Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Self-organizing systems

Modern electronics depends on high-purity, low-defect silicon crystals – single crystals many feet long - sawn into thin wafers 8” to 12” in diameter.

However, human ingenuity has not figured out how to make the needed crystals.

Come on! Of course we do. We make them all the time. There is the CZ method and the FZ method.

Think about it. No one knows how to make a silicon crystal. We know how to make an automobile engine: cast, forge, shape, and smooth the parts; drill holes where needed, and bolt the thing together. All of it understandable, most of us can visualize how it is done, and many average people have done parts of it themselves.

But growing a 12”-diameter silicon crystal requires the exact placement of 10e24 atoms per second. That’s one trillion-trillion silicon atoms, positioned to within a fraction of an Angstrom onto the crystal face, every second. There is no way we know how to do that, how to position atoms that precisely, let alone at that rate.

What we do know is under what conditions the silicon atoms will spontaneously organize themselves – precisely placing themselves onto the surface of the growing crystal, a trillion-trillion times a second. Something human ingenuity cannot even visualize (we cannot even wrap our minds around a number that large), though we can pretend to explain it using vague abstractions and physical “laws” we think we understand.

But arbitrarily fiddle with it, no matter how good your theory sounds, and you likely will muck it up. If your fiddling is based on sound moral principles and good intentions, you are guaranteed to muck it up.

If silicon atoms can spontaneously organize themselves into a perfect crystal (given the right conditions), and millions of species of microbes, plants, and animals can spontaneously create the extended order of a mountain meadow - given the right general conditions – involving interactions among organisms that human ingenuity cannot fathom, do you think millions of people might be able to spontaneously create an extended order of human economic interaction, even though it is humanly impossible to understand, in detail, how the whole thing works?

Humans are more complex than silicon atoms. Extend human civilizations are far more complex than silicon crystals and more dynamic than any meadow. If ecologists tell us that human ingenuity cannot properly manage a meadow in detail, how can Progressives imagine that they know enough to properly manage human economic interactions?

If you want the healthiest meadow, protect it and leave it alone. If you want the healthiest (and wealthiest) human society…

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