Wandering Minds Need to Know
- about confusing change and how cultures become bubbles of misinformation
© 2/20/10 p.f. henshaw 680 Ft Washington Ave NY NY 10040 212-795-4844
The trouble with information is how amazingly flexible it is in portraying different realities, making it easy to believe almost anything your cultural group agrees with. That's also a reason why cultures are formed around circles of agreement, they get to choose any reality they like. The trouble is that realities based on agreement, being the measure of themselves, have no good way to check if they are changing or keeping track of change in their environments. People would need to pay close attention to things not based on cultural agreement to be able to tell. The trouble for people, of course, is how strongly our interests are dominated by our own cultural issues. Being preoccupied with ourselves it can be quite hard to look at the world except through whatever cultural lens we use.
In recent decades our use of the earth switched from being ever more fruitful to being ever more costly and conflicting. People had grown to like having ever greater success in increasing our use of the earth, and now just can't imagine that it's those solutions that are now the main source of the increasing costs and conflicts we're running into. Nature is constantly changing form, and our cultural worlds we are so captivated by help keep us from paying attention. We drifted though a point of diminishing returns for our favorite approach to things, and didn't notice.
It's not about models and equations really, but sometimes about when to change models. It's systems thinking hopefully within reach of anyone trying to understand the great cultural and ecological changes going on all around us. It's a collection of 11 extremely short essays, and this was the first. It's about how little separate worlds of self-agreement develop, when people tend to get their information from other people's information, and forget how to keep reality in the loop.
Anyone might have looked to see if growing till we reversed our balance with the earth, making mankind big instead of tiny and the earth small instead of infinite, would change anything. Many certainly did. Because the radical change didn't fit our long established cultural worldviews, though, those who described how it would alter the meaning of everything we do didn't fit either! For 200 years or so the developed economies have been doubling their scale about every 20 years, along with doubling the complexity and speed of rearranging their own organization and the earth. That's doubling the complexity of the changes we need to adapt to about three times a lifetime! No wonder it's getting to a point we all feel like we're getting left behind! Lots of things in nature 'wander' in a way that becomes explosive, and "just go zoom!" by themselves. It seems we are one of them, and hadn't really noticed. Some of our ancient sensibilities, built for struggles on an infinite earth, aren't changing with our circumstance, and like societies built for limitless investment growth become big bubbles of misinformation. There's no sorting it out if we just get ever more confused, surely.
Our arranging our cultures for continual explosive change, endlessly multiplying our economic use of the earth, is well on its way to becoming completely unmanageable, for example, for all the obvious natural causes. Because every profession and cultural group is running into different unexpected failures of their formerly trusted sensibilities, they also don't understand each other's dilemmas, frustrations or confusions resulting from the common cause. There is every good reason to think science, and all its different special languages for the world, must be missing something and leading us astray. Both the public and the scientists are clearly confused as to which part of which sciences, though. The main debate is as unhealthy as debates come, with "skeptics" contesting all of science and most sciences simply defending their old concepts instead of aggressively rediscovering our new world. By neglecting the problem our comfortable old realities become ever more misleading fictions, adding rather than relieving the conflicts.
The dissention it causes distorts the nature of our own cultures, as our increasing physical impacts disrupt the environmental systems of the planet too. Where we came from was ancient solid traditions of hard work and self-reliance, on a small scale. Not seeing the limits of expanding on those abilities is now rapidly making us helpless again. We need to "get back home" somehow, but need to go forward to it.
There's a 'simple' needed response. Start connecting our separate languages through the physical realities we have in common. When the physical world wasn't changing dramatically our various cultural realities for drifted apart quite separate worlds, but it was less of a problem. Now it's a very big problem that rapid change is needed and no one can communicate. One might think of it as having a huge pile of unfinished homework, now quite overdue, or a chance to rediscover the earth almost as if we'd never seen it before, like a child. In practical terms we've been changing our physical circumstances radically, but absorbed with our many separated social worlds as we were doing it. There are things to discover.If you find it hard to add up the costs and benefits of any particular choice you can often use nature as your calculator. Nature is far more thorough in adding things up that we will ever be. Don't just consult some expert or go with your beliefs. That's not reading nature. Reading nature is a matter of clearly identifying how she's adding things up, finding the regular progressions of change that reflect what is relieving conflict or multiplying conflict, creating resources or consuming them.
The usual error is to guess about trends without identifying any process. If you see progressively changing rates of change it generally does represent the presence of real systems, though. Then you have a valid basis to ask what they are and what they'll run into, leading you to understand how to respond. How providing better healthcare makes everyone need ever more healthcare is the system behind the healthcare problem. The moral quandary we are not facing is that people are mortal, and investing to maximize profits in the science of fixing our health problems has naturally exploding costs. We're not facing how that naturally becomes a profound drain on our ability to respond to other things. We're also in the same trap elsewhere, like how solving resource scarcity with improving efficiency, that serves to accelerate resource depletion. When our solutions become the source of our problems, we need to rethink.
This is all about how nature's systems and our own cultural realities tend to drift and change form in the process. It's done by addition, accumulating change adding one reinforcement or experiment to another. Just sharing positive attitudes with no particular basis, for example, might allow great financial bubbles to multiply and collapse the culture within which they develop. Similar kinds of circular agreements that accumulate cause even the sciences to drift and then become locked into their own private world views. Even sciences that study essentially the same subject, like ecology and economy that both study our habitation, can come to have languages that are quite unconnected and even contradictory. These and other examples of developing systems in natural human culture expose similarities with others in nature. That offers a possible path for connecting what is familiar in both and reconnecting our mental worlds with each other and what's physically happening.
(1) - World Energy use, Efficiency & Wealth show one process
(2) - Alternating small waves in energy productivity and energy use
click the figures to enlarge images - ref's below
short trends drawn to show long trend crossings
It's fairly obvious that how effective you are in using energy to deliver value will add to your wealth. The curves of recent world GDP, energy and energy efficiency show that relationship historically. Being more efficient puts more energy at your disposal. It just happens to conflict with both main stream economic policy and everyone's theory of sustainable design. Those hold that more effective use of resources will result in using less. It's more how we made the error, and why it's so hard to discuss that is really curious and potentially revealing.
This is called "Jevons' rebound effect" to those who first think of improving efficiency as a way to reduce resource use, except for the "externality" that it happens to do the reverse. It's actually well established 150 year old science, based on Jevons' observation that English coal reserves would not be extended by improving steam engine efficiency, as that resulted in more steam engine use. It seems to be considered an economic "externality" because it falls outside the explanations of economic theory, though very clearly what the economies are doing. It also concerns a life or death matter for our way of living too, of course, but it doesn't fit the part of the economy we can explain. From what we can explain, improving efficiency causes a reduction in resource use, though. The problem is we construct our mental realities from what we have explanations for. That means we have no way to respond to evident behaviors that don't connect with what we can explain, like behaviors of whole economic systems beyond our view. If you thought of them as organisms rather than as theories, that kind of solves that! We're accustomed to observing mysterious unexplained behavior in social or biological organisms.
Learning to observe unexplained behaviors also helps with avoiding being caught in other people's disconnected information bubbles. It gives you your own way to check the agreements they pass around. Even science works like any other social system, relying on a socially constructed meanings arrived at by agreement. Being able to observe what remains inexplicable helps you check how far they they are valid. It's like like recognizing a social stereotype and having the ability to see the individuality of people that doesn't fit it, putting both into perspective. The subject is the real world, and a way of telling the difference between explanations that are generally one dimensional and physical realities that are generally many dimensional. The tough part is keeping an open mind, and not falling prey to considering the world to be what you think it is, your 'theory'.
Anyone wanting to really understand these curves needs both some 'theory', and to do some original thinking to see what the theory leaves unexplained. Energy is nature's universal resource. It's needed to turn anything into anything and can often be substituted for other resources. That "a world economy" even exists and shows systematic behavior shows that its energy is being moved around to where it would be used productively. How very smooth the GDP and energy use and efficiency curves are shows how smoothly energy resources are allocated to where they will be better used is. The three curves change in remarkably constant relation to each other, showing they are parts of the same smooth process.
You can even see how they're connected in the fine details too. The small scale waves in energy use and GDP roughly move together, but the waves in energy use are out of phase with the small scale waves in efficiency improvement (figure 2). The periods of fastest efficiency improvement and fastest increasing energy use alternate. It seems like it might correspond to recessions, but even without studying that the alternation further indicates that the two are parts of the same process.
The that increasing energy use pauses when efficiency improvements accelerate, and vis-à-vis, would be quite logical if pauses in growth were times when inefficient parts of the economy were being discarded. In that "creative destruction" process economies might logically be pausing growth for retooling, discarding inefficient parts during recessions and switching over to new methods, products and resources to allow the next little growth spurt. Whatever the reason, it shows another level of consistent close coordination between increases in GDP, efficiency and energy use. It seems improving efficiency makes it possible to use more resources, not the reverse. Seeing it as a learning process could either suggest there are no growth limits, or that learning is constantly running into limits.
As people usually use it, money is just a number on paper, letting us treat products as only their price. People don't see the connection but, money is quite directly connected in the real world to the energy and complex tasks by others that physically deliver what we pay for. The information on what goes into things gets filtered out at each step. People who treat reality as what is in their heads are then naturally misled. Using money can easily seem just a matter of trading scraps of paper, nothing but the price of things being their value, buying low and selling high and all that. Hidden from view is how in terms of present resource values, money is also a right to choose from an equal share of all the kinds of complex physical work and learning the whole economy does. Because where products come from and our information about it are detached, though, makes it possible for money values to follow loops of expectations for magical change, and spin out of control.
When people get their information only from other information, having no way to check, minds can wander and sometimes get quite lost.
3 - US Energy use, Stock market & GDP showed diverging instability (3)
(tap your head to find the misinformation...)
What this is also partly about is the special debt owed by people who profited from the historic economic bubble of the past 40 years. What figure 2 shows is that the ability of Americans to use energy to create wealth leveled off, starting in the 60's, the exact opposite of what the world as a whole has been doing as seen in figure 1. The spending of the US continued to multiply, as measured by GDP, as its creation of physical wealth from energy use did not. The stock market fluctuated wildly as if completely independent of either the economy's steadily diverging consumption and creation of real wealth. Again, this shows a physical system as it actually operated, in conflict with most economic theories. Economies are not supposed to split apart like this.
Why the rest of the world continued to use more and more energy, more and more productively, but the US completely stopped doing that, is a complex question. Much of it seems to have been from giving it away, in trade for short term one-time profits. Part of that was the real estate bubble, the circular betting game that let people spend a lot without having earned anything. Another part was transferring the technology and methods to others that would allow them to become more productive and create cheaper products. Both created the illusion of accumulating assets that Americans could then turn around and sell for disposable goods and services produced elsewhere. In the end, giving away ever more of the economy's energy use productivity could not produce ever inflating assets to borrow against... In the end, all three were dead ends, and large one-time profits were made. What to do with the remains of those profits is part of what I'm raising as a question.
Many readers of this article were among those who directly benefited from the dream that the bubble of the 80's, 90's and 00's could inflate forever. It could not have, of course, and didn't. In some sense we need to give the money back, somehow. Much of it was obtained on what amount to false premises, so it should be devoted to higher purposes. Whether others are in a position to "claw back" the windfall taken from them, the sustainability of the whole economy has been deeply undermined and some better use is now morally owed. Now that "tomorrow" has come, and living like there was no tomorrow met its end, what remains stowed away of the resources thrown at impossible dreams should be thought of as a grant, to make better use of. We scurried away lots of assets in the "great flight to safety", which now stands as a small preserve remaining from what the economy should have used to become sustainable, but threw at empty pipe dreams instead.
In hindsight we can see that our winnings from the historic bubble were at the expense of our children and from a society that was undermining its own future. Everybody was "making money" and so ever more money went into it. The 40 year bubble of escalating short term profits was based on misinformation about the future. Now some of the expectations collapsed, but the debts didn't. Held as debts, and withheld from spending, the profits from the bubble are being used as if to compel the hobbled economy of 2010 to live up to what it already showed was unsustainable in the past. The US economy that was built on an historic nearly 400 years of exceptional self-reliance, but it doesn't make the products it consumes any more, for the moment seems quite unprepared for becoming self-reliant again.
What may be necessary as an alternate to continuing on toward a false future or going back to the past is inventing something quit new, is for the most creative economy the world has seen reinventing the game in which it finds itself playing a loosing hand, again, and rediscovering ways in which its credit might still be surprisingly good, recognizing mistakes and starting over. I think it's got to do, as before, with people with "get up and go" who "get up and leave" again, but this time having to do with learning to be real.
Those who profited from what turned out to be a spiral of misinformation about the future need to find out how to not hold a weak economy hostage to fulfilling the false promises of the past.
When people get their information from each other the only way the chains of retelling can stabilize is for some group to come to agreement on what to believe... That creates magical thinking, that's good within that group. Determining meanings by agreement leaves only the agreement to verify itself. It seems that effect is graphically displayed in the wildly wandering stock market prices over the past century. The markets do not seem to have followed or predicted in any way the rather smooth progressions of energy or of GDP for either the US the world. The market appears to just follow itself.
Creating information by agreement, not reflecting anything else, can lead groups of people into magical thinking, as in believing in social stereotypes for things, also called functional fixations (4) or sometimes "mirror-imaging"(5). It's also very central to how cultures function, giving special important manners and gestures, but come with the drawback of misrepresenting reality when attempting to communicate with others or when the reality they developed from originally happens to change. Such clashes of culture bound language also shows up in the strange walls between academic communities that define separate professional disciplines, even those studying the very same subject. They often seem to ignore that the physical world is a common connection between their languages.
Ecology and economy for example are studies of the much the same subject, but their languages simply do not seem to overlap. From the Greek word roots one is supposed to be "the logic of" and the other "the measure of" what the Greeks called "habitation". Each discipline agrees with itself on a vast terminology for a variety of development and production systems operating in open environments using organization and energy as their main resources, but there is almost no connection between the two languages. It seems they are also widely thought to be in deep conflict. The difference between the two languages seems to be treated as too deep to attempt making a connection. A principle of economy is that regular % change is the hallmark of stability, but a matching principle of regular % change for ecology is that it is multiplying imbalance. Again, what's most curious and most interesting is that these solid tenets of each discipline are in complete contradiction, from extensive experience in trying to raise the problem it appears neither field has a way of considering subjects that don't fit their models, and so there's no interest from either in raising the problem with the other.
Could it be that all disciplines are created by how they arrive at their separate ideas by internal agreement, making things up to suite themselves and so just having nothing to say to each other in the end even when referring to the same physical subject?
Comparing figure 1 and 2 also raises the question of why US energy use started to level off in the mid 60's, unlike the rest of the world. A couple of the investment reasons why energy investment might have gone elsewhere were mentioned above, but it's clear where the world's energy investment was not going, to the US. The logical reason why investors would not have continued to invest in energy productivity advances in the US is that it became relatively unprofitable. That suggests that even with ample supplies of cheap energy as there were at the time, a natural limit of energy productivity growth for the US economy was reached in ~1967. Energy investment did go elsewhere, as natural economic resource allocation would do if the returns on investment reached a point of diminishing returns. There really seems no other possible reason, but economic investment in US energy development reaching its end of growth and point of diminishing returns in ~1967. There was a conversation about that at the time, argued in all sorts of directions. Everyone could see that those who argued for endless multiplying wealth had found other ways to "make money" that promised to always multiply. If only that had been recognized as the the problem, not the solution.
US GDP growth continued up to the financial collapse of 2008. One thing that might have foretold the collapse 40 years before was the persistent divergence of the energy and GDP curves, and the wild meandering of the stock market. Having two parts of one system systematically flying apart is not normally sustainable. Just trying to manage ever bigger and more complex changes ever faster that require rearranging how you educate people and rearrange their social relationships also naturally becomes unmanageable. Resource limits may not be the issue at all. Why would you trust the stock market, which simply wanders all over the place, seemingly with no direction at all. Having your seemingly solid indicators of the present going off in two entirely different directions, and your predictor of the future responding to neither of them... should be a sign. The market behavior suggests a "random walk", a "blind indicator", a trend that very largely just follows itself, pure mirror-imaging.
What occurred to me is that the one thing stock traders know for sure might be that they themselves don't know anything about where the market is going. So, as they brag and bluster maybe they are also craning their necks to look over the shoulder of someone who does know, they think, and copy the bets of their neighbor... Something of that kind seems evidently happening, and highly persistent.
The stock market fails show any meaningful trend at all, except collapsing when the economy did as the financial system panicked from having accumulated so much misinformation.
One other thing that might have helped start the US economy's slide toward increasingly risky financial schemes was the political response to ~1967 limit to growth for the US energy economy. One part of the professional and political response was agreeing on an idea to eliminate all limits to growth, accelerating more investment. That it seemed to coincide with the point in time when increasing investment had become increasingly unproductive is what I'm suggesting.
In the mid 70's a financial plan to restore growth emerged that seemed to lead directly to the financial deregulation abuses all devoted to accelerating the rapid increase in investment funds, all now implicated in the collapse. It was one of the celebrated causes of the emerging neo-conservative Republican economists. The idea was called "supply side economics", that if investors could just invest more of their earnings, it would assure rapid growth of investment and the economy. It actually did, of course, but creating an unsustainable bubble of short term profits unleashing sloppy schemes for inflating short term profits was just not what was intended.
The irony for US investors is that the natural end of growth for the US energy economy might have been what prompted the theory that a flood of investment funds would cure a lack of productive uses for investment.
Where investment in the lagging US economy actually did find bigger returns was in ever shorter lived and riskier things, bidding up the value of fixed assets like housing, moving US technology overseas to employ cheaper workers, and borrowing on the expectation that future earnings would continue to multiply the ability to borrow indefinitely. It took on a life of its own, with each riskier and less sustainable strategy being taken as confirmation that all risky strategies would last forever. That was occurring just at the time and in complete contradiction to the mounting evidence that growth was running into serious limits of many kinds in many places at once. A dream began to develop that information itself could become a limitless resource to overcome the very obvious physical limits everywhere we looked.
Computers and the information revolution have been a great boon in many ways, but they have also very importantly been the innovations that allowed the three main disastrous investment strategies to take place. They allowed faster trading based on more and more sophisticated risk calculations, setting the direction for creating high profit strategies too complicated to understand as soon as the tools for calculating them existed, in the 70's not the 90's or the 00's. Computers could churn out very narrow margins and electronic transfers allowed money you needed in the morning, to be loaned out as you slept. As the speed of transactions accelerated, increasing the money supply by itself. It all seemed like a great miracle, though, if one took short term profits as a map of the future as nearly the whole society actually did.
All of that was to hold to the highest rate of % increases in making money, assuring that the systems for doing that would become so complex and changing so rapidly that no one could keep track of the changing environment and how to manage it. It wasn't realized that when you program computers to manage a highly complex environmental management tasks, if the environment changes of its own accord, no one will know how to manage it. That, of course, did happen. On could make a long list, but two that seem rather revealing are that 1) people began taking ridiculous risks with real estate and 2) the world ran out of surplus cheap oil. The ability of the earth to give up high quality oil supplies, even at inflated prices, occurred in 2005.
The financial people had, of course because it simply was not part of their language, omitted the physical world from their models.
Exactly why a frenzy of "making money" takes hold at one time or place rather than another, to become a frenzy of "making misinformation", creating an enormous fountain of wealth that then collapses the environment it grows in, takes understanding the whole environment. Once you know what to look for it's easy to spot what's happening where they get going, though. They all work by people betting on what looks like a sure thing, and reinvesting their profits, not realizing that they are continually raising their own bids. It often follows a period when sustained growth could be taken for granted, when people are looking why it stopped.
When something then seems like a way to make bets on a "sure thing" again, letting them reinvest their profits and make ever more money without "doing" anything for it, it seems like the ideal market! It's not automatically madness, though, but whether it's real or not. That's the kind of market that all our financial regulatory institutions are specifically designed to guarantee, assuring the stability of the interest rate by which investments can multiply forever without people "doing" anything for it! That central purpose of financial regulation has not changed for hundreds of years actually, and has no "sunset" provision, even though when used in a physical world it also guarantees that things will go out to control. You can stabilize growth, yes, but only temporarily, and people look for any creative way to break the rules when that runs out. Somehow that a guarantee of ever multiplying returns is perfectly certain to blow up has never been associated with the endless blow-ups that accompanied it, only ever more and more strenuous efforts to keep guaranteed multiplying returns stable, That's exactly what the world is again doing today in the name of "financial reform" yet again. There's more than one twist to that twist, though.
We all know "there is no free lunch" but where people seem to make an major exception is for the "ever multiplying free lunch". For financial bubbles it seems as if it's simply a matter of people being fantastically gullible, getting "the fever" at just the wrong time and returning to being very sober and sane in-between. I don't think that's exactly how the misunderstanding really occurs, just one of many sides of the mysterious nature of nature. An "inexplicable run of fabulous luck" is also nature's most common signal of a true windfall, not just false ones. It's how nature signals the beginning of virtually everything of wonderful value in fact, the thrill of a great love as it develops, the success of remarkable business ventures taking off, the transformative experience of social movements, all alike. People just are not very discriminating sometimes, and show themselves capable of confusing their deepest insights with their most profound misconceptions.
The it's so erratic may be the solid clue, and to me pointing to our tendency to get our information from information, with no way to check. Group thinking takes over as people pass on to others little additions to what they heard until the group develops its own reality. Of course, almost all of human culture, language and manners depend heavily on that process for forming our shared interests and values, so it can't be all wrong. In the end, I think it's the mistake of believing what you heard or read is what someone else meant to say. It virtually never is. You can't tell a truthful person from an untruthful one anyway. What we hear is what we think ourselves, not what anyone else thinks. So, it's never whether what you hear is from a truthful person or not, but whether you are truthful with yourself. No matter what others say people will always pass on how they think they can phrase what they thought they heard, so the only way to be truthful is to check out the reality of of things themselves.
The trouble with people who don't check things out for themselves, and get swept up in bubbles of group misinformation, of course, is there's not a thing you can tell them!
Lots of people getting to this point in understanding the problem just give up. If trusting information based on agreement is dangerous, specifically because it is determined by agreements that people DO control, part of the solution would need to be listening to the stories of things we do NOT control. To find something more reliable than agreements the most immediate thing we don't control is the natural world. Nature is always available for questions and simple open questions for which you have no answer are themselves quite often the very best of answers. They break your mold of thoughts without overruling any thought. How people accumulate misinformation, in any case, seems to be a persistent "loose screw" in human reasoning. The freedom to make up our own realities would be less of a burden if we only had free choice in using it, but it seems to produce a true maze of blind spots for us to be blind to.
In figure 2 in the stock market prices of the 1920's you can also see the decade long accumulative stock market bubble that preceded the crash of 1929, followed by the great depression of the 1930's. The market bubble of the 1920's was a one decade long period of run-away market inflation. Following the great depression the financial institutions and government responded vigorously, of course. They upgraded the regulatory systems for the whole economy to be much more stable, to assure continuous growth. That was very successful even to, this time, creating a run-away market bubble that spiraled out of control before collapsing a little longer. This time we had a 25 year global spree of multiplying misinformation about the real values, rather than just a 10 year one, it seems...
When people aren't thinking for themselves, and not noticing this "telephone game effect" of everyone getting information from circular messages about things not in evidence... they get caught. To make agreements at all reliable enough people need to be in touch with a common reality of some sort to refer to and confirm agreements with. I think there's only one way to tell if that's happening. If agreements are based on people thinking for themselves, then definition it would also mean people generally listening to, not scoffing at, others who think for themselves, and considering what they consider important exceptions to the group beliefs of the day.
The hurdle in listening to someone else who has been listening to "other realities" is "taking a break" from your own habitual way of thinking. No one else thinks like anyone else is the actual problem. It's not much different from the fact that no situation is quite like any other situation too. You'd be wasting time and effort not to recognize important similarities wherever they arise, of course, but also wasting what the person or situation have to teach you by not noticing the meaningful differences. Simple evidence over which you have no influence and on which you don't impose your expectations allows your mind to become "tabula rasa" letting you discover, or rediscover, the thing itself and its original meanings, and hear its new questions. It lets anything that comes to your attention simply tell its own story. You could call it a kind of practical meditation, or an explanation of what some people just call "listening". It's not automatic and not always easy, but it's not impossible either. It's quite enjoyable in fact, if sometimes hard to do.
If this narrative gives you a better picture of how people have let their care for their own minds drift, and now almost can't help but let their cultural agreements turn into bubbles of misinformation about a changing world, leaving us almost helplessly ensnared in a tangle of mismanaged strategies for using our planet, then I'm hopeful. Human cultures are our "Avatars", what we create by conversations and then navigate the planet for us. They package all our ideas, they define what's "real" for us, noticing their mistakes if we are open to hearing about them ourselves, but not otherwise. If they get easily lost in bubbles of misinformation of their own making, we need to do something about it. So many people seem not to have had it occur to them that what they perceive is something they made up, and there is a very real world in which we live that was taking care of itself long before modern human ideas of how everything in nature should be as controllable as the stories in our minds.
One thing that seems clear is that we need to stop trying to increasingly interfere with and control nature. We really aren't in control of even ourselves. We don't yet understand why most things in nature need to be free of our control to take care of themselves. Discovering and rebuilding that basic relationship is the only way we'll survive, and is where we should be putting our resources.
1) Fig 1- lEA world data 1971-2006: Economic product (GDP in 2000$), Energy use (TPES in btu's) & Economic Energy Efficiency ($/btu), The GDP is indexed to 1 in 1971. The energy and efficiency curves are shown as if all had started long ago, so their 1971 values scaled to GDP by their relative growth rates;
3) Fig 2 - Detailed view of the same Energy use and Energy Productivity data as Fig 1. In this case the energy curve shows the total Quads of purchased fuels used by the world economy. The economic efficiency curve is also labeled "energy productivity" and for easier comparison of the small waves is scaled to equal energy use in 1971. That is a less accurate way to represent them because if extended it would represent the two curves crossing in 1971, a completely arbitrary choice for the sake of visually presenting the small waves better.
2) Fig 3 - Historical US energy use in quads and Dow Jones prices adjusted to inflation by Charles Hall and Wm Tamblyn with trend curve for energy data, notes and historical US GDP curves from US BEA data added by P. Henshaw.
4) Gestalt cognitive analysis, Functional Fixedness - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functional_fixedness
5) National intelligence analysis, Cognitive traps - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_traps_for_intelligence_analysis
(text and figures may be occasionally updated.)