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By William Deresiewicz
If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts
The lecture below was delivered to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October of last year.
Interesting and thoughtful article by David Horowitz about his friendship with Christopher Hitchens and their mutual travels through the political landscape.
On the complexities and contradictions of Christopher Hitchens
Meet Bill Andrews: The Man Who would be Immortal
Aristotle gets the whole range of guilt applied to him. Usually he is blamed for the dark ages, because everyone believed Aristotle had all ready figured everything out, so didn’t bother to try to figure out anything new. Aristotle himself would have been disgusted by such an attitude. This writer from a forum I frequent argues that Aristotle was virtually irrelevant. His comment and my response follows:
(Aristotle hater) - " What you present here is a testable hypothesis: Hellenistic science and technology descend from Aristotle. I’d have to see your data. The best way to show this would be to show that later Greek scientists explicitly cited him. Second best would be to show that their contemporaries reported this. You might know of others. James Lennox, an Objectivist and an expert on Aristotle’s biology, notes that even his biology fell fairly quickly into obscurity after his death. To show that he was influential in fields that he didn’t work in (or where he was dead wrong, such as cosmology and mechanics) would be a hard sell, but you’re welcome to try."
Eratosthenes, when setting out to measure the size of the Earth in Alexendria around 240 BC cited Aristotle’s arguments proving the Earth was indeed a sphere - that constellations appeared lower or higher in the sky as one traveled north or south, and that the shadow of the Earth cast on the moon during a lunar eclipse was always round. Eratosthenes was a librarian of the Library of Alexandria and friend to Archimedes.
Aristotle argument that the Earth did not move based on the observation that the relative position of the stars never changed, though wrong, was completely reasonable given that stellar parrallex is not visible by the naked eye and was not observed until the 1800’s, it was never the less cited by Ptolemly when arguing his Geocentric model and was prevalent enough to not only be mentioned by Tycho Brahe, but to in fact SWAY his opinion to reject Heliocentricity in favor of Geocentrciticy (though begrudgingly) Tycho Brahe was the best naked eye astronomical observer to have ever lived, he spent years trying to observe stellar parallelx, and finding none, went against Copernican theory and supported the Ptolemly / Aristotle view.
Daniel N. Robinson Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Georgetown University and a member of the philosophy faculty of Oxford University says of Aristotle in his Teaching Company lecture "Great Ideas of Philosophy"
"I’ve occasionally said to classes that if I had to single out any event as evidence that some civilization out in the milky way was taking pity on humanity for its slow progress…the evidence might well be Aristotle and his accomplishments. Its almost as if such a distant galactic neighbor said ‘Goodness sakes those human beings do not seem to be getting along at all, Aristotle, why don’t you go down there and get things going"
"The sheer intellectual power of this man, expressing itself in biology, natural science, ethics, politics, metaphysics, logic, is simply without parallel in the history of thought. There is almost no academic or scholarly subject taught that does not bare his stamp of influence."
Lets take a critical look at aspects of ’sustainability’. Lots of small communities producing locally only what they need is a recipe for disaster. The first drought, hurricane, or tornado that swings through will basically condemn all those inhabitants to certain death. Neighboring sustainable villages do not produce food or supplies ‘in excess’ as that is not sustainable. People who complain that a typical watermelon travels 1,000 miles to get to your kitchen ignor the fact that they can’t actually grow watermelons, or most other crops, where they live, or that it requires many more resources than it actually took to ship the product.
For many centuries frontier life in America was essentially a life of sustainability. Families lived in small crowded houses, produced enough food for themselves, made candles from animal fat from animals they raised and slaughtered, made clothing from laboriously spinning various grass like plants, and spent virtually every waking moment doing what was required just to ’sustain’ themselves. PBS ran a ‘reality’ show which humorously emphasized this, called "Frontier Life" it stuck wealthy families in the middle of the Oregon forest with 1600’s technology and asked them to survive the winter. The father did pretty much nothing but chop wood, and the mother almost nothing but pickle things. The children tended animals and crops. All of the families worked their butts off and by the end of the summer a judge determined that none of them would have survived the winter, not enough wood or salted food was prepared. It was quite the entertaining show.
Advanced technologies may enable a more comfortable vision of ’sustainability’ But the technologies that the advocates of sustainability rely on, like wind and solar power, can only be afforded because they are mass produced by giant industries. Show me a man living ‘off the grid’ who is able to manufacture his own solar cells, or even able to sun bake his own bricks, and you’ll get my attention.
Case in point - how do you have a ’sustainable’ mine? This whole thing about ‘running out of resources’ is an absolute absurdity. My Econ professor tried to say the same thing, so I asked, ok, why then are there more people than ever before on the earth, but every one of the enjoys a higher standard of living with more material goods than ever before? He balked and the admitted that people have been making malthusian claims for decades. The problem is environmentalist compare potential available resources of the whole planet against the population of the earth, so they think, well if there’s six billion people instead of 1 billion, then everyone has 1/6th the resources!
What they don’t compare is the utilized and processed resources against the population. My favorite example is Aluminum. Aluminum makes up about 10% of the Earth’s crust. The earth, weighing in at 5.98 x 10^ 24 kg, has about 1% of it’s mass in the crust, or about 5.98 x 10^22. 10% of that is 5.98x10^21. That’s how much aluminum is in the Earth’s crust. This is our total available exploitable resource repository of aluminum. At a population of 1 billion people, that’s 5.98x10^12 kg per person available of Aluminum. That’s almost 6 TRILLION Kilograms PER PERSON. So during the course of the 20th century where the earths population rose from 1 billion to 6 billion, the available resources of aluminum per person dwindled from 6 trillion kilograms PER PERSON to a mere 1 trillion kilograms PER PERSON!!! OH NO! MY GOD! We are running out of resources!!!
1 cubic meter of solid aluminum weighs about 2,700 kg. If we were to build a skyscraper that is 1 km tall and 100 m square at it’s base, it would have a total volume of 10 million cubic meters. A typical structure might use 10% of it’s volume to hold itself up, making us use about 1 million cubic meters of aluminum per 1km tall skyscraper. At 2,700 kg per cubic meter, and 1 million cubic meters, our skyscraper made of aluminum weighs in at 2.7 billion kilograms. Since each person has almost 1 trillion kilograms of aluminum at his disposal, that comes out to be a large city of 370 skyscrapers FOR EACH PERSON!
Really, I think I would be happy with just one skyscraper.
These Malthusians and dishonest economists are comparing a growing population number against an EXTREMELY large resource number, but not really acknowledging that the total available resources are so astronomically high that the idea we are running out of resources is a laughable absurdity (consider also every asteroid contains enough nickel and iron to bury the whole of the Earth a few miles deep, and there are billions of these just in these asteroid belt) They just want that quick superficial knee jerk reaction. What they should compare against is the total usable exploited resources, since the potential is basically irrelevant, and the usable keeps going up every year.
The environmentalist fear mongers love to scare us about Global Warming, but ignore every other threat humanity and civilization face, like caldera volcanic eruptions, asteroid impacts, supernovae, solar flares, or even coming man made ones like an out of control self replicating nanotech devices. We know that global warming poses no serious existential threat, but that these other things certainly do. The proposed solutions to global warming, like curtailing industrial or economic growth, or building ’sustainable’ communities, is exactly what would make it difficult to survive any of these OTHER threats we face, which are best delt with by massive industrial and economic growth, until human civilization is wealthy enough and technological advanced enough to spread out into space, mitigated the chance that any individual threat will wipe it out. That asteroid impact won’t give a damn what your carbon foot print was! And it may very well wipe out ALL life on earth. Some of sustainability is good, but only when it relates to self sustaining mobile biospheres (colonies or space stations) any talk of it on earth is a waste of time. Robustness and redundancy are good things, and thus so is the decentralization of critical life sustaining technologies. But reducing everyone one of us to farmers making just enough food for ourselves is a horrible idea and.
Why is the Electric car not more popular? Many attribute this to some conspiracy by the oil companies. The simple fact is that physics killed the electric car, not any conspiracy, because the ability of batteries to store energy is about one thousandth that of gasoline.
Energy Density is often measured in Watt Hours per Kilogram. This means that a battery which can store 100 Watt Hours per Kilogram can run a 100 watt light bulb for about an hour for every kilogram of battery weight. The Watt Hours measurement is simply the product of the two, if it can run a 100 watt bulb for one hour, it can run a 200 watt bulb for half an hour, or a 50 watt bulb for 2 hours, etc.
The best batteries store a mere 300 Watt Hours per kilogram - and those are aerospace grade batteries used in satellites. Common rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries store about 100 Wh/Kg while lead Acid batteries (the ones in your car) store less than half that. Gasoline, for comparison, stores almost 30,000 Wh/kg. This is the main reason why electric vehicles are so rare and consumer demand is so low, when it comes to range, they have about 1/10th that of gasoline powered vehicle and need to be re-powered 10 times as often.
Many small motorcycle manufacturers are pushing electrics now not because they have vast performance potential but because they don’t need to go through the 10 - 20 million dollar EPA Engine approval process to get a vehicle on the road. This has led to results like the Providence based Vectrix motorcycles, producing an Electric Scooter that retailed for about 10,000 dollars, it managed a paltry 40 miles on a charge. This was after a reported 70 million dollars spent on R&D.
For the record though, Electric Motors generally have many advantages over internal combustion engines, the problem of electric cars is not the motors but how to power those motors. The performance advantages of electric motors in terms of power output and instant torque are commendable, and Electric motors are rated in constant power output (what they can produce continually without over heating) while Gas motors are rated in Peak power output (the maximum they can produce in a short period of time, but would destroy them if continous). A 10 Horse Power (HP) electric motor can sometimes produce for short periods of time 20 - 30 HP, while a 30 HP gas motor usually runs at 10 HP. If you have a compact car, that 100 HP engine in your car is usually running at about 20 - 30 HP. These admirable performance qualities of electric motors however simply do not make up for the pathetic range that batteries produce.
Electric vehicles may be simpler, not requiring air and fuel injection systems, transmissions, and exhaust systems, but the fact that you need to recharge them about ten times as often as a gas powered vehicles need to be refueled does not make up for that in any feasible mass marketable vehicle. No conspiracy killed the electric vehicle, pure and simple physics did.
While there are common news reports of advances in battery technology, these incremental advances are little compensation for battery energy density when it is a full two orders of magnitude off from gasoline.
Usually when celebrating electric vehicles, people are touting the advantages of electric *motors* not batteries, while apologizing for the batteries. But if gasoline far exceeds the capacity of batteries and electric motors have significant performance and complexity advantages over Internal Combustion gas engines, then serial hybrids are the best solution, or some form of liquid based fuel cells, not electric vehicles powered by batteries. A serial hybrid is not the configuration of today’s modern hybrids but something simpler. The serial hybrid exploits the advantages of gas as a storage system and electric motors as the motor power of the system. In it a gas tank fuels a small simple gas engine that is optimally tuned to run at one single speed (gas engines are super efficient at one and only one speed, at every other speed they waste tremendously more power) This gas engine does nothing but turn a generator and recharge a small temporary energy storage system made up of capacitors, which are like batteries in that they store energy, but are unlike batteries in that they can release almost all of their energy nearly instantly. Those capacitors power the electric motors which turn the wheel. Although this sounds like a somewhat complex system, it’s actually much simpler than the parallel hybrids found in most cars today, and could potentially get twice the mileage.
Tech news is often flooded with claims of amazing advancements in battery technologies, or amazing ultra-capacitors. From a recent article of that type we find
“We recently reported on new research that makes a Lithium Ion battery perform more like a supercapacitor, now we can report on research on a supercapacitor that performs more like a battery”
While super and ultra-capacitors provide high power density, but they are still low energy density. This means that while that can release alot of energy in a short amount of time (think flooring your gas pedal) they contain very little energy overall - so you might get one single rapid acceleration out of a capacitor bank, but then they will be dead and will need a recharge. In physics power and energy mean to very distinct specific and different things. Power is the rate at which energy is used, and energy is merely the capacity to do work.
In terms of energy density, super-capacitors are an order of magnitude lower than even batteries, and in terms of power density, batteries are an order of magnitude lower than capacitors. A new Lithium Ion battery, as celebrated in that article, that performs as well as a capacitor simply means you don’t need to use capacitors in your EV design, but you still have 1/1000th the energy density of gasoline.
Besides all that, these are merely claims, and until I see a product on the market which I can buy that gets these kinds of performance numbers then it is just speculation. Equally impressive claims can be made on the future efficiency of gasoline based power systems as well, one type of gasoline engine, the HCCI engines, for instance, could double or quadruple the efficiency.
But I don’t value something based on what some people say it *might* be capable of someday, but what it is proven capable of now. Unfortunately the industry incentives now are toward making outrageous claims then getting government funding to research them, ultimately finding out that they were merely outrageous in the first place. When a university comes out with an unabotanium-ion super battery claim they are looking for grants to do the research to find out if the idea is practical - they are not on the verge of mass production.
The current popularity of EVs is not driven by massive consumer demand but by a bias in research grant awards and the fact that you don’t need to spend 10 – 20 million dollars getting government approval to make an EV bike and engine. Unlike gas engines which require years of testing by various government branches to even get approval to manufacture and sell.
Lets do a quick example, imagine you want an electric car that performs as well as your 100 HP gas engine powered car. You get about 300 miles out of a full gas tank. Cruising on the highway your car probably uses about 20 HP, and one HP is the equivalent of 740 Watts. That makes your car require, cruising at highway speeds, 14,800 watts, or 14.8 kW (20 HP * 640 watts / hp) So if you need 14.8 kW for 5 hours (300 miles at 60 miles per hour) you need 74 kW hours (14.8 kW times 5 hours). If your car is powered by lead acid batteries you get about 40 Wh/kg (40 Watt Hours per Kilogram) Now, at 40 Wh/kg for lead acid batteries, that means you need … wait for it … 1,850 KG worth of batteries. That’s over 4,000 pounds, or 2 tons worth of batteries, yet right now your entire car weighs 2,000 pounds. With expensive Lithium Ion batteries, which get twice the energy density but cost four times as much, you would need a mere 925 kg of batteries. Compare this to the 40 kg your 15 gallons of gasoline weighs and it becomes clear why electric vehicles are not more popular. Remember, Gasoline has an energy density of almost 30,000 Wh/kg, while Lead Acid batteries are 40 Wh/kg.
Ultimately then, it’s physics that killed the electric vehicle, not an oil conspiracy or government cover-up. To put it simply, batteries just suck. You need 20 - 50 times the weight in batteries that you do in gasoline to get the same performance, and this does not take into account the potential significant advances in gasoline performance in the future. Unless some revolutionary battery technology arises whose basis is currently at the frontiers of physics, It’s highly doubtful that any time soon batteries will replace gas as the most convenient and useful energy storage mechanism.