Playing With a Full Deck
Thu, 25 Sep 1997 19:55:28 -0400 (EDT)

Dear Friends on Burt's List

I have been known to make sport of juvenile smart-asses who use their quick
wit, extensive vocabulary, and advanced education to blow smoke in the
public's eyes about the general welfare of my country. But that is a
counter-productive activity which tends to make a gentleman mean. Better to
leave the bastards twisting in the wind of the public opinion they stir up,
until they learn how to play with a full deck.

Every mail list I have visited since joining AOL in December 1994 has had a
small contingent of regular posters who began their two-phase human
life-cycle as fully developed consenting adults, know only their "present
condition," and worry only about how well off they will be in the retirement
phase of their life-cycle. This contingent appears to be oblivious of the
fact that the great majority of the population begin their three-phase
life-cycle as helpless dependents of their parents and their community and
continue in that helpless dependent mode for 15 to 27 years, depending on
whether they drop out of school or go on to get their Ph. D. in
psycho-babble. The fact that a 15 to 27 year period of sustained investment
in each person is required before that person enters the productive phase of
the human life-cycle is never acknowledged by the gay, lesbian, celibate,
elderly, and wealthy members of the fortunate contingent who arrived at their
"present condition" as fully developed consenting adults, secure in their
belief that "Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law."

Among the 59 posts in my 97-09-25 mail box at 10:46 hours, the 35 posts from
list included two useful posts from Anders Sandberg
and Keith M. Elis on sigmoid curves, which Keith Elis knows as "S" curves
representing a "mere step in the evolution of technology," while Anders
Sandberg made the point "that technological development as a whole also
likely forms a sigmoid." Now that's a smart Swede! Both points of view are
useful for defining what in hell is being debated under that teflon topic
that Mr. F. Mann called NSPIC, which I understand is concerned with the
causes of a decline in the "state of the art" of a technology, a corporation,
or a society after the sigmoid curve has reached its highest value and the
next sigmoid curve fails to appear on time.

A recent thread on one of the lists, I forget which one, discussed "Memory
Loss" or the mechanism of LOSING GROUND , as Charles Murray might have put
it, which could have been linked to NSPIC but the authors did not make the
connection, unfortunately.

My contribution, if any, to this debate reflects the fact that I am a 73 year
old Life Member of the IEEE with a BSME from a co-op college and issued
patents in electronic circuits, cosine-correction of photo-cell surfaces, and
geographically distributed computing-control systems, and that I had never
heard of a sigmoid curve until Mr. Sandberg mentioned it. I knew them as
"bumpless transitions," or "S" paths between two conditions of a
servo-mechanism, as in gun-fire control and other forms of automation, or as
THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION, as Karl Polanyi described the advent of market
capitalism in his 1944 book of that title.

In a few more years I won't give a rat's ass whether Americans were able to
change course by open public debate or needed a reign of terror. The fact
remains that the sigmoid curve for the United Kingdom topped out around 1914
and the sigmoid curve (measured as GNP/capita) for the United States topped
our at 171% of Swiss around 1949 and has since declined to 70% of the Swiss
GNP/capita. Where will our next sigmoid curve come from? Wanna try New Age
Science Fiction psycho-babble and oil lamps, instead of electric power?

If we think of HISTORY AS A SYSTEM, following the concepts of Jose' Ortega y
Gasset's 1940 book of that title, human development is one long string of
sigmoid curves separated occasionally by dark ages of one kind or another
when mankind forgot the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." Of course
there are always those people who didn't get the word, and never got out of
the dark ages. We call them third world countries.

If we could only discuss the problem in open public debate, that would be
"bootstrapping at its finest," according to Keith Elis. Let's try again!