Overpopulation and Limited Resources – Should We Impose Control?

Just watched the movie ‘What happened to Monday (2017)’ on Netflix. It had some very interesting themes especially focusing on the crisis of human overpopulation and the moral issues this raises. These themes are of course by no means new.

Warning: The following contains spoilers.

The movie is based on a dystopian future in the year 2073. Climate change leads to a depletion of food and other natural resources. Overpopulation causes further stress on the resources leading to a dramatic global crisis and famine. This is then combated by using science and in turn a greater reliance on scientists to provide solutions. Biologists manage to modify plants to become more resistant to the harsh climate (GMOs). Food supplies are replenished but eating the modified food leads to an increase in multiple births, which starts to put further stress on the limited resources. Eventually, a renowned biologist lobbies and successfully convinces the government to pass an act which makes it illegal to have more than 1 child per family. This is enforced brutally so that any second siblings are taken away and apparently put in a state of suspended animation, awaiting better times when they can be brought back to life.

Overall this movie has multiple themes but the one which gnaws at you the most is overpopulation and the moral implication of its control. In fact, even in a recent article in NewScientist, there is talk about the notion of imposing population control as a way forward:

“Future generations risk inheriting an overcrowded, suffocating planet. Taking action may mean what was taboo is now common sense”

Given the resources on earth are finite we can safely say that we cannot go on increasing in numbers forever. The maximum limit to which we can sustain is debatable and depends on how efficiently we can live on the resources. Poorer societies have higher population growth rates but richer ones are more inefficient in resource utilization.

So whats the solution?

In the movie, they take dramatic measures. For them, population control is seen as the definitive solution. Furthermore, they go about this in a very brutal and deceiving way. The story fabricated on the media is that siblings are being put into a cryo-sleep state whilst in reality, we find out that in fact, they were being tranquilized and then burned to ashes. All this was done for the ‘higher’ purpose and obviously, the stupid public wouldn’t understand this so it had to be done secretly. In the conclusion of the movie, although this treachery is exposed and stopped the movie ends without having provided a solution to the overpopulation crisis. And the last words of the antagonist are that stopping her measures was a huge mistake.

This movie also hints at (like some others) the underlying distrust and disconnect between the ‘public’ and ‘scientists’. The people see these scientists as being fundamentalists and elitists, who think they know concrete problems and their concrete answers (and it is only they who know because of their intellectual superiority). The scientist, in general, sees the public as being too stupid to look at the broader picture and to understand the intricate details and complexities.

Having said that, for this post, I’m limiting my interest only to the overpopulation problem and its moral issues. Here’s how I see it:

Without directly going to population control measures, we should first look at living more efficiently. What should be ‘imposed’ is an efficient utilization of resources. Hence, as consuming meat is much more wasteful and environmentally damaging, reducing and eventually stopping this should be a bigger priority.

It should also be made illegal for food to be stored in warehouses or dumped into the sea (as food corporations do) to ramp up the price and maximise profits. Any excess production of food should be given to poor and starving countries for free. The economy should become more resource focused. Sustainable energy and agricultural practices should be employed. All the above should be imposed before we can look at imposing population control measures. Once we reach our maximum level of scientifically possible efficiency and if still, the earth seems to be unsustainable we may move onto population control measures.

Though, I think with proper resource efficiency the maximum sustainable number of people would be much higher than is anticipated today. Most of our estimates today get too tied in with the geopolitical and economic situation. Some scientists make a practical estimate of the maximum limit being 10 billion people but this is usually tied in with the practicalities. I think they should also look at the potentials unhindered by the economics.

If we eventually do have to think about population control, can we impose it?

This raises moral problems. Killing children certainly doesn’t seem to be in anyway justified. Furthermore, who gets to decide whether this should be imposed? We certainly can’t take majority opinion as the way forward because humans aren’t homogenous, we have all levels of group affiliations and predispositions.

Imposition seems too difficult to be justified. The best way it seems is to stick with ‘suggestion’. Perhaps there could be some minor benefits attached to having a smaller family which would further encourage birth control. However, even these benefits should be weighed against the resource efficiency of that family.

If we were to become very concrete and autistic about it (as society, in general, does seem to be becoming) then logically there is a simple straight forward equation:

Number of children = N/Resource Utilization Index

Where N would be a calculated constant. The higher the resources a family is expected to use the lower the number of children they can have. This would automatically mean more birth control for richer Western countries especially the United States. Even more so for the wealthiest families, who may not get to have any children at all.

Such a concrete system might actually lead to reduced strain on the planet and a more homogenous distribution of power and resources. But would such a system be fair? It would certainly impede personal freedom. But is that really avoidable in any other scenarios? I’m not so sure.

Let’s say we do impose some kind of a population control system and make it law. What happens when someone disobeys it? Do we punish them just for having children!?

Lastly, looking at the difficulties this issue raises, I think it might be one of the few legitimate reasons for us to explore the possibilities of inhabiting other planets. In doing so we may be able to avoid such a dystopian future. All this is assuming we continue to remain and become more and more civilized as a species. Of course looking at history we can’t be so sure.

So what do you think?

Can You Know The Future? Scientific Evidence Confirms You Can!

Logical people and the scientific community have been scoffing at Psychics, Astrologers, Tarot readers, Palm readers and all other types of so called future seers, for quite some time now. As far as we know time only flows in one direction.

It would be awesome however if we were able to know the future before it happened. Imagine the possibilities and implications. Winning the lottery and investing in profiting shares would be top of the list. And what if we could know when and how we were to die (perhaps even glean beyond our death!?). We would be able to know so many of our itching curiosities like whether we are able to settle beyond earth, whether we do make contact with extraterrestrials, whether we make artificial consciousness etc. The possibilities are endless and wide reaching.

Alas, it seems to be scientifically impossible to do so. There is some possibility of traveling to the future (using high gravity or near light speed travel) but not of knowing it in the present before it happens.

But is it really Scientifically impossible to know the future?

Although that seems to be the prevailing paradigm it does not appear to be entirely justified. Much of the reason why the alternative isn’t a widely accepted concept is due to a lack interest and support from scientific ‘authorities’. Sticking to authority over evidence is not in the spirit of science but it is something we are prone to and must resist.

The evidence in favor of prophecy, precognition, and premonition:

There are decades worth of experimental pieces of evidence to support that we have an ability to know the future. The effects are not very large but they are statistically and scientifically significant nonetheless.

Dean Radin is a researcher in the field of parapsychology and a minor celebrity because of his many international talks on Psi Phenomenon. He has compiled a good list of evidence on his website.
Emeritus Professor of Psychology Daryl J. Bem is another researcher who has published articles, which are available on his website. In 2011 his research paper ‘Feeling the Future’ was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. His latest research (2014) a meta-analysis of the same phenomenon appears still to be under editorial review.

I have shared a few of these research articles below (not an exhaustive list):

  • Honorton & Ferrari (1989). “Future telling”: A meta-analysis of forced-choice precognition experiments, 1935-1987 [pdf – source DeanRadin.com]

In this meta-analysis, the researchers found a significant result after compiling trials from 309 studies, collectively involving 50,000 individuals. The number of trials amounted to 2 million. The purpose was to see if individuals could significantly predict the identity of a stimulus that was going to be presented to them, a few hundred milliseconds up to a year in the future.

This experiment (similar to many others) confirmed that we become significantly aware of a stimulus before it has been presented up to a few seconds into the future.

In this study similar to the above one a visual stimulus was randomly shown to an observer and their electrodermal response measured. The twist is that the response was measured prior to seeing the stimulus. Surprisingly the results were similar to as if the observer was already seeing it! Other possible explanations such as expectation, sensory cues, and other artifacts have been ruled out.

Another study which in 2 parts contributes some evidence and replicates other and earlier studies that the body (here specifically focusing on the heart) is able to perceive information from the future. They find that the heart gets involved before the brain in processing this information. The study also interestingly claims that females are more intuitively attuned to perceive the future compared to males.

  • Radin & Borges (2009). Intuition through time: What does the seer see? The journal of Science and Healing. July-Aug 2009, Volume 5, Issue 4, Pages: 200-211

This study is very interesting because it uses eye data prior to and during visual stimulus of different emotionality and valence. It confirms previous findings of a significant response. But it adds more depth to the findings in that it appears that the type of autonomic response significantly correlates with the emotionality and valence of the future image as well. So it appears not only that the body knows before hand that an emotionally charged image is going to be shown but also the amount and direction of this emotionality. Here again in the study, it appears females are better at perceiving the future.

  • Bem, D. J. (2011). Feeling the Future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 407-425.

Yet another replication of results of presentiment studies. Here they compare results of guessing erotic images versus non-erotic images and as expected the guessing rate for erotic images was significantly more than expected by chance. The guessing rate for non-erotic images, on the other hand, was similar to what you would expect by chance.

Here Dean Radin presents a thorough analysis of 75 years worth of scientific evidence demonstrating with high levels of significance the observation that we can and do know the future.

  • Tressoldi et al (2011). Let your eyes predict: Prediction accuracy of pupillary responses to random alerting and neutral sounds

This study is different in that they compare eye response to future auditory stimuli. Again the results are statistically significant.

The results are again confirmed. Interestingly in this study the authors found that higher quality studies revealed a greater effect size compared to lower quality ones.

  • Bem et al (2015). Feeling the future: A meta-analysis of 90 experiments on the anomalous anticipation of random future events

Yet another meta-analysis which pooled results from 90 studies across 33 laboratories and 14 countries. Again yielding highly significant results in favor of precognition.

There are negative studies as well:

As with most scientific results, there are negative studies as well. Researchers are not insensitive to these. One such study (which I found from Dean Radin’s website) is the following one:

  • Galek et al (2012).  Correcting the Past: Failures to replicate psi [pdf – source DeanRadin.com]

Here the researchers were unable to replicate the results of Bem et al (2011) – Feeling the future. However, (as the researchers discuss) the replications focused on only 2 of the 9 experiments conducted by Bem and only the paradigm of retroactive recall. Based on this they suspect those experiments had a Type 1 error but they do not have any evidence to reject the other 7 experiments.

Update:

I was pointed towards this study which is another negative study similar to the one above focusing on retroactive recall.

How come no one is talking about it?

cause and effectThese are extraordinary results. Even more so than questioning whether we need the brain for consciousness (as I discussed in a previous post). The weight of evidence seems to be there to support this claim as well (at least in my humble opinion). So why isn’t it shaking up our world view?

Being suspicious I suspect that we are trying to cling on to our old ideologies. Time is one directional and so is cause and effect. To have an effect, before its cause, is a complete inversion of our foundational assumptions.

Take an example:

A sound wave that had not yet been produced, arrived into our perception, was processed and produced an autonomic effect that we were able to measure. And then it was produced!

Such notions would dramatically change how we conceive what a sound wave is, indeed how we conceive everything.

What are (or could be) the implications?

Firstly it makes the study of consciousness and perception even more mysterious than it already is. It gives a hard blow to our current direction of studying these notions. In neuroscience, we generally think that sensory data comes in, it is processed and that leads to its perception. But it seems we are already perceiving (to an extent) before the sensory data ever had the chance to get to us let alone to be processed. This seems to show our field of perception probably extends into the future.

On the note of developing artificial consciousness, we are then also faced with the huge problem of being able to ‘program’ machines whose perception also extends into the future.

Secondly, as the results show some individuals are better at feeling the future than others (e.g. females) one has to wonder if some exceptional individuals would be extreme outliers and be able to perceive the future with a greater ability hence being truly psychic (this is obviously speculative).

Thirdly could this effect be exploited and exaggerated to become more useful to us? That would be very exciting indeed.

 

So what do you think?

Imagine A World In Which Humans Talk To Machines

Can you imagine a world in which humans talk to machines? Like we’ve all seen in so many sci-fi, futuristic movies, and games. These could be droids like C-3PO from Star Wars or the bartender from Passengers. Virtual artificial entities like in Mass effect or holographic representation like in the movie The Time Machine. It would be epic and cool, to say the least.

We are beginning to Imagine a world in which humans talk to machines:

This is exactly what artificial intelligence research is trying to do these days. There are a number of different AI programs that are already doing just that, for example, we all know Siri in our iPhones. Another one gaining prominence is Amazon Echo.

There is another interesting one I found online, this one is made by Existor Technologies. They have a number of interesting bots that you can talk to directly, these have responsive human Avatars that try to have a conversation with you. In fact, one of them is actually a chimp !. I’ve played around with them a bit and they’re pretty impressive.

Although I think we’re far from a world in which humans can actually talk to machines but the progress made so far is remarkable. The difficulty is when we speak in a more creative and intuitive sense. I find that these artificial intelligence programs have a big problem trying to understand this. It’s easy for the machines to understand simple language which has been pre-programmed into them. In fact using deep learning and contextual artificial intelligence they even go a step beyond that. This is done by learning the normal context to human speech and becoming self-learning (for more on this see my interesting article on Artificial Intelligence Basics).

But this does not seem to solve the problem (not yet anyway). I think the biggest issue is these machines have is that they cannot think in abstract and symbolic ways which like we do. It would be something to look forward to though if it were ever possible. So none seems to pass the turing test as far as I’m concerned. Not yet anyway.

(Photo credit: Brother UK)