In 1620, in his Novum Organum, Sir Francis Bacon classified the intellectual fallacies of the human kind as idols of the Tribe, the Cave, the Marketplace and the Theater. An idol is a mental image which receives veneration but is devoid of substance. Bacon did not regard idols as symbols, but rather as human fixations. His model of human perceptions is as true today as it was in the 17th century. Some things never change but - because of the mindless and loud media drumbeat - consequences of the common human fallacies are far more damaging today.
Idols of the Tribe are deceptive beliefs inherent in the minds of all humans. They are abstractions of error arising from common human tendencies of exaggeration, distortion, and disproportion. Thus people gazing at the production of crude oil over the last century perceive endless growth, and are not content merely to contemplate or record that which is seen. They extend their opinions, investing oil fields with innumerable imaginary qualities. In a short time these imaginings gain dignity and are mingled with the facts until the truth and fiction become inseparable. This statement would describe much of the current public debate about energy.
Idols of the Cave are those which arise within the mind of an individual. Man's mind is symbolically a cavern. The thoughts of the individual roam about in this dark cave and are modified by temperament, education, habit, environment and accident. Thus an individual who dedicates his mind to some particular branch of learning becomes possessed by his own peculiar interest, and interprets all other learning according to the colors of his own devotion. The chemist sees chemistry in all things and the businessman sees profits where there aren't any.
Idols of the Marketplace are errors arising from the false significance bestowed upon words. People mold their thoughts into words in order to communicate with others. The words carelessly used without attention to their true meaning condition our understanding and breed fallacies. Thus, refinery gains and corn ethanol become crude oil. Words often betray their own purpose, obscuring the very thoughts they are designed to express.
Idols of the Theater are those which follow from the paradigm of the moment and false learning. These idols are built up in theology, philosophy, social sciences, and natural science. They are defended by learned groups and accepted without question by the masses. When false philosophies have been cultivated and gained wide dominance in the world of the intellect they are no longer questioned. False superstructures are raised on false foundations, and in the end systems barren of merit parade their grandeur on the stage of the world. This statement might describe most of the current popular beliefs about energy production and sources, or climate change, or healthcare, or education, or agriculture, or so many other important but misunderstood issues that will punish us, clueless Earthlings, with vengeance.
P.S. The Dallas Times Herald clipping below was sent to me by Roger Baker, my ASPO friend. He found this clipping in an old book on micropaleontology loaned to him by a son of Bob Schroeder, a Shell Oil geologist aware of peak oil. This 1980 warning was issued by none other than Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the Saudi Oil Minister, also famous for saying 20 years later: "The Stone Age did not come to an end because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will not come to an end because we have a lack of oil."
|Click on the image to see it in full size. Source: Roger Baker's ASPO email, 11/10/2012.|