And the answer is, I don’t know

The conclusion below comes from a very incisive article at ‘The Oil Drum’.

Whilst this Blog also does not have ‘the answers’ it always says to beware of ‘Snake Oil’ salesman selling ‘tools as solutions’. It also says that the solutions will be found in the ‘virtuous circle’ and the creativity and ingenuity of the human species. in the Deming Cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act.

This is simply because there is no other way of learning and continually improving. We may, however, be about to learn a very hard lesson on this road, as other societies have in the past.



I Don’t Know

Posted by Nate Hagens on March 21, 2009 – 3:21pm


In a society assailed from all angles with social and environmental problems, and information (in addition to gambling, pornography, and shopping) available 24/7 on the internet to increasingly ‘full’ minds, we are moving further and further away from a cultural ability to say “I don’t know”. Such an answer implies weakness, rather than wisdom, and someone on TV, someone testifying to Congress, or someone publicly asked for answers to our financial or environmental problems replying “I don’t know but I can find out and get back to you” would be quickly replaced by someone with a pithy, intelligent, or confident answer (with all three, they’d be branded an ‘expert’ and invited back). Only history will show that uncertainty could have played a much bigger cultural role than it has, and that the Precautionary Principle should perhaps have trumped the Planck Problem, instead of vice versa.

Campfire question:

How will the belief systems of scientists, politicians, civic leaders, average citizens, etc. converge on a ‘best path’ forward that integrates energy, economics, equity and the environment?

On the eve of the 4th anniversary of this website, whose mission is to provide a forum for logically and empirically discussing energy and our future, I’ll admit that “I don’t know”.

Full article at


Planck Problem – From Michael Shermer –How Thinking Goes Wrong

In day-to-day life, as in science, we all resist fundamental paradigm change. Social scientist Jay Stuart Snelson calls this resistance an ideological immune system: “educated, intelligent, and successful adults rarely change their most fundamental presuppositions” (1993, p. 54). According to Snelson, the more knowledge individuals have accumulated, and the more well-founded their theories have become (and remember, we all tend to look for and remember confirmatory evidence, not counterevidence), the greater the confidence in their ideologies. The consequence of this, however, is that we build up an “immunity” against new ideas that do not corroborate previous ones. Historians of science call this the Planck Problem, after physicist Max Planck, who made this observation on what must happen for innovation to occur in science: “An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning” (1936, p. 97).

Psychologist David Perkins conducted an interesting correlational study in which he found a strong positive correlation between intelligence (measured by a standard IQ test) and the ability to give reasons for taking a point of view and defending that position; he also found a strong negative correlation between intelligence and the ability to consider other alternatives. That is, the higher the IQ, the greater the potential for ideological immunity. Ideological immunity is built into the scientific enterprise, where it functions as a filter against potentially overwhelming novelty. As historian of science I. B. Cohen explained, “New and revolutionary systems of science tend to be resisted rather than welcomed with open arms, because every successful scientist has a vested intellectual, social, and even financial interest in maintaining the status quo. If every revolutionary new idea were welcomed with open arms, utter chaos would be the result” (1985, p. 35).



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