'Climate Hope City' – The Guardian's Attempt to Influence Young Minds with Minecraft


Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The Guardian has opened a new front in the green effort to bypass parental controls on what their kids experience, with the launch of “Climate Hope City” – a virtual city sited in the Minecraft virtual reality universe.

According to The Guardian;

On the rooftops, there are endless luscious gardens, so that the skyline of the city looks almost like the tree tops of a vast rain forest. Beneath them, lining the roads, are multi-storey farms, producing fruit and vegetables for the local populace. There are strange sail-shaped constructions that suck CO2 out of the air, and along the canals, hydrogen powered boats glide silently through crystal clear waters. This is Climate Hope City – and for now, it exists only in Minecraft.

When the Guardian launched its Keep it in the Ground campaign in March, editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, and other senior staff, spoke about the challenge of finding new ways to discuss and report on climate change – to break out of traditional journalism and explore fresh ideas.

“We carry on flogging a load of dead horses, in exactly the same way, with exactly the same whip,” wrote columnist and environmentalist George Monbiot. “We have to constantly be reinventing our storytelling capacity.”

One answer to that challenge is to envisage a future zero carbon city in Minecraft. The hugely successful block-building game allows players to construct complex and fascinating models of everything from medieval castles to giant space cruisers. Climate Hope City is not a fantasy world but a vision of a green urban environment which uses technologies that either already exist around the world or are at the prototype stage.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/keep-it-in-the-ground-blog/2015/jun/12/climate-hope-city-how-minecraft-can-tell-the-story-of-climate-change

The first thing which struck me is the technical inconsistencies of their vision. The city boasts large wind turbines, adjacent to tall buildings. Wind shadow anyone? One of the main reasons wind turbines are located in lonely places or offshore is that wind turbines in cities are usually an utter embarrassment – the poor airflow in the bumpy urban environment usually causes the turbines to stand idle even more frequently than optimally sited turbines.

Then there are the large vertical farms. OK, vertical farms are a way of growing a lot of food in a compact area. But the one thing you can’t increase is the available sunlight footprint – you don’t get something for nothing, unless you pump in artificial light. If you plan to use artificial light, you need a lot of energy, somewhere around a 30 watts per square metre per tier of growing surface. Given a floor size of 50m x 50m = 2500m, thats 75 kilowatts per “floor” – not counting any additional energy which might be required for climate control and irrigation. You’re not going to get that kind of energy from a handful of mostly idle urban wind turbines.

The alternative, relying on sunlight alone – vertical farms powered by sunlight cast huge shadows, they can surely only work if they are not sited next to other vertical farms, or are not sited next to tall buildings, which prevent them from receiving sunlight.

Finally there is the guided tour around the virtual city (see below) – a very sunny virtual city. But how could such a city possibly be so sunny, when every scrap of available sunlight is being utilised by the vertical farms, solar panels, or being blocked by the shadows of the towering wind turbines? The street level of such a city, even if it was physically possible, would surely be more like the gloomy, shadowy dystopian visions of movies like Blade Runner or Johnny Mnemonic, rather than the sunny urban paradise portrayed by The Guardian.

The Minecraft virtual world is a fantastic place to explore your creative skills, it is very popular with children and many adults. As a technical geek, I’m a fan of virtual reality. But like all virtual realities, the Minecraft implementation of real world physics is somewhat incomplete. The Minecraft constructions are fantasies, nothing more.

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June 13, 2015 10:07 am

Minecraft has its own physics. It is not advised to apply these “lego-like” rules to the real world.

Reply to  R T Deco
June 13, 2015 4:18 pm

For instance, it only has gravity on some things which doesn’t include trees or players so if you cut off the stump, the foliage floats in mid-air.

June 13, 2015 10:11 am

Seems a bit odd for The Guardian to be using a game called ‘Minecraft’ while simultaneously running their #keepitintheground campaign?:)

Reply to  Jeff
June 13, 2015 11:20 am

That’s why it is classified as a fantasy game. My kids at 8-12 yo English Class are going to love TG’s BS, AGW world…They didn’t call it MINEcraft for nothing…

Climate Heretic
Reply to  cnxtim
June 13, 2015 2:02 pm

Touche, let the kids tell TG in no uncertain terms, that they love to grief.
Climate Heretic

June 13, 2015 10:14 am

Isn’t it telling that the center of this fake world — where the “player” can turn everything on — is one huge temple?

June 13, 2015 10:36 am

Monbiot: “constantly be reinventing our…” Does he mean “constantly reinvent our…” This guy is a journalist? Aren’t they supposed to write good?

Reply to  Legend
June 13, 2015 11:16 am

He’d NEVER pass The Economist’s entry exam for journalists. Guess that’s why he is scribbling for TG

David Chappell
Reply to  Legend
June 13, 2015 4:59 pm

No, it’s the sub-editors job to sort out the illogical, ungrammatical trash that the journalists turn in. They have their problems too…

June 13, 2015 10:36 am

Virtually no one lives there.

Bruce Cobb
June 13, 2015 10:43 am

“We have to constantly be reinventing our storytelling capacity.” Thanks for finally admitting the global warming drama is just stories, aka lies, George.

June 13, 2015 10:53 am

hey Guardian
Let it GO.

Reply to  zemlik
June 13, 2015 11:39 am

I think you meant to say Everything is Awesome…? Lol

Reply to  Aphan
June 14, 2015 4:08 am

the humour of my comment was lost in transmission

michael hart
June 13, 2015 10:59 am

They seem to have used a lot of concrete, the manufacture of which produces no small amount of carbon dioxide.

June 13, 2015 11:03 am

“Save the environment by punching trees.” Sounds legit.

June 13, 2015 11:04 am

There goes five minutes I’ll never get back.

June 13, 2015 11:09 am

So sad really. Today’s kids will grow up to experience what’s really coming. They will be very confused and VERY unhappy.

Reply to  Richard111
June 13, 2015 3:14 pm

Disturbing. Using naked propaganda in a children’s game is akin to selling cigarettes to minors.

Reply to  papiertigre
June 13, 2015 3:26 pm

Well, heroin used to be over the counter.

Reply to  Richard111
June 13, 2015 5:10 pm

The reason most liberals change to conservatives as they get older is that they learn that everything they were told by the left was a lie.

Reply to  schitzree
June 13, 2015 8:30 pm

Agreed. I have to, sadly, admit that such is I. I really wanted to believe in what could be instead of what was. It finally dawned on me that life wouldn’t, and couldn’t, ever be perfect. In fact, it would be a nightmare if it were. Life teaches lessons.

Mark from the Midwest
June 13, 2015 11:10 am

Mr Worral, you are a master of understatement: the “implementation of physics is somewhat incomplete.” Which enables our six year old to create a cow circus with a 1500lb Holstein doing a full rotating double back-flip. Minecraft completely disables all the constraints of reality.

June 13, 2015 11:13 am

If they mechanically suck CO2 out of the air, what are their plants using for food?
Is this also a “Zero Carbon” city?
Wonder how that works?
No hydrocarbons, no sugars, no cellulose,no carbon based life forms?
I figure they should be given an area and a grant to build this Utophia.
With certain provisos, once you are in, you stay, all revenues to come from within.
Make each Eco-tophia a separate state, so these cities are unable to rape and pillage the countryside surrounding them.
Activate the camera drones, buy popcorn.. enjoy.
I would pay to see these progressive twits try to live as they demand we should.As long as there is no retreat for them.

Reply to  john robertson
June 13, 2015 12:23 pm

“Is this also a “Zero Carbon” city?”
Yes, it’s a Zero Carbon city.
The carbon is emitted by giant coal power plants in the Hinterland, driving huge factories where all the gizmos for the zero carbon city are built by millions of underpaid migrant workers.

Leonard Lane
Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 12:38 pm

Life is carbon. How can life exist in a “Zero Carbon City”?
Someone should ask these idiots to look up organic in the dictionary.

Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 1:07 pm

Leonard Lane
June 13, 2015 at 12:38 pm
Life is carbon. How can life exist in a “Zero Carbon City”?
Someone should ask these idiots to look up organic in the dictionary.

I looked it up for you.

adjective or·gan·ic \ȯr-ˈga-nik\
of food : grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals
: not using artificial chemicals

It is really worse than we thought. Newspeak is among us.

Reply to  urederra
June 13, 2015 1:40 pm

To be organic certified, the last time I checked meant:
No herbicides, no GMOs, no chemical fertilizers, no human waste.
human waste The use of human waste is a problem for organic growers because there is not enough aged manure to spread on the fields. I believe there are ways these people have of getting around this disgusting practice. They are beginning to come out of the closet and try to mainstream this outrageous practice. Human waste spreads disease and the Zarathustrians rightly considered it a profound sin before God and the angels to put human waste near well water, pools, streams, rivers, or in fields. They survived more outbreaks of disease than others according to their own accounts.
fungicides The use of fungicides is still allowed but there are of course black treachers/hippies in every country who will work with Maoists and UN activists to destroy this important crop input. Fungicides are basically sulfur and copper. Organic growers spray to kill pre- and post-harvest molds, mildews, etc. as many as seventeen times during the growing season just like other growers. Some blights kill entire mature apple orchards in one season. Some destroy the produce quickly after harvest. These can only be controlled by fungicides.
herbicides, Organic growers require hundreds of hours of bent over laborers to weed. So all this is designer food and designer cotton t-shirst which require more bent over workers. Organic growers should require very large, honest labeling for these hours of hand weeding.
herbicides Organic growers get waivers from minimum wage laws and from important bans on sawn-in-half-hoes for weeding.
human waste I have a growing concern in the back of my mind that all of this talk about human waste processing in California has to do with getting around fertilizer requirements for organic growers. Conventional growers have no need. N, K and P can be delivered and stored in neat tanks.
GMOs As for GMOs, the organic growers can and do use plants mutated with radiation. That is how they obtain genetically altered plants.

Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 1:27 pm

Oh, that’s terrific, thanks for looking that up! Artificial chemicals. What’s worse than we thought is the education that our children have recieved.

Steve (Paris)
June 13, 2015 11:31 am

Have made my youngest aware of this. Expect devastation any day now.

Steve (Paris)
June 13, 2015 11:32 am

My 11 year old is on board too. Tally ho!

Reply to  Steve (Paris)
June 13, 2015 11:49 am

Setting up accounts for my kids as well! Will be great fun attempting to insert some logic into the crazy. But, what I think isthe most ironic thing is that kids KNOW that video games are fantasy…they are not REAL. Making a game out of climate change/ utopia automatically causes kids to compartmentalize the idea of a totally “green” society into the part of their brains where everything is imaginary, where fantasy rules instead of reality. It creates that ideal as a place to play in, rather than a place they could actually live in. The AGW’s constantly undermine their own end goals without even knowing that they are. I hope they never quit!

Berényi Péter
June 13, 2015 11:39 am

The city boasts large wind turbines, adjacent to tall buildings. Wind shadow anyone?

Well, when they are idle, they’re just ugly, expensive, dysfunctional mobile sculptures. The real trouble comes with high winds, when in spite of wind shadow, they start moving. That means in winter, under wrong weather conditions, they throw large chunks of ice, several pounds each to hundreds of meters, a somewhat life threatening occurrence in an urban environment. On top of that they emit extremely high levels of infrasound, down to 1 Hz and below, which may be inaudible in itself, but seriously interferes with hearing and perhaps with other bodily functions as well. This kind of sound can’t be excluded by any barrier, not even by walls from the interior of buildings. And then there’s flickering of light, which can be very annoying for people trying to do work nearby.

kinetic pavements that convert footsteps into electricity

OMG, they’re confusing artwork with a technological solution, which it is definitely not. First of all it is an extremely inefficient and overexpensive way to generate a minute amount of electricity, investments can never be recovered. Then you need people to walk on it all the time, people, who can’t consume Hydrogen to do that work, but sugars instead, therefore they emit carbon dioxide. If you divide amount of carbon dioxide emitted by electricity generated, this ratio is much, much worse than for electricity generated by burning coal in the most inefficient, oldtimer power plant.

June 13, 2015 11:57 am

“The Minecraft virtual world is a fantastic place to explore your creative skills, it is very popular with children and many adults. As a technical geek, I’m a fan of virtual reality. But like all virtual realities, the Minecraft implementation of real world physics is somewhat incomplete. The Minecraft constructions are fantasies, nothing more.”
Perhaps it helps if some of us from earlier generations compare and contrast Minecraft with other video games. Standard video games are level based. The player must complete tasks and level up. Minecraft is classed as a sandbox game, because there are no predetermined or set goals, nor levels, nor tasks. The player enters the world, which is generated at that time, and begins to craft whatever he likes. At the minimum, he must create a shelter and a bed when nightfall comes.
It is a neat development. I think sandbox games great for the kids. My youngest immediately built an enormous statue of herself throwing a spear and lived inside of it. They mine for coal, chop trees, keep chickens and cattle, mine for other minerals such as cobalt and diamond, and build structures. They use a crafting table and farm also. The danger is that certain bad things spawn in dark places where there is no light, and these can come into your house and when their heads blow up, it destroys everything you built.
They are called Green Creepers. 🙂 My kids were disappointed when Notch sold to Microsoft.

Reality Observer
Reply to  Zeke
June 13, 2015 5:14 pm

Snuck up behind my youngest once and whispered “Creeper” in his ear.
Yes, I AM a horrible person…
But he has developed a fine sense of situational awareness.

Gunga Din
June 13, 2015 12:05 pm

This is a computer generated reality, kind’a like a climate model. So of course it is reality.
As the T-shirt says, “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”.

June 13, 2015 12:13 pm

It is important to have Carbon Scrubbers in the city when you want to grow vegetables there at the same time. Otherwise, how would the poor plants be able to breathe.
My, those Fabians, aren’t they adorable.

Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 2:18 pm

Surely you meant “Fabulists.”

Reply to  jorgekafkazar
June 13, 2015 3:35 pm

Same difference.

June 13, 2015 12:18 pm

Interestingly the “Temple” at 3:00 in the video looks like a mixture of a Pantheon and a nuclear stack.
Every idea mentioned by the speaker in the video is completely idiotic. He nearly left out nothing that can’t work.

Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 12:27 pm

The driverless cars will work, but that’s not a Green technology.

Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 12:28 pm

The bicycle lanes won’t work because they built them with steps, and unpractical slopes.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 2:03 pm

Yeah, DirkH but driverless bicycles should be able to cope.

June 13, 2015 12:30 pm

What is not widely known about Mr Monbiot, is that just a few years ago when Britain launched it’s absurd £450/MWh (i.e. 10 times the wholesale electricity price) “Feed-In-Tariff” subisdy for solar P.V. – Mr Monbiot was a rare voice of reason. He attempted to point out that spending money on absurdly expensive solar energy production was not the most effective use of other people’s money, even for those who wished to see their money spent on mitigation. He attempted to point out that a more reasonable policy would require us to identify where money could be spent most effectively to make the maximum reduction in GHG per £ spent.
This level of reasoned skepticism made him a number of significant enemies in the subsidy hungry alarmist world.
What I suppose that he has now learned, is that reason is not permitted in the world of CAGW and renewables.
It’s about narrative building and inducing an unquestioning idiotic gullibility in the public sphere.
Skepticism of any sort is certainly not going to be tolerated.

Billy Liar
Reply to  indefatigablefrog
June 13, 2015 3:11 pm

Well, the Grauniad certainly bought the ‘unquestioning idiotic gullibility’!
Modern day ‘enviromentalists’ are shallow thinkers who have no concept of how the world works. They have no idea that in using hydrogen as a fuel you will never get back the energy you put into creating it in the first place. They have no idea how the technology and machines they propose to rely on in their utopian world cannot be created in that utopia. You do have to ‘take it out of the ground’ and use lots of energy in the process to support the utopia.
I suggest we build the environmentalists a little utopia somewhere for them to try out their ideas and see how they get on – kind of like Springfield in the large glass dome in the Simpsons movie.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Billy Liar
June 13, 2015 3:57 pm

Or those “Escape from” New York or LA movies?

Reply to  Billy Liar
June 13, 2015 4:41 pm

“I suggest we build the environmentalists a little utopia somewhere for them to try out their ideas and see how they get on…”
I would love to see that, but for some strange reason I get the feeling that they would cheat. 🙂

Reply to  Billy Liar
June 13, 2015 7:17 pm

They are already trying to build it. They call it ‘California’. And yes, they do cheat. They have to bring in everything from money to electricity from outside the state to keep the green dream propped up.

Reply to  indefatigablefrog
June 13, 2015 9:15 pm

I recall an interview I heard with him on NPR where he pointed out that the most “green” energy source available on the planet was nuclear. To say his interviewers regarded him as an apostate would be an understatement.

June 13, 2015 12:37 pm

Vertical farms are equivalent to growing vegetables in a flat in the city.
So they say that it is cost-efficient to do that. Say, in a cheap city, pay 300 bucks a month in rent for 500 square feet , farm stuff and you’re set.
I know one plant for which this actually pays the bills, a so called cash crop, but it’s frowned upon in most jurisdictures.
What they say in effect is that in the Green Future, renting an area to live in will be as cheap as renting farmland.
That’s great. I will get me a few ten thousand square feet of room then.
They are so mindboggingly crazy one really worries about their tiny little minds, can’t they connect even two facts? They probably can’t even explain WHY we live in cities. They’re SO helpless.

Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 12:43 pm

Of course, energy and transport cost are entirely negligible concerning that farming business compared to the land cost. But “Negligible” never stopped a Green genius from proclaiming something to be the greatest problem ever. Actually it’s their business model, find a non-problem, propose a ridiculously expensive solution, then demand the taxpayer be forced to finance it, and live off the proceeds.
The Greens are therefore only possible AFTER the invention of the state (which happened in the 17th century); they are a parasite of statism. (And drag statism down, in a Cloward-Piven-fashion)
(Warmunism is a huge parasitic growth hanging around the neck of the ultrastatist empire, strangling it)

Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 1:14 pm

I see them more as a septic growth on the wounds of civilization.
Green Gang-Emotional Extortionists-Gang Green-Gangrene.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 2:21 pm

There is no escaping this symbiosis of a large group of activists clogging up the works. A certain percentage of the human population are born wired this way and represent a huge tax on human enterprise. Their ideology has known nothing but abject failure time and again but logic isn’t a tool they employ or even recognize. It is only the rest of us that should be ashamed when we let them have such sway as they have been given in modern life. How do they circumvent having to vote on things that are inflicted on all. What is so attractive or compelling about them that they get to ravage the human enterprise.
I have come to think that Marx was a mutation that can’t be reasoned with and his numbers increase. Failure only encourages them to try harder. The UN, which in the beginning was solely a meeting place to avoid wars, was taken over by such ideologues and they patiently over the years set up a shadow government with all the requisite departments or ministries to finally step in as a world government. We funded it and signed what was put in front of us. When the numbers are right, holdouts can be handled by isolation from world trade and world courts.
How is that for a virtual reality.

Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 4:32 pm

“The UN, which in the beginning was solely a meeting place to avoid wars, was taken over by such ideologues ”
No, it was League Of Nations Vs 2, to become the world government; while it was founded *after* the fall of Nazi Germany, its charta from the beginning to this day designates Germany and Japan as Enemy Nations which any member of the UN can attack at any time without declaration of war. (That’s why Germany always tries to become a member of the Security Council.) Express purpose of the UN according to its Charta was and is to fight fascism (even though it was already over). (And they never fought Franco, talk about priorities there.)
There is a JFK speech from 1961 where he says that all nuclear weapons should be turned over to the UN to make it the only military power. UN is what the Fabians wanted for their Shape Of Things To Come (failed miserably but keeps on trying).

Reply to  DirkH
June 13, 2015 3:40 pm

I know one plant for which this actually pays the bills, a so called cash crop, but it’s frowned upon in most jurisdictures.
Despite the misspelling I LOLed.

June 13, 2015 1:23 pm

“The Minecraft constructions are fantasies, nothing more.”
Sounds like AGW in general.

Bruce Cobb
June 13, 2015 1:50 pm

Greenie thinking is so great because it is unencumbered by the laws of physics, by economics, or indeed the thought process. They truly do live in lala land.

David Chappell
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
June 13, 2015 7:03 pm

Indeed. I live in a community which is basically new-age-ish and unthinkingly green. What astounds me is the scientific illiteracy and lack of analytical thought. At the moment there are fliers around for a “Zero Waste Day” – I’m dying to ask a proponent “So, you aren’t going to go to the lavatory at all?”

Climate Heretic
June 13, 2015 2:08 pm

Let the kids build nether worlds in the overworld, that should be a lot of hell.
Climate Heretic
PS Hell is a Biome in Minecraft

Reply to  Climate Heretic
June 13, 2015 3:28 pm

It is wise to be careful about wishing hell on people. It is possible to get in trouble with the Government for that.

Climate Heretic
June 13, 2015 2:11 pm

Keep the Watermelons out of minecraft 🙂

June 13, 2015 2:36 pm

“Climate Ho Pecity is not a fantasy world…”
No, indeed; it’s far crazier than that.
“…but a vision of a green urban environment…”
A delusion, in other words.
You mean that.”
“…uses technologies that either already exist around the world…”
Because of huge subsidies and wasteful governments.
“…or are at the prototype stage.”
Having skipped the proof-of-concept investigation, along with any cost-benefit analysis.

June 13, 2015 2:44 pm

They tried it in the 60s. Everyone to live in tower blocks. This time with no co2 in the atmosphere, replaced with hydrogen. That will go down like the Hindenburg?

Two Labs
June 13, 2015 2:55 pm

Hmmm… A modeled world that’s about as accurate as a modeled climate…

June 13, 2015 3:32 pm

Fortunately no one reads the

June 13, 2015 4:08 pm

it is interesting to note that the civilization series of games –
global warming was there from the 1996 game and made a variety of changes to tiles on the board (land) which continued in civ 2,3 and 4 until 2010 with civ 5 they removed the feature.

June 13, 2015 4:25 pm

Ok…Here’s one for you. If burning hydrogen in fantasyland cars creates water vapor, isn’t water vapor a stronger greenhouse gas than co2? I suppose it depends on what amount and at what altitude, but just curious.

Reply to  Dahlquist
June 13, 2015 5:03 pm

I am, of course, referring to real world conditions. Carbon makes the world go around. Lack of 02 doesn’t trigger breathing mechanism. Build up of co2 does. Just, when a person thinks real deeply, uh, we wouldn’t be here without it in all it’s various mechanisms to support life.

Reply to  Dahlquist
June 14, 2015 4:15 am

Do they burn hydrogen, or use it in PEM fuel cells? The chatter I hear is using “waste” renewable energy to create and compress hydrogen. Then when needed, a fuel cell is used o recover the electrons. If you ignore the capital costs and the horrific round trip efficiencies of the double conversion, it’s a decent strategy.

Reply to  Paul
June 14, 2015 2:48 pm

June 14, 2015 at 4:15 am
“Do they burn hydrogen, or use it in PEM fuel cells? The chatter I hear is using “waste” renewable energy to create and compress hydrogen. Then when needed, a fuel cell is used o recover the electrons.”
Fuel cells create H20 as well, the world’s worst heat-trapping climate gas.

Reality Observer
June 13, 2015 5:09 pm

Can a 19 yo and a 55 yo join in? (I was mildly appalled at my son when he started – Genghis Khan had nothing on him for slaughtering peasants…)

Reply to  Reality Observer
June 13, 2015 5:45 pm

Oh yes, my son knocked a villager off of a cliff once. Then, he took his books. After some discussion, I determined it probably was an accident.
Sky Rim (of Fus Ro Dah fame) has some very very dubious ways of making money. So no raiding witches in caves and selling their wands. I don’t care how much a horse costs.

June 13, 2015 5:58 pm

They make the green city in a game thats entire premise is MINING to collect natural resources (coal, iron, gold, diamonds, red rock) to power and sustain yourself. I don’t know how well they thought that through.

4 eyes
June 13, 2015 6:22 pm

Sounds like Monbiot wants to be an author, not a fact finding journalist

June 13, 2015 6:42 pm

But like all virtual realities, the Minecraft implementation of real world physics is somewhat incomplete. The Minecraft constructions are fantasies, nothing more.
“Suppose evil scientists removed your brain from your body while you slept, and set it up in a life-support system in a vat. Suppose they then set out to trick you into believing that you were not just a brain in a vat, but still up and about, engaging in a normally embodied round of activities in the real world. This old saw, the brain in the vat, is a favorite thought experiment in the toolkit of many philosophers. It is a modern day version of Descartes’s (1641) evil demon, and imagined illusionist bent on tricking Descartes about absolutely everything, including his own existence. But as Descartes observed, even an infinitely tricky demon couldn’t trick him into thinking he himself existed if he didn’t exist: cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am.” Philosophers today are less concerned with proving one’s existence as a thinking thing (perhaps because they have decided that Descartes settled that matter quite satisfactorily) and more concerned about what, in principle, we can conclude about nature, and about the nature of the world in which we (apparently) live. Might you be nothing but a brain in a vat? Might you have always been just a brain in a vat? If so, could you even conceive of your predicament (let alone confirm it)?
[…] In the standard thought experiment, it is obvious that the scientists would have their hands full providing the nerve stumps from all your senses with just the right stimulations to carry off the trickery, but philosophers have assumed for the sake of argument that however technically difficult the task might be, it is “possible in principle.” One should be leery of these possibilities in principle. It is also possible in principle to build a ladder to the moon, and to write out, in alphabetical order, all intelligible English conversations consisting of less than a thousand words. But neither of these are remotely possible in fact, and sometimes an impossibility in fact is theoretically more interesting than a possibility in principle, as we shall see.
Let’s take a moment to consider, then, just how daunting the task facing the evil scientists would be. We can imagine them building up to the hard tasks from easy beginnings. They begin with a conveniently comatose brain, kept alive but lacking all input from the optic nerves, the auditory nerves, the somatosensory nerves, and all the other afferent, or input, paths to the brain. It is sometimes assumed that such a “deafferented” brain would naturally stay in a comatose state forever, needing no morphine to keep it dormant, but there is some empirical evidence to suggest that spontaneous awakening might still occur in these dire circumstances. I think we can suppose that were you to awake in such a state, you would find yourself in horrible straits: blind, deaf, completely numb, with no sense of your body’s orientation.
Not wanting to horrify you, then, the scientists arrange to wake you up by piping stereo music (suitably encoded as nerve pulses) into your auditory nerves. They also arrange for the signals that would normally come from your vestibular system or inner ear to indicate that you are lying on your back, but otherwise paralyzed, numb, blind. This much should be within the limits of technical virtuosity in the near future–perhaps even today. They might then go on to stimulate the tracts that used to innervate your epidermis, providing it with the input that would normally have been produced by a gentle, even warmth over the ventral (belly) surface of your body, and (getting fancier) they might stimulate the dorsal (belly) epidermal nerves in a way that simulated the tingly texture of grains of sand pressing into your back. “Great!” you say to yourself: “Here I am lying on my back on the beach, paralyzed and blind, listening to rather nice music, but probably in danger of sunburn. How did I get here, and how can I call for help?” Starting with little steps, they decide to lift part of the “paralysis” of your phantom body and let you wiggle your right index finger in the sand. They permit the sensory experience of moving your finger to occur, which is achieved by giving you the kinesthetic feedback associated with the relevant volitional or motor signals in the output or efferent part of your nervous system, but they must also arrange to remove the numbness from your phantom finger, and provide the stimulation for the feeling that the motion would provoke.
Suddenly, they are faced with a problem that will quickly get out of hand, for just how the sand will feel depends on just how you decide to move your finger. The problem of calculating the proper feedback, generating or composing it, and then presenting it to you in real time is going to be computationally intractable on even the fastest computer, and if the evil scientists decide to solve the problem by pre-calculating and “canning” all the possible responses, they will just trade one insoluble problem for another: there are too many possibilities to store. In short, our evil scientists will be swamped by combinatorial explosion as soon as they give you any genuinely exploratory powers in this imaginary world.
It is a familiar wall these scientists have hit; we see its shadow in all the boring stereotypes in every video game. The alternatives open for action have to be strictly–and unrealistically–limited to keep the task of the real-world representers within feasible grounds. If the scientists can do no better than convince you that you are doomed to a lifetime of playing Donkey Kong, they are evil scientists indeed.
“Throw a skeptic a dubious coin, and in a second or two of hefting, scratching, ringing, tasting, and just plain looking at how the sun glints on its surface, the skeptic will consume more bits of information than a Cray supercomputer can organize in a year.”
– Dan Dennett, Consciousness Explained, 1991

“There is an answer?” said Fook with breathless excitement.
“Yes,” said Deep Thought. “Life, the Universe, and Everything. There is an answer. But, I’ll have to think about it.”

Fook glanced impatiently at his watch.
“How long?” he said.
“Seven and a half million years,” said Deep Thought.
Lunkwill and Fook blinked at each other.
“Seven and a half million years…!” they cried in chorus.
“Yes,” declaimed Deep Thought, “I said I’d have to think about it, didn’t I?”
-Douglas Adams

johann wundersamer
June 13, 2015 11:05 pm

thanks for reminding:
virtual reality, subsided by an early agro state socialism –
beginning utopic, ending as ponzi scheme:
from the ‘hanging gardens of Semiramis’ to an exhausted, exploited babylonian desert.
Part of Saddams late state socialism, subsided by oil exploration.
look at the factious reality of the region now and run for shelter.
Regards – Hans

johann wundersamer
Reply to  johann wundersamer
June 14, 2015 12:29 am

from the ‘hanging gardens of Semiramis’ to an exhausted, exploited babylonian desert:
a salinated, decarbonized dead zone for contemporary life.

June 14, 2015 12:16 am

The energy requirement neccessary for optimal plant growth in a totally closed system is much higher than stated here. For instance, in summer, 1000 W/m2 photosynthetically active light energy rains down on the fields. Assuming 20% efficiency, one would need 5 kW installed electrical power/m2, using super highly efficiency LEDS. Even then, the amount of heat generated would fry the plants, which is why most of these systems use elaborate cooling systems to get rid of the heat. Of course one can use less lightintensity, but then growing time will increase and the quality of your product will decrease. Have a look at commercial greenhouses for tomato production (which, by the way, simultaneously increase CO2 concentration to above 1000ppm for optimal growth, lower water use and better product quality). I have a problem envisioning how to replace global food production in this way. But please, dream on.

Ian Macdonald
June 14, 2015 12:57 am

High-rise living: a failed experiment of the 1960’s. Failed mainly because there is nothing for the kids to do in them but get up to vandalism and crime, plus elderly people cannot get out at all. Most of the cities round here are dynamiting such blocks and replacing them with lower buildings. I can’t imagine anything more un-green than living in one of those,.

Reply to  Ian Macdonald
June 14, 2015 1:06 am

Except in Australia. We seem to be knocking down low/single level housing in favour of high-rise buildings, specifically, apartment blocks. Near where I live two single level dewllings were buldozed a year or so ago and now two blocks, containing 56 apartments, now stand. Several other single level houses have been razed in favour of high-rise living. Sad but true.

Reply to  Patrick
June 14, 2015 5:57 am

The high rise destruction of our Australian cities is for the benefit of the Chinese market.
Half of Melbourne is already owned by Chinese investors. Most real estate agents advertise in English and Chinese: some advertise only in Chinese.
In China you are only permitted to own two houses. But in Australia, foreigners can buy as many properties as they like because our anti-democratic politicians sold us out to the highest bidder a long time ago.
That’s why my horizons are literally disappearing.

johann wundersamer
June 14, 2015 1:09 am

Eric Worral – citing you:
‘counting any additional energy which might be required for climate control and irrigation.’
Vast Irrigation led to salination. Salination’s the way to decarbonize whole regions.
everyone correct me if I’m wrong – nevertheless thanks for thought challenging.

johann wundersamer
June 14, 2015 1:28 am

reminds imperial soldiers salting the ground of burnt down Carthago – a legend, maybe.
On nowadays world maps theres no such city called ‘Carthago’.
Period. Hans

Jeff B.
June 14, 2015 4:06 am

Actually this is brilliant! This is the solution to the climate problem. Right under our noses!
So what we do is we take the 97% consensus “scientists” like Mann, Hansen, Schmidt and such and we give them all elaborate Minecraft virtual reality gear. Complete with the Oculus Rift head mounted 3D screens and everything. Then we do the same for the AGW consensus politicians and the media like Monbiot himself and McKibbon.
And once they are all safely strapped in to their virtual world, then we crank up the virtual temp, the virtual H2O feedbacks in the even more virtual climate models (tee hee,) and produce all of the virtual apocalyptic scenarios the AGW cult has been ginning up everyone about.
They will have a field day! And if we can safely channel all of their cockamamie babble in to this Minecraft virtual reality, the rest of us out here in the real world can get on with our quite blissful lives free of their authoritarian meddling. Hurray.
Who’s with me?

June 14, 2015 4:58 am

It’s just a game, really. And kids know that, trust me, they can make the difference between real world and virtual reality. My kid plays Minecraft too, and believe me he doesn’t think about what’s fake and what’s true in any of the games’ worlds…….

Glenn A. Plant
June 14, 2015 6:18 am

As a player of Minecraft I can tell you conclusively:
It is impossible to build a city in minecraft in survival mode without either cutting down a vast forest of trees and burning the logs, or digging up large quantities of coal and burning it.

Mickey Reno
June 14, 2015 7:29 am

Monbiot: “We carry on flogging a load of dead horses, in exactly the same way, with exactly the same whip,”

yes, and now you’re flogging a load dead horses with a new and improved whip.

June 14, 2015 12:52 pm

Is this an admission that the Guardian is no longer convincing anyone over the age of six?

Man Bearpig
June 14, 2015 2:07 pm

Can we start a fracking operation and cosl mine next to this?

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