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Miles Kelly
Miles Kelly

The Sunflower: On The Possibilities And Limits ...

This is a great book, one of the best I have ever read because it poses a moral dilemma which really makes the reader think from cover to cover and beyond. It poses the question of the possibilities and limits of forgiveness. A dying SS trooper in Auschwitz asks Wiesenthal for forgiveness and Wiesenthal cannot bring himself to grant it. The book continues by asking many famous world celebrities "What would you have done?" Fascinating reading!

The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits ...

This revised text includes the symposium in which 53 commentators offer insight on the "possibilities and limits of forgiveness." It can be easily excerpted for any lesson or unit under a theme like "Tolerance and Intolerance." It is my second most useful text for this theme.


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Robert Bryce 0:04 Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I'm Robert Bryce. In this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I'm pleased to welcome back to the power hungry podcast my friend Jesse. Awesome, Bill Jesse, welcome back to the power hungry podcast.Jesse Ausubel 0:17 Robert, good to be back.Robert Bryce 0:19 So, Jesse, you know, you've been on the podcast, I've warned you, you're going to introduce yourself, you have about 60 seconds, please introduce yourself.Jesse Ausubel 0:28 I work in Environmental Science and Technology. The first decade or so of my career, I worked mainly for the US National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering in Washington, DC, with occasional forays to Vienna at some cold war adventures at the International Institute for Applied systems analysis. And in in Austria, US Soviet Think Tank. And for more than 30 years, I worked at the Rockefeller University here in New York City, I'm director of the program for the human environment. I both do research, I'm still working stiff. Still, publishing papers have papers in review. And I also manage research projects. And I've managed some big, complex global environmental projects, trying to count all the fishes in the sea, for example. My interests are environmental on the one hand, ecological trees, fish, climate, human population, but also I'm very interested in the history and evolution of technology that bears on the environment, technologies for farming, for mobility, for for energy, and I'm a little unusual, and that people tend to be either on the sort of green ecological side or more on the engineering side. And I've kind of pursued both together.Robert Bryce 1:46 That's a fair estimate. So Census of Marine Life, the new Edna project, there are many I won't list them all. But let's just recent history, you won the Nierenberg prize. previous recipients have included David David Attenborough and Jane Goodall. That's pretty flattering. I mean, how does that feel?Jesse Ausubel 2:05 Well, it's the biggest recognition I've received in my career. And so it feels great. We just had a, an event out in La Jolla, at the University of California at San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography in October. And I talked about some of what we'll talk about in the in the next hour. And I would say the recognition came for, on the one hand, have, you know, some inventive ideas, but also trying to do science for the benefit of society, trying to do things that not only I'll say, alerting people to dangers, but also trying to point out some solutions and ways to make things better.Robert Bryce 2:52 Good. Well, let's talk about that, because we spoke briefly about how you want the things you wanted to talk about before we started recording. And you gave a lecture in, in accepting the the Nierenberg prize, the title is peak human question mark, thoughts on the evolution of the enhancement of human performance? What is peak human?Jesse Ausubel 3:13 People certainly are familiar with the idea of peak oil that sometime around now or in 10 years, or in 30 years, or at one time people leave believe 30 years ago, consumption of petroleum would peak we ourselves have worked on that I've also worked on the question of peak farmland is the amount of arable land used in the world at a peak? And so I posed the question of peak human with several dimensions. On the one hand, are we as machines, if you look at us a little bit like light bulbs, or automobiles? Are we at or near a peak? And collectively, peak, Poppy human population? A lot of people think that human population may peak later in the century. So could we be at peak humans? And then of course, as an American, I'm interested in, in the US, and in particular, what's happening to the 330 340 million Americans? Are we in some way, peaking. So in the lecture, I tried to use some of the interesting long time series that we've developed for looking at things like the evolution of agriculture, or the evolution of, of transport, to look at at humanity in the way that we might look at hat at cars or computers.Robert Bryce 4:33 Well, you were graciously shared your slides with me then in from your lecture and a lot of these things that you're tracking and I'm you know, I'm a sports fan, although I've quit you watching television, but I'm still a sports fan. And you fit a lot of these these trends on to S curves. So I want to come back to S curves but you specifically focus in in your lecture on four dimensions of human performance, the physical that is how far how fast can people go? Lifetime, how long do we live, et cetera, cognitive and immune systems. Can you walk us through those? Because they're, I mean, this is, these are big ideas you're talking about. And I know we only have an hour here, but walk us through those different is that the structure that would work the best to talk about those four? Or is there a better way to approach this?Jesse Ausubel 5:12 No, that's great. I'm very grateful for the opportunity, because these are a new set of ideas. I hope some of them will soon be published. But I don't think anybody else has ever really written or thought about this very much. So it's I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to talk about it, get feedback and see how people react. All surfed? Yeah, well, if you think about, you mentioned, you're a sports fan. And obviously, people are very familiar with the idea of peak performance from athletics, the Olympics, so to say or marathons. So that's our framework. That's the first part of our framework. And then another question is, as you say, how long do people live sort of things that are your eyesight, you're hearing things that are associated with your, your lifetime. And then a third area is IQ and things like that, you know, How smart are we how literate, and then the fourth area that we look at very important, obviously brought to the foreground by COVID, is how resistant are we to, to, to illness, disease problems. So that's our framework, these four areas, and then we were willing to look at all the different ways people may enhance their performance. So these could be who your parents are, who you whom you marry, how much sleep and rest, you get training and education, use of drugs, use of better sneakers, all kinds of things. So we are completely open to a very broad spectrum of the ways that each of these things, each of the the eight or nine or 10 different ways that performance can be enhanced.Robert Bryce 6:58 Well, and so in that includes what since we, you know, we mentioned sports, I'm thinking about Lance Armstrong. And there's a very interesting part where he in the in the, in the lecture, you talk about human potential is much higher than human performance. And you you have a slide in your slide deck where you talked about the energy density of humans, which you helped me understand very early on power, the importance of power, density, energy density, and you say, it's three watts per kilogram. That's for humans, I in my last book, and my fifth books, smaller, faster, lighter, denser, cheaper, I talked about makayley Ferrari, who was the one who helped Lance Armstrong cheat. And Ferrari said that for cyclists, elite cyclists, they have to have energy density twice at 6.7 watts per kilogram. So anyway, it's fascinating to think about human output in watts. But can you walk us through that physical part, then the you know, and how that especially like the 100 meter sprint, which is when the Olympics is one of the most famous competitions in, in, in our culture with? Can you talk about that specifically? Or what part of that we want to talk about?Jesse Ausubel 7:58 Let me just preface that briefly by saying what you point out is very important. First, were we within the human population, of course, there are going to be some people, let's say, who were six watts, and some people who were three watts, so so so there's a spectrum within and you can go up by training and so forth. So there's the question of how we compare to one another, and what the averages are and what the, there's the, the average and the the peak in the sense of where the average, you know, are people on average living 70 years or 40 years. And then there's the question of the Methuselah. And the same is true in all these areas I'll speak about and then there's the question of how we compare to machines, of course, because for a long time, there was no alternative. But you know, then horse Hauer came along, I mean, we we harnessed, you know, oxen and horses, but in the last 200 years, of course, on the physical side, you know, we not only ran faster, but we invented cars and airplanes. Okay, but let me go now to the to the, to the, the the Olympic type events, like the sprinting that you talked about. And, of course, you know, the Olympics go back to Olympia in ancient Greece 2500 years ago. But they got really organized around 1900 or so. And so we have lots and lots of records of human performance since about 1900, for things like running, jumping, swimming. And what we see is that in these areas, there's been just an incredible enhancement of performance. So you can think of it this way that basically, if the Olympics are going to happen in four years, you could always expect that a lot of new records would be set. And those might be set for because people had better training, or because better and better coaching, or because they had better sneakers, or because we were drawing the athletes from a bigger pool. You know, for example, Jesse Owens, African Americans or you know in in marathon running the Ethiopians and the Moroccans who are have Good lungs from working and living at high altitude. So there are a lot of different ways. But if you look, it doesn't matter which activity you look at, there's been this incredible improvement relative to 100 or even 200 years ago. If you go back in something like bicycling, you mentioned Lance Armstrong and Austin, Austin boy. There was a sort of 100 Year s curve of improvement in bicycle riding bicycle racing, culminating with a Belgian named Eddie mercs in the 1970s. And so you can think of all the bicyclists in the world, in a sense is a single cognitive formation, you know, it's like the, it's like the peloton of cyclists. So in a race, all of these people are, you know, they're learning, you know, is it a better bicycle? Is it the way I bend on the bicycle? You know, is it the exercises? You know, is it the is it the drugs, I take whatever. So this cluster of, of, let's say, a few 100 Top cyclists around the world, we're pushing all the frontiers collectively, and behaving as in a sense as one organism like one sunflower in a sense, and going up this S curve, and really improving the performance. And then there was a second, so there was one big pulse on the bicycle racing. And then there was a smaller one that began around 1980. And this is sort of another pattern that we see whether it's sprinting, again, there's a big improvement. But then in the last 20 years or so it's gotten harder to win gains at these physical kinds of things.Robert Bryce 11:33 Because we're reaching the limit of the absolute limit, whether it's EPO or steroids or whatever elite reaching. I mean, this is you've I remember very clearly that Jonathan Vaughters, I believe is his last name, he, he's now a cycling coach, if memory serves, and he competed in the tour, and he made it he wrote about cheating. And in fact, he said, the difference between winning the Tour de France and last place is about 1%. I mean, it's just a very, very small margin. And so any bit of advantage that they can get from us from doping, then takes them from the end of the pack to the front of the pack. And so but but as your overall point here, that we're reaching that, that those gains you pointed out, are plateauing. And that these incremental changes are incremental improvements are becoming harder and harder to achieve for anyone, whether they're elite or not.Jesse Ausubel 12:22 Yes. Well, not necessarily for the non elite, but the elite. Yeah, we and it's, in a sense, if you were got into swimming, or cycling, or any of these activities in 1850, or 1900, or even 1950, there was an enormous amount of possibility. And now we've exploited a lot of those possibilities. And so it's harder and harder to find things that still work. Now, in a sense, we would regard cheating as part of the game. That's okay. I mean, in the sense that people are always cheating. So it's, you know, crime is part of the system, so to say, so, but it's gotten in all these things, it's gotten harder and harder. So yeah, so this, this question of peak, you know, we have to ask it, let's say in the, in the next Olympics, or the Olympics in 2040, or 2060, are as many records going to be set as we're set recently. And my own view and the view of some college, terrific colleagues in France, a group led by Geoffrey bear Pallone, others, we think that, you know, it's getting that's it's getting harder and harder, there will be more games, but it's getting harder and harder. And some of it is really pretty exotic stuff, you know, like the, the the sort of spandex nylon swimsuits that the swimmers were using for a while and then were, then people decided that was cheating, and you couldn't use them. But but so so I would say, at that very top, it's getting harder and harder to go up. But imitating the people near the top, and getting better is still pretty easy. If you think of even something like three point baskets in the NBA. You know, it was looked like a miracle at the start when Steve Kerr somebody shot those or Steph Curry. But now there are dozens, it turns out there are dozens of pros who have learned to do that. And the same is true in marathon running, you know, it was amazing for people to do for man, let's say to do two hours and 20 minutes or women to do two and a half hours. And now the score is that people can do that. So. So the fast follower phenomenon is really important. And this is a general comment, Robert, about technology, I would say in learning around the world. You know, the you take a lot of bruises and you try a lot of things to be at the very forefront. Once you've learned something, whether it's how to make a nuclear weapon or how to build an automobile. A lot of other people can copy. And so part of what we see in the performance enhancement, part of the big opportunity is let's say for you and me to become better swimmer, we're not going to become the top swimmers, but But you and I or your children can can imitate and learn to shoot a three point basket or do a lot of things that 50 years ago would have been record breaking,Robert Bryce 15:02 right? Because we have better sneakers, we have better training regimens, the regimens are the training systems, the weightlifting, all of these are much more refined than they were when I was a kid. Well, so then let's talk about if we covered that enough, get what about lifetime, you also, one of the things we talked about was peak, baby. And there, there's a difference between what you said, I think, peak human and peak humans, right. So we're facing a demographic shift as well. And this is something Peter Zion talked in a recent, you know, there's a lot of countries are facing this demographic plateau, we talk about the lifetime issues about how long we live and how well we live.Jesse Ausubel 15:41 Well, the same way that again, if you look at if the expectation of our let's say, our parents or our grandparents were that you could, let's say run faster and jump higher. The expectation for in the, in the, in, at least in the prosperous countries, since about, since the Industrial Revolution, let's say since 1750 1800, in countries like the UK, or Netherlands, Sweden, us is that you would live longer than your parents and that there would be more of you. And that you're and that your children would be taller than you are. So the so through better diet, nutrition, the better ways to deal with the winter and the cold or the heat. Our population has grown, we've adapted to, to all kinds of things. So people live all over the world, they you know, the in North America, the GDP in Calgary or Edmonton is about the same as in Phoenix, or, or Miami. So people have learned to thrive,


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