regarding bureaucracy

Part of frustration of cold fusion advocates is due to various bureaucracies or rather, the reaction of various bureaucracies to the claims of cold fusion. Therefore, I think it would interesting to note what a bureaucracy is, so that people can understand how bureaucracies work (or don’t work), and thereby how to engage with them more successfully.

A bureaucracy is a means of determining how resources, particularly economic and personnel, are delegated for non-economic values.   This is in contrast to a free market economy, which determines according to the market, how resources are distributed.  Most of what we have is a mixed economy, utilizing to some extent the free market, but also through regulation and other forms of government intervention, introducing non-economic values as well.

Probably the best known example of a bureaucracy that everyone knows a little about is a police department.  A police department is part of bureaucracy that determines justice in a practical manner.  A police department enforces the law (as opposed to the whims of a monarch or tyrant), but it does so with restrictions.  These restrictions not only apply to the manner in which the police department goes about its investigations, both in terms of focus and method, but also they apply to the limits to which the police department is willing (resource-wise) to go in their efforts solving a crime.

Forensic evidence specialists are not employed for simple burgleries.  The department may go into overdrive to catch a child abductor, but not a pick pocket.  We may think of justice as absolute, but in practice, there are relative levels of justice.  Resources are rationed and used according to legal and humanitarian priorities.  Anyone who has faced a simple break-in, is made aware that while there is much the police department could do (forensics), there is little that the police department will do, and given their limitations, that really is how it should be.  The motto is “to serve and protect,” but that is the attitude towards society as a whole, not necessarily toward the individual.

The police department is restricted in its focus to enforcement of the law as written up in statutes and through precedent, it also is restricted in the manner it does so through Miranda laws, search and seizure laws and other codes of police conduct, and on a more abstract level it is restricted by codes of ethics and a long tradition.  Most bureaucracies have that layering of rules that deal with others (external), with themselves (internal) and have a implicit or explicit code of ethics and a tradition.  The proper leader for a bureaucracy is not someone who is brilliant and innovative (although they may be brilliant in a fashion), but is someone who is steeped in that long tradition and therefore, can make incremental changes in it, changing it, but keeping the organization in line with tradition.  For a bureaucracy, change in itself is not a virtue, but rather is a normal process which is is only adopted when necessity calls for it.  Necessity is dictated by the internal rules of the organization, not by public need, although that in time can come to influence the organization as well.

The proper role of the police department, and indeed, in any bureaucracy,  is not in promoting innovation, but rather in providing a stable steady state coherent with the values in which people can get on with their lives.  The burden of proof for new ideas is on whether the bureaucracy’s criteria for introduction into its system, has been met.  For familiar situations, the rank and file can make a decision, for unfamiliar situations, if a decision is problematic, then it needs to go up the ladder, perhaps all the way to the top of the bureaucracy, or to an oversight commission.

The head of bureaucracy is naturally a very conservative individual.  By that I do not mean politically conservative, but rather they are an individual who has grown up through that bureaucracy, been steeped in its values, and shaped by its evolution.  A union representative is an example of someone who is probably more politically on the left, but quite conservative by virtue of the tradition and values of their organization.  The goal of a bureaucratic leader is to make changes where change is necessary, keeping in mind the philosophy of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,’ and ‘if you do not understand why something is there, then leave it alone,’ as opposed to the radical reformer who believes that ‘if you do not understand why something is there, then get rid of it, trim it away.’  This conservative attitude of leaving it alone avoids cutting away at the structure of the bureaucracy too freely and having unintended consequences come up and bite one on the back side.

All throughout bureaucracies, there is a cost/benefit analysis that occurs.  In a specific case, whether an expenditure is warranted as a means to achieve organizational goals depends on a cost/benefit analysis.  Again, this analysis is not so much in terms of what society wants, needs or deserves, but in terms of the societal values made concrete in the organization.  This is necessary in order inhibit undue influence on the process.  The criminal should not determine the law, even though he does have the most active interest in it.  Nor does the student determine the educational system, nor for their respective fields the employer, nor miner, nor the welfare recipient.  The scientist may be the greatest scientist alive in his field, but he still has to convince professional organizations, publications and the general public of that fact.  That is how a bureaucratic system works, ideally.

Realistically, the bureaucratic system not only says who is in, it also says who is out.  Bureaucrats are gatekeepers as well, they have opinions about the worthiness or the worthlessness of people at their gate.  It should be that they view anyone who has not gained entry in a neutral fashion.  Those inside are, by virtue of having gotten inside, a “plus,” and those outside should be a “zero,” neither plus nor minus.

Truth be told though, some people are able to get in through the backdoor, a student of an esteemed professor (especially one reviewing for a publication) is able to get in more easily.   Some individuals are favored because they have good credentials in something entirely unrelated.  The Sokal affair illustrates this nicely, where a physicist got something accepted in a postmodern journal, and then after it was published, denounced his own work as physics/postmodern technobabble crap.  He showed by his actions that he should not have been let in (and that was his goal achieved by showing that his former submission was crap).

On the flip side, there are some people that just don’t look right.  They don’t met pre-conceived notions about what science or a scientist is, they don’t know or care to play the bureaucrat’s game, and frankly, the bureaucrat is not interested in playing their game either.  The bureaucrat knows that if he gives someone the benefit of the doubt, it can come back and bite him when things go wrong.  On the other hand, if he excludes a good idea or article, or whatnot, it won’t cost him and it will come back eventually in some other form.  After isn’t that what progress says?  For a commercial entity, there is a profit motive to spur them on.  On the other hand, it is in the bureaucrat’s best interests to be a stern gate keeper.  At worst maintaining the status quo becomes its own reward.  The bureaucrat becomes set in maintaining his own niche which if we look at the thing from an “environmental” perspective, maintaining one’s niche is not necessarily all that bad.

Much of this essay is influenced by the thought of Ludwig Von Mises, ‘On Bureaucracy’  Von Mises was an Austrian economist who (unlike Keynes) foresaw the great depression.

Types of ignorance

I am going to talk about ignorance, so that in the process of doing so, we will all become a little less ignorant of ignorance;)

One might say that there are three types of ignorance. Ordinary ignorace which is the ignorance of not knowing something.  Ordinary ignorance can be answered with ordinary knowledge.  This knowledge is factual and except in particular circumstances, usually trivial.  By trivial, I mean that it is one thing to passively know something, it is another to turn that knowledge into action.  Ordinary knowledge gives an answer for ordinary ignorance, what it does not do is give a heuristic with which individuals can discover things by themselves.

Galileo's telescope
Galileo's telescope 1609

Willful ignorance is “a paradoxical condition in which we are aware there is something we do not know, but choose not to know it. It is assuming an ignorance when there is no ignorance.”  Think of it as someone putting their fingers in their ears and yelling, “la, la, la, I can’t hear you.” But it also is exemplified by Galileo’s opponents who refused to look into the telescope, or when they did, proclaimed they saw nothing. With ordinary ignorance. people are unaware of a topic but can informed.  Willful ignorance, however, is much more insidious. There is actually something (propaganda) blocking knowledge from forming.  In Catholicism, “propaganda” is for the propagation of the faith and that is what propaganda does, propogates a faith, religious or political or maybe cultural.  Propaganda is typical of a one party system.  In the American political system we have a variant on the one party rule, we have two parties trading off with each other.  We should not fool ourselves,  American propaganda is as strong as any other system of modern propaganda and more subtle than most.  The problem that cold fusion faces is not a matter of ordinary ignorance, although that is there too.  It is a matter of willful ignorance in different degrees.

Internal view of a cold fusion cell.
Internal thermos- sized cold fusion cell.

Some people do not have anything against cold fusion per se, they just don’t want to stick there heads up and get shot at.  And who can really blame them, one has to pick one’s fights.  Others bargain in bad faith, they presuppose the outcome of the investigation and want to stop it from ever happening.  Our society likes to think that the truth cannot be suppressed (and perhaps in the long run it cannot), but then some people diabolically reverse this and say that therefore, if something is suppressed, then it must notbe “the truth.”

Of course, the opposite can happen, people can believe in something because it is suppressed.  This usually traces a grand conspiracy back to the Templars/Illuminati/Trilateral commission etc. etc.  In a truly liberal society, there would be no suppression, and one could weigh such a topic more fairly.  With suppression, the issue can neither come to fruition, nor can it really show itself as empty.  With propaganda blocking the way one cannot realize an issue, nor can one, if it is a bad idea, let it go.  I tend to not believe in grand conspiracies.  Small ‘c’ conspiracies, yes, pettiness, arrogance and just sheer meanness explain alot.  Big ‘c’ conspiracies, not so much.

The third type of ignorance is learned or higher ignorance.  Nicolas of Cusa states that,”every inquiry proceeds by way of a comparative relation, whether an easy or a difficult one.  Hence, the infinite, qua infinite is unknown; for it escapes all comparative relation.”  Higher ignorance whether it be towards God or creation must be learned.  It has a sincerity to it, it is intellectually honest unlike willful ignorance.  As Aristotle said, philosophy begins in wonder.  Wonder is not an answer, but rather a question, the question, that uproots the self, along with everything else (aporeia).  Socrates engaged in that kind of wonder, although he focused only on the human realm, and shirked natural philosophy (physical world).

Galileo, on the other hand, engaged in the physical world with such wonder.  He formulated new questions where there previously had not been recognized topics of study.  Galilean moons, the phases of Venus and sunspots.  He saw them and asked about them before anyone else did.  He blew the lid off of the order of things and in the process the Church lost control.  He was not trying to make the Church lose control, he was just actively and openly looking at the world.  It is amusing to think that the Catholic Church lost control, precisely because the Church thought it had control, and that if the Church had not thought that it was in control (and tried to enforce it on Galileo and a whole slew of astronomers on the one hand, and Martin Luther and a whole bunch of reformers on the other), then the Church would perhaps still have control.  Like a song says, “if you hold on too tightly, you’re going to loose control.”

Pd-D cold fusion cell
Pd-D cold fusion cell.

We not only have different kinds of knowledge (as I’ve said before) playing off of the topic of cold fusion, we have different types of ignorance as well.  One type of ignorance, learned ignorance, allows the pure researcher to come up with new questions and thus also, explore new answers for cold fusion.  This type in my ‘book’ is positive in nature.  It is active and, ultimately, creative.

Another type, willful ignorance, blocks inquiry, trying to preserve an orthodoxy.  It is negative.  It is active, but rather than creating, it protects a rather limited vision of the status quo.  It is like a conservatism for past that never really existed.  It is reactionary and if we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that to some degree, it is in us all.

Last of all, ordinary ignorance is the ignorance of the individual not involved and unconcerned.  This type is neither positive nor negative in its nature because it is passive.  If it becomes interested, it becomes interested in knowing “that,” rather than doing.  Of course, there are all kinds of different degrees of involvement or openness inside these three types of ignorance, but you can figure out the different shade on your own if you desire.

Quotes and general background from James P. Carse, The Religious Case Against Belief, (Penguin Press, NY, 2008), 12-15.

back to the future: how to get a hint of the significance of a new invention

In order to understand the technological significance of an invention, it is sometimes better to go back into the past, rather than trying to project into the future.  Science fiction is horrible at looking what will happen in the future, with our limited imagination and limited understanding of the present, we are just no good at seeing around the conceptual corners occurring along the path of a new technology.  One thing that we are fairly good in seeing, however, is the past histories of well established technologies.  

Continue reading “back to the future: how to get a hint of the significance of a new invention”


What is the opposite of progress?  Congress!  I have nothing against politicians, just thought we’d start out with a little levity.  But seriously, I don’t believe in progress, I believe that progress can occur in what I’ll call a closed system, but as far as a belief that everything is getting better, no.  Some things are better, some are worse.

What will we have with cold fusion?  Well, for some areas things will be quite different, but I venture to guess we will still be human.  I do not know that for sure, if/when cold fusion comes in, we will change from being energy dependent on the sun, either directly or indirectly through burning wood/coal/oil, to being independent from the sun, a status that only nuclear energy has right now.

Continue reading “Progress”

Past and Future

We like to see ourselves as marching off into the future, heroic in our stance, “going were no one has gone before.”  But the fact is that we go into the future backwards, with at best a dirty, cracked hand mirror to guide us.  We do not directly look into the future, we can only look into the past and get a dirty, clouded reflection of the future.  We know where we have been, but we have an imperfect grasp of where we are going.  We can plan or predict based on the past performance.  That is our rear view mirror.  But we don’t know what is relevant to the future in the present or the past, and our awareness of life, the world and things in general is usually sorely lacking.

Usually, when you look at something chronologically, you look at in the past, present, and then future.  But, the way we really look at things is first in the present with a dim awareness of where we “are,” then the past which is where we have been, and only then into the future, which is where we are going, and which is seen but dimly through the filter of the past.

This cloudy mirror works through reason and rationality, there may be other levels of interaction with the world, such as instinct, intuition, artistry, etc.  With the mirror, we are re-acting to the world, in an imperfect way.  With instinct etc, we may have something more immediate, and at times glimpses of something divine, where true immediacy occurs, the event and the “reaction” are simultaneous.  My point here is, is that this cloudy, dirty mirror is not the only way we participate in the world.  It is though, the way that is important for calculating and guesstimating the future.

Plato believed that a navigator has a particular kind of knowledge, he could get you across a river, what he could not tell you is whether it was a good idea for you to go across the river, or stay on this side. The navigator’s knowledge does not extend that far.  A carpenter uses artistry (techne) to build a house, what he cannot tell you knowledgeably is whether or not buying a house is a good idea.  The government can give us all kinds of incentives for house ownership, but the fact is that we still cannot know it as a good idea.  For some people it worked out, for others it did not, but even for the people for whom it worked out, what they had when they made that decision was not knowledge, but opinion which turned out to be true.  They got it right, but they could not have known all the variables that went into the equation of whether or not it was a good idea. 

It should be understood that for Plato there is false opinion, true opinion and then knowledge.  In Plato, the bar for (true) knowledge as opposed to right opinion is quite high.  Knowledge is something that is rock solid, that will not let you down.  The impressions we get from the dirty, shaking hand mirror giving us the image of the future are not deserving of the certainty that Plato advocates with his term “knowledge.”

In my own rearview mirror, I don’t know if cold fusion will be a good thing.  I also don’t know if it will be a bad thing.  However, while I don’t know whether cold fusion will be good or bad,I do believe that it will happen, it will be a force in our future.  How close that future is, or how far away, I am not sure but it does sound like we are coming to a historical watershed.  It sounds like technologically cold fusion is just around the corner, but societally and culturally there are still obstacles which are obscure but nonetheless there.  

Caution, objects in the mirror may be closer than they seem (or they may farther away).  We have a problem with getting a perspective on cold fusion.  Ultimately, we cannot estimate how big its effect will become.  And when it gets that big, we will have difficulties in imagining how things were ever otherwise. 

We may wish and think of only good things for cold fusion, but the law of unintended consequences will probably in some fashion or another nip us on the backside as it does on all new technologies.  We should expect the unexpected, and not cry when the check comes due.  We will learn how to live with the new costs, as we do with the new benefits.  We have done it before, we have always done it with the introductions of new technologies, and we can do it again.  There are changes that happen in human life, but there are also constants like how we adapt to change, and that is good too.

Regarding belief

Since there is a new movie coming out soon on the cold fusion scene called ‘the Believers,’ I thought I would talk a little about belief.  This exposition does not necessarily have much to do with the movie, since I have neither seen nor heard anything about it.  It does, however, have something to do with how one might look at the movie, giving tools for how one might look at belief.

I see there as being two different ways of looking at belief. “Belief that,” and “belief in“. These two different ways are not actually quite separate from each other, but we will start off with this distinction.

“Belief that” is propositional knowledge.  One has (1) a believer, (2) a belief stated in the form of a proposition, and implied is (3) a warrant (or reason) for that belief. It is necessary that the belief is in the form of a proposition so that it might be expressed in the form of a claim or statement of fact.  That proposition is either true or false, and hence the belief in its content is true or false.  If that belief is false then the reason behind it must not be valid or, in other words, applicable.  The belief is true in this limited sense of being a true proposition if it is an adequate idea, in other words, an idea that is “equal to” the thing that it is meant to match.

For example, I believe that 2+2=4, I have a reason for believing this because of the rules of mathematics.  Any ordinary elementary school student could tell us that 2+2=4.  It seems like a “no brainer.”

However, I could be wrong and 2+2 could equal 11, if we are dealing with a base 3 number system.  Implicit in my initial judgement is the fact that we usually only deal with base 10 arithmetic.  It is not wrong that 2+2=11 and it is not wrong that in a base 10 system, 2+2=4, it is just that model of a base 10 system which is implicit in our everyday calculations is not valid or applicable for the base 3 calculation of 2+2=11.  Normally, however, most of our reasons for believing a propositional belief go unexplored, and normally that matches up quite well to the way the world works.  If it looks like a duck, chances are, it is a duck.

“Belief in” is not about the truth or falsity of a propositional claim.  The biggie of this kind of belief is the belief in God.  Belief in God is not a propositional belief that God exists.  One believes in God not because of the sum of the evidence, but because one reads the evidence in a certain particular way, from a certain perspective.  It is a way of structuring everything else, or rather, everything else in a certain ‘realm.’  That particular perspective reinforces itself, whether it is belief in religion or in science, or belief in little Joey.  A lot of “belief in” claims are vaguely defined and for good reason too.  ‘So you believe in science?’  Which type of science?  The basis for looking at the world from a perspective of Physics is quite different than the basis for looking at the world from a perspective of Chemistry or Biology.  How much or how little does your belief in science rely on mathematics?  The answer that one ‘believes in’ God or science, or little Joey is not the end of the questions, but rather often the beginning.

Philip K. Dick said that, “reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”  I am not a scientist, but to me there is enough evidence and testimony from various scientists to convince me that there is something persistent about cold fusion, something that “doesn’t go away” regardless of sceptics.  This not due to societal delusion, the inquiry into cold fusion has been a sincere interest of too many scientists from different parts of the world, for too long of a time.  It is not that there is cold fusion because people believe, but rather that we believe (or disbelief, it matters not the phenomenon) because there is a nascent phenomenon that, in our search to understand it, we call cold fusion.

I have suggested earlier that maybe cold fusion is a gift and maybe it is so.  Maybe there is no “downside” to cold fusion once it is developed.  A golden age is an attractive option, but I am more of the opinion that regardless of how good of a thing cold fusion will be, it cannot cure human nature.  We cannot see the problems, but that doesn’t mean that they are not there (careful: double negative).  Human nature will be that we will push things as far as they can go, and then a little further until they break.  No matter how great cold fusion will be, I have quite a bit of confidence that mankind will find a way to muck it all up.  That is not a reason to reject cold fusion (or anything else for that matter), mankind has that capacity with everything else as well.

btw ‘the gift’ is a topic of postmodernists like Derrida and Marion.

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