The coming of the New Dark Ages

Dave Barnett
By Dave Barnett on Wed, Jan 16, 2013 - 7:08pm

Tim O'Reilly on the coming of the New Dark Ages

Technology Futurist Tim O'Reilly just blogged about signs of a new Dark Age.(See  Key ideas:

"...consider how conservative elements in American religion and politics refuse to accept scientific knowledge, deride their opponents for being 'reality based,' and ask yourself, 'could that ideology come to rule the most powerful nation on earth? and if it did, what would be the consequences for the world?'"

"History teaches us that conservative, backward-looking movements often arise under conditions of economic stress. As the world faces problems ranging from climate change to the demographic cliff of aging populations, it's wise to imagine widely divergent futures."

"Civilizations do fail. We have never yet seen one that hasn't. The difference is that the torch of progress has in the past always passed to another region of the world. But we've now, for the first time, got a single global civilization. If it fails, we all fail together."

If O'Reilly is correct (or the Collapse occurs), how do we save the knowledge of the past? What would we do when we can't google any more? Who will keep and protect the books on physics, math, chemistry, phiosophy, religion, ecology, medicine, etc.?


jasonw's picture
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Interesting question

Dave - this topic brings to mind an article I saw the other day about a San Antonio, Texas library that is soon opening that will be all Digital.  No hardcopy books available.  It does make me wonder about the implications of digital technologies and the loss of knowledge through technology disasters.  Server farms and DRM being maintained in order for knowledge to be available for generations to come.  Lots to think about. 

Article: A New Chapter? A Launch Of The Bookless Library

Dave Barnett's picture
Dave Barnett
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the loss of the Internet

Jason -  When I buy books now, I look at whether I would want a hard copy available after an energy collapse. I have a Kindle with hundreds of books, but I have nothing about permaculture, ecology, biology, etc. on it. I have those subjects in hardback format. I could download everything to my Kindle, and use a hand generator to charge it up for use, but I'd rather trust in real books.

We're so dependent on the Internet and the easy & fast access to knowledge about anything, that the loss of high tech would be a huge blow. If I didn't have a calculator, could I do math by hand? (Not without a lot of practice to regain the skill!) Digital libraries and the Internet are wonderful knowledge tools, but they are based on fossil fuels, both directly and indirectly. Indirectly, for example, computer chips and steel are dependent on rare earth metals, and the major sources of those resources are almost exclusively from China. Oops!

I keep thinking that cell phones and Internet access may be early victims of an energy/economic collapse. This reminds me of the somewhat apocryphal story of "How the Irish Saved Civilization (Hinges of History)" -- who will save the knowledge of thousands of years of civilization and science, from Euclid to Feynman?

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There are a lot of garage sales where I live and I am always on the look out for great books to add to our library. Many times there are used college text books and some beautiful hard cover best sellers. We have a long arctic entry way lined with book shelves. Our joke is you have to go through the library to get into the house. Perhaps my great-grandchildren will take them to the dump or perhaps they will be worth a furtune, time will tell. In the meantime we see them as a valuable resource and it is fun hunting for a new special addition to our family.

AK Granny

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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conservative elements

"...consider how conservative elements in American religion and politics refuse to accept scientific knowledge, deride their opponents for being 'reality based,' and ask yourself, 'could that ideology come to rule the most powerful nation on earth? and if it did, what would be the consequences for the world?'"

I am so very tired of this prejudiced attitude. The last time we had a Dark Age, who kept knowledge alive? Who maintained libraries, even when they had to copy books by hand? Who ran hospitals? Who founded schools? "Religious people," who are incredibly reality-based, thank you very much.

Just because sonme of us think that the second law of thermodynamics is at odds with evolutionary theory, and we consider the possibility of "intelligent design," does not mean we believe in a literal 7-day creation and a several -thousand-year-only history of the universe. Just because we are not convinced that climate change is entirely man made does not mean we're blind.

Please consider carefully who you call a "backwards-looking" movement. Tim O'Reilly's quote was misinformed at best and dagerous at worst. I work in the science fiction field and regualrly go to conventions where people from places like MIT and Lawrence Livermore share their recent discoveries, and I am friends with a very large number of cutting edge scientists. Some are atheists,  some are agnostics, some--like Thomas Jefferson--are deists, some are Christians or Jews or Hindu. Does it matter? They are scientists. If their beliefs cause them to try to save whatever they can against the long night, I say more power to them.

Blanket derision is not called for.

Dave Barnett's picture
Dave Barnett
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conservative elements

Wendy -

I don't beleive O'Reilly made a blanket statement about religious people. I am intensely and deeply Christian, and I did not take offense at O'Reilly's statement. As St. Augustine of Hippo pointed out in his commentary on Genesis, the Bible is not a science manual -  it is a book of Theology. Augustine was militant that the Bible was inerrant -- however, he noted that some people may find what they believe to be errors, but are really human mistakes caused by (1) transcription errors, (2) translation errors, or (3) are due to human understanding of the Bible not being inerrant. The belief that one's understanding of the Bible is inerrant is its own criticism.

I think you may be assuming that O'Reilly's comments themselves assumed that scientific people cannot be religious and vice versa. As both Augustine and Francis Collins point out, science is the just the study of nature, and since God made nature, science is the study of God's works. No conflict exists, except in the minds of those who cannot see that there is no difference.

I interpreted O'Reilly's comments as being against those who refuse to consider evidence, but instead hold blindly to a belief in some interpretation of the Bible based on some translation of the Bible. Those who think the Old Testament King James Bible is literally true are risking everything on a Hebrew text translated to Greek (LXX) translated to Latin (The Vulgate) translated to English -- with great variations in the accuracy of the translations along the way. By the way, anyone who holds blindly to a belief in the face of contrary evidence, while just being human, is in the same category as those who hold blindly to religious beliefs; CEO's who deny climate change come to mind.

Please don't include me in your blanket rejection of people who think that ideological extremes can take us back to the dark ages. I think it's true, and while often exemplified by conservative Bible literalists, the ideology that could take us back to the Dark Ages is not exclusively the property of religious people.

Blanket derision is not called for.

John Lemieux's picture
John Lemieux
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Canada's Conservative And Anti Science Government

I think that Tim O'Reilly's concerns are very real.

And IMO what he is saying describes the frightening new direction that the Stephen Harper Government is taking here in Canada.

Allen Gregg is a Canadian trends researcher and pollster who wrote a piece recently that illustrates very well how the Harper Government in Canada is so driven by their Neo-Consevative idealogy that they refuse to accept scienctific knowlege when it could confict with their agenda.  

And they are in fact suppressing Canada's Government scientists and preventing them from speaking to the press or to the public. Especially about enviromental issues.

But the scariest thing is that Canadians seem to be mostly ok with it as Allen Gregg explains in this article.

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