Arithmetic, Population and Energy

Posted on Wednesday, 12 September 2007 at 20:43.

Today Kamil told me about a lecture by prof. Albert Bartlett titled Arithmetic, Population and Energy. The whole thing lasts over an hour, but I found it very interesting and watched it all. Prof. Bartlett begins and ends with his opinion that “the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function”, and basically says that we underestimate steady growth and how quickly it can get out of hand, especially the growth of the world population, and of our consumtion of fossil fuels.

One of his examples is the following: consider a bottle that at 11:00 has one bacterium in it. The bacteria’s population doubles every minute. Suppose by 12:00 the bottle is exactly full of bacteria. He then asks two questions:

  1. At what time was the bottle half full?
  2. At what time do you think the bacteria would realise their space is running out?

He also mentions that we measure our economy’s success by — you guessed it — its growth. And that because we underestimate growth and its effects, it could be a dangerous measure for success.


By Martien on Thursday, 13 September 2007 at 09:06:

Welcome to the world of networks, autopoieses and stigmergence Martijn! The 80/20 world. The Long Tail. The world of swarms, mobs, the web, social nets, Second Life, WoW and collective intelligence. Complex adaptive systems. The world of power laws.

Oh so natural. Oh so biological.

Wonder what Bartlett suggests to do measure our economoy’s success.


By arne on Thursday, 13 September 2007 at 11:18:

1) duh.
2) ik denk dat bacteriën niet denken…

En ik heb geen idee wat een autopoiese is. Poiez wel, da’s een supermarktketen.

By Martijn on Thursday, 13 September 2007 at 22:00:

@Arne: ik weet ook (nog) niet wat autopoieses is. :-) En over je tweede antwoord: het gaat er natuurlijk om dat we ons pas om 5 voor 12 realiseren dat alles verloren is.

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