A Physicist says it can not
I love the ways in which scientific method can phrase an hypothesis, which, untrained thought could arrive at only instinctively and with no means to test the hypothesis -as science can. Democritus may have hypothesized the existence of the atom but the hypothesis could not be tested or demonstrated for another2.500 years. One would instinctively hypothesize (without being a scientist) that economic growth, or any growth, could not continue forever simply because nature demonstrates retrogression all around us, from evolution itself all the way though the beating heart that needs to pump blood in before it pumps it out.
Interestingly, two scientists belonging to different disciplines may arrive at different conclusions independently, and fine-tune their conclusions by sharing their perspectives. Then, economic growth can be phrased as represented by energy, and it can also be defined as existing in zero energy growth, so long as the perceived quality of life improves.
One aspect of science, or human thought for that matter, that has been acknowledged but has never been fully considered for its possible implications to our scientific results, is the anthropomorphic principle. I think it would be interesting to argue that, more often than not, science phrases concepts that the human mind had perceived on principle before scientific test. Therefore, it could be possible that our scientific understanding of everything (demonstrable in mathematics, as it may appear to be) is but an elaborately and eloquently structured manifestation of the same anthropomorphic-anthropocentric instinctive understanding that limits our comprehension to our own “self”.
For example, the great question of the reconciliation, or bridging/unifying, of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics (which professor Hawking has gone to great lengths to attempt to achieve in his own lifetime) assumes two theories governing each of two “worlds”. Yet, the dividing line between those two “worlds” of the very large and the very small (above and below the protons-neutrons-electrons of the atom which we know now is not “a-tom”), is a dividing line, a border, assumed by us arbitrarily. If the Cosmos is not in fact divided by that line, then the two theories, of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, are not two independent theories but jigsaw puzzles of one greater theory currently illusive to us in everything including the non-anthropomorphic necessity for its existence.
Economic Growth, as a principle, belongs, certainly, to the realm of human economics and society, but humanity exists within and responds to principles founded in the greater universe of which we are part. Therefore, if we were to attempt an adjustment of terms away from the anthropomorphic principle, should “growth” not be adjusted to the concept of “evolution”, in the same way and for the same reasons why the physicist adjusted Economic Growth to refer to the consumption/expansion of energy? And, if so, would then evolution not assume also the decline/weakening/halting of certain concepts and practices, and their replacement by others? which in itself would imply an evolution that does not always or singularly consist of growth?
Dear thinks, Your message expresses exactly my view. I especially agree with the following: “two scientists belonging to different disciplines may arrive at different conclusions independently, and fine-tune their conclusions by sharing their perspectives”. Hopefully the sharing of different pespectives will continue happening and that at an increasing frequency!
I am happy we agree!
And, the temptation is too great rendering it hard for me to avoid suggesting the following…
Assuming that human beings are a same-substance integral part of the planet earth, species which the planet has “given birth” to and evolved with it, as a part of its planetary “totality”, whatever actions humanity takes can be seen more as random evolutionary steps that the planet earth itself takes, rather than actions humanity takes independently, where the planet is the recipient of a result. Therefore, the change in atmospheric composition and climate is not “humans destroying the planet” (anthropomorphic view), but, a natural evolution of conditions within the planet. Higher levels of CO2 may produce different and interesting species… it’s just unfortunate, but irrelevant, that the agent of change will not fare well in the change that comes.
I think you are right. The climate change could certainly be considered as a natural evolution within the planet. Humans may or may not be able to adjust well to the new conditions. However the intensity of this adjustment will be higher the greater the changes on the subsequent conditions. And while success is not guaranteed, neither is failure.
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