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50 years since the New Alchemy Institute created its ‘living machine’ (2019) (theguardian.com)
43 points by solvent 28 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 7 comments



> He soon hit a wall of institutional inflexibility: “The idea of doing activities from various disciplines – energy, architecture, agriculture, waste water, you name it – was simply not possible within the university setting at that time. A number of people, who became very close friends, were coming to the same conclusion: that we had to find new institutional structures to go after a larger vision.”

Could an expert on the history of academia please speak about the barriers to interdisciplinary research and how (or if) it has been overcome? This is a subject that has interested me for many years. In other words, what has traditionally stood in the way of E. O. Wilson’s notion of consilience, and are we on our way to finally synthesizing knowledge from different fields to facilitate the discovery of new ideas and insights?


Very important technology that's been neglected.

(I read about it in my parent's Whole Earth Catalog.)

I'm convinced we have all the answers we need, we just have to notice and apply them.


I would love to agree, but I don’t think we even have all the right questions yet.


I worked as a TVC on the Google campus in Mountain View for a while. One of my first impressions was that this was the baseline quality-of-life we as a species should work towards: transportation, food, sanitation, etc.

I feel like it's a kind of "greatest common denominator" if you will, not a utopia but close enough for the constraint "must exist in real life". We can work out all the details in the fullness of time, but in the immediate future (I think) we should concentrate on solving the easy, obvious stuff:

* a decent place to live

* healthy food (inexpensive)

* carbon-neutral energy

* health care

We have the resources and technology to do that (I believe.)


Very interesting. A shame that funding is always a problem - how much could that have cost? 200.000$ year?


> Very interesting. A shame that funding is always a problem - how much could that have cost? 200.000$ year?

Agree, the things we (at least in the USA) waste money on is astounding. We do it not only in government, DoD, but also the private sector. We've all seen individual people or entire divisions and ask ourselves "why are these people getting paid so much for doing so little?", and we stare at superficial 'constructions' such as a new "welcome to [insert city name]" sign that probably cost $100K to make and install. All the while, brilliant ideas that could be funded with 1/4 of these budgets are abondoned/neglected.

To me a lot of it stems from very weak leadership. "Leaders", from CEO's/top-gov't echelons down to the lowest supervisors who are afraid to do anything but keep pushing the same old rock forward to ensure self-preservation. I'd argue the cumulative affect of weak lower-tier supervision is perhaps more harmful than weak higher-level leadership, although ensuring strong leadership at low levels is the ultimate responsibility of higher-level leaders.

God forbid we take a risk and fail and stock price takes a hit. God forbid we hurt someone's feelings and cut their salary to match their actual contribution. We, as a society, are not doing a very good job of prioritizing the work that matters.

Wasted resources (most importantly, time) are the hallmark of fearful leaders.


I'm more than a bit skeptical about the claims, the presentation reeks of sophistry. "Exceeding industrial farm yields" per what and for what inputs?

The claims about not needing nuclear energy because of it are fuzzy headed nonsequitors based on what is ideologically fashionable and sounds superficially good. Barring already fringe ideas involving mass desalination nobody claims a need for nuclear for agriculture in the first place. It is like smuggly declaring trucks obsoleted by your feet and then backing out when asked to haul 20 tons of concrete 200 miles.

Organic farming efforts often show an outright willful ignorance towards existing farming practices as "the enemy" as opposed to a starting point to understand how it works and how to mitigate flaws in favor of small scale wheel reinvention and number dodging. Its purpose is seems to be far more about identity than any practicality. "New Alchemy" is a good accidental description but not for the reasons they think.




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