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Science Theory Stagnation (6.3)

 ·  ☕ 11 min read

6.3 Changes in complexity

When humans picked up the low-hanging “linear fruit”, they hit the non-linear/high-complexity step.

6.3.1 Evolution example of transportation/power system

The original source of power for human beings is their own muscles. The physical tasks of transportation, hunting, planting, gathering and irrigation are all done by themselves. For primitive humans, this power source path is convenient and simple. Unfortunately, as the spirit of all things, human beings have more dexterity, but they are far inferior in physical strength. Relying on its own strength, the work that human beings can accomplish is very limited. For example, in spring plowing, if you rely on manpower to turn the ground, the efficiency will not be a fraction of that of a cow.

In the process of civilization evolution, humans have gradually shifted from their own physical power to the use of animal power, because this is a technological path that conforms to intuitive experience. This process is more troublesome for primitive humans. First of all, livestock must be tamed. Then, collect forages and build sheds. For better power conversion, humans gradually invented wheels, plows, saddles, and bridles. Compared with the original human hands, the complexity has increased greatly, and the division of labor has begun to appear. However, the benefits of technological improvements have begun to emerge. Relying on the primary application of animal power, human productivity has been substantially improved.

Xu Beihong “Eight Horses”

Human beings were not satisfied with this and began to use animal power for the transportation system.

There is no way in the world, and there will be a way if there are more people walking. After the emergence of animal power, in order to reduce energy loss and promote the circulation of goods, horse-drawn carts have gradually become popular. Therefore, a special road must be built for the carriage to ride. To build a road, even a simple dirt road requires someone to manage it, someone to provide tools, someone to plan the progress and details, and someone to build the bridge. And the carriage itself, its complexity is not comparable to other daily necessities, including precision-fitted bearings, convenient steering components, primary shock absorption design, horse control system, etc., so to speak, the complexity involved in a carriage transportation system The degree is dozens of times, hundreds of times more than most agricultural work. Reflected on the macro level, most civilizations have set up special institutions to maintain the recycling of the carriage/horse system during the evolution process.

During the period of classical civilization, why would human beings be willing to maintain such a highly complex system? Because the benefits it brings are beyond the imagination of primitive humans.

In primitive society, humans can increase physical strength through exercise and reduce shoulder wear by improving baskets. However, when the task changes orders of magnitude, it is impossible to rely on the aggregation of individual muscle strength to complete the animal power system (especially the carriage system). finished work. The simplest fact: In primitive society, it was impossible to rely on human power to stir baskets or push carts. It would be useless to transport grains thousands of miles away within an affordable cost, no matter how many people there were, no matter how many people improved the baskets and carts . Because the person’s own unit time consumption lies there.

The replacement of human power by animal power is a technological revolution, and its effect cannot be achieved by any technical improvement within the scope of individual physical strength.

After the rise of the animal power system, until the end of the 18th century, for thousands of years, it occupied the mainstream of human power application. During this period, humans have made a lot of technological improvements, and the complexity has steadily increased. Take the carriage system as an example. The carriages are getting bigger, the seats are getting more comfortable, and the decorations are getting more and more beautiful. But it must be pointed out that the core of the carriage system has not been greatly improved, that is, the power of the carriage has not continued to improve.

In the process of long-term evolution, whether in war or commercial use, the carriages of the East and the West have one horse, two horses, four horses, and eight horses. But the number of horses cannot continue to grow, that is to say, after exceeding a certain limit, one cannot rely on increasing the number of horses in exchange for power growth.

Some people may find it strange, why can’t adding more horses lead to an increase in power?

Very simple, even in modern industry, there is no guarantee that the output power of a complex multi-channel power system can be perfectly superimposed. In practice, as the number of horses increases, the complexity of the system increases, and the control system cannot guarantee that the power of all horses is in the same direction at the same time. After reaching a certain scale, they offset each other more and more. On the other hand, the number of horses has increased, and the burden of horse maintenance and forage has also increased. After the increase in horses, if the increased power of the horse farm system cannot offset the increase in expenses, then the increase in horses will be economically at a loss.

Therefore, the final evolution of many civilizations in the carriage system is the same. After reaching a certain scale, no more horses will be added, and this model has been maintained for thousands of years.

After Watt improved the steam engine, in 1814, Stephen Sun developed the world’s first steam locomotive that can run on railways based on the principle of the steam engine. But it was like a newborn baby, ugly and heavy, struggling to walk, like a sick monster.

Steam locomotive

Compared with the existing carriage system, steam-driven locomotives have obvious disadvantages. First of all, railway tracks must be specially laid, and the cost of road repairing far exceeds that of ordinary roads. Moreover, it is not flexible. It is impossible to detour in the mountains, and bridges must be built in water. Secondly, the original train itself has a complicated structure, is expensive, has low reliability, and frequently fails. In addition, trains require a large number of professionals for maintenance. Compared with horses that can forage everywhere, trains must use coal for power.

Facing this monster with simple structure, strong vibration and slow speed, some people drove a beautiful carriage and raced against the train, ridiculing him: “Why is your train not as fast as the carriage?” Someone blamed him for the sharp sound of the train. It was so big that it scared the nearby cattle away.

However, Stephen Sun firmly believes that the train must surpass the carriage and has a great future. Compared with the carriage system, a series of shortcomings of the train can be remedied, because the carriage system has no potential for improvement, and the future of the steam-powered train is unlimited!

With a scientific attitude, he faced up to the defects of the train, and made a series of improvements and innovations: reducing the scream of locomotive exhaust, strengthening the firepower of the boiler, and increasing the speed of the wheels. In September 1825, Stephen Sun performed a test drive again, but this time, the wagon of the good guys was left far behind.

Needless to say, trains are getting faster and faster, and their carrying capacity is getting bigger and bigger. Its effect is beyond imagination of the carriage system.

6.3.2 The characteristics and complexity of the technological revolution

Reviewing the two technological revolutions in which animal power replaced manpower and steam power replaced animal power, several important features of the technological revolution can be observed:

1 The products after the technological revolution can complete tasks that could not be accomplished by the accumulation of quantities on the original technological road. For example, it is theoretically possible to rely on 10,000 carriages to transport 100,000 tons of coal to thousands of miles away, but the cost is so high that any rational economic man will give up this option.

For the same reason, any improvement and parallel connection of steam engines will not be able to propel the aircraft to the sky.

2 After a technological path is opened, the initial feature is that the increase in complexity is slower than the expansion of utility. Therefore, capital is willing to invest in technological improvement. But after that, the return from increasing complexity began to diminish. Slowly, the complexity will be further improved, the cost will be higher and higher, and the return will gradually fail to keep up with the pace of complexity expansion.

The most typical is rocket technology.

Along the road of chemical rockets, initially relying on increasing the number of engines, increasing the fuel carried inside, and increasing the ratio of initial mass to final mass, rocket thrust rose rapidly. From 1957 to 1969, in just 12 years, humans jumped from their homes to walk on the moon. But later, mankind found that this road could not be continued, because under ideal conditions, the mass ratio would only be reflected in the speed after taking the logarithm. Therefore, relying on the improvement of the mass ratio and the exponential growth of the rocket mass, can we barely gain speed. Linear growth, and the price of a Saturn V rocket in 1969 can be converted to a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier today. If you want to land on Mars, the mass ratio will be an astronomical figure, and the cost of landing on Mars can buy hundreds of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. No country, no matter how rich it is, will not bear such expenses.

Without a technological revolution, mankind can only stop at the moon.

The diminishing marginal utility caused by this complexity exists in all fields. Many of the technologies that developed rapidly in the early stage, after undergoing major technological advances in the early stage, have experienced a rapid increase in complexity in the later stage, and any performance improvement requires a lot of resources. For example, the improvement of integrated circuits in the early stage is very convenient. Many manufacturers all over the world have the capital and strength, but in the later stage, the investment of billions of dollars has made the vast majority of enterprises unable to afford it, and basically only a few players are left.

The same is true for the upgrade of fighter jets. Dozens of countries can build second-generation fighters, only a few countries can build third-generation fighters, and only 2.5 countries can build fourth-generation fighters.


3 Along the old technological path, it is impossible to hope to open up a new technological path through improvement. The technological revolutions in human history are all non-linear mutations, and improvement along an existing technological path is a linear habit of brain thinking. No matter how improved the abacus is, it will not produce tools like computers (not necessarily electronic computers). Through process reforms, the accuracy of mechanical control systems can be increased, but they will never be comparable to electrical/electronic control systems. Going down the path of shrinking tubes will not lead to the appearance of integrated circuits.

Therefore, concepts such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things are largely technological gimmicks, far from being able to change human society in all directions as described.

4 The technological revolution is hard to foresee. Contrary to popular thinking, in most cases, it is difficult to predict the explosive point of the technological revolution. Because the way of thinking of the vast majority of people is to follow the linear law and extend the development curve infinitely, but the actual situation is absolutely impossible to develop in this way.

For example, in the 1950s, computers have already appeared, but few people can imagine the big explosion of software technology later. Even in the 1980s, it is difficult to imagine that companies like Microsoft will become the world’s most valuable companies. Therefore, those concepts that claim to lead the industrial revolution, such as bioengineering and new energy, have been shouting for decades, and they have been hoarse to attract public attention. In fact, they only reflect the lack of internal dry goods and can only rely on drawing big cakes. Maintain social attention and capital investment. Bioengineering has made rapid progress in gene sequencing at the end of the last century. Adhering to the idea of ​​reductionism, many people simply think that genetic information can be used to treat diseases, but the human body is an extremely complex non-linear system. In the end, human beings found the road to be rough. Bumpy.

High-end luxury luxury stores are self-contained without saying anything. The street shops only use big speakers and broadcast “good news, good news, and new listings at the price of falling properties.”

5 The reason for the rapid increase in complexity that led to a technological path for improvement is ultimately the limitation of the laws of physics.

The existing rocket engines are all propelled based on the combustion of chemical fuels. According to the formula proposed by Tsiolkovsky, the room for improvement now seems to be very small. A netizen introduced: Today’s practical rocket engine with the highest specific impulse, Boeing’s RL-10B-2, although in the cyclic mode (complete expansion), propellant type (hydrogen/oxygen), nozzle design (large area ratio) , Retractable carbon/carbon material nozzle) three main aspects have taken the most conducive measures to improve the specific impulse, the specific impulse still only reached 466.5 seconds, compared with its direct ancestor, the RL-developed in 1958 10 only improved by more than 10 seconds, which shows that it is difficult to improve the specific impact.


The Shannon formula in communication limits the channel capacity, and the diffraction of wireless signals determines the limited spectrum space. If you want to expand the traffic that can be used by the terminal, you can only rely on large-scale deployment of base stations to achieve a certain degree of space division multiplexing, but the cost is the rapid increase in management complexity and cost.

Moore’s Law will soon come to an end, because below 10 nanometers, quantum effects will interfere. It is wishful thinking to expect strong artificial intelligence through the increase of simple computing power.

6.3.3 The high-complexity science devil facing

The high level of complexity of the new technology that lies in front of mankind is not only theoretical but also technical.

As mentioned earlier, the significance of science is to point out possible directions for technical trial and error and reduce the number and cost of trial and error. However, science has developed to today’s huge scale. On the one hand, the division of labor and the complexity of the existing scientific and technological roads have far exceeded the imagination of predecessors. On the other hand, traditional linear analysis methods have encountered difficulties in new fields.

At the beginning of the construction of the scientific system, many scientists were often all-rounders, and one person was proficient in several fields. For example, Newton had made great achievements in mathematics, mechanics and optics. Even in Einstein’s time, there existed Fermi-like all-rounders in physics. But after the big bang of science, the division of labor has become more and more detailed. Now such a person is no longer possible, and most scientific researchers are focusing on a very small area.

To give an example: A report from Southern Weekend: The most magnificent theorem in saving the universe

Southern Weekend-Save the most magnificent theorem in the universe

The general content is four mathematicians-Stephen Smith (Stephen Smith), Michael Aschbacher (Michael Aschbacher), Richard Lyons (Richard Lyons), Ronald Solomon (Ronald Solomon)- A book has just been published, continuing more than 180 years of work, giving a comprehensive overview of the biggest classification problem in the history of mathematics. This book is called “The classification of Finite Simple Groups”. But for algebraists, this 350-page masterpiece is a milestone. It is a summary of the general classification certificate, or a guide. The complete proof is up to 15,000 pages—some say close to 10,000—and is scattered among hundreds of journal articles published by hundreds of authors. It is the largest proof in the history of mathematics.

In order to preserve the 15,000-page proof of the “grand theorem”, several elderly mathematicians are racing against death. There are very few people in the world who can understand these proofs. They are afraid that they will die before the younger generation of mathematicians takes over. The 2011 book only outlines the proof. The unparalleled length of the actual literature puts this proof at the risk of human comprehension. “I don’t know if anyone has read everything.” Solomon said, he is now 66 years old and has been studying this proof throughout his career. (He just retired from Ohio State University two years ago.) Solomon and the other three mathematicians who were celebrated at the celebration may be the only people in the world who understand this proof, and their age worries everyone. Smith is 67 years old, Aschbach is 71 years old, and Lyons is also 70 years old. “We are all old now, and we want to pass on these ideas before it’s too late,” Smith said. “We may die, or retire, or forget things.
In other words, there are no successors in the world to do this basic work in group theory (which is widely used in particle physics). This situation has not only occurred in the field of group theory, but has also occurred in many other fields. In a world where the number of scientific researchers is dozens of times that of Einstein’s era, due to the fine division of labor and the high complexity, many sub-fields are still lacking! Although human beings have made great efforts to simplify the cutting-edge achievements and make it easier for latecomers to use (for example, Hertz has made the mathematical expression of the electromagnetic field equation clearer and simpler), but as an educational scholar said, most People can never learn calculus. It must be admitted that personal intelligence is divided into levels like a pyramid. Even for the top group of people, no matter how awesome auxiliary methods and advanced teaching methods are, they will not be able to master calculus before the age of junior high school. Calculus is just a basic tool at the frontier, and much of the subsequent knowledge is far more difficult than calculus. This year, there are only a few people who can truly understand the frontiers of a certain subfield. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to expect that this subfield will continue to make revolutionary breakthroughs and drive the development of the entire frontier of science and technology.

While the volume is about to overwhelm itself, in many areas, the devil of non-linearity begins to harass.

Starting from the Newtonian era, most scientists hated nonlinearity, and often used various superposition methods and ideal models to avoid nonlinearity. Most of the textbooks (before the postgraduate level) focus on linear situations and give a brief introduction to nonlinearities. The reason is simple. Most of the theoretical achievements of the predecessors are described by linear equations! Analytical solutions cannot be found for most nonlinear cases, and various complicated methods can only be used to approximate them. With such a theoretical reserve, it is natural to hope that linear methods should also be used to deal with problems.

But the real world is non-linear. Give a few examples.

The first example is solitary waves. In the autumn of 1834, British scientist Russell observed this phenomenon in a river. Russell believed that solitary waves are absolutely different from ordinary water waves, and should be a solution of fluid mechanics, and tried to find such a solution, but failed. Because traditional linear analysis methods cannot give an explanation. Later, in non-linear electromagnetics, solid-state physics, fluid dynamics, neurodynamics and other disciplines, some problems related to solitary waves were successively raised. In more than 100 years of history, solitary waves and solitons are one of the important concepts that promote the development of nonlinear science. You can search for related equations, the complexity of which far exceeds most people’s imagination.

Solitary wave

Similarly, phenomena such as turbulence cannot be explained by traditional fluid mechanics.

The second is the nonlinearity of the plasma. Mankind has placed great expectations on the tokamak device, hoping that the “artificial sun” will solve the energy problem once and for all. But after decades of research, it is found that magnetic confinement is far from simple as imagined. In recent years, a variety of plasma confinement modes have been discovered in tokamak experiments. The conversion between different modes has typical nonlinear dynamic characteristics. Small changes in external control parameters will cause the plasma confinement characteristics to be sudden and The big change is for constraint bifurcation (in fact, it can be understood as a variant of the butterfly effect).

The third is the organism. Why can a bunch of macromolecules work together, self-seeking and self-reproduction? Why can a fertilized egg grow into a fetus? Linear methods are simply powerless. The self-organization phenomenon of organisms cannot find a suitable mathematical description.

In the past few hundred years, various linear methods can be used to approximate nonlinearity, but with the development of science today, it is clear that the frontier can no longer do so, and nonlinearity is inherently highly complex!

6.3.4 Dilemma originating from technical foundation

As mentioned repeatedly, the main step in technical practice is trial and error. Although modern scientific theories point out the direction for trial and error, it is still necessary to rely on trial and error to find a feasible path that is “profitable”. The development history of technology has repeatedly shown that it often takes a lot of experimentation and money to refine the technology and its products, which in turn triggers a positive feedback effect.

Take the most important technology in human history-how to make a fire-as an example to explain the trial and error process.

Most modern people are at a loss as to how to make a fire, isn’t it just a click of a lighter. But the lighter technology product itself is the result of thousands of years of evolution of the science and technology tree. In primitive society, it may have taken humans hundreds of thousands of years to master the technology of making fire. The common fires in the early primitive society came from thunder and lightning splitting wood and volcanic eruptions. Although these two were uncontrollable and the fires caused disasters, the cooked animal limbs also allowed primitive humans to taste unprecedented food. The benefits and benefits are slowly solidified in human thinking. God is unreliable, and mankind began to try to make fires. Flint fire is too restricted by raw materials, and it is common to drill wood to make fire. Let’s take a look at a typical log fire program (the following paragraph comes from Baidu):

Take a piece of bamboo, drill a small hole, and stuff a certain amount of combustible material such as dry straw into it. Then, take a small straight wooden stick with a diameter larger than the bamboo hole, and sharpen one end, as long as the pointed end can fit into the bamboo hole. Finally, after fixing the bamboo in a certain place, insert the tip of the wooden stick into the small hole, and rub the stick vigorously with the palms of both hands. After the bamboo hole is heated, the flammable materials next to it will be picked up. Not only do you not stop your hands, but also use your mouth to blow into the combustibles in the bamboo hole until the combustibles are completely burnt, and then drilling the wood to make a fire is complete.

Drill wood for fire

In the primitive society, many problems would be encountered in order to invent a repeatable set of drilling techniques for fire.

First, how to ensure that there is a small hole in the bamboo? In the earliest period, mankind had not yet invented drilling technology, and could only collect a large number of bamboos and try their luck to see which bamboos had small holes. The bamboo itself must be dry, the drier the inside, the better, how to get dry bamboo? It must be exposed to the sun for a long period of time. Because the inside is not easy to observe, in order to ensure the success rate, a certain amount of bamboo is usually prepared.

Second, there must be a certain amount of combustible materials, such as dry straw and leaves. Which flammable substance is best? This must also spend a lot of resources to determine.

Once again, luck can be the earliest to collect its own pointed branches for experimentation, but the technology that can be “profitable” obviously cannot be completely based on luck. How to sharpen one end of the small wooden stick? In primitive society, there were no metal tools nowadays, and we could only rely on stone axes. How to get a sharp stone axe? You can still only try your luck in nature, and you can accidentally obtain a sharp stone axe through a large number of screenings, but a sharp stone axe can ensure that multiple suitable branches become inevitable.

Finally, I have to say that rubbing vigorously with a wooden stick is a very physical exercise. If you only rub a few times and let go, luck will not be favored.

With so many key technical points, it is necessary to rely on a lot of repeated experiments to achieve breakthroughs. Only after a lot of experimentation and collection can we find that bamboo must be dried, that the benefits of having small holes in the bamboo can be discovered, that the dry straw is easy to ignite, that a sharp stone axe is indispensable, and that it is inevitable that the palms are rubbed red.

In other words, refined technologies generally stand out from numerous rough solutions, or in other words, can only be produced after consuming a lot of resources.

After mastering the drilling of wood to make fire, humans can rely on the fire itself to dry bamboo and straw, making it easier to make fire. Obviously, this is a positive feedback. Furthermore, fire makes food easier to digest, has a wider range of sources, and is a weapon against beasts. The number and physique of human beings have increased, which in turn makes it easier to get fire from wood. Finally, with the help of some high-quality ores that occasionally exist in nature, fire can be used for primitive metal smelting, obtaining primitive metal tools and drills that are far sharper than stone axes.

Fire is the beginning of the use of chemical energy by mankind, and the beginning of human civilization.

The example of drilling wood for fire shows that every increase in the accuracy of technology and its products requires a lot of trial and error. Technological progress requires resources and wealth, and the favor of Goddess of Luck is based on a large number of primary programs and products. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the cost of such trial and error has become higher and higher, and personal curiosity has gradually weakened in research and development. The technologies that can survive for a long time in each branch of the science and technology tree are all solutions that can meet the expected return of capital under the constraints of supporting technologies and resource environment in the surrounding fields.

When technology develops to the unprecedented complexity of the 21st century, capital return expectations have become the key to technological breakthroughs. Take controllable nuclear fusion, the 21st century “fire” technology as an example. Due to the theoretical nonlinearity, a lot of experiments are needed to obtain breakthroughs. The infrastructure involved in a technical solution is so costly that any experiment must consume a lot of resources, so that the major powers in the world must unite to bear the cost of ITER. There is no sign of success in any plan. If a feasible path is to be found, the amount of money that human society has to invest may be an astronomical figure. Expectations are uncertain, and capital is probably unwilling to do such a foolish thing.

Background introduction: This article is the third edition of the work “Technology Stagnation” by Dr. Zi Shui Dongliu, “Earth Industrial Civilization in the Spring Dream of Paradigm: The Dilemma of Low Entropy Body and the Next Step of Technology”, originally published on Sina Blog Earth Industrial Civilization in the Spring Dream: The Dilemma of Low Entropy Body and the Next Technical Stage (The Third Edition of the Great Technology Stagnation) The article continues to be serialized) _资水东流_Sina Blog), the author authorized Fengyun Voice to publish it. The full text is 87,000 words, and the Voice of the Wind is divided into multiple serials. You don’t need to agree with all the author’s views, in fact many views can be discussed. But the basic questions raised by the author are real and are related to the survival of human beings. Once you think about it, it will be deeply imprinted in your mind and linger in your heart. For readers who care about the destiny of mankind, this is a must-read article.


1 Civilization and technology
1.1 Rough talk about paradigm
1.2 The paradigm shift experienced by human civilization
1.3 Science Theory stagnation
1.4 The gap between science and technology
2 The paradigm spring dream advocated by scientific and technological interest groups: the so-called technological explosion
2.1 Rendering and brainwashing
2.2 Papers and patents: the absurdity behind astronomical numbers
2.3-2.4 The bit world and the real world / Part and whole
3 The shadow outside the paradigm spring dream
3.1 The technological dilemma faced by humans
3.2 Numerous technical gimmicks
3.2.5 New gimmicks in recent years
3.3 Frustration of PhD laborers and biotechnology

4 The dilemma of low-entropy body and the technical steps faced
4.1 From the second law of thermodynamics
4.2 The backbone and forks of the technology tree
4.3 Forever 50 years and controlled nuclear fusion
4.4 The future is not always better

5 The Pit Before 5 Steps: The Fate of Human Society
5.1 The Sociological Significance of Dissipative Structure Theory
5.2 The disappearance of the big competitive environment
5.3 Differences erased by globalization and the thermodynamic balance of human society
5.4 Aging self-locking
5.5 How to fill the hole?

6 The essence of 6 steps: complexity devil
6.1 What is complexity
6.2 Two rules behind the complicated world: survival of the fittest and expectation of return on capital
6.3 Technological progress and technological revolution: changes in complexity
6.3.1 Evolution example of transportation / power system
6.3.2 The characteristics and complexity of the technological revolution
6.3.3 The high-complexity science devil facing
6.3.4 Dilemma originating from technical foundation
6.4 Many evil consequences brought by high complexity ( more is different)
6.4.1 I know you have a life and death race
6.4.2 Maintenance costs
6.4.3 Negative feedback from society
6.5 Simple mathematical derivation

7 Silent Star implied by the prospect of terror
7.1 The Great Silence and Fermi Paradox
7.2 Three scenarios for contemplating extreme fear
7.3 The Great Sieve of the Universe
7.4 A small match

8 reflection and summary
8.1 The tragedy of Easter Island
8.2 Calmness does not mean pessimism
8.3 R&D requires a paradigm revolution

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