Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Epistemology of Goldilocks RE: Sea Level Rise

The comfort zones of The Comfort Zone
I. Introduction

Goldilocks had a notion of "too this" or "too that," and "just right." (Goldilocks Principle).

One could also describe the structure of her analysis as the comfort zone surrounded by two zones bereft of sufficient comfort, however, that is technically correct only if her comfort zone falls within the comfort zone of the majority ("comfort zone: the range of atmospheric temperature and humidity considered comfortable for most people" - Dictionary).

Thus, the comfort zone is an issue that comes up when global warming induced climate change is addressed.

II. The Uncomfortable Zones

"I am not comfortable with that" can apply to, among other things, climate, ideas, prices, colors, laws, beds, science, chairs, politics, music, or knowledge.

It is a perception based on "I know what makes me comfortable or uncomfortable."

Thus, it is what we think of as "personal knowledge."

Epistemology is "a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge."

Epistemologists realize that we are constantly playing the role of Goldilocks in our daily lives, especially where knowledge is concerned (The Pillars of Knowledge: Faith and Trust?).

Thus, the essence of a personal comfort zone, whether in or out of the comfort zone, determines our reaction to a subcategory of climate change known as sea level rise (SLR).

I bring it up because, whether we are a scientist or a layperson, we are not good at this:
"Why are we so bad at knowing ... Eric Schwitzgebel, in “Perplexities of Consciousness,” contends that our minds, rather than being open-access, are largely hidden territory. Despite what we believe about our powers of introspection, the reality is that we know awfully little about what our conscious experience amounts to. Even when reporting current experience, we make divergent, confused and even contradictory claims about what it’s like to be on the inside [of our own cognition]."
(Know Thyself: Easier Said Than Done, emphasis added). The cognitive scientist Dr. G. Lakoff wrote:
Probably 98 percent of your reasoning is unconscious - what your brain is doing behind the scenes. Reason is inherently emotional. You can't even choose a goal, much less form a plan and carry it out, without a sense that it will satisfy you, not dis­gust you. Fear and anxiety will affect your plans and your ac­tions. You act differently, and plan differently, out of hope and joy than out of fear and anxiety.

Thought is physical. Learning requires a physical brain change: Receptors for neurotransmitters change at the synapses, which changes neural circuitry. Since thinking is the activation of such circuitry, somewhat different thinking re­quires a somewhat different brain. Brains change as you use them-even unconsciously. It's as if your car changed as you drove it, say from a stick shift gradually to an automatic.
(What Orwell Didn't Know, pp. 68-9). In other words: "What do you see when you turn out the light? ... I can't tell you, but I know it's mine ... I get by with a little help from my friends" (Beatles).

III. Groups Play A Part In Drawing SLR Contours

Today, I want to look at the Goldilocks Principle in the context of SLR and how it is formed by the culture we abide in, whether we are a scientist or a layperson.

A paper to that effect intimates:
In this paper, I introduce the emerging theory of judgment aggregation as a framework for studying institutional design in social epistemology. When a group or collective organization is given an epistemic task, its performance may depend on its ‘aggregation procedure’, i.e. its mechanism for aggregating the group members' individual beliefs or judgments into corresponding collective beliefs or judgments endorsed by the group as a whole. I argue that a group's aggregation procedure plays an important role in determining whether the group can meet two challenges: the ‘rationality challenge’ and the ‘knowledge challenge’. The rationality challenge arises when a group is required to endorse consistent beliefs or judgments; the knowledge challenge arises when the group's beliefs or judgments are required to track certain truths. My discussion seeks to identify those properties of an aggregation procedure that affect a group's success at meeting each of the two challenges.
(Journal Episteme, Judgment Aggregation, PDF here). In terms of SLR, this applies to all the climate change groups, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The individual scientists in climate change groups have their own comfort zone to contend with, as well as the group's comfort zone.

As the paper points out, final reports are sometimes an aggregate, a report that tries to make everyone in the group as comfortable as can be.

IV. One Group Solution: A Range

The current technique is to include a range of values in SLR reports, such as, "from x to y of SLR between the years a and b."

The individual members can identify with x, y, or somewhere in between, thus the unity factor, in terms of member comfort zones, is likely to increase.

V. Too Much "This" Or Not Enough "That"

When a range does not please everyone in the group, or even those outside the group, sometimes there are protests based on the "too this" or "too that" zones outside the comfort zone of those who are complaining (see Goldilocks Principle @ section I. Introduction).

When the discomfort feels excruciating there is usually going to be someone yelling "ouch!" (RTCC, Nature, Climate Central).

In appellate courts of law this is called dissent, and as a general rule it is not frowned upon, in terms of it being considered unprofessional.

VI. The Consensus: We Face Catastrophic SLR

Some of the dissent is unprofessional or ignorant because it is based on shrill, total denial of what SLR is going to do (Will This Float Your Boat - 8).

Other dissent is based on being uncomfortable with what is called "hopium," and is associated with admitting to the problem we face, but not formulating a warning that is serious enough.

Thus, these dissenters exclaim, the public is operating under an illusion generated by a false hope, which is in turn generated by underestimates.

Some groups, such as the IPCC, have admitted to that in the past, their excuse being that there was not a sufficient body of data based on sufficient studies.

Their solution is to not report on "from x to y of SLR between the years a and b" in a complete way.

The stronger dissent (which I subscribe to) does not exonerate them in response to their excuse.

That is because the standard to apply is what they "should have found out" as professionals (e.g. see "In spite of its importance ... the Antarctic ice sheet is poorly known" here).

Professional scientists are charged with an ethical unction based on what a professional should do in a given circumstance.

There have been warnings from notable professional scientists all along the way.

Warnings about issues from excess CO2 emission dangers to ongoing SLR on our warming globe.

A globe on which the ice sheets will melt catastrophically, at some point in time, and SLR will thereby also become catastrophic.

But that said, by and large the most denial and greatest resistance to the science has not come from the scientific community.

It has come from governments and leaders who have been perverted by the oil industry.

Perverted into falsifying and/or watering down the dangers they have caused (Oil-Qaeda - The Indictment).

VII. Conclusion

The comfort zone of many (e.g. "our technology is just right for solving the SLR problem") is being catered to, as if there will be no consequences if we do not make the all-time greatest of efforts to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

A civilization that deludes itself with a little comfort zone hopium will suffer orders of magnitude more than it would if it suffers less now while solving the big problem.

SLR is a terrible, self-inflicted threat (Civilization Is Now On Suicide Watch, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).

HBO Vice: Our Rising Oceans with Dr. Eric Rignot:


  1. We as a species, despite our vaunted intellect, are as deluded as psychotics in viewing the world through capitalism, economics in general, and especially through the lens of modernity, with all its gadgets and "all the knowledge of the world at your fingertips." Having little to no clue how it all interacts, our "leaders" are the truly blind leading the rest of us to continue as we have been for the past few hundred years on this trajectory of "wealth," ease and comfort while the rest of the world is undergoing profound disequilibrium.

    How do you propose solving the big problem of SLR at this point, when we aren't very good at ascertaining threats that so slowly creep up on us (like grass growing)?
    First everyone would have to be convinced that we have a real threat, and go through that process for however long it would take to counter the obvious backlash that would come from the 'denier' bunch. Then resources would need to be mustered and shifted to combat this problem, all the while climate change would continue to wreak havoc in fits and starts. Beyond that, there are already far too many of us and population would need to be controlled and actually decreased, since we're packing more and more people into less and less space. Even the "nicest" way to do this would be through contraception or forced sterilization until such time as the death rate would surpass the 'live births' rate, which would involve at least a few generations. We're already running out of time to effect any change at all from the calamities heading our way and already 'baked in' to our future.

    Thanks for this essay Dredd - keep up the good work on this and your many other concerns. It's appreciated.


  2. Tom,

    Your question cuts to the chase: "How do you propose solving the big problem of SLR at this point, when we aren't very good at ascertaining threats that so slowly creep up on us (like grass growing)?"

    Just to begin ... saying what must be done illustrates the problem: LEAVE FOSSIL FUELS IN THE GROUND. NOW!!!!


    Not going to happen is it?

  3. In time to do anything to mitigate the coming disaster, doubtful. Thanks for askin' Randy.



    Preview of HBO Vice: Our Rising Oceans with Eric Rignot

    [quote @2:56]

    "That's not 'holy shit', it's worse than that."


    1. Tom,


      I embedded it because some readers skip comments.

  5. Dr. Rignot says of East Antarctica glaciers: "One of them, Totten glacier, holds the equivalent of seven metres [~23ft] of global sea level." (link)

    1. Which means that if only 13% of only one glacier, Totten Glacier, melts we hit the 1 meter catastrophe level rise.

      Add Greenland and West Antarctica, then the three only need to lose to melt 4.33% each to cause the 1 meter (3 ft.) catastrophic sea level rise.