# [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

```