Sunday, December 17, 2006

Me: Crichton and 2006

In The Sunday Times today: me on Michael Crichton and me on the big ideas of 2006.


  1. Bryan, good piece on Michael Crichton. He's right about 'global warming'. Whatever it is, it's not based on science. A deeper knowledge than I have of mass psychosis and hysteria might throw some light on the extraordinary phenomenon, which I think has something to do with the apres eux le deluge attitudes of the 'baby boomer generation'. It is, as Crichton says, largely a scare story and I am convinced that when in future years it dawns on people that the world hasn't got appreciably warmer or the waters risen and engulfed them, they'll see how silly it all was. A bit like flat earth theories - although nobody actually believed the earth was flat it just suits the apostles of 'progress' to pretend they did.
    I'm dismayed and disappointed that you of all people should have swallowed this.

  2. Why dismayed, Philip? Global warming seems like a classic case of science getting it wrong in the first place. They're getting it right now. Oh and this was my 300th post I've just noticed. I feel very warm and happy, too warm obviously.

  3. Glad I'm not the only one who likes Michael Crichton! I got a drubbing on Genetics and Health last time I mentioned him.

  4. Very entertaining piece on the big ideas of 2006, Bryan. Always good to read a bit of noogony.

    However, in the final paragraph you say "networking, blogging, downloading, internet calls, gaming and God knows what else in 2007...consumes little energy. If we all spent our lives on the net and talking on mobiles instead of driving and flying, global warming would cease to be a problem." I would have assumed the same thing, were it not for an article in this week's New Scientist, (16th December, 'The Waste at the heart of the web', p26-27) which asserts that computers consume 10% of the electricity generated in the US, and that figure is predicted to double in the next decade. Web servers in the US consume more electricity than 1.3 million homes, it was calculated in 2004. The article goes on to examine some ideas to make server centres more efficient: each individual server currently has its own AC-to-DC converter (a 'rectifier'), and each one of these is very inefficient, generating lots of waste heat. Moreover, server centres tend to be cooled by air conditioning, which is less efficient than liquid cooling each individual machine.

  5. I love Crichton's comments on Harvard -- how his George Orwell was barely getting by! And he's right about a degree in English not being conducive to a career as a writer (at least, not in the last forty years where jargon-permeated literary theory has had primacy over the literature itself). Took me a couple more advanced degrees to learn that myself.

    _Next_ actually sounds like a decent book. I have no problem with page turners as long as the prose is not egregious (not like _The Da Vinci Code_, i.e.). At least with Crichton, you know his IQ is higher than his readers'....

  6. ...It is, as Crichton says, largely a scare story and I am convinced that when in future years it dawns on people that the world hasn't got appreciably warmer or the waters risen and engulfed them, they'll see how silly it all was...

    You wouldn't say that if you were in Russia approaching New Year with no snow - only rain and plus temperatures. Everyone is talking of nothing else.

  7. Interesting. I'm also rather literal-minded. I decided as a teenager that I wanted to be a journalist, and I therefore decided that I needed to do an English degree at university. This, however, was not at Harvard, or anywhere comparable, and I spent 3 years attending lectures delivered by lecturers who, for the most part, appeared to be slightly disappointed that they weren't at Oxford teaching proper students. The only highlight came in a scansion lecture when the lecturer illuminated a point by reading Shakespeare in the style of Alan Whicker: "To be or not to be, that IS the question!"

  8. Gordon. I'm amazed by those New Scientist findings. It was Jim Lovelock who made the point to me that these devices consumed very little energy. They should do, of course, but it seems the whole business is sloppily run.

  9. Well, to power the the electrical grid that the computers and servers and cables and so forth, that the Internet runs on, we still burn fossil fuels to generate the power. Hydro and solar are beginning to make a dent, of course, and hydro has been around for awhile, at least in some parts of the world, but the vast majority of electrical grid power is still generated by burning fossil fuels.

    Obviously nothing is quite as Platonically independent of everything else as we might wish it were.

    Speaking as a former geologist, I have to say that the geological record does support the theory of global warming. based on the evidence, it's happened before, adn will again. But so will another ice age. Did you know we are currently in an interglacial period? Yup.

    The methane thing is a contriburing factor to the overall mix, of course. But like the computers being powered from the electrical grid, it's impossible to separate it out, and just consider the methane alone. There's also the problem of the reduced thickness of the ozone layer, including an annual ozone hole over Antarctica, which IS growing in size. There's also the fact that the massive magma chamber under Yellowstone is filling with magma, slowly, and could be headed for another eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, which, based on the geological record, is well overdue for an eruption. Shall we also mention human overpopulation and the next big crisis, a worldwide lack of drinkable fresh water?

    Pick your disaster, I guess it the name of the game.

    My point is: the entire earth is a system, a system in balance, and even if you don't believe in global warming, you can't deny that human action HAS changed some of the balances in the system.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your interview with Crichton, and I think he has written two or three genuinely quite good novels; and a few that are, eh, not so good. He's always interesting to listen to, though.

  10. Bryan, one of Crichton's most interesting books was his autobiograhpical "Travels" in which he discusses his interest in things paranormal. One section which interested me in particular, and which I would like to get to the bottom of, was his attendance at a "spoon bending" party, in which he claims many people were bending spoons in the style of (the flaky) Uri Gellar. I have found websites that talk about these parties still being run in the States. If the evidence for paranormal metal bending is so easy to find, why is this ignored now? I suspect that the parties may not be as convincing as Crichton claimed.

    As for Gellar himself, I know that he is considered widely discredited now, and it is very hard to allow him the benefit of the doubt given his stupid claims since the early days. But my memory of some of his first televised key bending still makes me wonder how he could have faked it. When I saw the likes of James Randi imitate it, none of those demonstrations ever struck me as convincingly similar to what I seemed to recall Gellar doing. I also recall some people claiming metal keys which had stayed in their pockets being bent after meeting Gellar, and other odd examples of bending that occurred around him. All a type of mass delusion that the public has gotten over now?

    I would be curious as to what you think about it.

  11. Steve, I am, like you I think, sceptical but curious about all such phenomena. In my new book I go into my own experiences with a spiritualist group that seemed to have produced some amazing results and convinced some very hardened sceptics. I concluded the effects were not genuine. But the general assumption that all such phenomena had been exposed or discredited is wrong. Read the American philosopher Stephen Braude, who gives the most clear-sighted analysis of the various manifestations and concludes that some are real.