Sunday, October 16, 2022

The New Dark Ages

There has been wider conversation than usual on blogs I read about something I’ve mentioned several times over the years; that we’re not just headed for a global collapse involving much of (all of) the West, we seem to be headed to a second Dark Ages.  The talk has been centered on whether or not we’re already in the New Dark Ages (which I’m going to shorten to NDA because I expect to use that a lot).  The talk seems to have started with a post from Borepatch in turn referencing a post about results from the James Webb Space Telescope contradicting the “standard model” of cosmology, the Big Bang Theory (TBBT).  Aesop at Raconteur Report replies that he thinks we’re in the slide into the Dark Ages and that slide started in the mid-1800s.

Let me begin by saying that the dates of something like the (original) Dark Ages, or any period in history are arrived at by committee.  They’re no more absolute or valid by decree than something like the Big Bang Theory; they’re a consensus.  We will never know when the NDA starts (or started) but years from now, historians will assign a date.  

Both Borepatch and Aesop are right about the decline in science in the world and that it has been going on for along time, and I've written about it many times (for example).  Does that itself indicate the NDA has begun?   I don’t think so, in itself.  Yes, there has been a steady decline in new, important science compared to the early 20th century, but there are other explanations involved.  

A good starting point is to ask what science is.  I’m an extremely hard-core advocate of the idea that if an experiment can’t be done to test predictions, it’s simply not science.  By itself, that says extremely well-regarded things can’t be considered science; things like TBBT, the modern Theory of Evolution, the modern “Climate Change” hustle and many, many more.  These are supported by observations and computer models, but anyone who hasn’t realized those models can be made to say anything the author wants hasn’t worked around computer models for any length of time.  

Here, I fall back on a quote from a guy whom I’ve considered a role model since I first came across him around 40 years ago, Richard Feynman: “It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong.”  Like Feynman, I'm almost a militant experimentalist.  If it can't be demonstrated in a controlled experiment, it's not science, it's faith.  

As an example of the difference, as a design engineer in microwave communications, I spent literally days at a time simulating how a circuit, antenna or other thing would work before we built the first one.  These models are based on Maxwell’s equations, science that has been experimentally verified for over a hundred years.  The software was from independent, competing, software companies that would spend hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars a year improving their algorithms to accurately predict what these circuits and things would do.  They did this by designing experiments and testing how accurate the predictions were.  Remember, these are competing companies, and they used their accuracy as a selling point.  How much is spent on the climate change models and verifying how accurate they are by experiment?  Does anyone ever talk about verifying the models?  I’ve read they don’t spend anything on that, but don’t know for sure.  Their Global Climate Models are parameterized and the parameters are tweaked to agree with some measured data, which isn’t necessarily accurate.  They change the model to give them the answer they want but don’t necessarily know that the changes improved the model for all situations or just the ones they checked.  They’re not founded on established science.

That doesn’t mean that only physics is real science.  The vast majority of biology, chemistry, geology and the subjects taught in (what used to be called) “Colleges of Arts and Sciences” are science, but there as aspects that aren’t really science.  Math is real science because mathematical proof establishes that everything about it can be checked and is consistent.  Every kid knows (or should know) that any subtraction problem can be checked by addition, division by multiplication, and the ability to prove correctness carries as far as you care to go.  

Virtually all of modern medicine is improved by constant experimentation, although corruption has institutionalized things that haven’t been proven by experiment.  If an engineer did what some of these epidemiologists did with their correlational “he-who” studies we’d be doing hard time in Federal prison.  It can be hard to recognize when something sneaks into those academic programs that can’t be verified by experiment.  

Until some organization can replicate the conditions of a developing/evolving world, including tracking results for billions of years, I can’t consider it anything other than an observation.  Start with the best models of the just formed world and watch one for a billion years or two.  See if anything spontaneously generates.  Without experimental backup, I see no semantic difference between saying evolution selected for some characteristic and saying there was intelligent design.  Either way, you haven’t experimentally verified anything.  Except the first one allows people to feel better about themselves. 

The things that rely on real world science and application - engineering - are relatively healthy, still doing great and remarkable things, but a side effect of that is as the specialization of the knowledge required goes up, the number of people who can do it goes down.  Take microprocessors - a tremendous invention that has improved the world in uncountable ways.  Last data I have says there are only four companies on Earth that can work at the smallest current geometries.  Is another, smaller-transistor sized generation in the future?  Quantum processors?  Processor speed hasn't really improved in a decade or more.  CPUs were running at 3 GHz 10 years ago.  If Moore's Law was still running, they'd be running at 12 or 15 GHz by now.  The fact that they aren’t implies operating at that speed is fundamentally too hard.  What if to get transistors to 15 GHz requires massively expensive new semiconductor plants?  Further, what if the science that says that isn’t widely accepted as good science, and to do the experiment would cost far more than any company would be willing to gamble?  

Think of analog signal processing.  Yes, it still goes on and it's the same way.  There's a small handful of places that can do it.

While the semiconductor foundries are still big and still have many engineers working there, the number of designers that can design the entire chip is shockingly small.  The number in the world would fit comfortably in conference center.  

Can it keep going?  

The age of big construction projects and civil engineering projects is apparently over, mostly because of NIMBY reactions blocking it, and those are unfortunately too often linked to “junk science.”  Could a modern Golden Gate bridge be built?  A modern Hoover dam?  

The slow down in big new physics discoveries is tied to the expense and difficulty of getting to the energy levels they need.  The JWST discoveries depend on things that have never been done before - the size of the telescope, not just being in space but at the L2 point so that it can get down to the temperatures required to see those wavelengths.  I've read of creating particle accelerators so big they need to be put in space.  Will any country or society do that?  The increase in costs that hinder the advance of physics limit the giant construction projects.  

The other problem areas that come to mind seem to be education-related and I think with the news showing what a hot mess education is, I don’t need to say much.  I think of the bridge that collapsed at FIU a few years ago, apparently because of incompetent hires at some point in the process.  Add in the Boeing 737 issues and you wonder if everything gets higher risk and more likely to kill you.

The reason I’m reluctant to say the NDA has begun is because my threshold isn’t just that we’re not advancing properly or fast enough, it’s that the new people take the old inventions so much for granted that it’s not just that they don’t understand how to replicate them, they lose the idea that such things ever existed.  I think there’s a real possibility that relied-upon integrated circuits that are old can fall into that trap.

Years ago, someone had the story about a Roman villa that was unearthed somewhere in central Europe.  (Yeah, I'm fuzzy on the details).  Like the modern discovery of Roman mosaics, it was gorgeous, and one of the discoveries was the villa had a form of central heating.  The people who discovered it were puzzled to find burned marks on the floors in some rooms.  They came to the conclusion they were from fires set to warm the place.

The people who lived there a few hundred years after it was built not only couldn't run the central heat, they had no concept of what central heat was or what it could do, so they lit fires on the floor.  They knew nothing from their past.

We're not at that point exactly, yet, but I think you can see it in the future.   

Image from the movie "I Am Legend."  Not at all about New Dark Ages, but I think a Zombie Apocalypse would bring one.


  1. I was speaking with LSP this afternoon. He was discussing the devolution of the UK as a nation. It's not difficult to the see the same thing happening in the USA. We spend national treasure underwriting grievance studies degrees and equity issues rather than where the money could/ought to be spent. Global warming has become a cult as have a lot of other weird science matters. Supply chains that have held for generations are breaking down. Regulations make it impossible to make many things in the US that are critical to the infrastructure. Millions of undocumented, uneducated illegal aliens are welcomed to the US to vote democrat, receive obamacare, an obamaphone, welfare and housing. Who pays to educate their non-english speaking children? Educated people claim the inability to tell the difference between a man and a woman and declare that men can bear children fathered by a woman's sperm.

    It's a mess, SiG

    1. I can't dispute a word of that. Global warming and eco-freak mania are the biggest cults on the planet. It does nobody any good to patiently put up with protesters gluing themselves to roads, throwing paint on museum paintings or dumping milk in the grocery stores. It's a violent protest, pure and simple; they're getting others to bend to their will. "You will do as I say or I will inconvenience you, and keep you from doing whatever you want" isn't the same as blowing up the WTC, but it's not open debate and discussion. At best, it's a protection racket, like the old mafia stories. "we wouldn't want something should happen to your painting" or "you should have to pay for milk we dumped."

    2. While its not helpful to say I saw the writing on the wall upin my first reading of Carson's, Silent Spring, I'll say it anyway. BTW: that was mid-1960s.

      Not that I make claim as prophet but that I had grown up in that curious interpositon of actual research scientists and the governmental liason. The BS was more easily discerned then.
      The Population Bomb, 'peak oil', and such built higher the edifice to mammon.

  2. Read a book some years ago, "The Collapse of Complex Societies" by Tainter. To me, the takeaway was that these societies collapsed on the basis of the consequences of their solving issues based on society. How does a lawmaker do that? Not with science, but with laws. So, a law has (bad) unintended consequences? Solution: new law! Also, with (bad) unintended consequences. Remove the laws that constrain us, and we could be building dams tomorrow.

    Science is always easiest at the dawn - there's so much to be discovered just sitting there, on the ground. After a while, though, those nuggets play out, and digging (and synthesis) become harder because of many of the issues you mention above - bigger, colder, farther, more energy, etc.

    1. Interesting. Im my experience high reliability organizations (health care, aerospace, etc.) fall into the “new laws” trap, where as a result of a failure, new “laws”, that is added processes/procedures are implemented - and these have unintended consequences, some as simple as additional costs and schedule, but also in increased complexity and other new failure modes. Eventually the system locks up, or needs to be rebooted to be viable. Startups in these cases can have tremendous advantages of existing organizations (see SpaceX vs old space).

      Modern society has fallen into the “high reliability” category - all risks are to be avoided and safety for everyone is highest importance. Take a look at modern playground equipment - even 15 year old equipment is replaced because the designs are not safe enough. I think our societal risk avoidance mindset may also contribute to the onset of the NDA.


    2. I think that the effect of the lawyers, and their selling point that no risks are allowed in the world, on bringing society down is an important point that I completely missed. That's overly simplified in that the lawyers couldn't do anything without customers demanding it, but a good example is NASA. Arthritic bureaucracy. They wouldn't be doing anything without new space.

  3. Stunningly good, SiG! I agree 99.99% with you. We lost the will to build Big Things some time ago. Looks like we're losing the skills, too.....very sad.

  4. Plenty of reasons why science is being murdered. One is that science doesn't care about feelings. And the idiots in charge want "the feels" to count more than anything else. Hanging everything on emotions allows them to control and manipulate more people more easily. Science doesn't allow for that. When you wonder why something is happening the safest answer is always Money/Power. The two are inextricably linked.

  5. A number of years ago, a Scandinavian philosopher started referring to the direction society was going as "The Endarkenment" - control being pushed to higher and higher levels, so that the elite would once again rule over peons.
    Funny thing: coming out of high school I 'believed' in evolution but took a few college classes where it was being taught as fact and I was surprised at how full of holes it was, even though the professors were hand-waving past those items.

  6. It seems prescient that "Soylent Green" is set in 2022.

    After some 50 years of reading and rereading "Number: The Language of Science" I am starting to have doubts about mathematics. Your comment "Math is real science because mathematical proof establishes that everything about it can be checked and is consistent" seems to contradict "Like Feynman, I'm almost a militant experimentalist." What experiments prove mathematics? I don't have problems with arithmetic, rational numbers, etc. But a lot of the math of irrationals, transcendentals, limits, etc. involve one of two similar ideas: that anything done once can be repeated infinitely, or between any two points an infinity of points can be found. All involve infinite process, but no process has ever been done infinitely. Nor will it ever be done in less than an infinite amount of time. Perhaps there is a smallest delta of time or space, between any two distinct points A and B in spacetime, there are no other points, just A or B. Clearly a lot of modern (and not so modern) science would be rendered moot.

    1. Math isn't a science, which is why one always speaks of math and science. I disagree with SiG on this one.

      Mathematics is a carefully constructed, logical language to describe ideas and relationships. Science is fundamentally observational, where we seek to understand what and why, whereas math is a created tool, to give us relational models with which to comprehend what science tells us.

      By the way, "infinity" is the most difficult and interesting concept we've ever thought about, but it's not necessary to question its existence. It is there because we have defined it to be.

    2. My mistake was viewing the proofs that are required before theories get widely accepted as being equivalent to an experiment.

      You're right about the difference between logically consistent and experimentally proven. My bad!

    3. No worries! It's a common misunderstanding.

  7. Okay, gonna put my two cents in here, and I'm gonna break out my Cold War tinfoil hat.

    Funny that 'science' in the USA went sideways about the time the Soviets started investing heavily into our college system, starting in the 30's and escalating post WWII. Same thing they did with Education and with Journalism they also did to the sciences.

    At the same time, the Soviets were heavily investing in liberalizing politicians and other idiots-in-power.

    Didn't one of the Soviet premiers say they were going to bury the West by doing just this?

    And the simple answer is... Push back. Burn the left-tards in their high-end hovels (that are, curiously, located in 'sanctuary' areas that don't allow new illegal aliens in, only allow the old illegal aliens to work in the 'sanctuary.')

    Where Aesop gets 'science started dying in 1800' stuff is very questionable. We've been accelerating science since we (humans) first started sciencing.

    The new Dark Ages are due to non-science bullscat being heralded as science. Due to the deliberate pulling down of Western Civilization by intellectual barbarians.

    1. You could almost say that the Soviets sowed the wind when they gave the wherewithal to increase the odds of Democrats taking control of the US, and now the Russians are reaping the whirlwind in the Ukraine. It would be nice if we could get less involved in foreign entanglements.

    2. And that's why I place its genesis far earlier than that, when the ideas that led to the Soviet system started getting published. Marx, Darwin, et al are the foundational building blocks and necessary precursors of the Endarkenment.

      Soviet investment was merely a second- or third-generation follow on effect.

      It also proves that there are no ideas so stupid that intellectuals won't latch onto them like leeches, for life.

  8. People say "Dark Age" because they believe government is a necessity for prosperity. But when government destroys its own logistical tail by dollar hyperinflation, what will follow is liberty, then prosperity. All the street criminals will be shot in the act by the victims because there will be no government enforcers to stop them. Spending on war and welfare will stop. NIMBY will end. With government mandated inefficiencies no longer enforced, the cost of living will go down by a factor of ten.

    The cost of rockets has shrunk from a national budget to a company with 1,500 employees. A manned rocket is today a crowd-funded hackerspace project at When the EPA, NASA, Cheyenne Mountain, etc. all dissolve after their employees stop getting paid, how many more rocket company will be started? Or, how many chip fabs will be started by people who do not want remote management backdoors in their CPUs?

    I think the analysis error that concludes "Dark Age" is called static analysis -- supposing new conditions and groundrules but not imagining people adjust their behavior to them.

    1. The critical thing is that we don't lose the knowledge. As long as the methods are recorded and not destroyed, people can learn how to build things again. I was heartened to learn that there are "makers" out there who are designing and building their own integrated CPU chips in their garage.

    2. Wow Anonymous, you have a REAL different view of the past than I do! The last "dark ages" was a time of warlords, unrest, hunger and walled cities. A time when getting enough to eat and not getting killed was the goal for the day.

    3. Human historical reality is a faster-than-exponential growth curve of technological growth, which produces prosperity when people don't obey politicians. This technology is never going to be lost; even the Lucifer's Hammer story didn't predict the loss of technology.

      This time around I also expect to see warlords, unrest, hunger and walled cities, when getting enough to eat and not getting killed was the goal for the day. But achieving those goals is enormously easier now, and only the liberal parasites will be hungry. How many CO2 blinding lasers do you have to mount like pop-up sprinklers before your walled city becomes unattractive to attack? You don't have to win, you only have to make the attack cost more than it will gain. Take off the automobile license tags, leave the cell phone tracking device at home, turn your fiat dollars into gold coins and stop paying the bad people to oppress you.

    4. The coal, oil, gas, and uranium is still in the ground in North America. There is no global warming, no bioweapon disease, no crop disease, no glacier on Chicago, no water shortage that isn't man-made. The new space telescope shows no invading fleet of space monsters. The evil fraction of the population can't even pick a figurehead who can make a speech, and their everything-industrial-complex is about to collapse from debt. What are you afraid of?

      The history of technological growth follows a super-exponential curve, with flat spots where governments ban progress, then a pop-up to the trend line when government loses its grip. That liberation is about to occur. You should be looking at maps of Mars and figuring out where you'd like to colonize.

    5. The dark ages was the time when light went away.... you are just trolling.

  9. The British Redcoat army, evangelical Christians bombing abortion clinics, or the KKK can only exist when they are backed by a much larger army and tax base. Because without the occupying army of the government police, the smallish group of easily-identified attackers are destroyed from ambush; and then their well-known leaders, and so on.

    I think the Dark Agers are using a military viewpoint that is medieval, where the trained enforcer on the horse cannot be meaningfully opposed by the peasant, who can't afford the weapons or the lifetime of training to use them. This is not the reality of today where everybody has guns of equal power.

  10. Science isn't a tree that branches and builds, it's a bush with infinitely dividing stems. One little discovery opens infinite branches to be explored.
    Look at the lid to a jar of mayo. It used to have a gasket, now it has little ridges built into the lid that seals much better. That plastic itself led to a thousand new things, and the lines in the lid led to a thousand new ideas.
    To think that science isn't bursting at the seams just means you aren't looking at all of the facts.

    1. Which has led to mRNA pseudo-vaccines, gene-splicing that's led to frankenviruses, gender-bending "transitional" surgery for pre-adolescents, toxic substances with half-lives measured in geological eras, and on and on.
      Utopianism as a serious suggestion was ridiculed into non-existence by around 1950.
      Science is bursting at the seams, all right, as always, but there's a plague for every panacea, and a poison for every Pandora who opens the Box witlessly. That's about 90% of them, anecdotally.

  11. 'A fool says there is no God', when we refuse to to consider God in our lives we become fools chasing evil imaginations.....TeX

  12. I have seen NDA up close and personal, and it is the outward symptom of a sick and dying society. Growing up I was steeped in the idea that education and learning was a good thing unto itself. Yes, it would enable you to get a better job and more pay, but society itself looked favorably upon the simple idea of expanding a person's grasp of the world around them.
    I am a Special Forces Weather Forecaster. I served for 25 years, and saw first hand the folly of an almost religious worship of computer forecast models.
    Garbage in garbage out.
    But the most shocking thing I saw was in recruiting new members. Our unit was authorized 18 positions and we were always short. I was medically retired in 2010 and for the last five years I searched the local area (only a six million population center) for candidates that could be trained...In five years I was astounded at the number of honor's students from public schools who not only had no basic knowledge of weather, but couldn't even identify where they were on a globe.
    They disbanded my unit in 2017 because Special Forces Weather personnel are expensive.
    I have seen the NDA, and if it hasn't officially started, then the curtain is about to fall.

    MSG Grumpy

    1. And yes, every single one of the public school "Honors" graduate students when asked about what they knew about weather could spout chapter and verse of the Global Warming/Climate Change Science like they were reading a script...Yet gave blank stares when asked what clouds were made of...

  13. I will argue that math is a branch of logic in the philosophy department. It doesn't have to be true, it just has to logically follow from arbitrary principles. That it is useful in science is unquestioned. But not all math is true or useful. (See the 50 year distraction of string theory.)

    Physics started going downhill when Bohr cowed Einstein into accepting "because it's magic". "Shut up and calculate" is now the leading explanation of quantum theory, no understanding required, no questioning accepted. Bell's Theorem (2022 Nobel Prize) is a hot mess with complex math (and a lot of money, prestige, and institutional inertia) backing up the illogic.

    1. Physicists and engineers have a lot of fun in classes when some mathematical model is used to describe a physical process, and then the model is presumed to be the thing. And that isn't even internally consistent, as in if you ask "where's the physical manifestation of the complex solution to that equation?" and the professor just says "well, we just don't use that part"...!

  14. I'm just some guy, nobody special, and if there were a real NDA I would not be able to see through the political superstitions of HotColdWetDry, notavax, etc. But I can. I would be making campfires on a floor built for central heating, but instead I'm doing CNC on steel.

    The NDA was when everybody believed whatever the CIA wrote for the three television networks, Kennedy's campaign lie of a missile gap with Russia, and that the US Navy was militarily competitive after the Cuban missile crisis (defeated by a submarine). We are actually emerging from an NDA.

    1. Limited Sampling Fallacy:
      Cherry-picking history to exclude 8 gazillion contraindications of what you describe makes a poor case.

  15. Another chip in pile worth a look:

  16. I don’t think we’re are collapsing as much as being deliberately ruined!
    On the climate models, I will possibly believe them when and only when! They release the original data, release their emails where they discussed said change and stop fighting in court the above mentioned releases. Until then it’s suspect in every way!

    I mean this is the old saw - if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to worry about!

  17. mynamiseli
    I believe the Tale of The Tower of Babel is metaphorical, that people like to imagine it was an event occurring in some olden time. How would it be told differently, it if were not a metaphor for the condition of man?
    Furthermore, I believe it was the most recent Dark Ages that made the science we are familiar with, and United States, possible. That it took the period of the Dark Ages to more completely destroy the State into little fiefdoms that could then allow and even foster new growth.
    I would agree that modern science was developed in the mid-19th and reached peak (tower reaching god's home) in the mid 20th.

  18. Physics has been in trouble for decades.

    The reason that the large hadron collider is on the French/Swiss border is because Congress wouldn't authorize funds to pay for it. (A waste of money) This was even though Texas was willing to dig the hole near to the one of the Texas state universities (Austin?)

    There are more reasons that it is in trouble, but that was enough to tell me that getting an advanced degree in physics was not great plan.