Archive | August 2015

China and Global warming as 21st century containment

This entry will explore the idea that China is the target of a modern American-led incarnation of the  “containment” policy. Because I haven’t done much research into the area, some ideas expressed within will be rough and tumble. This also provides an indirect perspective into the threat cold fusion poses to capitalists.

It’s well known in the last century that the United States practiced an aggressive foreign policy toward the Soviet Union. One of the major policies under its umbrella was that of “containment”, the idea that the communist threat ought to be contained to a particular sphere of influence, lest the sphere spread to parts ruled by American hegemony. Of concern was the “vulnerable” nearby nation-state of Cuba, which could spark a domino effect of Communist revolution within the Western hemisphere. This was certainly a central concern behind the American invasion of Vietnam.

I propose that we have a modern analogy to “containment” in our midst today, although it’s not what first comes to mind for most, and the principal targets are China and the third world. The argument I propose is simple. China is increasingly referred to in foreign policy, academic, and media circles as a “rising superpower”, owing in no small part to its rapid urban economic development, shifting diplomatic pivot to the third world, investment and trade agreements with African and signature EU nations, and its ambitious military objectives, which are now becoming more and more of a reality.

Take for instance, the very real possibility of China’s ability to project power beyond its regional straits, with its modern aircraft carrier program. A hegemon like the US has every reason to be nervous, because China’s increasing spheres of economic, diplomatic and military influence, at every step, threatens the erosion of American influence…and the central motivation for hegemons is to maintain the status quo.

Because of its rapid economic development, China’s been the target of carbon gas emissions targets and other measures placing limits on industrial growth, under the ostensible belief that such restrictions will help slow the rapid destruction of the planet, owing to human-caused climate change. It’s notable that China’s developing in much the same way early Industrial age societies did (and still do): emitting large amounts of pollution and waste.

Of course, we might excuse the advanced Western economies for undergoing the same process; after all, the United States industrialized when people didn’t even know what global warming was! How, then, could we be conscious about environmental destruction, and of our responsibility to the planet back then?

The objective behind promoting the CAGW hypothesis is two fold:

a. to contain the rapid development of China

b. the creation of a carbon tax credit market worth trillions of dollars

The first point is significant because the parties involved do not have the political leverage to seriously oppose any restrictive measures placed on them by the advanced capitalist societies. To think that emissions targets would seriously help to scale back planetary destruction is delusion of the highest order, since the capitalist societies have found inventive ways to skirt those self-imposed obligations altogether. Those restrictions are useful, however, in hindering threats. The creation of a carbon tax swapping/credit market will financialize trillions so that Anglo-American bankers can profit off pollution.

Now imagine the threat posed by cold fusion. If China’s industrializing (albeit with massive capital investment and environmental cost!) has the West shaking in their boots, imagine what would happen if multiple countries (e.g. in the third world) could rapidly industrialize to an American level within a generation with little capital investment and no externalities. Those are precisely the three-prong threats that cold fusion poses to the Western-leaning order. The current order is based on a balance of power favoring the West, sustained from exploitation of third-world countries, in particular for their energy resources. If an opportunity arises for ANY country to feasibly industrialize within a generation, then the cards are no longer in American hands. The obvious beneficiaries would be the third world. The implications for decentralizing of power production and distribution are too great to be tolerated.

The Absence of Free Energy and Its Implications

I thought I would stir the pot, and offer an alternative idea of why we haven’t seen “free-energy” or “over-unity” energy production technology enter into the mainstream.

Let’s face it; there’s been a litany of free energy claims over the years. It’s a cottage industry. In every case, none of the claimed results have been reproduced in front of anyone, and very often, the story is that their discoveries were stolen away by some secret government agency, usually the military industrial complex, or big oil. That said, I wouldn’t dismiss wholesale the idea that free-energy, as a concept, is possible.

How you frame a question influences how you answer it, and I think we have framed the question of free energy and its technological applications wrongly. The question we should be asking isn’t, “Has free-energy technology been suppressed?” That’s a loaded question. It’s also not a good starting point for exploring what is an intriguing subject. That question presupposes the possibility that free energy exists to start with, and secondly, that such applications thereof have been suppressed.

The second inference one could make from the absence of free-energy technology, I argue, is not that there is a suppression of existing applications, but that such applications haven’t materialized yet due to how institutional science (and capitalism) function. And, if you like, we can treat suppression as an epiphenomenon — a secondary effect — of how the current science regime functions.

It’s possible (even likely) that some horror stories about stolen/suppressed inventions are true, but these cannot be cited as the principle reason for absence of free energy applications in the mainstream. Many “suppression claims” are excuses to hide the fact that the claimed invention doesn’t work. This makes it harder to distinguish legitimate over-unity claims, which are worth investigating, from bunk claims which are not. The result is that “suppression” claims are rendered untenable.

Thus, we need stronger and complementary evidence aside from “suppression” to understand why over-unity technology (probably) hasn’t appeared. The explanation I offer agrees with what I understand about institutional behavior and, I think is also more plausible, given the difficulty of validating suppression claims.

I want to argue against common points which dispute the suppression of free-energy applications. The lack of evidence for free-energy suppression is often conflated with the idea that free-energy is impossible, and that is why I’m engaging these arguments. Many of which we will see are plausible on the surface, but counter-intuitive when considering the scientific environment and political realities. These are arguments from actual skeptics of the idea, to let you know.

Points Against Free Energy Suppression 

“Free-energy violates the laws of physics.”

In natural science, a “law” does not indicate inviolability. The meaning differs slightly between sub-disciplines, but it’s simply a generalization of empirical observations, a generalized statement about how a given thing can behave in some situation. “Laws” describe the general case of how something will behave. There are extensions to laws where the general case fails to accommodate. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” describes (or substitute any situation you like) how a ball will bounce back when hitting a wall with some amount of force. But the quantum tunneling effect bypasses the second law of motion. That would be a case where the law does not apply.

Further, legitimate theories about certain phenomena can challenge commonly held conceptions of physics, if these theories themselves are backed by good physics. For instance, the theories posed to explain curious aspects of certain phenomena, like anomalous heat transfer in palladium lattices (the back-bone of cold fusion/LENR), are not paradigm-breaking, but are rather confined to condensed matter physics.

“Scientists working in these fields are very competitive, and would fight tooth and nail to show that such applications worked!”

Half-truth.

What skeptics leave out is that the fields which these researchers work in are considered legitimate. They are actual professions, and research is dependent on grants. There’s a dis-incentivized and marginal space for research in controversial fields, such as cold fusion (or low-energy nuclear reactions). There exist better research opportunities in closely allied fields (like muon-catalyzed fusion) where relevant experience could be applied. This leaves little space for room-temperature fusion research. This pushes away competent scientists, and fraudsters and loons like Greer, Hutchison, etc. fill the void. The reason is that competent scientists don’t claim to have unlocked free-energy like cold fusion. Rather, it’s a “Huh, that’s odd…”.

It’s not even clear that a breakthrough in free-energy applications would be immediately apparent, because there would be several valid interpretations of preliminary data, and a competent scientist would not risk his career in boldly announcing research which at first glance, contradicts basic physics (there is the notable exception of Fleischmann and Pons, but that is for another time, I’m afraid).

“The discovery of free-energy would make its discoverer rich beyond his wildest dreams and propel him to global fame overnight!”

There are competing fields of research. Entrenched research communities (any industry with enormous funding, like aerospace research or nuclear research) want to protect their research grants and industry investments. The long-term prospect of job security and access to a venerable funding pool, for the individual scientist, out-weighs any idealistic benefit from discovering free-energy. The competent researchers have established careers in legitimate fields.

For instance, why risk their reputation in researching room-temperature fusion, widely considered a pseudo-science? Even Nobel laureates aren’t insulated from attack. Einstein-like fame is an unrealistic job prospect and is antithetical to serious scientists. Those who have defended subjects like cold fusion have faced ostracism (Schwinger resigned from the American Physical Society). Professor Peter Hagelstein at MIT was denied a full professorship due to his associations with cold fusion, and remains an associate professor there.

TL;DR: How scientific research is organized creates a disincentive around controversial research for competent scientists. This means that fraudsters and loons take up those sorts of fields. Then, the whole field reeks of pseudo-science, because the fraudsters are practicing pseudo-science, and so we have confirmation bias. This argument is therefore unrealistic.

“If the US/Russia/China had anti-gravity technology, they would have conquered the Earth already.”

This works well for arguing against military suppression of such tech. But it doesn’t extend to an argument against the possibility of over-unity applications. Technology which would result in military domination, would also have civilian applications which challenge the material base of the power structure (i.e. a structure based on inefficient finite resource allocation is incompatible with free-energy applications. One is centralized, the other leads to decentralization). The wide-ranging civilian applications out-number the military applications.

This is an excellent reason why such technology hasn’t appeared. Not because it has been suppressed (such claims are hard to verify), but because power structures are wary of socially disruptive technologies. The introduction of free energy into the mainstream would destabilize it.

People are short-sighted, and institutions, being risk-averse, intensify this fault. This causes us to misjudge the value of emerging technologies. It’s been said that we overestimate the progress of technology in ten years, but underestimate its progress in a century. There’s also a complex overlap between capitalist development pressures, engineering capability, and theory when we discuss exotic technologies, such as alternatives to fossil fuels.

1. FTL warp-drives are theoretically possible, but we have no engineering capability. It also does not seem to serve capital interests, unless the economy of scale would drive down costs low enough to render planetary colonization possible.

2. Low-energy nuclear reactions seem possible in some proposed theoretical frameworks (e.g. Keith Johnston, Hagelstein, Edmund Storms). There is some engineering capability to take advantage of these reactions for use in practical applications. But there are no capital development pressures for them. The monetary return on investment would drop as the economy of scale increases, rendering LENR no longer profitable. This may be fine to some intrigued investors, but it is not tolerable to the power structure.

Thus, it’s not so much that these technologies have been suppressed, but that they’re excluded from consideration by virtue of how two major institutions function: capitalism and science. The progress of science under capitalism (“capitalist science”) has led to development pressures for highly redundant technology, or technologies which improve linearly and satisfy market imperatives.

These technologies are good for investment because of realistic expected returns. David Graeber writes extensively about this in his article in the Baffler. The reason we (probably) haven’t seen technologies capable of solving our energy crisis, is due to how capitalism responds to disruptive technologies.

TL;DR: We (likely) don’t have free-energy technology, not because it’s suppressed, but because:

We have a capitalist science institution which minimizes destabilizing outcomes and maximizes profitable outcomes.

  • Lack of serious research from competent scientists due to how research is structured
  • The cacophony of fraudulent free-energy claims discourages many investors, and lone intrigued investors are the source of much funding for these fields.
  • Its implications seriously challenge risk-averse power structures
  • If suppression has happened, it is an epiphenomenon of a larger cause, and not the cause itself

Note on “pseudoscience”: There is much debate in the philosophy of science over whether a clear line can be drawn between legitimate scientific and pseudo-science. Pseudo-science presumably has some quality that clearly distinguishes it from legitimate science. I think there are general guidelines you can follow to distinguish dishonest science from honest science.

I ask if “pseudoscience” is an honest qualitative description of some controversial fields, or if it, more often than not, simply reflects biases with institutional science. I think there are legitimate fields, such as LENR/cold fusion, which have unfairly earned the moniker of pseudo-science. That is, if you were to compare LENR and some other field in a hard science, you would find no qualitative differences in how research is conducted between them.

Links: Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit