Is progress inevitable?


Originally published at:



I always felt that it being, “mutually assured” gave the impending apocalypse a real sense of community. I miss that.


Thanks for the write-up and I look forward to the podcast.

I was thinking of the MLK quote while reading, before the allusion to it. Here’s hoping we do keep bending that ARC towards justice. It’s not going to get there on its own.


Sarcasm aside, in a perverse way nuclear weapons and delivery systems like ICBMs made war more democratic. There is no “safe behind lines” anymore; not even for the leaders.

Ah well. Here’s a little ditty to cheer things up:


That’s a good point, but maybe overlooks…


Not really feasible1), at least on the timescale needed.
Besides, unless you are already in that mineshaft when the shit hits the fan, you won’t get there in time. And even if you do, all the entry points are bound to be primary targets, with a generous allocation in terms of number & yield of warheads. So you’d either not get in in the first place or you’d not get out.
And anyway, if you’d actually be in there - picture who else you would be there with. There’d be a good chance of the occupants killing each other long before the food runs out.

1) I’m a bit into tunnels and bunkers as a hobby, and my professional background is in civil engineering. Sure, you could build an underground habitat and power it with nuclear reactors, maybe based on the ones that are used in submarines. But maintaining for an extended period of time would be very difficult without any help from the outside. It’s a concept that just doesn’t scale well. And a closed system comes with it’s own set of problems, as experienced in the biosphere projects.
All the cold war bunkers I know about were specified to be used for a couple of weeks. I can see extending that to a couple of months, maybe a couple of years even (the budget increase would not be linear) - but decades? Not with today’s technology.


Just remember that reduced parasites like tapeworms are the results of the same evolution that produced us, and have evolved from active, free-living forms.


I wonder where the couch potatos are headed.


Well, all this playful meandering distracted me from why I clicked through to the bbs in the first place. Again.

What is progress? Is there any definition we might agree on?


Back during the 1980s my plan on hearing the 4 minute warning was to head as quickly as possible towards the city centre, as my home town, Birmingham, was a prime target for missiles aimed at the UK. No way I wanted to survive the initial exchange and face a “Where The Wind Blows” future.

On a related, point, could you imagine being stuck in a bunker with Donald Trump and his cronies?


Scroll up a couple of posts…


Depressingly written about in the book Level 7


Only entropy is inevitable.


A lot of physicists don’t like the laws of thermodynamics to be classed as fundamental laws because they seem a little woolly and statistical in nature. To which I reply “try breaking them.”




Best read on this I’ve come across is Ronald Wright’s “A Short History of Progress”, in which he makes it very clear that progress is a myth, and a relatively modern one at that. One of his most interesting points is that many technologies end up in “progress traps” - they reach a point where no further development is possible. The canonical example is nuclear weapons, but there are plenty of others (I would also argue it’s happened to the internal combustion engine and antibiotics).


I have not read this and should get a copy. That sounds amazing.


Haven’t read the book, but I found the BBC TV adaption on Youtube a couple of years ago. Scary.

Edit: found a playlist.
Level Seven is in there, as is Thirteen to Centauri which is also set in a closed system. A spaceship travelling to Alpha Centauri. At least that’s what the crew thinks - they are in a mock-up on earth as part of an experiment.


I have never heard any physicist express such a thought. Can you give any examples? Because I’ve only encountered views more along the lines of this Arthur Eddington quote:

The law that entropy always increases, holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Maybe what they mean is that the laws of thermodynamics are not really physical laws at all. They’re mathematical laws, and would hold true pretty much independently of what the laws of physics were. Thermodynamics, and with it statistical mechanics, are the foundation of many fields including essentially all of materials science.

But on the OP:

Don’t forget that the Star Trek timeline has the dawn of world peace and world government after an apocalyptic nuclear war sometime in the next ~40 years, and then it happens only because warp drive leads to first contact by the Vulcans forcing us to get our act together.