Monday, August 29, 2011

A ramble about physical sciences, human systems, and governance

Let's first lay down some basic assumptions:

  1. The physical environment follows physical laws.
  2. Biological systems are affected by the physical environment.
  3. Humans are part of the biological systems.
  4. Humans can affect the physical environment.
  5. Humans create and work within social realities.
  6. Human social realities intersect with the physical environment.
  7. Humans create social laws that help govern humans' association with the physical environment (i.e., social laws moderate basic assumption #4).
  8. Physical laws trump social laws.
If we take each of these statements as true, then we must also take the set of these assumptions to be true as well. Therefore, it follows that:
  • Physical laws impact biological systems.
  • Physical laws impact human social realities.
  • Human social realities impact the physical environment.
  • Changes to the physical environment caused by humans will follow physical laws.
  • Changes to the physical environment will affect human society.
These deductions -- made by combining different statements from above -- form the basis for a social expectation for ecological and physical sciences. Indeed, just as political scientists, economists, and public policy experts are called upon to determine impacts to governing systems, ecologists and physical scientists need to understand that physical and social systems are interlinked, and not only are they interlinked, but due to increasing technological capability combined with increasing human populations, the degrees of freedom within which to move are becoming evermore diminished.

Understanding that the region-scale physical sciences can provide a lot of insight into the workings of the social world, help anticipate some of the physical impacts of decisions that governments (or other social institutions) make that will affect themselves (or others) in the future is an important step for people to make. There are differences between "advocacy" and "informing" (although the line can often be a thin one), and while advocacy -- through various means -- can be problematic, especially since it often is led by a presumption and not by observation or fact. However, sterile information from a virginal white "honest broker" scientist figure is also problematic when viewed through the light of interconnection between social and physical environment.

Just as we all make decisions based on a lack of perfect information, so, too, we make decisions about governing, and it seems ludicrous to me that there should be a double-standard about moving forward on relatively very good scientific evidence that consistently supports one side -- so long as there is the will and ability to continuously test and determine the principles upon which those decisions were initially made. (You know: do iterative science!)

More rambling on this topic later -- no doubt.

No comments: