an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

less testosterone? – such a worry

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the Chinese Testosterone Party – ‘let’s wear boring western outfits and shit on “western values” – that’ll fix em’

Okay, so back to the real stuff, testosterone. The inimitable Sabine Hossenfelder, of the dry humour and sexy German accent, has explored its supposed reduction among humans and how it is deplored among the wannabe macho fraternity.

So first of all I must go straight to bonobos, our more or less female-dominant cousins. There’s precious little data on bonobos and testosterone, but see my previous piece, referenced below. A 2005 study of wild bonobos found, unsurprisingly, that ‘the alpha male had the highest circulating levels of T’, though a comparison with chimp T levels would have been useful. And when I say ‘little data’ I should qualify that – there’s not much data that can be made sense of (by me), it’s so complicated. For example, testosterone levels in female bonobos are just as important as in males, and they vary with age and circumstances. What seems to be the case, which I suspected all along, is that testosterone levels follow rather than lead social aggression and lifestyle patterns, which is why I’ve always been interested in the social development of humans along bonobo lines, so to speak, without worrying about hormones too much.

Now, returning to Sabine, who does a great job of summarising the pros and cons of having too much or too little T. Her most important point, which is well-known but can hardly be stressed enough, is that testosterone levels drop when males are holding or playing with a child (or maybe even thinking of doing so, or having pregnancy fantasies, or just wearing his favourite little black dress…), and they rise after divorce – which may help to explain some restraining orders. But these effects are relatively small for most males.

The evidence is clear, though, that T levels really are falling (oh frabjous day!). Sabine provides graphic, heartening evidence, at least to this dweeb. But there are downsides – both men and women are becoming physically weaker, slower and fatter, especially in the WEIRD world. High protein diets are more common than ever before, and weight gain lowers T, which in turn results in weight gain. And even the abandonment of cigarettes reduces T somewhat – another pleasant, if bizarre, surprise. Of course, as Sabine points out, all this is far from pleasant to some, such as the perennial dweeb who would be otherwise, Tucker Carlson, but others, such as myself, call it progress. Sabine winds her piece up with a most excellent quote from the sadly missed Carl Sagan which I’ll set down here for my own delight:

Why is the half of humanity with a special sensitivity to the preciousness of life, the half untainted by testosterone poisoning, almost wholly unrepresented in defence establishments and peace negotiations worldwide?…. Testosterone also causes the kind of aggression needed to defend against predators and without it we’d all be dead….  Testosterone is there for a reason. It’s not an evolutionary mistake.

Testosterone won’t disappear, in humans or bonobos. If we have more need of it in the future, it’ll probably mean bad news, as Sabine points out. Meanwhile we have the near-apoplectic Mr Poo-tin (a sobriquet for which I’m most grateful) and the Chinese Testosterone Party as ongoing examples of the downside of T.

So while T isn’t an evolutionary mistake, evolution doesn’t stand still. Indeed social evolution is a more accelerated version of earlier forms. It took a couple of million years, at most, for bonobos to depart from chimps in terms of their happy, sharing-and-caring lifestyles. Humans, so much smarter and quicker off the mark once they’ve grasped the benefits (think Deutsche’s The beginning of infinity), have just started to move towards a more female-empowered society in the last century or so, at least in the WEIRD world. And it’s largely females in collaboration that have made it happen, just as occurred, I’m sure, in bonobo society. Of course, this is still too slow for those of us growing older and more impatient. However, horrible as this is to admit, super-macho events such as the ‘great wars’ of the first half of the 20th century, Japan’s half-century of brutal slaughter and rape in the East, and now Poo-tin’s crime against Ukraine, lead to a quickening of positive responses – the United Nations, international monitoring agencies, defensive alliances, and the like. Global human-caused problems are leading to globally-negotiated attempts at solutions, and the lure of global trade dollars also has its benefits.

We need also to learn from previous mis-steps. Here in Australia we commemorate Anzac Day every year, and we hear kids saying ‘they died to save our country’ or ‘…that we can be free’. In the USA we hear praise of Vietnam vets, who fought ‘to defend our country’ or ‘our values’. Against the Vietnamese? It’s such arrant bullshit. The US was in Vietnam first at the behest of the French, who decided to quit their overlordship because it wasn’t delivering enough benefits – to the French. And of course it was impossible for the locals to govern themselves, in spite of having inhabited the region for millennia. It’s just another story of the powerful against the powerless, stories that go back to the dawn of civilisations. As to the ANZACs, fighting the Turks on the other side of the world, what was that about? Certainly nothing to do with Australian freedom. Australia just happened to be much more closely linked to Britain in 1914 than it is now, and two imperialisms, Britain with its quite vast empire, and Germany, the late-comers, spoiling for more power and influence, and a great muddle of other countries trying to work out which side would best suit their interests, came to blows in much the same way as two troupes of chimps have been known to do, but with much more horrific consequences. And blind patriotism, and its fanatical encouragement, didn’t help matters. The ‘Great War’ was an avoidable catastrophe and all our remembrance should surely be focussed on this avoidability.

To accentuate the positive, we are getting better. Yes, there’s the horrors in Ukraine, Iran, Burma and a number of African nations, which have diverse roots. Often it’s to do with the powerless rising up against their disempowerment, having virtually nothing to lose. Such conflicts have been going on for millennia, but we shouldn’t turn our backs o them. None of us get to choose whether we’re born in a rich or poor country, or a rich or poor sub-section of that country. We need to always bear this in mind. Of course it’s hard. It’s estimated that there are between 10,000 and 50,000 bonobos left in the wild. Humans number 8 billion. Even if we turned our backs on 99% of them, that would leave us with millions to worry about. And we all have our own problems… but sympathy and sharing seem to do us all a power of good. Vive les bonobos!

References

more on hormones, bonobos and humans

 

Written by stewart henderson

November 23, 2022 at 11:09 am

brilliant women – Lou Andreas-Salomé, writer, psychologist, éminence grise

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Je dirigerai ma vie selon ce que je suis

In my rather aimless intellectual roaming in pursuit of feminine bonobo-like power and influence in the human socio-cultural world I’ve been reading various feminist and ‘inspirational’ texts such as Dava Sobel’s The glass universe, Melvin Konner’s Women after all, and Simone de Beauvoir’s classic The second sex. I’ve also taken up a book I bought and half-read more than two decades ago, Freud’s Women, a book the title of which immediately attracted me as it combined my interest in intellectual feminism with remembrances of one of my first intellectual interests, the ideas of Sigmund Freud. I’m talking here of my teen years, when I encountered Freud’s concepts in the most rudimentary, truncated form. The id, ego and superego, and the concepts of eros, thanatos, and especially polymorphous perversity and sublimation struck me as highly diverting at least.

Another Big Name I encountered and cursorily read in those early years was Friedrich Nietzsche. I remember three of the titles – Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil and The Anti-Christ, and there may have been more. I write this with a kind of amazement – how were these books in the house? My mother rarely read a book, my father never. It may have been my older siblings… anyway, I recall puzzling over Zarathustra, being thrilled at Nietzsche’s excoriation of Paul of Tarsus, and generally feeling buoyed up by his ebullient self-confidence – if that’s what it was.

So, returning to Freud’s Women, a book I started rereading recently, almost out of a sense of duty. I’m now getting into the second half of the book, and it seems to me that the writing has lifted as the women in Freud’s circle have become more multi-faceted and interesting – or more interestingly depicted. This began with Sabina Spielrein, one of the first female psychoanalysts, who had important associations with Jung, Freud and Piaget. Next was Loe Kann, a strong-willed, intellectual associate of both Freud and Ernest Jones, with whom she had a turbulent relationship. But the most fulsomely depicted character I’ve encountered so far is Lou Andreas-Salomé – a much-admired confidante and influencer of Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke and Freud, amongst others, and an important intellectual figure in her own write. She wrote a highly regarded book on Nietzsche’s philosophy, published way back in 1894 – probably the first major treatment of Nietzsche in print – as well as many other works. But the fact that she was so highly regarded by the tediously misogynistic Nietzsche as well as the faintly condescending Freud is testament, not so much to her writing as to her Dasein, if that’s the word – the effect of her character, intellect and attitude to life.

Andreas-Salomé, like many of the women described in both Freud’s Women and The Second Sex, such as Irene Reweliotty and Marie Bashkirtseff, came from a wealthy, intellectual family in a period when only the tiniest proportion of women could benefit from an academic education and a career open to talent. Writing was almost the only way to provide proof to the world of their value, as was the case years earlier for Jane Austen and the Brontës. I haven’t yet read Andreas-Salome’s work, beyond the excerpts found in Freud’s Women, and perhaps I never will, but I got a buzz of energy from the positive spirit of her influence – upon Rilke, Freud, his daughter Anna, among others. An intellectual bonobo, if you will. And that’s the highest praise!

It’s strange today to hear Freud described as a neurologist, as he’s occasionally described in Freud’s Women. It’s an indication of how far neurology has come in the 21st century. In earlier times it was all ‘mind’ and the brain was enclosed in an impenetrable ‘black box’. Everything was gleaned from behaviour, thoughts, impulses, obsessions, fantasies and the like. Fascinating stuff, but easily manipulated and exaggerated. Probably the best thing about the ‘talking cure’ was the talking itself, the sharing, the unburdening, and the warm connections so created. And in those early days it provided above all a career open to women – smart, insightful women who were keen to help. There were, of course disputes. Two of the most prominent practitioners in the thirties, Melanie Klein and Anna Freud, both of whom specialised in the treatment of children, were at loggerheads over the ‘Oedipal problem’ and how to deal with the ‘latency period’ – I’m no expert on psychoanalytic theory, but it seems that the pair were mostly in dispute over whether the analyst had a pedagogical role (Anna Freud) or not (Klein). Interestingly, and I think tellingly, Freud himself, who tended to be non-pedagogical in his own approach, generally sided with his daughter in these disputes, with the usual tangle of rationalisations and special pleading. Family is family, at the end of the day.

Anyhoo, returning to Lou Andreas-Salomé, the ‘poet of psychoanalysis’ as Freud called her, it’s clear that she knew her own worth and was never particularly intimidated by Freud’s reputation. And in the face of the whole Oedipus obsession she pushed back in underlining the value of women and mothers. Here is her response to Freud, after reading his essay ‘the taboo of virginity’, which deals with the historical and cultural obsession with female virginity and ‘defloration’:

It occurred to me that this taboo may have been intensified by the fact that at one time (in a matriarchal society) the woman may have been the dominant partner. In this way, like the defeated deities, she acquired demonic properties, and was feared as an agent of retribution. Also her defloration by deity, priests etc points back to a time when she was not the ‘private property’ of the male, and in order to achieve this she had to shake off the shackles of her impressive past – which may still play its part as the earliest positive basis for the precautionary measures of the male.

What’s interesting here is not the perhaps dubious historicity of her claim but the female valuation it implies. Andreas-Salomé was not a ‘noted feminist’ of her time, she took no active part in first-wave feminism, but her self-confident, no-nonsense dealings with the prominent intellectual males she met and clearly influenced, and her later conversion to the ‘talking cure’, so well-suited, it seems to me, to the values of partnership and collaboration and help, values that are generally more female than male, have made her a figure well worth discovering, for me at least.

References

Freud’s women, by Lisa Appignanesi and John Forrester, 1992

‘The taboo of viginity’, by Sigmund Freud, 1918

 

Written by stewart henderson

November 19, 2022 at 9:39 am

a glut of greed – on high gas prices and who’s to blame

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Crisis? What crisis….?

So Australia’s industry minister Ed Husic has come out with a claim that I’ve heard from renewable energy journalists more than once before in recent times – that the gas industry is pocketing record profits while households suffer from record power costs. So what exactly is happening and how can it be fixed?

Husic’s remarks were blunt enough: ‘This is not a shortage of supply problem; this is a glut of greed problem that has to be basically short circuited and common sense prevail.” As I reported before, gas companies are more interested in exporting their product overseas, at great profit, than selling it domestically. All the major news outlets are reporting much the same thing – the political right, under conservative leader Dutton, is blaming the overly-rapid shift to renewables (he wants to open up more gas fields), and gas companies are playing the victim role.

The ACCC has been complaining for some time that there isn’t an effective mechanism to prevent gas companies from selling to the highest bidder, at the expense of the local market. There are, of course, worldwide gas shortages, causing the value of the commodity to shoot to record highs. The Financial Review reported on the situation back in July:

The ACCC says prices for east coast domestic gas that will be delivered in 2023 have rocketed to an average of $16 per gigajoule from $8 per gigajoule. Exporters have also dramatically widened the spread of prices offered to domestic buyers from between $7 and $8, to between $7 and as much as $25. This is despite the fact that the estimated forward cost of production is steady at just over $5.

The government clearly has little control over gas exporters – ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ aren’t really cutting it, and domestic costs are affecting businesses as well as households, adding to the many woes of local manufacturing. So I’ve turned to the ever-reliable Renew Economy website in the hope of hearing about plausible solutions. Their journalist Bruce Robertson, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, is arguing for a gas reservation policy:

Such a policy on new and existing gas fields means gas companies must sell a portion of their gas into the domestic market – rather than putting it all out for export – with an immediate downward effect on prices. Similar to the reservation policy in place for over a decade in Western Australia, the east coast gas reservation policy could be set at $7 a gigajoule (GJ), a price allowing gas companies to achieve a profit over and above a return on investment. In turn, energy consumers would see their electricity bills cut.

It sounds like magic – like, if it’s that easy why wasn’t it done ages ago? The reason Robertson appears to be putting forward is price-fixing and the unwillingness of east coast governments, and the federal government, to deal with it:

In Australia, gas prices are fixed by a cartel of producers on the east coast… – Shell, Origin, Santos, Woodside and Exxon. For decades they have set the price above international parity prices.

It does seem, well, a little unseemly, that Australia, the world’s largest LNG exporter, is having to pay such exorbitant prices for domestic usage – though, in fact, other countries are suffering more. Locally though, South Australia, where I live, is particularly hard hit. Unlike the eastern states, coal plays no part in our energy mix – it’s all gas and renewables, with wind and solar playing a substantial part, more so than in the eastern states. And yet… Sophie Horvath reported in Renew Economy back in May:

A draft report from the SA Productivity Commission finds that despite the state’s solar and wind delivering some of Australia’s lowest wholesale spot prices, prices faced by the state’s consumers were around 20% higher than consumers in New South Wales. And it warns that without the rapid implementation of market and policy reforms, the situation for consumers will only get worse as more and more renewable energy capacity is added.

This sounds, on the face of it, as if SA’s take-up of renewables has backfired, but the situation is rather more complex, as Horvath explains. One problem is variable demand, which ‘produces challenges for the grid’, and another, highlighted by the SA Productivity Commission, is the ‘various market flaws that are stopping the benefits of renewables being passed through to consumers’.

So what are these market flaws? And what are ‘wholesale spot prices’ and why are they so different from the costs to suckers like us? Here’s an excerpt from a ‘Fact Sheet’ from the Australian Energy Market Commission about how the spot market works:

The National Electricity Market (NEM) facilitates the exchange of electricity between generators and retailers. All electricity supplied to the market is sold at the ‘spot’ price…. The NEM operates as a market where generators are paid for the electricity they produce and retailers pay for the electricity their customers consume. The electricity market works as a ‘spot’ market, where power supply and demand is matched instantaneously. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) co-ordinates this process.

The physical and financial markets for electricity are interlinked. Complex information technology systems underpin the operation of the NEM. The systems balance supply with demand in real time, select which generators are dispatched, determine the spot price, and in doing so, facilitate the financial settlement of the physical market. And all this is done to deliver electricity safely.

So far, this bureaucratic lingo doesn’t inspire confidence. Complex systems synchronise and balance everything, both financially and powerfully, ensuring our safety. Praise the lord. This Fact Sheet, from early in 2017, goes on for three and a bit pages, and I’m trying to understand it. Maybe Ed Kusic is too.

Meanwhile, back in South Australia, it was reported a few months ago that…

Tens of thousands of SA households are set to be hit with increased electricity bills after the energy industry watchdog made the ‘difficult decision’ to increase benchmark prices by hundreds of dollars a year.

So why indeed was this decision so ‘difficult’? The Australian Energy Regulator (AER – there are a headachy number of acronyms in this business), which sets the Default Market Offer (DMO) – a price cap on the charge to customers who, shockingly, don’t bother to shop around for a better deal – has increased the cap due to an 11.8% increase in wholesale electricity costs ‘driven by unplanned power plant outages and the ongoing war in Ukraine’. The fact that SA experienced massive power outages in the last 24 hours due to extreme weather conditions won’t help the situation. The Chair of the AER, Clare Savage, advises shopping around for cheaper deals rather than just accepting the DMO. The AEC (groan) also recommends shopping around, and even haggling for a better deal from retailers. The state government, in response to criticism from the opposition, emphasises focusing on the long-term and the ongoing shift to renewables. State energy minister Tom Koutsantonis expresses his faith – “Our government will reactivate investment in renewables as a hedge against price shocks on fossil fuels”.

Great – I can’t wait.

References

SA power bills to rise in cost-of-living blow

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-11-03/ed-husic-gas-crisis-corporate-greed-not-supply-shortage/101610072

SA renewables surge bringing down energy prices, but consumers miss out

 

 

Written by stewart henderson

November 13, 2022 at 12:56 pm

more on hormones, bonobos and humans

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So having recently read Carole Hooven’s Testosterone: the hormone that dominates and divides us, an extremely informative and well-argued book that was basically a necessary read for me, considering my obsession with a more bonobo-like world for humans, I’m left with – what to do? How can I incorporate all this hormonal stuff into my ‘bonobo world and other impossibilities’ essays? I know I’ve mentioned hormones here and there, but never in any detail. Basically I’ve noted, along with Steven Pinker and others, that ‘we’re getting better’. Less violent, more caring of our children, more appreciative of our ‘feminine’ side, more questioning of the nature of gender, a little less male-dominant, at least in the WEIRD world. And since this doesn’t seem to have involved hormones, at least on the face of it, the testosterone issue was never so much front and centre in my dreams of human transformation as was the example, largely ignored by the human world, as it seems to me, of bonobo society.

Sadly, Hooven hardly mentions bonobos, so I need to do some bonobo-testosterone research myself. Here are my initial thoughts. Since bonobos, along with chimps, are our closest rellies, it’s reasonable to assume that we’re hormonally very similar (research required). So how did they evolve into the make-love-not-war apes (yes, an over-simplifying cliché), and why did we evolve more along the chimp line (yes, with great diversity, but very few cultures that ‘aped’ bonobos)?

Again, before I start looking at research abstracts, I can surmise a little. Chimps eat more meat than bonobos, which means more hunting and killing. Testosterone helps with that. The males are more into it so they gang together, leaving the women – sorry, the females – behind. There will be teamwork but also show-offy competition and a muscular hierarchy within the team. And the excitement of the hunt will boost testosterone all the more, which will be worked off on the females afterwards. Bonobos on the other hand spend more time in the trees, in a relatively nutrient-rich part of the DRC rainforest, eating mostly fruit and nuts. Not the sort of stuff you have to chase around and bash to death. And they hang around together, so the males might spend more time entertaining the kids, more or less by default.

And there are mysteries. The male bonobos are bigger than the females, by about the same proportion as humans. The females keep control by female-female bonding, often sexualised, but since ‘sexual healing’ goes on in every possible combination, why don’t the males gain control by the same means? Or why haven’t they? (It wouldn’t be a matter of deciding to do so, more an evolved thing, which didn’t happen). Also dominant females appear to have favoured male offspring, who might serve as their captain-at-arms, in a sense. But now I’m starting to speculate more wildly.

So, the research: in 2010, a paper was published in PNAS (pronounced ‘penis’ by the cognoscenti), entitled ‘Differential changes in steroid hormones before competition in bonobos and chimpanzees’. It described an experiment conducted on male pairs of chimps and bonobos (chimp with chimp, bonobo with bonobo). The pairs were tested for hormonal changes before and after two different food-sharing settings:

We found that in both species, males showed an anticipatory decrease (relative to baseline) in steroids when placed with a partner in a situation in which the two individuals shared food, and an anticipatory increase when placed with a partner in a situation in which the dominant individual obtained more food.

However, these ‘endocrine shifts’ occurred in cortisol for bonobos, and testosterone for chimps, which was more or less as predicted by the researchers. And why did they predict this?

Given that chimpanzees and bonobos differ markedly in their food-sharing behavior, we predicted that they would differ in their rapid endocrine shifts.

Cortisol is generally regarded as a stress hormone, or the fight or flight hormone. I used to get one of those ‘shifts’ (which sent me to the toilet) before teaching a new class. I haven’t asked female teachers if they ‘suffered’ similarly.

Because competition for overt markers of status and mating opportunities is more relevant to males, these effects are less consistent in females.

I’m not sure I was concerned about mating opportunities when starting a new class – could get me into a spot of bother – but status, maybe. But what interests me is that hormone shifts follow social behavioural patterns. That’s to say, shifts in testosterone will be rapid in all-male groups such as male gangs (which I experienced as a young person), in which the pecking order is constantly under challenge, all the way down the line. Cortisol too, I suppose, but gangs are all about ‘proving manhood’, which didn’t at the time seem to be all about sex, but in a not-so-roundabout way, it was.

Chimps, as mentioned, tend to hang together in these sorts of tight hierarchical groups, and so show a stronger ‘power motive’, a term used in human competition research. Bonobos are more co-operative, to the point of becoming stressed when food isn’t easily shared:

Because bonobo conflicts rarely escalate to severe aggression, we might classify bonobos as possessing a passive coping style…

That sounds like me, especially in my youth – considering that, all through my school years, I was one of the two or three smallest kids in the class, male or female, what other coping style could I have? But unfortunately, in the human world, too many blokes have an active coping style, together with a power motive, making misérables of the rest of us.

So, I’ve focused only on this one piece of research for this little essay, and I’ll have a look at more in the future. What it tells me is that we can, indeed, and should, shape our society to become more bonoboesque in the future, for the good of us all. It is heading that way anyway (again with that WEIRD world caveat), in spite of the Trumps and their epigones (dear, the idea that Old Shitmouth could bring forth epigones is grossly disturbing). One last quote from the researchers:

These findings suggest that independent mechanisms govern the sensitivity of testosterone and cortisol to competition, and that distinct factors may affect anticipatory vs. response shifts in apes and humans. Future species comparisons can continue to illuminate how ecology has shaped species differences in behavioral endocrinology, including the selection pressures acting in human evolution.
And of course human evolution continues…

can’t get enough of bonobo bonding

References

Carole Hooven, Testosterone: the hormone that dominates and divides us, 2021

https://ussromantics.com/category/bonobos/

https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1007411107

 

Written by stewart henderson

November 1, 2022 at 10:52 pm

our electric future – is copper a problem?

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So I recently had a conversation with someone who told me that electric vehicles were not the future because – copper. I must admit that I immediately got tetchy, even though I knew nothing about the ‘copper problem’, or if there actually was one. My interlocutor wasn’t anti-green in any way, he was more into electric bikes, tiny-teeny cars, and people staying put – not travelling anywhere, or not far at least. Perhaps he imagined that ‘virtual travel’ would replace real travel, reducing our environmental footprint substantially.

It has struck me that his rather extreme view of the future was an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good. I’m all for electric bikes, car-sharing and even a reduction in travelling, within limits (in fact migration has been associated with the human species since it came into being, just as it has with butterflies, whales and countless other species) but although I note with a certain disdain that family cars are getting bigger just as families are getting smaller (in our WEIRD world), I have no faith whatever that those family cars are going to be abandoned in the foreseeable.

But getting back to copper, the issue, which I admit to having been blind to, is that with a full-on tilt to electrification, copper, the world’s most efficient and cheaply available electric conductor, might suddenly become scarce, putting us in a spot of bother. But will it? That depends on who you talk to. Somehow the question brings back to mind David Deutsch’s The beginning of infinity, a super-optimistic account of human ingenuity. Not enough copper? No problem we can’t engineer our way out of…

Currently demand for copper is outstripping supply, but will this be a long term problem? CNBC made a video recently – ‘Why a looming copper shortage has big consequences for the green economy’ – the title of which, it seems to me, is more pessimistic than the content. Copper has been an ultra-useful metal for us humans, literally for millennia. But its high conductivity – second only to silver, which presumably is more rare and so far more expensive – has made it the go-to metal for our modern world of electric appliances. It also has the benefit of being highly recyclable, so it can be ripped out of end-of-life buildings, vehicles and anything else and re-used. But EVs use about four times more copper than infernal combustion vehicles, and wind turbines as well as solar panels require lots of the stuff, as do EV charging stations, and there aren’t too many new copper mines operating, so…

From what I can gather online, though, there’s no need for panic. Apparently, we’re currently utilising some 12% of what we know to be available for mining. The available stuff is the cheap stuff, and until now we’ve not really needed much more. But new techniques of separating copper from its principal ore, chalcopyrite, look promising, and markets appear to be upbeat – get into copper, it’ll make your fortune!

There’s also the fact that, though things are changing, the uptake of EVs is still relatively slow. People are generally talking about crunch time coming in that vaguely defined era, ‘the future’. High copper demand, low supply seems to be the mantra, and all the talk is about investment and risk, largely meaningless stuff to impoverished observers like me. In more recent times, copper prices have dropped due to ‘a manufacturing recession caused by the energy crisis’. I didn’t know about either of these phenomena. Why wasn’t I told? Mining.com has this to say about the current situation, FWIW:

Copper prices typically react to the ebb and flow of demand in China, which accounts for half of global consumption estimated at around 25 million tonnes this year. But this time the focus is on Europe, accounting for 15% to 20% of the global demand for copper used in power and construction. The region is facing surging gas and power prices after energy supply cuts, which Russia blames on Western sanctions over the Ukraine conflict. The European Union has made proposals to impose mandatory targets on member countries to cut power consumption.

Make of this what you will, I have quoted the most coherent passage in a mire of economics-speak. Presumably, supply is affected by the volatile conditions created by Mr Pudding’s testosterone. So everybody is saying that copper is falling in price, and this is apparently bad. Here’s another quote to make sense of:

Due to closing smelters and falling demand from manufacturers, an excess of copper stockpiles has been building up in a number of Shanghai and London warehouses, also contributing to downward pressure on prices.

Meaning copper isn’t worth much currently, though this is probably a temporary thing. Glad I haven’t anything to invest.

I think the bottom line in all this is don’t worry, be happy. Copper availability for the energy transition is subject to so many incoherent fluctuations that it’s not worth worrying about for the average pundit. Here in Australia the issues are – you can solarise your home no worries. Buying an EV is another matter, since none are being manufactured here, so governments need to be pressured to create conditions for a manufacturing base, and the infrastructure to support the EV world. Storage and battery technology need to be supported and subsidised, as is in fact starting to happen, with a more supportive federal government, and state Labor governments here in South Australia, and in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria.

So, to conclude, having read through quite a few websites dealing with copper as the go-to metal for the transition to green energy (some links below), I haven’t found too much pessimism or concern about Dr Copper’s availability, though there are clearly vested interests in some cases. Australia, by the way, has the second largest copper reserves in the world (a long way behind Chile), and this could presumably be turned to our benefit. I’m sure a lot of magnates are magnetised by the thought.

References

https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/A-Copper-Crisis-Threatens-The-Energy-Transition.html

https://intellinews.com/ev-market-may-create-copper-deficit-219864/

Europe’s energy crisis to drop copper price to two-year low

Driving the green revolution: The use of copper in EVs

Written by stewart henderson

October 26, 2022 at 10:09 pm

Evolutionary biology, testosterone and bonobos

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this is the first of a 22-part slide show on the topic – hormones don’t rate a mention!


Canto: So I think we need to get back to another obsession of ours – bonobos and how we can harness a bit more bonoboism for human purposes. We’re currently observing, horrified, as Russia’s alpha male chimp flips out on his own testosterone, perhaps….

Jacinta: Yes, it could well read like something out of Jane Goodall – a long-term alpha male, who has done reasonably well in holding his troupe together by inordinate bullying, random slaughter and regular breast-beating, and by smart alliances, suddenly endangers everything in attempting to take over another troupe…

Canto: And having read three books on the trot, referenced below, on China and its all-male thugocracy, it’s more than tempting to cast that thugocracy in chimpian terms – alpha male after alpha male after alpha male. 

Jacinta: Yes, I’ve long considered how best to rename the soi-disant Chinese Communist Party (CCP), arguably the most absurd misnomer in the known universe. I considered the Chinese Fascist Party, but that seems a bit ‘trendy’, and to call it simply The Party seems too bland, neutral, and even festive. But to call it the Chinese Testosterone Party – that fits the bill perfectly. I really really want that to catch on in the WEIRD world. So anyway, with the evidence mounting that female leadership leads to better outcomes, politically, socially and, I hope, sexually – though we’ve been a bit nervous about that tediously sensitive issue – how can we speed up the trend towards human bonoboism?

Canto: It’s hard, especially when all these macho shenanigans bring out my own most bloodthirsty revenge fantasies. But I’ve been wondering about hormones: Are there any hormonal differences between chimps and bonobos that might help to explain the bonobo turn towards female-female bonding and control of males – and the freewheeling sexual play within bonobo society?

Jacinta: You mean – could we control and transform our human world through some kind of hormone replacement therapy? Sounds promising. 

Canto: We’ll here’s some food for thought re males versus females, and not just in humans:

Empathy is our ability to understand how others are feeling, and men are less able to do this than women, across cultures. This is a widely replicated and consistent finding, and it’s not true just of human males and females. In chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, elephants, dogs and wolves, researchers have observed that males engage in lower rates of behaviours related to empathy, like caregiving, cooperating, helping and comforting.

Carole Hooven, Testosterone, p159.

Jacinta: So the question is – is there a hormone we can take for that? Sadly, it’s never that simple. 

Canto: Sure, but anyway, let’s ask Dr Google. Hmmm, top of the page:

There is some evidence that high levels of estradiol and progesterone are associated with low levels of aggression 

Jacinta: That’s enough for me. Compulsory high-level doses for all males. Overdoses in fact. They either die or shut the fuck up. 

Canto: So there’s a university textbook, Principles of social psychology, which has a section, the biological and emotional causes of aggression, and of course Hooven writes a lot about aggression and testosterone in humans and other animals. There’s just so much to dig into here. For example, pair-bonding male birds and other animals, such as bonobos, who have more of a share in child-rearing, have lower testosterone levels than those in social situations where there is a greater separation between males and females. Arguably that is the case in agricultural societies as opposed to hunter-gatherers. 

Jacinta: So much easier to change hormone levels by just stuffing them into people’s bodies than by changing behaviour, though, surely. Can’t you just add them to the water supply?

Canto: That might be possible, especially if we lived in a thugocracy. 

Jacinta: Hmmm, it gets more and more confusing. 

Canto: What’s interesting about the findings is the chicken-egg issue. Does the gradual social evolution of male caring – if that’s what’s happening – reduce hormone levels or vice versa? I would hypothesise that it’s the caring that’s affecting the hormone levels, but how to test this?

Jacinta: Seriously, testosterone plays a huge role in our development, physiologically to take it to its most basic level. It makes for more athleticism, and probably for more of the competitive urge that leads to that obsessive athleticism, and bodybuilding claptrap. Somehow it makes me think of Mr Pudding, and his caricaturish experience of first being bullied by Charles Atlas types, and then learning a few martial arts-type skills to get revenge, with the end result of controlling a whole nation, and leading a military to rape and murder women and blow kids to bits in Ukraine. Testosterone has a lot to answer for. 

Canto: And yet. Look at bonobos. Look at Scandinavia. The beast has been tamed, in a few pockets of our universe. 

Jacinta: Do aliens have hormones, there’s a question. 

Canto: Yeah we first have to answer the earthling question – are there aliens in the universe?

Jacinta: But haven’t quite a few humans been kidnapped by aliens? 

Canto: Ha, oh yes, the ones who escaped…. but all the missing persons…

Jacinta: Returning to Earth, the hormone issue, and possibly even the neurophysiology issue, these raise the questions of masculinity and femininity – which Hooven explores from an endocrinological perspective – does a woman with a high testosterone level have a disqualifying advantage over another ‘normal’ woman, in running, jumping, throwing and lifting?

 Canto: Hilariously – depending on your perspective – this has become a minefield in the world of sport and athletics. Hooven cites an athlete, Caster Semenya (and I know v little about this topic) who had a habit of blitzing the field in running events a decade ago –  in fact from 2009 to 2018. Unsurprisingly, I would say, she had ‘suspiciously’ high testosterone levels (which of course would never have been measured before the 21st century), so complaints were made. Was this woman really a man? Which raises obvious masculinity and femininity questions…

Jacinta: Which, just as obviously, should be quashed by – fuck, she’s fast, that’s so fantastic! Go, girl! 

Canto: But I suppose there’s a legitimate question – do abnormal levels of x give you an advantage?

Jacinta: Yeah, like long legs, in running? Shouldn’t leg length be subject to restrictions? 

Canto: It’s a good point. We want to think maleness and femaleness are distinct, but we tend to think in terms of averages – the average female is 80% of the mass of the average male, the average male produces x more testosterone than the average female, etc, but there’s enormous variation within each gender, and that’s genderbendingly problematic for more than just athletics officials. 

Jacinta: Anyway, just how important is endocrinology for a future bonobo world? Should we be focussing on promoting estradiol and progesterone rather than femaledom? Should we be screening politicians for the best hormonal balance rather than the best policies?

Canto: Ah but if my previously mentioned hypothesis is correct, we should be screening potential ‘leaders’ for their caring and sharing, which will lead to a greater expression of the ‘good’ hormones. 

Jacinta: Yes, good for a society in which aggression has more serious consequences than it had in the past, what with WMDs and the like – the slaughter of women for their ‘contemptuous’ flouting of dress codes, the slaughter of ethic communities for their insistence on a modicum of independence. Aggression with a massive state apparatus behind it, and more effective weaponry than ever before. But how do we rid ourselves of these aggressive states without aggression? How do we even defend ourselves against them without aggression?

Canto: Maybe we’re just wanting too much too soon. I note that we’re getting more female political leaders than in the past, though they tend so far to be countries with relatively small populations – Scotland (our birth country), Scandinavian countries, New Zealand, Taiwan, the Baltic States… and, as with bonobos, it’s not just the alpha females, it’s the status of the whole female sex that makes the difference. 

Jacinta: Yes, if we had but world enough, and time….

References

Jane Goodall, Through a window, 1990

Trevor Watson & Melissa Roberts, ed. The Beijing bureau, 2021

David Brophy, China panic, 2021

Bill Birtles, The truth about China, 2021

Carole Hooven, Testosterone: the story of the hormone that dominates and divides us, 2021

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5942158/

Nicky Hayes (?), Principles of social psychology, c2015?

 

Written by stewart henderson

October 19, 2022 at 3:03 pm

an interminable conversation 12: more on hydrogen, and wondering about local power costs

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filched from an anti-global warming dinosaur – all’s fair….

Jacinta: So we’ve learned a lot about the problems with hydrogen as a potential fuel, and its problems as a chemical, in the production of fertiliser, in the petrochemical industry, and the need to clean up such usage, for example the contribution of ‘fugitive methane’ to carbon emissions. We also learned that carbon capture and storage, mooted for decades, seems to be going nowhere, largely due to its unprofitability re the private sector…

Canto: So now we’re going to listen to Rosie Barnes, of “Engineering with Rosie”, at a Hydrogen Online Conference, one of many interactive conferences apparently being planned. I’ve heard Rosie before, expressing some skepticism about hydrogen in general, so I’m surprised that she’s prepared to enter the ‘lion’s den’ of what I naturally presume to be hydrogen advocacy.

Jacinta: Yes I’m not sure I want to listen to the post-talk interactive session of this video, as I’m a bit squeamish about confrontation. Why can’t everybody just be nice and agree about everything?!

Canto: Yeah well Rosie begins with the question – which hydrogen projects should we prioritise?  And she also mentions the hydrogen energy supply chain, which is apparently a liquid hydrogen transport project between Australia and Japan, about which I know nothing.

Jacinta: Though actually we did write about this before, in a piece that now seems haplessly naive (linked below, FWIW). Anyway, the ScienceDirect website has this ‘headline’ in its overview of liquid hydrogen:

Production of liquid hydrogen or liquefaction is an energy-intensive process, typically requiring amounts of energy equal to about one-third of the energy in liquefied hydrogen.

which don’t sound promising.

Canto: But Rosie seems to think the hydrogen future is a bit more rosy these days. Another focus of her talk will be ‘giga projects’, presumably meaning ginormous projects, such as the ‘Asian renewable energy hub’ and the ‘western green energy hub’, about which more research is needed – by us.

Jacinta: So she was hearing a lot of hype, mainly from politicians, a couple of years ago, about all sorts of hydrogen ‘applications’, but mainly about ‘power system balancing’, which hopefully we’ll hear more about – maybe to do with balancing for the variability of wind and solar –  and for vehicular transport. And clearly she didn’t get it, especially in respect of other applications, no doubt, such as home heating. I mean, why hydrogen?

Canto: Indeed. She identified four red flags at the outset – and we need to dig deeper into these. First, ‘will developers keep building wind and solar if prices are negative?’ I don’t know what that means…

Jacinta: Economics is definitely not our strong suit. Actually we don’t have a strong suit. So here’s Wikipedia:

In economics, negative pricing can occur when demand for a product drops or supply increases to an extent that owners or suppliers are prepared to pay others to accept it, in effect setting the price to a negative number. This can happen because it costs money to transport, store, and dispose of a product even when there is little demand to buy it.

Canto: So it’s not immediately clear what that has to do with hydrogen, but let’s mention the other 3 red flags: 2 – will negative electricity prices persist? 3 – round trip efficiency, and 4 – the head start for and rapid improvement of other renewable technologies. Just putting those out there for now.

Jacinta: The questionable nature of the first one is – if electricity production becomes virtually free (negative pricing) then hydrogen production will be virtually free too, using renewables. I think. So the first two red flags are clearly connected. Businesses need to be profitable, so they won’t build (wind or solar) if there’s no market or if the market is saturated. With green hydrogen anyway, the production costs are, or have been quite extreme and those costs would have to come down by a factor of three to be equivalent to ‘dirty’ hydrogen production, to say nothing of cheaper electricity competing for the grid. To wait for the energy to be ‘negatively priced’ and only then use it for electrolysis seemed risky and possibly unworkable. A lot of equipment, etc, for little return.

Canto: Much of this was looking back at 2020 – not so long ago – and looking to Germany as an example of a highly renewable grid, but now she considers our Australian state – South Australia, which produces a lot of wind, first, and solar, second. Over the past 12 months, 65% or so of our grid electricity has been from renewables. Largely wind and solar, rather than base-load renewables (meaning nuclear perhaps, in the case of Germany?)

Jacinta: Yes, presumably nuclear, also hydro could be base load, as presumably it is in Tasmania. Rosie mentioned that we don’t have a lot of geothermal, and that rather shocked me, as I thought there wasn’t much geothermal anywhere, that it was one of those eternally future technologies….

Canto: The USA’s EIA (Energy Information Administration) tells us more:

The most active geothermal resources are usually found along major tectonic plate boundaries where most volcanoes are located. One of the most active geothermal areas in the world is called the Ring of Fire, which encircles the Pacific Ocean.

Most of the geothermal power plants in the United States are in western states and Hawaii, where geothermal energy resources are close to the earth’s surface. California generates the most electricity from geothermal energy. The Geysers dry steam reservoir in Northern California is the largest known dry steam field in the world and has been producing electricity since 1960.

Jacinta: Well, thanks for that. Something new every day…

Canto: So Rosie tells us we have had persistent negative electricity prices in SA – which is interesting considering that our household bills are painfully high. She presents a couple of graphics that I don’t fully understand… I certainly can’t understand negative pricing. Clearly not talking about consumers…

Jacinta: I’d like to know why our electricity costs are so high. Right now please. We can get back to Rosie later.

Canto: Well it’s a worthwhile detour to pursue, but it’ll require a bit of research. So maybe next time. So having watched Rosie’s not-so-rosey presentation, without watching the Q & A, because I tend to be a bit squeamish about that format, I find myself wondering…. there was little mention of Prof Cebon’s concerns about the questionable future of blue hydrogen and CCS, or of the problem of fugitive methane in the production of hydrogen from natural gas, or of the obvious failure in the take-up of hydrogen for passenger transport, or of the cost and difficult logistics of hydrogen compression and transport. And as to its possible use in storage, the battery solution seems more likely, surely?

Jacinta: She did point out, either in this talk or her earlier one, that hydrogen often looks like a solution looking for a problem, and this seems surely to be the case for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. It seems that EVs have won that race, and the improvements continue to be rapid. Well, we might pursue the hydrogen issue, and why so many people are hooked on hydrogen, and the details of hydrogen production, and many other issues relating to renewables, for a while yet, but let’s have a look at the cost of energy here in South Australia, where rooftop solar is very popular, and wind farms are kicking up a storm, but our electricity bills are still painfully high….

References

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/liquid-hydrogen

a hydrogen energy industry in South Australia?

 

Written by stewart henderson

October 18, 2022 at 6:52 pm

an interminable conversation 11: Hydrogen?

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yeah, hang on a minute

Jacinta: So green hydrogen – what is it, is it real? Does it really have a future? Where, if anywhere, does it fit in that future? It keeps getting put down, it keeps getting talked about, and it seems most experts say, yeah, it’s in the mix, but at a fairly low concentration.

Canto: Good topic – this will allow us to look back at some videos we’ve viewed which have left me scratching my head. So first, on the inestimable Fully Charged podcast, Robert Llewellyn interviewed a clearly Australian Prof, David Cebon…

Jacinta: And this interview received really rave reviews in the comments, I noticed, which surely says something.

Canto: Yes, so let’s try and get our heads around it… and wow, having watched that interview, I feel a bit dumb for having vaguely hyped green hydrogen’s promise, and for being overly skeptical of Elon Musk’s dismissal of hydrogen a few years go – especially in light of the difficulty of compressing and moving the stuff.

Jacinta: So let’s start at the beginning. Prof Cebon is with the Hydrogen Science Coalition (https://h2sciencecoalition.com), and is a professor of mechanical engineering at Cambridge University. He’s the Director of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, and he’s co-authored over a hundred papers etc etc, so he’s super-knowledgeable about this stuff, especially when it comes to vehicular transport.

Canto: So Robert started by talking positively about hydrogen fuel cell cars as clean and green – no toxic fumes. But, nowhere to refuel them – and refuelling is one of many issues.

Jacinta: And then it was onto the colours of hydrogen, which I didn’t know about. So you ‘make’ hydrogen in two ways – electrolysing water, that is separating into hydrogen and oxygen by means of an electric current, which is energy-intensive. Pulling the H2O molecules apart isn’t easy. If the electricity you use for this is renewable, that makes ‘green hydrogen’. If that energy isn’t renewable it’s called ‘yellow hydrogen’. Of course, energy out of the grid may be a mix – here in South Australia it’s largely gas and renewables, whereas in the eastern states a lot of it is coal – nasty brown coal in Victoria. And so on.

Canto: And as Prof Cebon points out, using green energy to produce hydrogen, rather than to grid it directly into houses and businesses, might seem a bit odd. He calls it an opportunity cost.

Jacinta: The next main ‘colour’ of hydrogen comes from fossil fuel, particularly gas (mostly methane, CH4). By treating gas with super-hot steam, you can break it down into hydrogen and CO2. That carbon dioxide normally goes into the atmosphere. Some 2% of the world’s carbon emissions comes from producing this sort of ‘grey’ hydrogen, which is used to make ammonia (NH3) for fertiliser, and in the petrochemical industry. That percentage is about as much as aviation uses (though fertiliser is pretty essential). However, if you can ‘carbon capture and storage’ that CO2, then the hydrogen involved becomes lovely blue hydrogen.

Canto: Yes but as the Prof points out, once you’ve stripped the carbon from the methane, the remaining hydrogen isn’t very energy intensive, so you need a lot of methane to make a useful amount of hydrogen. Better to use the methane directly via the grid!

Jacinta: As Prof Cebon says, you need more methane to fuel your economy via hydrogen (around 40% more) than if you just used natural gas directly. All very attractive to the natural gas industry!

Canto: Right – what with the ‘electrify everything’ trend, the gas industry will be worried about its market, so here’s an opportunity – pump up hydrogen. Beware of the fossil fuel industry’s lobbying! And it’s blue hydrogen they’re really after, for financial reasons.

Jacinta: So back to electrolysis, green hydrogen, and efficiency. The electrolysis process is about 75% efficient, but importantly the energy has changed form. Think of energy as either work or heat, and forget kWhs for the moment. It’s work that’s important. You want the energy to produce more work and less heat (as with LED versus incandescent light globes). The combination of the two is the total energy output according to the first law of thermodynamics, or the law of energy conservation. Electricity from your battery produces work (eg in an EV) with very high efficiency. Diesel, petrol and other chemical fuels, including hydrogen, produce a lot of heat. According to the prof, the efficiency of an infernal combustion engine, which is essentially its work to heat ratio, is around 30%. Diesel may get up to maybe 45% but that’s the limit. Electricity can reach 90 to 95% efficiency. Chemical energy apparently runs up against the second law of thermodynamics, which limits the conversion of heat back to work. There’s always going to be a loss.

Canto: Right again. So 25% of the energy used in electrolysis is lost as heat. You have to convert the heat back to electricity via a fuel cell, which also has limited efficiency. And this efficiency reduction is before the energy required for compression, transportation, etc. So it’s all very problematic, though hydrogen has been touted as a miracle energy source since the early days of the nuclear industry.

Jacinta: Yes, and there are plenty of other problems with hydrogen – first, it’s colourless and odourless, and it’s very hard to contain without leaks, being of course the most molecularly tiny element in existence, so to use it as a home fuel would require a massive infrastructural upgrade, and of course it’s highly explosive and generates high NOx emissions when burned in the home – more so than methane. It’s also very inefficient compared to electrified heat pumps, which the prof calculates as about six times more efficient. So why would you use renewable energy in this inefficient way? The industry, according to the prof, is trying to hide this impracticability from the public.

Canto: Professor Cebon is involved with, or maybe heads up, the Hydrogen Science Coalition, which highlights five principles. First, the only acceptable form, in terms of fuel, is green hydrogen, using electrolysis via green energy. Blue hydrogen isn’t clean – being gotten from ‘dirty’ methane, and what Cebon calls fugitive methane, emissions from flaring and venting and leaking, amounts to the total annual carbon emissions of Europe – it’s a huge problem, due partially to the unregulated nature of the gas industry in Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere. Carbon capture and storage, which has been mooted for decades, has gotten nowhere, because – where are the profits in it? No private enterprise would touch it.

Jacinta: The second principle, or project, is to clean up the chemical use of hydrogen in ammonia fertilisers and in the steel and petrochemical industries by preventing the escape of so much of the C02 byproduct from escaping into the atmosphere. Not so much via CCS as by more efficient processing. The third project is to speed up electrification – let’s not pretend that hydrogen is an option for heating homes, for example, or that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can be competitive with EVs. That battle has already been won.

Canto: Fourth is to rid ourselves of the idea that blending hydrogen into gas for any energy purposes is going to be useful. Hydrogen is a low energy replacement for methane, so you would need much more of the stuff, with all the attendant problems. And fifth and last is that hydrogen can only be used locally – that’s to say, at source. Transporting hydrogen safely is hugely expensive – being very light, many vehicles would be required to transport a sufficient energy load – 16 to 1 compared to diesel, according to our Prof. Not at all practicable.

Jacinta: And apparently hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are much more expensive to run than EVs, requiring replacement parts and so forth. So why are people still touting hydrogen. We’ll look more into that in a future piece.

Canto: Yes, Australia’s ‘Engineering with Rosie’ vodcaster has participated in a webinar for Mission Hydrogen, which sounds ominous, but I’ve heard her being skeptical about the green hydrogen movement, so we’ll see what she has to say.

 

References 

Home

 

Written by stewart henderson

October 11, 2022 at 6:18 pm

an interminable conversation 10: more basic physics – integrals

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that’s for sure

Jacinta: So I watched episode 3 of the crash course physics videos, on integrals, and found it so overwhelming I had to immediately go and take a nap. I’m surely too old and thick for this stuff, but I must soldier on.

Canto: We can do battle together – so this episode is about integrals, the inverse of derivatives. I’m not sure we gleaned much from the episode about derivatives, but if we combine this with exercises from Brilliant and some other practical application-type videos and websites we might make some more progress before we die.

Jacinta: Okay so equations, at least some of them, can be plotted on graphs with x-y axes, and the integral of the equation is the area between the curve and the horizontal x axis. Dr Somara is going to teach us some shortcuts for calculating these integrals, which sounds ominous.

Canto: I didn’t really understand the stuff about derivatives, but I’ll keep going, hoping for a light-bulb moment. So integrals help us to understand how things move, she says, which in itself sounds weird. And then she mentions the displacement curve, which I’ve forgotten.

Jacinta: Looking elsewhere, I’ve found a simple video showing displacement-time graphs. Displacement, which is simply movement from one position to another, is shown on the y (vertical) axis, and time on the x axis. A graph showing a straight horizontal line would mean no displacement, therefore zero velocity. A graph showing a vertical straight line would mean displacement in zero time, which would indicate something impossible – infinite velocity? Anyway, a straight line between the horizontal and the vertical would indicate a fixed velocity – neither accelerating nor decelerating. A curve would indicate positive or negative shifts in velocity. I think. Sorry – the terms used are constant velocity and variable velocity. That’s much neater. Oh and there’s also negative velocity, but that’s a weird one.

Canto: Thanks, that’s useful. Need to point out though that ‘curve’ is just the term for representing the data on a graph – in that sense the curve could be a straight line, or whatever. So Dr Somara starts with a gravity problem. You want to know the distance between your bedroom window and the ground, in a multi-storey building. You have a ball, a stop-watch and a knowledge of gravity. The ball will fall at g, 9.81 m/sec². What is the distance? According to the Doctor, discussion so far about motion has involved three aspects, position, velocity and acceleration, and has focussed on velocity as the derivative of position, and acceleration as the derivative of velocity. The connection has to be reversed to work out the distance problem. So velocity is the integral of acceleration. 

Jacinta: And of course position is the integral of velocity. And this is important – velocity is the area under the acceleration curve, and position the area under the velocity curve. Which might be difficult to calculate. Areas within polygons, without too many sides, is easy enough, sort of, but under complex curvy stuff, not so much. And when we talk about ‘under’ here, it’s the area, often, to the axis, which represents some sort of zero condition, I think. Anyway, one method of calculating this area is to treat it as a series of rectangles, growing more or less infinitely smaller. Imagine dividing a circle into squares to determine its area – a big one extending from four equidistant points on the circumference, which would account for most of the area, and then progressively smaller squares in the interstices. You get the idea?

Canto: Yes, with that method you’d get infinitely closer to the precise area… Anyway, Dr Somara shows us a curve which is apparently the graphic representation of a formula, x⁴- 3x² + 1, and shows us how to find the integral, or at least shows us how we can divide the curve and its connection to the x axis by dividing it into rectangles. But what’s a more practical way of doing it? Well I’ll follow her precisely here. ‘If you know that your velocity is equal to twice time (v = 2t), then you know this is the derivative of position. So to find the equation for position, you have to look for an equation whose derivative is 2t, as for example, x = t². So x = 2t is the integral of v = t²

Jacinta: Yeah I can barely follow that. But the good doctor assures us that integral calculation is a bit messy. But apparently we can use the ‘power rule’ which we used for derivatives, and reverse it, in some instances. To quote: ‘Basically, you add one to the exponent, then divide the variable by that number’. Here’s an example: with v = 2t, x = 2/2t¹+¹, so x = 2/2t², so x = t². x = t² is the integral of v = 2t. She shows another more complex example, but I can’t do the notation for it with my limited keyboard skills. It involves some division. Anyway, with these mathematical methods we can look at trigonometric derivatives and do them backwards, e.g. the integral of cos(x) is sin(x).

Canto: We need to look at a variety of explanations of all this to bed it down methinks. I can only say I know a little more than I did, and that’s progress. And next we get onto constants. So what’s a constant (c)? It’s a number, and can literally be any number, positive, negative, fractional, whatever. It can be a placeholder, as for gravity, g (here on Earth), or presumably the speed of light, or ye olde cosmological constant, which is apparently still alive and well. Anyway, the derivative of a constant is always 0. That’s because a derivative’s a rate of change, and constants don’t change, by definition.

Jacinta: The derivative of t² is 2t, which presumably works by the power rule. Add any number and the derivative will always be 2t. That’s to say, the derivative of t² +/- (any number) is 2t. So, ‘if you’re looking for the integral of an equation like x = 2t, you have infinite choices, all of which are equally correct’. It could be t² or perhaps t² -18 or t² + 0.456. But I’m not clear on what this has to do with constants.

Canto: We’re flying blind, but it’s not too dangerous. The idea seems to be that the integral of x = 2t is t² + c. And here, if not back there, is where it gets tricky. With a bit of practice, we might know what the graph of the integral would look like, but not so much where it will lie vis-a-vis the vertical axis. For that we need to know more about the constant, ‘in order to know where to start drawing its integral. Whatever the constant is equal to, that’s where the curve will intersect with the vertical axis’. If it’s just t², it will intersect at zero, if it’s t² – 10, it’ll intersect at minus 10, etc. To avoid this infinity of integrals, the practice is to add c at the end of the integral, to stand for all the possible constants. So, saying that the integral of x = 2t is t² + c covers all the infinite options for c.

Jacinta: Well, Dr Somara next talks about the ‘initial value’, which you can apparently use to work out ‘where your integral is supposed to be on the y-axis’ without knowing the value for c – I think. For a graph of position, the initial value would be your starting position – where it intersects the vertical axis. This is the c value.

Canto: So returning to the bedroom window and the ball, the ball is dropped from the window sill at the same time the stopwatch starts. It hits the ground at 1.7 secs. So we know the time and the acceleration, 9.81m/sec². We need an equation for the ball’s position. We do this by finding its velocity, working out the integral of its acceleration. If you have a graph with the y-axis representing acceleration, which in this case is constant, and the x-axis representing time, the uniformly accelerating ball would be represented as a flat line, making the area under the ‘curve’ – between it and the x-axis – fairly easy to calculate. The area would be rectangular, and would be calculated by base x height. The base is t, the amount of time the ball took from release to hitting the ground, and the height is a, the acceleration, so it’s just a matter of a x t. The integral is at plus c, the constant. We need this constant, according to Dr Somara, because we can see that the velocity graph will be diagonal, a line ‘slanted in such a way that, every second, it rises by an amount equal to the acceleration’.

Jacinta: But, where to put it the line on the vertical axis? We’re looking for the integral of the acceleration, so we may use the power rule, which I still don’t get. So I’ll quote the doctor, for safety: ‘The acceleration, a, is a constant, but we could also say that it’s tº (t to the power zero)’. And anything ‘to the power zero’ is always 1. So, according to this mysterious power rule, the integral of acceleration (i.e the velocity) would be equal to the acceleration multiplied by the time – plus c. The c is added because we didn’t know where to place it on the y axis when time, on the x axis, is zero.

Canto: Yeah right. Let’s continue to quote the doctor – ‘Now here’s where the initial value [??] comes in. The velocity graph tells you what the velocity is for each moment in time. But we had to add the c, because we didn’t know…’ the initial value, being the velocity at time zero. ‘So the integral of the acceleration could have just been a x t, or at’. Or at plus or minus whatever. The in the integral represents these options. But if we can work out the velocity at time zero (v0) we won’t need c. So, according to our Doctor, ‘if we write our equation with that v0 in it, as a placeholder for the velocity when time equals zero, we end up with the full equation for velocity, v = at + v0′. This is the kinematic equation, the definition of velocity. So the equation tells us that the final velocity of out tennis ball is at, that’s to say 9.8m/sec x 1.7 secs, that’s to say, 16.7m/sec (down, towards the Earth’s centre of gravity).

Jacinta: All of which seems to complicate something not quite so complicated. Anyhow, the pain isn’t over yet – we need to link acceleration with position, and this requires further integration, apparently. So, according to the power rule, which we should have learned, the integral of at is half at squared, and to get the integral of v0 you multiply it by t. Get it?

Canto: No. Let me quote from a highlighted comment: ‘i cant imagine how the avg viewer with no prior knowledge of calculus would actually understand calculus just by watching this video’.

Jacinta: Hmmm. Maybe we’ll try Khan Academy next. Anyway, if you put these integrals together you’ll get something that looks like the kinematic equation, the displacement curve. So for our example, we can work out the height from which the ball was dropped, or the distance the ball has travelled, using the initial position and time (zero and zero) plus half at squared. a was 9.81 m/sec², and t was 1.7 secs. is 2.89. Multiplying them makes 28.35, which, halved, is 14.175. metres. At least I got the calculation right, but as to the why….

References

https://sites.google.com/a/vistausd.org/physicsgraphicalanalysis/displacement-position-vs-time-graph

 

Written by stewart henderson

October 11, 2022 at 12:26 pm

nuclear issues – the end of complacency? Vive la révolution des bonobos!

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So, Japan’s sense of itself as a mighty, controlling power, which had been corroding fast since its foolhardy attack on Pearl Harbour, was brought to an abrupt end in August 1945, the result of two atomic bombs, the only such weapons ever used against a human population.

Those explosions also set off two contradictory trends, which have persisted ever since; the proliferation of nuclear weapons at the behest of two ‘superpowers’, the USA and the Soviet Union (together with desperate attempts to acquire such weapons by wannabe superpowers), and a refrain of ‘never again’ by most members of the world community. This disastrous contradiction has persisted to this day, so that we’re now faced with the bizarre scenario of a worldwide anti-nuclear consensus, together with a total nuclear arsenal which could destroy the biosphere many times over. If ever any alien needed proof of the crooked timber of humanity, surely this scenario would be the first thing to point out.

It’s hard for a non-military person to make sense of the quantity and type of nuclear weaponry owned and deployed, if that’s the word, by the USA. But I’ll give it a go. Here’s the first thing I found:

As of 2021, American nuclear forces on land consist of 400 Minuteman III ICBMs spread among 450 operational launchers. Those in the seas consist of 14 nuclear-capable Ohio-class Trident submarines, nine in the Pacific and five in the Atlantic.

This doesn’t appear to tell us anything of the destructive power of these ICBMs. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, gets to the point quickly enough:

 Less than one percent of the nuclear weapons in the world could disrupt the global climate and threaten as many as two billion people with starvation in a nuclear famine. The thousands of nuclear weapons possessed by the US and Russia could bring about a nuclear winter, destroying the essential ecosystems on which all life depends.

So the first quote is from Wikipedia, I think, and clearly 400 isn’t thousands, but does it really matter when we know from experience that two bombs can bring a nation to its knees? Those bombs may have killed as many as 200,000 – the exact total will never be known – but even while the world was reeling from the shock, the USA was experimenting with more powerful hydrogen fusion bombs, and the Soviet Union was trying desperately to catch up. The situation today, I’ve read somewhere, is that Russia has slightly more bombs than the USA, but with these numbers, comparisons are meaningless, and odious.

We’ve lived with this situation for the whole of my 66-year lifespan. Presumably the leaders of the nuclear-armed countries feel that this situation, this stand-off of sorts, should continue ‘forever’, which reminds me of Mr Pudding’s recent remark that the regions of eastern Ukraine that he subjected to sham referenda were now  Russian ‘forever’, forgetting that Russia itself has only been a country for a mere few centuries – as has Australia, New Zealand, all the countries of North, South and Central America, most of Europe and Africa. It all makes this ‘forever’ talk sound pretty shallow to me.

The point I’m making is that we can’t rely on the ‘foreverness’ of the mutually assured destruction argument for possession of nuclear weaponry. After all, as the buffoon that the USA recently allowed to become its President allegedly said while in office – ‘What’s the point of having nuclear weapons if you don’t use them?’

Yes, true, in a sense. There’s no point in using them, so there’s no point in having them. We can surely do better than this, despite our crooked timber.

Again, I look to the women. Think of these two self-styled superpowers. The USA is on its 46th President. How many of them have been women. I suspect that country will only be brought to its senses when the number of female Presidents historically matches the number of males. That’s unlikely to happen in the next 500 years. Hopefully, though, before that happens, they will have ditched their abysmal Presidential system entirely. I hope, but I don’t expect. United Staters are way too worshipful of their Presidential monarchy to submit to a more collaborative and flexible political system. Again, the ascent of women is their best hope for political improvement.

As to Russia, it experienced some of its best days under their Empress Catherine II, which admittedly, isn’t saying much. The description ‘enlightened despotism’ Is often used to describe her reign, and she certainly compares well to her predecessors and those who followed her, but again that’s not saying much. She was the last female ruler of Russia, as her son Paul introduced the Pauline Laws in 1797, effectively preventing women from succeeding to the Tsardom. And of course we know how many women became leaders during the Soviet period.

Returning to the present, clearly Mr Pudding’s days are numbered, even if he survives his obscene Ukrainian venture. There is no clear system of succession, and I suspect that the scramble for power, post-Pudding, will be vicious. My hope, though, is that a more accommodating leadership will emerge – and indeed that will, I think, be more likely than the alternative, if only for pragmatic reasons. Relying solely on old Xi’s China for companionship is a more than risky proposition. Not much honour among thieves. Eventually, some time, one day, the Russian leadership will have to turn west, and start to moderate its thuggery. And then, maybe, the nuclear de-escalation, not to say disarmament, might begin. Yeah, and human bonobos will preside benignly, and playfully, over the earth.

References

Click to access RL33640.pdf

https://www.icanw.org

 A brief history of Afghanistan, by Shaista Wahab & Barry Youngerman, 2007

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Poland

 

 

Written by stewart henderson

October 8, 2022 at 6:16 pm