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Jim__'s Journal
Jim__'s Journal
October 28, 2013

"It is impossible to found a civilization on fear and hatred and cruelty. It would never endure."

That is, at one point, Winston's reply to O'Brien, and is probably what Orwell believed.

In June, John Crowley gave a talk at MoMA on The Future as Parable. From about 8 minutes in up to about 20 minutes in he talked about Orwell's 1984.

A short excerpt from what he said:


Here is another. In 1946, as he was conceiving 1984, George Orwell reviewed the writings of an American political philosopher and futurologist named James Burnham, whose work had made a deep impression on him. Burnham began his political life a Trotskyite and went on to become an editor of the National Review. In 1940, he published The Managerial Revolution, which foresaw the coming of a new order in human political and economic organization. Capitalism would soon disappear, but socialism wouldn’t replace it. Instead, Burnham said, a managerial class of bureaucrats and technocrats and administrators was evolving that would replace both the old-fashioned business owner/entrepreneur and electoral politics. Private property would disappear but wouldn’t be replaced by common ownership; the managers would make all decisions, distribute all wealth, retain all power. The rest of humanity would subsist as dependents, happily enough, controlled by propaganda. Meanwhile the clusters of small states, democratic or tyrannical or whatever, would vanish, to be replaced by a few huge combines — America, Europe plus western Asia, the Pacific East, the Soviet sphere. These would be continuously at war, though never able to dominate all the others. A kind of stasis would probably eventuate and last from then on, or at least for a very long time.

In Burnham’s vision, as Orwell describes it, the only engine of history is the struggle for power: “All historical changes finally boil down to the replacement of one ruling class by another.” Talk about utopia or “the classless society” is bullshit (“humbug,” Orwell calls it). “It is clear that Burnham is fascinated by the spectacle of power,” says Orwell. “There is a note of unmistakable relish over the cruelty and wickedness of the processes that are being discussed.”


The question Burnham ought to ask but never does, Orwell says, is why this lust for power became the ruling human passion just at the time when the rule of the many by the few, which might once have been necessary to survival and the expansion of human culture, has become unnecessary. Orwell predicts, astutely, that “the Russian régime will either democratise itself, or it will perish. The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”

If that’s his reasoned opinion about Burnham’s dream, then why did he write a book warning of its possibility? In 1984, dystopianism has arisen whole — “expanded” and “crystallising” — and conquered the world in just the forty years since the end of the Nazi empire, and apparently it seems set to last, a boot stamping on a human face, forever. But it won’t and can’t. The only possibility was that Orwell was building a Burnham world precisely in order to contradict him by going further than even Burnham could. 1984 is not a warning, much less a prediction, but a parable. It doesn’t mean what it seems at first to mean, just as the parables of Jesus don’t mean what they seem at first to mean.


June 8, 2013

A paper from 2011 disagrees that the size of quantum graininess can be the Planck length.

The article referenced in the OP says:

The Planck length turns out to be a very short distance: about 10-35 meters. It is a hundred million trillion times smaller than the diameter of a proton—too small to measure and, arguably, too small to ever be measured.


There is another important aspect of the Planck length. Relativity predicts that distances as measured by an observer in a fast-moving reference frame shrink—the so-called Lorentz contraction. But the Planck length is special—it’s the only length that can be derived from the constants c, G, and h without adding some arbitrary constant—so it may retain the same value in all reference frames, not subject to any Lorentz contraction. But the Planck length is derived from universal constants, so it must have the same value in all reference frames; it can’t change according to a Lorentz contraction. This implies that relativity theory does not apply at this size scale. We need some new scientific explanation for this phenomenon, and stochastic space-time might provide it. The idea that the Planck length cannot be shortened by the Lorentz contraction suggests that it is a fundamental quantum, or unit, of length. As a result, volumes with dimensions smaller than the Planck length arguably don’t exist. The Planck length then, is a highly likely candidate for the size of a space-time “grain,” the smallest possible piece of space-time.

A description of the 2011 paper says:

Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity describes the properties of gravity and assumes that space is a smooth, continuous fabric. Yet quantum theory suggests that space should be grainy at the smallest scales, like sand on a beach.


Some theories suggest that the quantum nature of space should manifest itself at the ‘Planck scale’: the minuscule 10-35 of a metre, where a millimetre is 10-3 m.

However, Integral’s observations are about 10 000 times more accurate than any previous and show that any quantum graininess must be at a level of 10-48 m or smaller.

“This is a very important result in fundamental physics and will rule out some string theories and quantum loop gravity theories,” says Dr Laurent.

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