I just don’t get Buckminster Fuller
I keep seeing people in geekspace saying how much they love and admire Buckminster Fuller.
I really have.
I’ve read a couple of his books and they drove me insane.
First — he makes bald assertions about things from history for example about navigation of ships in at night and doesn’t give any foot notes. So how do you know what he asserts is true? What are his sources? Is he just making stuff up that seems right and suits his narrative? Who knows.
Second — he doesn’t know what evolution is but keeps using the word in a literary way. By this I mean that there is a Victorian view where evolution is in fact synonymous with progress. Where things that are evolving now are better than things from the past. So there is a being somewhere, that must have some sort of a mind, making judgements about good and bad and pushing the bad away. Doing this lets god back in.
It’s also silly — for example, if our eyes were designed rather than a result of complex processes then the optic nerve would attach at the back and you wouldn’t have an inconvenient blind spot. If this designer exists it’s a bit useless.
The reason evolution gets the god botherers in such a knot is that evolution is a blind process. It does not need a creator or guide. When you start blethering about Spaceship Earth not having a manual, and being designed to look after human needs you are saying it was deliberately created and designed by some being.
Evolution means that it did not need to be designed. What we see in front of us now came into being as the result of simple processes that span unimaginable lengths of time. Humans and other animals fit the environment because they evolved to fit, and also in various ways learned how to change the environment to fit them. This is where survival of the fittest comes in — it’s a slightly archaic (to modern ears) way of saying survival of the creatures that fit their niche the best, as in, the best fitting. So it doesn’t mean strongest or fastest (which could be judgements) but best at using the resources available right in front of you. It also means the luckiest — as in they survived long enough to breed.
It also explains why humans are so bad at the long view. When getting old enough to breed, breeding and then dying were all you could do then long term wasn’t really on the cards. So we have to try very hard to think wider and broader — we can do so, but it’s work and we didn’t evolve to see things that way right off the bat.
Using the word evolve in the context of describing how the processes that make up our living world, implying that there was some guiding hand that makes things better and better, is a gross misrepresentation and breaks the scientific method down into something that is mere whimsey. It says that a blind process can have intentions — which is of course irritating nonsense. It also says the environment, the planet, is built for human comfort, which is just wrong.
The homunculus fallacy
Another thing that happens is people draw diagrams and put in little figures to explain things. For example see here for a really irritating example where a flatworm’s nervous system and body are controlled by an imaginary one that has language, where the whole living system is portrayed as parts that were put together deliberately.
This is dangerous thinking. It makes it look like there is a designer or controller. Instead living things grow as complete entities following the developmental path discovered by evolution they are instead controlled and developed by little thinking beings, or homunculi.
Fuller’s writings are full of these assumptions.
Making shit up
In Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth there’s a whole section where he talks about how the world was ruled by magic pirates (or something like that) that kept knowledge to themselves until the First World War meant they had to allow their scientific classes to collaborate. I can’t remember the details because I blanked it.
This is just crap. Like the illuminati. Made up shit with no science or footnotes. I’m supposed to take it seriously and I can’t.
And of course Nature keeps designing things. No, small changes work or they don’t, the ones that do become part of the next iteration. In essence design themselves to fit the environmental pressures better than their competition. There is no blind watchmaker — in fact even that metaphor suffers because watches are made of parts and living things come complete and grow into other forms.
Observing the amazing things you see and find and learning from the countless generations of trial and error can teach you many useful things. But there is no designer, none need apply.
I think you’d better spend your time reading Dawkin’s River out of Eden, or Dennet’s excellent Bacteria to Bach and Back again. These books are up to date, well written accounts that don’t rely on any kind of god to make them go. You can also go and check their sources and read them for yourself.
And neither of these two eminent gentlemen make shit up.