Using Human History as a guide Could Our Present Civilization Fall Into a New Dark Age?

Montero

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#81
@Elventine

Well.

Hhm. So, you don't have the time to find the data to support your hypothesis and don't have it to hand, yet you make sweeping statements about the flaws in science. That weakens your argument.

Funding - having re-read what I said and how you have read it I would like to modify my early statement a fraction. There is a lot of industrially funded research which is unbiased and no-one has any interest in "encouraging" it to produce a particular answer - industry wants to know the answer to "x" and one or more researchers are funded to look at x - PhD students are the cheapest option. There could be say a material science problem - how do this type of materials behave when exposed to the following range of conditions (which is what they'd meet during their service lifetime). The different materials and conditions are divided up into three year projects, various students work on the studies, reports are written, papers are published and at the end of the day the industrial sponsor has the answer on what is the service life of the various new materials and knows whether or not they want to bother to use them. All solid science, totally undramatic.
The fact is that as you said - most scientific research is done by and paid for by companies and people with invested interests in certain results and so hire people with invested interests in certain results. To make sure of getting those results. This is part of the biased that is fundamental to science.
No. Most scientists and most companies when they pay for research are looking for what is really happening. Yes, there are times when data is suppressed completely, or results are cherry picked, or conclusions are written that totally exaggerate the data. However other scientists can spot that. They can repeat the experiments and say "hang on, that didn't work for me". The system may not be perfect, or always act promptly, but there are lots of instances in flawed and deliberately skewed research being spotted and publicised. You have already provided links to that happening. Scientists found the flaws in the science. That is the system working.

Yes a source of funding with few strings attached would be brilliant. It used to exist in the UK as SERC, but it was closed down by the government as being too expensive. I think that was a whacking big mistake as at the time in impacted on blue sky research, but I do also understand if you have a limited pot of money, you can't do everything. I am not up on current university funding as I no longer work in that area. If you want science to have a large pot of money from the government, would you Elventine, be prepared to pay higher taxes to support it?

While I was writing this, Dave has written an even better answer than the one above. Go Dave.
 

Justin Swanton

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#82
@Justin Swanton Please do move on from the Middle Ages, but please let's not bring current affairs into this thread too!
Ok, but we then need to clarify the parameters of the discussion as the OP refers to past and present. Let's refresh his title and original post:

Using Human History as a guide Could Our Present Civilization Fall Into a New Dark Age?

How are we in the present like and unlike past civilizations that have suffered that fate ? What do you think are our vulnerabilities in this regard. And what would be the signs that we are entering a dark age? Are Darks avoidable or are they inevitable in the cycle of History?

So we need to define what a 'dark age' is. We need to establish the circumstances that precipitate a dark age, and we need to compare these circumstances in the past with present circumstances. Hence we need to talk about past societies and present society inasmuch as forces in those societies could drive them into a dark age. We also need to ascertain if dark ages are preventable.

The narrative took the turn that any age before the Reformation/Enlightenment/Revolution was dark and it seems useful to point out that that isn't true. If human society functions with reasonable stability - people can live their lives in peace - then I don't think you can call that society dark. If there there is a social breakdown that not only substantially reduces the material sophistication of a society but also seriously disrupts its social fabric in an ongoing way, then you have a dark age. So here's my definition:

Dark Age: any period in which human society is disrupted to the extent that every individual of that society lives with an ongoing fear of being killed, injured, despoiled or otherwise gravely abused. This disruption necessarily causes a marked decline in the material prosperity of that society.

Does that about cover it?
 

Vertigo

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#83
Feudalism is a concept historians have labored for half a century to eradicate. You can see with what success.
As an amusing little aside: when I bought my house in the Highlands of Scotland in 1997 it was under something known as Feudalhold or Feudal Tenure which meant that I had a feudal superior who could actually have some say in how the house was used (for business purposes for instance) and demand a feudal payment (something like a penny a year I think!!!!!). Rather bizarrely my feudal superior was actually the Forestry Commission!

This particular remnant of feudalism was only finally abolished in 2004.
 

Biskit

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#84
You don't need a court what you do need is some form of internal law that is upheld - As it is at the moment there sort of seems to be an attitude of "oops!" from the scientific community which is just sort of the wrong one when you are shown to have some major flaws in your system and people are starting to question the validity of all that you do.


It doesn't matter whether you call it a court, a tribunal, an inquiry - the minute you start taking action against someone there has to be some form of process, and all of that requires time and money.

Accountability would be a good step forward, more catches in place to make sure that it is harder to falsify research, and more attention put on ethical standards within the scientific world.
Again - time and money. No, the current system is not perfect, but where are the resources going to come from to police this.

Hold yourselves to a better standard!
What standard did you have in mind. So far as I am concerned, the standard is that you do your best, report what you observed, describe what you conclude from your observations. When someone falls short of that, there is an imperfect system in place to handle it. Probably no more imperfect than any other 'professional' sphere.

As for fear of prosecution. Who said anything about prosecuting people? A very American way of viewing things there.
I am very definitely not American. But, call it inquiry, review or prosecution, you have to have some process, someone making the accusation and the opportunity for the accused to defend themselves.

If the research turns out to be falsified - fire their ass's. Fire all who backed up that research - fine whoever funded it and right there and you will have a lot more accountability.

And first you have to prove the research was falsified. We're back to time and money. And some formal process, because if you start firing people without reasonable grounds, those lawyers will be queuing up with their no-win, no-fee contracts to take the case to an employment tribunal and demand damages.
 

sknox

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#85
As an amusing little aside: when I bought my house in the Highlands of Scotland in 1997 it was under something known as Feudalhold or Feudal Tenure which meant that I had a feudal superior who could actually have some say in how the house was used (for business purposes for instance) and demand a feudal payment (something like a penny a year I think!!!!!). Rather bizarrely my feudal superior was actually the Forestry Commission!

This particular remnant of feudalism was only finally abolished in 2004.
Good anecdote that I'm going to turn around to expand on my point. There were feuds (meaning fiefs, not fights between rival families) in the Middle Ages. That's well documents. Where historians object is inferring from that a socio-political system. There were feuds; there was no feudal-ism. Once you aver there was a system, then you start writing books about the system's rise and fall, and reasons for it, and you wind up with a fair number of misconceptions about the whole matter.

Hey Vertigo, my family will be traveling in Scotland this summer--Edinburgh, Pitlochry then over to Skye and back down the west shore. I'll wave to you. As a Knox, I figure I should visit the homeland at least once. :)
 

Vertigo

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#87
Good anecdote that I'm going to turn around to expand on my point. There were feuds (meaning fiefs, not fights between rival families) in the Middle Ages. That's well documents. Where historians object is inferring from that a socio-political system. There were feuds; there was no feudal-ism. Once you aver there was a system, then you start writing books about the system's rise and fall, and reasons for it, and you wind up with a fair number of misconceptions about the whole matter.

Hey Vertigo, my family will be traveling in Scotland this summer--Edinburgh, Pitlochry then over to Skye and back down the west shore. I'll wave to you. As a Knox, I figure I should visit the homeland at least once. :)
If you take the Northern route to sky, by way of Achnasheen and Strathcarron rather than Loch Ness, you would go right by my place and be welcome to stop for a brew. However Loch Ness is (obviously) the more popular tourist route!.
 

sknox

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#88
That's a kind offer, Vertigo. The route is going to be determined by family consensus, a force far more powerful than any mere mortal. :)
 

J Riff

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#89
yayadadyayada... You are actually approaching the end of the 'modern' dark ages, s'fars I can tell. The olde guard still have the reins, they really do, but are dying slowly but steadily, kinda like the British Empire, or the Communist Party or the Nazis or like that. Really. The only place left to go is into space, and since they are there ahead of you for the last 50 years, there will be some catching up to do. But then ! The light ages begin anew! Three-quarters of the world unemployed, but with lots of money, we may as well all become writers and artists huh? It will be great.
 

Tulius Hostilius

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#90
How are we in the present like and unlike past civilizations that have suffered that fate ? What do you think are our vulnerabilities in this regard. And what would be the signs that we are entering a dark age? Are Darks avoidable or are they inevitable in the cycle of History ?


Thought ? :unsure:

Civilizations are cyclic, a bit like the economy or even a Wall Street index, but, as already said here in other forms, I really think that the term Dark Age, or Dark Ages is… well dark… and in decay among the historians being substituted solely by Middle Ages, or more specifically to Early Middle Ages, that are terms more neutral and more adequate to the Mediterranean area, as in their own words already sknox and Brian pointed out.


Recently I even learned that the designation “Greek Dark Ages” (c. 1100-800 BC) is being contested. Fortunately history changes, evolves, as changes the way we look to it.


Anyway we should try to treat 1000 years of human history with less dark Hollywoodesque generalizations, because the term seems to persist more in the Popular Culture than in the Academia.


The Mayan Civilization in Central America around the 9th century, collapsed . Whole cities were left abandoned.

This is out of my area, but the Mayas didn’t really collapse around the 9th century, it ended the called Classic period, and some cities were abandoned. The Maya civilization continued until the arrival of the Spanish, and albeit in a different way there are still Mayas today in the Yucatan peninsula.


And, to answer to the main theme with my opinin, yes, I think that the human civilization has been constantly growing for some time, and sooner or later a crash, like in Wall Street, will happen. We just don’t know when it will happen and how many points the historical index will loose, pardon me the metaphor. Will that crash lead to the end of the complete obliteration of our actual global civilization? I don’t think so, unless someone discovers the launching codes and pushes the red button (is the button really red?).
 

Aquilonian

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#91
I don't think there have been that many total collapses of a civilisation- as opposed to long declines as in case of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires. For example when I was at school we were taught that the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was massively important and that it triggered the Renaissance, but in fact the Eastern Roman Empire had long since contracted to the area round the city itself, and the Emperor was basically a vassal of the Sultan. Same with the sacking of Rome in 410- that was a massive psychological blow- Augustine had to write a big book to explain why God let it happen- but Rome had long been of lesser importance by that time, the Emperors hardly went there.

Real total civilisation collapses need either an epidemic (Native Americans), an exceptional natural disaster (Crete), or an exceptionally efficient and brutal invader bent on total extermination (Mongol invasion of the Islamic Caliphate 1258).

I think in fact that our present globalised civilisation is in some ways more vulnerable than older civilisations.

(1) Due to ease of travel we are far more vulnerable to viral epidemics.
(2) Recorded human history has happened during a brief quiet period between ice ages, eruptions, and solar storms all of which would devastate the entire world economy.
(3) Present day food production is about 50% dependent on artificial fertilisers, most of which are derived from non-renewable ingredients.
(4) Increased reliance on the Internet brings an entirely new vulnerability to both deliberate and accidental damage, potentially involving total loss of knowledge as books and records become entirely digitalised.

What would not happen nowadays would be the total ruin of a civilisation by invading barbarians- there is too big a technology gap between the modern barbarians and the civilisations. This was not the case in ancient and medieval times when, for instance, the Mongols were in some ways technically superior to their enemies (stirrups, composite bows, and military discipline).

Nuclear destruction, much as people go on about it, is a very unlikely cause nowadays, because each near-disaster will have prompted new safety procedures against accidental or malicious launching. Would need a few decades of ramped-up paranoia on all sides to make it possible.
 

tinkerdan

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#92
I think I would agree that we lack a definition of what a dark age truly is.

I also believe that the dark age gets defined possibly by what we have lost in comparison to what we later gain or what enlightenment might come to allow us to surpass. And in that it would seem that we don't necessarily have to lose anything to declare a dark age--we just have to surpass what we have by some phenomenal jump or leap.

We see a dark age in the rear view mirror--after we pass through it.
 

Dave

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#93
(4) Increased reliance on the Internet brings an entirely new vulnerability to both deliberate and accidental damage...
In addition, I'd add mass panic. Look at what happened in Oxford Street, London in November when a simple fist-fight between two men, was spread via 'Chinese whispers' (a children's game) to become gunshots heard, and elevated to a terrorist attack involving a suicide bomber. There was pushing and shoving, and a crowd stampede in which people were trampled. Now, multiply that to what could happen world-wide with a flash crowd due to fake social media reports. Look at the recent nuclear attack false alarm in Hawaii. The possibility of nuclear war by accident (the film 'War Games') is a real and present danger.
 

sknox

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#94
I agree with Aquilonian, except I'd go further to say civilizations evolve, they don't collapse. It's actually small tribal units that are the vulnerable ones--any number of those have either been eliminated or assimilated.

Yes, the things people have suggested would be devastating. Millions, even billions, might die. But that does not mean civilization ends, for as long as there is a culture based on cities, there is civilization. And a city need be only a few thousand people.

The premise begs not only the question of what constitutes a dark age, but also how to distinguish between a collapse and a survival, and what we mean by civilization. Answering those questions is left as an exercise for the student. :)
 

SilentRoamer

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#97
Well as someone with a keen interest one of the things I haven't seen mentioned in this thread (I did skim most of it so apologies if I missed it) is the development of AI. Specifically I am talking about a General AI with a general cognitive function of human equivalence intelligence.

We already see advanced Machine Learning which we don't fully understand in many modern algorithms. A great example which a lot of people are familiar with is AlphaGo - now superseded by AlphaZero. Now for anyone not familiar these are Machine Learning algorithms, they write complex algorithms and learn by playing themselves over and over again, the reason Go was used specifically are the incredible amount of combinations which make it almost impossible for a classical computer to compute all potential variables (this was how chess programs used to work).

We are now at a place where the machine learning algorithms are learning faster than the science is able to keep up - I mean a machine can play millions of simultaneous games against itself in real time and learn from all of them at once.

However, the limitation arises that these only "play" the games they know, there is no general level AI, that can generalise across fields. However we have machine learning for pattern recognition (facial, speech and others), there are Google investment fund algorithms and AI being integrated into drones and other autonomous kill vehicles, Autonomous factories are on the increase.

To assume development of a generalised AI we only need to assume that:

1. Intelligence arises from complex information and data handling systems
2. We will continue to increase the complexity of our systems

The problem here is you only get a single shot to make this technology correctly, once created the AI Genie is out of the bottle. So we need to ensure that the AI goal alignment ties into humanity. Once the generalized AI is created human intellect becomes defunct, something with a generalized AI in an electronic system can compute on the orders of 1000's of times faster than humans. This means in a few weeks given appropriate computing power (I would expect a generalised AI to be able to utilise a large chunk of the entire worlds processing power) a generalized AI could surpass the entirety of human history and research and endeavor.

I think this is a very real existential threat to human beings and the single most important crisis on the horizon.

For good or for ill generalised AI will be the last thing we ever need to create.

For anyone interested there are some fantastic talks about AI on the Tedx website - not all as doom and gloom as my predictions thankfully!
 

Justin Swanton

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#99
I never thought of the Third Reich as tryin to bring on a Dark Age. Dictatorships come and go even in the best of times. Monarchies aren't necessarily evil or "dark".
The Man in the High Castle and Fatherland give a good picture of a Nazi dark age, in which the dictatorship (not a monarchy BTW) is evil/dark. This of course extends the meaning of 'dark age' from materially dark (poverty) and socially dark (anarchy) to intellectually dark (mental conditioning by propaganda) and morally dark (forced conformity to the State).
 

sknox

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And forced conformity could not be further from the historical Dark Ages (i.e., 500-900AD). Nor were those centuries unusually poor, nor intellectually dark. It may be worth mentioning that the phrase and the stereotype dates to Renaissance literary types who were pleased to sneer at anyone who had not mastered Ciceronian Latin and Attic Greek. Hardly a good yardstick for evaluating an entire civilization.
 

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