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What It Means - Paradigm Collapse And Culture Crisis

Politics / Social Issues Jul 27, 2014 - 07:44 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Is Society Erasable or Deletable?
Trying to compare human thought with computers is not easy. Even larger difficulties face us when we try defining “social memory” before comparing its use, modification, or deletion with computer hardware devices and software programming techniques. One of the largest hurdles is that society is an abstract concept and has no formal or single physical representation.

To use a computer analogy, there is no “motherboard”.

We could for example look for key social memory stores and start with national libraries and museums, or national archives of various kinds like birth and death registers.  Then we could look at educational and research institutions. Next, we could take public information media and their “floating stock” of news items and issues, checking them for traces of “major or dominant social paradigms”, but here we find another problem. There is no formal definition of the paradigms which articulate society.

Social paradigms are another “floating stock” with a heavily ramified network of “data objects” that are not formally hierarchic – making it probably better to compare social memory with cloud computing.

What we can do is take a few examples of known paradigms in western society and look at their now extreme incoherence and massive internal contradictions, as well as their inter-paradigm confusion. What do we learn from this?

Three Major Paradigms
The first we can note, is what the Oxford Dictionary claims is the definition of “dominant social paradigm” in western society.

Dominant social paradigm - The view that humans are superior to other all other species, the Earth will provide unlimited resources for humans, and progress is an inherent and inevitable part of history

New environmental paradigm – Human beings are not superior to all other species, the natural resources of the planet are limited or in some cases rapidly depleting, and progress is not inevitable

Neoliberal economic paradigm – Society must be subsumed to the primacy of markets and only the principles of liberalism as defined in the late 18th/early 19th centuries will enable progress

This set of paradigms tells us that the social memory supporting these (and all other paradigms) is primarily cultural and therefore tends to be value-based. Also, any paradigms circulating in society at any one moment are subject to usually minor-only modifications or “editing” on a short-term basis. Radical change, or their collapse marks a turning point in history and later on, civilization.

What is called “the new environmental paradigm” in western society can be quite accurately dated on a historical basis as arising or emerging in the early 1970s. Likewise the “neoliberal economic paradigm” can be dated to about the early 1980s. As we can see, what the Oxford Dictionary calls the dominant paradigm of western society is totally opposed to or antinomic with the new environmental paradigm but is possibly not contradictory to the neoliberal economic paradigm.

Other paradigms circulating in society present the same problem of contradiction or opposition to major or dominant paradigms. One example is the “Western hegemony principle” or the still-extant belief in the economic, military and cultural superiority of western civilization relative to the rest of the world, which is antinomic to the paradigm of economic globalization. This secondary paradigm draws on Ricardo's comparative advantage concept, which is basic to the Neoliberal paradigm.

Do Not Spindle Deform or Mutilate
The critical factor in looking at “social memory coherence” in these major examples like all others, is the question of “data remanence” or the resident lifetime of beliefs, values, knowledge or data of any sort that support or contradict the paradigms. As a simple example of what this means, the almost total contradiction of the so-called dominant social paradigm by the new environmental paradigm is a fact – but these two paradigms co-exist in western society today.

In turn, this means that a twin track but separate set of beliefs, values, knowledge or data must exist to support each paradigm, and these data sets must be continuously refreshed by various processes. To be sure, when or if it becomes impossible to validate any one paradigm (or several of them), there will be a period of what is typically called “doubt, confusion and anguish”, as society gropes forward towards new paradigms. This in no way has to be “progress”.

As defined by Wikipedia, data remanence for computer systems is the “residual representation of digital data that remains even after attempts have been made to remove or erase it”. Making the problem quite complex for PCs and other computer systems, this remanence not only concerns computer software, that is residual data in program files, but also concerns data that is left intact inside hardware devices such as memory chips after a “nominal file deletion operation”, and in specific cases even includes data remaining after the reformatting of memory storage media. 

This last case basically concerns the physical properties of storage media, for example the electronic configuration of what are called floating-gate transistors and the techniques used to “flush” data from and through them by processes such as Fowler-Nordheim “hot electron” tunneling and channeling. The still-remanent physical memory on media such as smart cards and chips can be a major security risk due to “hackers” being able to find out key security codes, such as PINs, by exploiting the physical parameters of write-erase cycles for memory media. These cycles can be made highly secure, enabling complete deletion and erasure of key data using techniques like more intense or higher voltage flushing or the use of different semiconductor materials in memory media - but this can make the memory devices subject to shorter operating lifetimes and higher manufacturing costs.

These physical handicaps for computer memory media lead to the inadvertent disclosure of sensitive information, from actions as basic as recovering thrown out memory chips, cards, flash sticks and other media, thought to have been completely erased before disposal, from city garbage bins. For the storage and the integrity of social paradigms, very evidently, the risk of inadvertent modification, rather than deletion or attempted deletion is the major challenge to maintaining coherence in society.

Declining Marginal Return
Validating any social paradigm, that is their social, political and economic justification, requires a large number of “memory devices” or data sets that confirm or refute various parts of each of the paradigms. The new environmental paradigm, for example, must refute some or all of the other two cited paradigms. Each paradigm circulating in society must have at least a semblance of coherence both internally, and in relation to at least some parts of other major paradigms, for example in the above three cases by modifying the meanings of the key value-word they all use - “progress”.
Continuing with possible analogies between IT programs and hardware and the stock of paradigms in society, they could be likened to smart cards or flash memory, while society's legends and myths are long-term resident ROM-type, or read-on social memory items. That is, our legends and myths are invariable or “write protect non-interactive” memory, but the circulating paradigms are dynamic in the sense of being able to be edited, modified, partly-deleted, and so on.
The term 'reprogramming' or program editing is highly suited to the way social paradigms are used on a daily basis. However there are unstated but consensual limits on this constant editing – one person will say to another “Well now you really are talking nonsense” when the unstated but effectively formal limit has been exceeded in the employment of any particular paradigm. Attempted deletion of any paradigm is much more difficult than slight but constant editing, but what I call the Unknowing process could be analogized with “wide area flushing” of memory devices.
One well-known commercial example is Intel Corporation's range of ETOX flash memory products. For these, the original operating technique was to first program all memory cells to 0 before erasing them all to 1, but this caused quite rapid physical degradation of the cells through excessive write/erase cycles, that is over-erasing.

Unknowing could be called wide-area flushing of social paradigms, leading to the equivalent of physical degradation of major paradigms and their secondary supporting paradigms, shown by increasingly-glaring logical disparities within and between the secondary data sets or second-level paradigms supporting the major paradigms. In other words there is incoherence of the destructive sort. Whenever this incoherence grows, for any reason, by any process and attains a tipping point it may become impossible for individuals and groups in society to understand the dominant paradigms, of course resulting in anomie or social alienation, also causing “social troubles”.

Staying with the analogy of IT memory devices and media, the compromise solution between total data security and the operating lifetime and manufacturing cost of devices is to accept data security risk and pursue other hardware and software strategies for data protection. One example is the pure and simple abandonment of password protection of data, because the password has to be stored somewhere in the data system concerned. Other methods are then needed to protect and access and modify data. In turn however this creates a large number of hardware and software challenges, also resulting in the recourse to minimalizing data needs.

Downsizing the Paradigms
Increasing numbers of persons in western society can deny all knowledge of the paradigms that articulate their society. The permissible number of write / erase cycles has been exceeded due to constant and incremental editing of the paradigms on each write cycle resulting in what we can call “paradigm drift”.

The radical.solution is what we have had for at least 30 years in western society and civilization, where the major paradigms are progressively downsized and dumbed down. This directly results in major and increasing incoherence between any paradigms still circulating, which become “logic light” or “logic free”. In other words there is no remaining social coherence, but this is not a durable or sustainable cultural or social nexus and modus operandi.

We therefore have a twin track converging in one-only result. Value-based elements (usually the majority) of social paradigms, like the knowledge-based components of of secondary and supporting paradigms, suffer rapid fatigue from excessive write / read operations and over-editing. Using quantum physics analogy, there is decoherence of the destructive sort. In sub-nuclear systems this causes elements and components most exposed to so-called non-local entanglement to experience repeated and simultaneous breakouts of “unexpected behavior”.

For human society, no group of human beings can exist and operate without paradigms, because the necessary social configuration for that would be a “non-society”. Which does not exist.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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