[FoRK] Brownback defines science

Jeff Bone <jbone at place.org> on Sun Jun 3 16:29:37 PDT 2007

Lion, if you will indulge me, I want to do a little pedagogical  
experiment here... purely as charity, you understand...

I'm going to give you a very simple set of numbers

	1		3

There, a very simple set --- two elements.  (The elements of that set  
are drawn from any of a number of larger sets --- oh, never mind.)   
Now I think you and I will agree that neither of those numbers is  
very "big."  I suspect even you know some numbers that are bigger  
than 3.  (Name some.  Here's a few to start you off:  pi, googol,  
192837465.)

So the above is a set of "small numbers."  Now let's contemplate the  
order relation among members of this set.  (In fact we say the set  
has non-strict linear orde --- oh never mind.)  3 is a "small number"  
as we've already agreed, but nonetheless 3 is the "biggest" number in  
the set I've presented.  The order in the set by magnitude is not the  
same as order by magnitude in all sets that can be constructed from  
elements of the same type.

I.e. "greatest threat" (among some set of threats) is not the same as  
"large threat" (in some absolute sense.)

Neither is "a risk of small probability" the same as "a risk that can  
be safely ignored" --- particularly when you're talking about  
existential risks.

Now I wonder:  in your esteemed if markedly innumerate opinion, what  
existential risks does the human species face that are more probable  
than extinction resulting from the actions of nuclear-armed religious  
fanatics (some of whom are in a hurry to usher in the End of Days?)   
Answering "I don't think extinction is likely" isn't allowed.   
Remember, we're making a list of extinction threats;  we're  
*assuming* the worst, and then trying to figure out what gets us  
there (in order to help mitigate the risk, or at least discuss it.)

Risks can be of arbitrarily small probability, that's okay.  You just  
need to come up with *one* that you think is more probable than  
nuclear annihilation stemming from some religiously-influenced  
conflict.  (An example might be a *non-religiously inspired* nuclear  
war scenario --- but then you have to convince me that global foreign  
policy and geopolitical tension isn't *infested* with religiously- 
inspired nonsense.)


jb


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