Sunday, January 20, 2008

Reusability and Permanence

Before humans came along, practically everything was reusable (any losses due to entropy – the conversion of mass and energy into permanently unusable forms – were offset by the inputs from outer space in the form of solar energy and matter from asteroids and comets). The nano-machinery of Nature routinely built, maintained, copied, and tore apart life, assuring the propagation of at least some of its transient forms throughout time, serving and responding to physical processes on a grander scale that have regularly recycled and modified the chemistry of the planet over its more than four billion year history. The driving goal of life was the long term survival of its basic chemistry, even at the expense of the quality of its existence. Recently, for at least our species, the goal has been changed: Quality rather than quantity of life is most important; and the means for attaining this goal has been the denial of reusability to each other and the rest of Nature, at least over the course of our (mercifully) short lifetimes.

Like it or not, there will always be a tradeoff between quantity and quality of life. In near-perfect synchrony, it will be accompanied by the balancing of reusability and permanence. The Universe abhors permanence, while we abhor reusability (implying, as it does, that we can’t “own” anything). So we must attempt to strike a compromise, since the Universe is a lot more powerful than we can ever hope to be. That compromise can take the form of restricting how many resources we will use exclusively over a period of time.

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