Matt's Blog

Utopia or Oblivion

Thu Aug 3 18:31:39 BST 2006

I'm rereading R. Buckminster Fuller's book "Utopia or Oblivion" at the moment (one advantage of packing all of my books into boxes is that I discover some that I haven't read in a while). The book is a series of transcripts for public lectures given by Fuller, to a variety of audiences. The common theme of the lectures is technological progress solving all of humankind's problems, either by giving us a utopia or wiping humanity from the face of the planet.

Key points:

  • Emphemeralization. Doing more with less. As technology improves it (by definition?) becomes more efficient. One solution to the global warming problem would be to operate engines at a higher temperature, so that the Carnot efficiency is improved and less energy is lost as heat. This is a materials engineering problem that can be solved by development of cheap and strong high temperature materials for turbine blades.
  • Language acts as in intrinsic limiter to thought. "Up" and "down" bring us back to classical thought of living on a flat Earth. "Out" and "in" to a gravitational potential are the correct terms. A satellite is out, not up!
  • All technological development is based around the development of more efficient methods of transportation. Vehicles have to carry their own supplies, so they need to be designed as efficiently and with as advanced materials as possible. This is a main point of the manned space program as the technology required to take humans to the moon (or further!) will also allow humans to live in extreme environments on Earth.
  • You could get rid of all the politicians in the world tomorrow and things would still keep running. Get rid of all the energy distribution networks and the people that maintin them (scientists, engineers and technicians) and several billion people will starve to death within a month.

Fuller was a futurist, in this generation he would be called a singularitarian or posthumanist. The singularity didn't happen in Fuller's lifetime, but it might in ours. Or singularity may just be another word for revolution, and each generation has its own.

[ideas] [politics]


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