The Stories We Tell on Climate Change

  1. Knowledge is a fundamental property of our world. Knowledge is broadly defined as anything that has the ability to cause physical effects to the world. This includes everything from a piece of DNA, to a random thought, to a speed bump on the road, to a piece of music.
  2. All species are born with genetic knowledge in the form of expectations about the world. For example, humans are born with genetic knowledge on how to breathe, based on the expectation that the world contains oxygen. Most animals are born with genetic knowledge for when to mate, based on the expectation for when food will be plentiful.
  3. All species that have ever inhabited the biosphere have faced existential problems from the very beginning. Existential problems occur when some element of the world changes, and a species’ preexisting knowledge no longer produces the expected outcome.
  4. For most species, the only mechanism to overcome existential problems was to develop new biological knowledge through genetic evolution.
  5. Humans are different from the vast majority of species, because in addition to having biological knowledge coded in their genes, they also create non-biological knowledge (which is also called cultural knowledge).
  6. The difference between biological knowledge and cultural knowledge is: With biological knowledge, a new “idea” is created randomly through a genetic mutation. The idea is “tested” based on whether the idea (i.e. the new gene) can be passed onto the next generation through procreation. It takes many generations and thousands of years for new biological knowledge to evolve. With cultural knowledge, a new “idea” is created when a person has a new thought or behavior. The thought/behavior is “tested” based on whether it survives in the person that created it, and is passed on to other people. With cultural knowledge, there is no limit to how fast ideas can evolve, because instead of betting one’s life on a single new idea (as with biological knowledge), we can test our ideas by criticizing them.
  7. The Earth’s biosphere is not the thing that supports life. The only thing that supports life is the knowledge (either biological or cultural) that is carried by life forms.
  8. Given the time it takes to develop biological knowledge, the vast majority of species that rely on biological knowledge were unable to overcome their existential problems before it was too late.
  9. The human species has been able to survive existential problems such as ice ages, predators, and pestilence, by creating cultural knowledge in the form of new and improved explanations about how the world works.
  10. There is no fundamental limit for how much knowledge is possible, because (a) there are an infinite number of ways that the physical world can be caused to change, and (b) all changes that are not forbidden by the laws of physics are achievable, given the right knowledge.
  11. Given the infinite nature of the physical world, it is impossible to predict the full consequences of any new knowledge. Therefore, all new knowledge always leads to new and unexpected problems, and for this reason, there will never be a time that is free of existential problems. For example, as soon as a new piece of knowledge (biological or cultural) is proven successful in making life a bit easier, the species’ numbers tend to increase, creating a whole set of new survival pressures requiring new solutions. As such, most species are constantly living close to the edge of disaster.
  12. It follows from points 10 and 11 that no matter how much knowledge is created, there is always a potential and need for infinitely more knowledge.

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