"System change is now inevitable. Either because we do something about it, or because we will be hit by climate change. '...

"We need to develop economic models that are fit for purpose. The current economic frameworks, the ones that dominate our governments, these frameworks... the current economic frameworks, the neoclassical, the market frameworks, can deal with small changes. It can tell you the difference, if a sock company puts up the price of socks, what the demand for socks will be. It cannot tell you about the sorts of system level changes we are talking about here. We would not use an understanding of laminar flow in fluid dynamics to understand turbulent flow. So why is it we are using marginal economics, small incremental change economics, to understand system level changes?"

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Radical Novelties

Slashdot is featuring the twentieth anniversary of renowned UT computer science professor Edsger Dijkstra's essay "On the cruelty of really teaching computer science". It happens I believe Dijkstra's central point in the essay is bit ill-conceived (he misses the connection between testing and proof) but that needn't concern us here. The first six pages of his painstakingly handwritten essay (quotations painstakingly typed in by me) are of interest to sustainability questions as well:
The usual way in which we plan today for tomorrow is in yesterday's vocabulary. We do so, because we try to get away with the concepts that we are familiar with and that have acquired their meaning in our past experience. ... It is the most common way of trying to cope with novelty: by means of metaphors and analogies we try to link the new to the old, the novel to the familiar. Under sufficiently slow and gradual change it works reasonably well; in the case of a sharp discontinuity, however, the method breaks down: though we try to glorify it with the name "common sense", our past experience is no longer relevant... One must consider one's own past, the experiences collected, and the habits formed in it as an unfortunate accident of history, and one has to approach the radical novelty with a blank mind, consciously refusing to try to link it with the familiar, because the familiar is hopelessly inadequate. ... Coming to grips with a radical novelty amounts to creating and learning a new foreign language that cannot be translated into one's mother tongue.

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