Tag Archives: progress

The One Minute Case For Technology

What is technology?

Technology is the sum of material entities created by the application of mental and physical effort to nature in order to achieve some value. Technological progress is made possible by engineering, the field which applies scientific knowledge to solve practical problems by developing and applying new tools, machines, materials and processes.

The history of technology.

The evolution of technology has been a progression from reliance on physical effort to a growing role for the mind. The first tools, such as chisels and hammers, augmented raw muscle power. The creation of powered machines eliminated the reliance on muscle and allowed much more powerful mechanisms to be built than with human or animal power alone. The introduction of the automaton in the twentieth century embedded human knowledge in machinery. The trend continues as human beings improve their ability to exploit nature to meet their values through the use of automation and achieve more and more material values by mental effort.

Does technological progress cause unemployment?

In 1811, the Luddites became alarmed that technological innovations introduced by the Industrial Revolution threatened their livelihood. In a sense, they were right – most jobs that existed in 1811 have made superfluous by technology, and this process continues today. Yet outside of wage and price controls and other forms of interventionism, large-scale unemployment has never been a threat. Technology has not made most people permanently idle because it not only eliminates dreary, labor-intensive jobs, but also frees us to pursue more activities. The tremendous improvements in productivity that came with the Industrial and Information Revolutions gave us more free time and created opportunities to allow us to discover and pursue new passions. Highly repetitive agricultural and manufacturing jobs have been replaced by service industry and technical jobs. Entirely new institutions, such as professional and amateur sport leagues, museums, and online multiplayer clans have evolved as the public’s free time has grown.

Is technology good?

While the industrial revolution greatly improved the quality and longevity of human life, war and threat of nuclear annihilation have demonstrated the destructive power of technology. Rapid technological progress makes it likely that future inventions will increase both its creative and destructive potential. Yet there is reason to be optimistic that technology will be used for good.

While technology can be subverted and copied to serve evil, societies which enslave the human mind cannot sustain the capital stock or the intellectual base necessary for progress. Technological progress requires a society which values rationality, initiative, and voluntary cooperation. Most important is the need for freedom: inventors must be free to propose new ideas, and entrepreneurs must be free to turn them into reality. The failure of Fascism and Communism, and the success of the United States in the 20th century is a powerful testament to the power of a free society.

What is the future of technology?

Technological evolution follows two trends: the replacement of physical labor with more efficient mental labor, and the resulting greater degree of control over our natural environment, including our ability to transform raw materials into ever more complex and pliable products. This process culminates with man’s ability to achieve all of the material values technologically possible to him by mental effort. The growing importance of intellectual activity implies that intellectual property will become increasingly more important relative to material labor and physical goods. The current system of patent laws and copyrights will evolve dramatically as intellectual transactions evolve to meet the requirements of a civilization with rapid innovation on a global scale.

Further reading:


Filed under Economics, Science

The One Minute Case For Science

Science is an epistemological method

Science is the field which applies reason to the study of nature. Science is necessary because knowledge of how nature works is not self-evident, but requires a systematic method to collect evidence and correctly interpret it. Science is different in degree from informal empirical methods such as “trial and error” and in kind from non-empirical methods such as revelation, astrology, or emotionalism.

Science is the application of philosophy to specialized fields

Science is made possible by the acceptance of certain philosophical axioms in metaphysics and epistemology. In metaphysics, science requires recognizing that all entities behave in a causal manner according to their nature. In epistemology, it recognizes that man is capable of perceiving and understanding reality by the use of his senses, and because his consciousness is fallible and not automatic, he needs to actively adhere to reason and logic to reach the right conclusions.

Science is empirical

The scientific method is a formal methodology for using reason to study nature. Proper application of the scientific method can produce a scientific theory — a unifying and self-consistent explanation of fundamental natural phenomena derived from the evidence. Some essential principles of science are:

  • Observation: scientists attempt to sample and describe the full range of observed phenomena, ideally including the use of controls which counterbalance the risk of empirical bias.
  • Causal explanation: a scientific theory must provide a causal identification of the underlying processes of particular phenomena.
  • Prediction: scientific theories must explain nature in a replicable way, so that hypothesized causes correlate with observed events.
  • Falsifiability: the ability to eliminate plausible alternatives by repeated experimentation of observation. This requires scientific theories to be formulated in a way which can be independently tested and corroborated by others.
  • Integration: new theories must integrate with the existing body of scientific knowledge. When a contraction is found, the theory must be amended or discarded if not compatible with the evidence.

Science is hierarchical

Scientists build on existing work to form a hierarchical body of knowledge. Sometimes new evidence disproves existing theories. In other cases, new evidence may show that an existing theory is not a complete explanation in all contexts. For example, Einstein’s relativity theory did not prove Isaac’s Newton classical mechanism wrong. Classical mechanics is valid in the context of non-relativistic speeds, whereas general relativity theory explains for a wider range of behavior. Quantum mechanics provides evidence that a new theory is necessary on the sub-atomic scale. As scientific knowledge delves ever deeper into the fabric of the universe, new theories build on existing knowledge.

Pseudoscience versus science

The tremendous success of science in learning about the material world and applying that knowledge to benefit mankind has encouraged some anti-scientific movements to adopt a façade of scientific verbiage to mask an anti-scientific, anti-reason ideology. Some indicators of non-scientific reasoning are:

  • Use of vague and untestable claims which cannot be independently corroborated.
  • Reliance on testimonials and anecdotes rather than carefully structured, large-scale studies.
  • Argument of ignorance: placing the burden of proof on skeptics.
  • Evasion of peer review combined with claims of institutional conspiracies to suppress results.
  • Lack of progress beyond the initial theory. For example, in the case of astrology and religion, claims can remain unproven for thousands of years.

Further reading:


Filed under Science

The One Minute Case Against Malthusianism

The origin of apocalyptic overpopulation theory

In his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, Thomas Malthus argued that the growth in the food supply is linear, whereas the growth in the population rate is exponential. Whenever the population exceeds the food supply, social turmoil erupts until drastic checks such as famines, wars, and epidemics lowered populations down to sustainable levels. The only way to avoid periodic disaster is to implement strict population controls, which have historically included both voluntary restraints, as well as coercive measures such as limits on family size and mass sterilization of “undesirable groups.”

Malthus was wrong

Malthus predicted a population crash by the middle of the 19th century. In reality, living standards have increased over sixty times since 1820 despite a tripling of the European population in the 18th century.1 Meanwhile, family sizes fell naturally without the need for coercive measures.
Nevertheless, modern Malthusians perpetually extend the date of the inevitable apocalypse to the near future. Faced with the astounding growth of agricultural yields which virtually eliminated hunger in the West, environmentalists are continually discovering new resources to run out of, whether fossil fuels, metals, land, or water.
The discrepancy is explained by two errors in the Malthusian model: the population growth rate is not exponential, while the potential growth in human productivity is.

Family size is subject to individual cost/benefit analysis.

The reason for the natural decline in population growth rates is that children are much more expensive in industrial countries. Increasing productivity levels in the developed world mean higher standards of living, lower child mortality, and a higher opportunity cost of having children. Child labor is no longer necessary for families to survive, and children have become expensive in terms of both direct expenses and lost economic opportunities for parents. Rather than working in farms or factories to keep younger siblings alive, a smaller number of kids can take care of parents in old age. Welfare programs for seniors have actually tipped the balance below equilibrium levels in most developed nations.

Capitalism allows unlimited productivity improvements

Malthusian scenarios assume that the resources available to meet human needs are fixed — that each new human being requires a fixed amount of land, metal, and fossil fuels to live. But human values are ever-shifting, and so are the means to provide those values. Each baby born not only creates new demand for the products of civilization, but also provides new resources and insight for meeting those needs.

Our living standards are rising because we are finding more efficient ways to harvest existing resources, and improving the technology to produce the goods we consume. We are also exploiting new resources to create those goods. Whale oil, rubber trees, and native forests for paper and fuel have been replaced by petroleum, plastics, tree farms, and coal. This is possible because a free society allows a growing capital and knowledge base to be multiplied by entrepreneurs who find new methods to improve human life, resulting an exponential growth in wealth.

Malthus’s model applies to animals and collectivists

The Malthusian population model is not entirely without merit. Charles Darwin realized that it applies to the animal kingdom because animals lack the capacity to volitionally control reproductive rates, and their productivity is fixed by biology. Whereas humans adopt to environmental changes, animal populations can crash rapidly when the carrying capacity of their environment changes.

Human society experiences the same pattern in preindustrial and totalitarian societies. Whether it is the crushing mold of tradition or stagnant socialist states, when the potential of human beings to apply their mind to improve their quality of life is stifled, humans are reduced to survival on the animal level, and suffer similar cycles of periodic famines.

Further reading:


  1. Angus Maddison, Phases of Capitalist Development (New York: Oxford University

Press, 1982), pp. 4-7.


Filed under Economics, Environment