as a whole cannot be small.

Thus secondary effects.

All of which changes the way people think. I remind you of the higher-order patterns that determine reality:
Medieval Europe: Essence and ultimacy
Modern west: Matter and causality
Alchemy, a medieval discipline, devoted itself to understanding substances as manifestations of the godhead. Chemistry, a modern western discipline, wants to know what reactions the elements enter into. Alchemy explains events by reference to the ultimate proper state of the substance; chemistry, by reference to local and immediate causal events. Experience in life and laboratory after 1500 were _unreal_ to the medieval higher-order pattern. It tried to stop the world, but failed; whereupon it died. People who grew up without committing themselves to the old pattern, outsiders perhaps, arrived at the new pattern of causality and taught it. Thus tertiary effects.

Are we experiencing tertiary effects of a new burst of energy today? We certainly are. Petroleum is not a very good source of energy until it is cracked, and cracking is beyond the capacity of rank 3 chemistry (I judge). Gasoline could only become plentiful when better thinking produced subtler processes of conversion. In turn, gasoline yielded more energy more efficiently than coal, in more compact unit systems – automobiles, in particular. Mobility went up. Electricity is a good form for the distribution of energy, since no mass has to be conveyed to the point of use. But electricity is an obscure topic to a rank 3 thinker. It seems to me that telegraphy, with its dot-dash code, is just possible for rank 3 thought, but that the telephone, with its analogue of speech as a waveform, is well up on the growth curve toward rank 4. So electricity enhances communication, and facilitates the distribution of energy to hand tools in factories, farms, and homes.

And so we come to the computer.

The experiences of modern humanity, in life and laboratory, are _unreal_ to anyone whose highest-order pattern is causality. Life in the large has always been too complex for causal explanation, but by now what goes on around us, on the most immediate and obvious level, is too complex for causal explanation. More happens; we see further; and the time intervals between connected events are shorter. We need a new higher-order pattern, and we do not have one. So we flail around. The new pattern, if it emerges, may involve cybernetics (feedback loops), nonlinear systems (chaos, Prigogine's dissipative structures), maybe more. Only it hasn't crystallized anywhere that I know of.

For the essence-and-ultimacy thinker, slavery is a natural state, the _ultimate_ condition of a person who is in _essence_ a slave. For the causal thinker, slavery is the result of some- thing that may or may not be identifiable; all men are created equal, and human actions can give or withhold their chance for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Rank 3 thinkers look for the causes of war. I wonder whether rank 4 thinkers will despise that view as much as we despise the view that some men are natural slaves? Perhaps, with a new higher-order pattern, they will reject war as our 19th century ancestors rejected slavery.

Coda: The tertiary effects of energy increase cannot be separated from the tertiary effects of any other aspect of rank shift. At the tertiary level, all aspects of rankshift are involved in such an intricate network of feedback loops that they are all involved in each outcome.

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