Fear, Complexity, Environmental Management in the 21st Century by Michael Crichton

In a brilliant lecture by Michael Crichton called “Fear, Complexity, Environmental Management in the 21st Century” we learn about the perils of doomsaying and fear mongering.

The lecture cover everything from the ice age that never happened to the population bomb that never happened to Y2K chaos hat never happend to the 150 year progression of decarbonizing (meaning ratio of carbon to hydrogen in our fuel has been steadily deceasing for centuries and we can expect a complete to toward pure hydrogen in the future.

It is a must read…

In fact, we need to recognize that this kind of human response is well-documented. Authoritatively telling people they are going to die can in itself be fatal.

You may know that Australian aborigines fear a curse called “pointing the bone.” A shaman shakes a bone at a person, and sings a song, and soon after, the person dies. This is a specific example of a phenomenon generally referred to as “hex death”—a person is cursed by an authority figure, and then dies. According to medical studies, the person generally dies of dehydration, implying they just give up. But the progression is very erratic, and shock symptoms may play a part, suggesting adrenal effects of fright and hopelessness.

Yet this deadly curse is nothing but information. And it can be undone with information.

A friend of mine was an intern at Bellvue Hospital in New York. A 28-year old man from Aruba said he was going to die, because he had been cursed. He was admitted for psychiatric evaluation and found to be normal, but his health steadily declined. My friend was able to rehydrate him, balance his electrolytes, and give him nutrients, but nevertheless the man worsened, insisting that he was cursed and there was nothing that could prevent his death. My friend realized that the patient would, in fact, soon die. The situation was desperate. Finally he told the patient that he, the doctor, was going to invoke his own powerful medicine to undo the curse, and his medicine was more powerful than any other. He got together with the house staff, bought some headdresses and rattles, and danced around the patient in the middle of the night, chanting what they hoped would be effective-sounding phrases. The patient showed no reaction, but next day he began to improve. The man went home a few days later. My friend literally saved his life.

This suggests that the Ukranian invalids are not unique in their response, but by the large numbers of what we might call “information casualties” they represent a particularly egregious example of what can happen from false fears.

He finishes with this slide..

Is this really the end of the world?  Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods?

No, we simply live on an active planet.  Earthquakes are continuous, a million and a half of them every year, or three every minute. A Richter 5 quake every six hours, a major quake every 3 weeks. A quake as destructive as the one in Pakistan every 8 months.  It‚Äôs nothing new, it‚Äôs right on schedule.

At any moment there are 1,500 electrical storms on the planet. A tornado touches down every six hours. We have ninety hurricanes a year, or one every four days. Again, right on schedule. Violent, disruptive, chaotic activity is a constant feature of our globe.

Is this the end of the world?  No: this is the world.

It’s time we knew it.


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