A recent visiting scholar in the Graduate Psychology Department at New York University and a former Core Faculty Member at The Graduate Institute in two fields - Conscious Evolution and Organizational Leadership - Bloom is the author of three books: The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History("mesmerizing"—The Washington Post), Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 21st Century("reassuring and sobering"—The New Yorker) and How I Accidentally Started The Sixties (“a monumental, epic, glorious literary achievement.” Timothy Leary). A still-in-progress fourth book, The Rise of the Cup and Saucer: A Radical Reperception of Western Civilization OR Reinventing Capitalism: Putting Soul In the Machine has been the subject of international conferences in New York, Amsterdam, and Malaysia. Each puzzle piece of Bloom’s work fits into a 50-year-long project Bloom calls “The Grand Unified Theory of Everything In The Universe Including the Human Soul”.For more information on Howard Bloom click on .www.howardbloom.net
He has had a truly unique career path, so much so that I have asked him to relate it in detail.
Scientificblogging.com: Howard, thank you so much for this interview. When we met at the Foundation for the Futures’ conference on the future of energy, I was struck by the fact that you have a truly unique career path for a scientist. Please describe it for my readers and explain the trajectory as to why it all fits together.
Bloom: At ten years old, I dove into microbiology and cosmology. At thirteen I changed direction. I realized I was an atheist, and that the great mystery was not a god in the sky, it was the gods inside of us, the personal and social passions that make history. So I jumped ship from standard academic science twice. In 1962, I dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, went looking for Zen Enlightenment and the Beatniks, and in the process helped found a new youth movement, the Hippies.
In 1968 I jumped ship once again, turned down four graduate school fellowships in clinical psychology, and went on a Voyage of the Beagle, a deep dive into the underbelly of culture, the group-gut where myths and mass emotions are made. Like you, David, that meant sneaking into quite a few careers. I started a commercial art studio and made it on the cover of Art Direction Magazine. I became the editor of a national monthly magazine covering a form of music I didn’t know, rock and roll. The magazine was Circus. I used the tools of science and literature--anthropological field expeditions, correlational studies, and dissecting the anatomy of successful magazines in Germany and Franceto find out what made them tick. My goal was to give my publisher what he wanted, an increase in circulation. It turned out that the key was understanding—and loving--the heart and pulse of my audience, understanding and loving the core of an evolving subculture. I created a new formula for the magazine, and the circulation increase my publisher hoped for happened—a boost of 211%. Later I taught the formula to the publishers and editors of Creem Magazine and Hit Parader. The result, according to one of Rolling Stone’s founding editors, Chet Flippo, was that I created “a new magazine genre, the heavy metal magazine.” Then, after a few years of adventure in the corporate world—at Gulf & Western, ABC, and ICPR, the eleventh largest pr firm in the world at the time, I started my own PR company. It became the largest in the music industry, and was also heavily involved in film and politics. That gave me a chance to test what I’d learned, a chance to apply the tools of science to mass emotion, to popular music, and to music’s icons, a chance to try hypotheses out in the laboratory of the real world. The result—I helped strategize, build, guide, heal, or merely participate in the careers of Prince, Michael Jackson, Bette Midler, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, Kiss, Queen, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run DMC, and roughly a hundred others. I put together the first public-service advertising campaign for solar energy, created two educational campaigns for the Black community, founded a national anti-censorship group, Music In Action, and helped establish Farm Aid and Amnesty International’s American base..
It was an intense immersion in the mass mood shifts that make history. Then in 1988 I came down with an extremely serious case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, became too weak to speak, was trapped in my bedroom for fifteen years, and returned full time to science, writing what I hoped was original theory in subjects from theoretical physics to neurobiology and evolutionary biology. I took advantage of the Internet to organize three international scientific groups: The Group Selection Squad—a team of 40 evolutionary scientists working to undermine the evolutionary dogma of individual selection and to add what evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson calls “multi-level selection” to the evolutionary vocabulary. The second group was The International Paleopsychology Project, dedicated to “tracing the evolution of sociality, mentation, emotion, and perception from the first 10(-32) of the Big Bang to today.” And the third scientific group, the one that brought me back to future energy issues, was The Space Development Steering Committee, which includes: the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin; the sixth astronaut on the moon, Edgar Mitchell; the Chief of the Future Science and Technology Exploration Branch of the US Air Force, Peter Garretson; the National Science Foundation’s Program Director for Control, Networks & Computational Intelligence, Paul Werbos; the Chief Scientist at NASA's Langley’s Research Center, Dennis Bushnell[note to readers, click here for an interview with Dennis]; NASA's Senior Risk Analyst, Feng Hsu[note to readers: an upcoming interviewee here]; Boeing Phantom Works' Ed McCullough; Air Force Research Laboratory veteran James Michael Snead, and the world’s leading expert on space solar power, 25-year NASA veteran John Mankins.
Scientificblogging.com: How far down the road are we regarding Global Warming. How urgent is the situation in your view?
Bloom: I’m a skeptic about global warming. With or without smokestacks, the big shifts of this globe’s weather kill. There have been 146 mass extinctions that we can count. And there were probably many more whose evidence we haven’t yet learned to detect. In some of this planet’s past climate shifts, the carbon dioxide level, the level of “greenhouse gas”, was 20 to 200 times what it is today. There were roughly 80 ice ages from 2.2 billion years ago until 12,000 years ago, when modern culture began. Twenty of those ice ages took place while we were evolving as human beings. In the last 120,000 years, there’ve been 20 global warmings in which temperature has shot up between 10 and 18 degrees in a decade. None of these catastrophes were caused by man. None were caused by industrial pollutants, automobile emissions, or human consumerist excess. The message? Forget about sacrificing to mother nature so she will make the earth a garden of Eden. Mother Nature, to quote a chapter title of one of my books, The Lucifer Principle, is a “bloody bitch”. She exults in creativity. And she exults in destruction and death. She has doomed neutrons to find proton partners in 10.6 minutes or disintegrate. She has given birth to stars and killed them. From that star death she has wrung 89 new forms of atoms, 89 new elements. Her ways of creation are not always nice. To me our fixation on apocalypse, our fixation on global warming, is a sign that we are slipping into a new dark age. Cultures that look up move up. Cultures that look down sink and die. The Global Warming fixation is our way of looking down, very far down indeed. We feel that we have sinned and must sacrifice, that we must atone. Our sin is the rape of the earth. Our atonement is the self-denial we call “conservation” and “sustainability”.
The fact is that the “rape of nature” and consumerist excess are the imperatives of a 3.85 billion-year experiment, the experiment of the Family of DNA, the experiment called life. Life’s challenge at every stage has been to rework nature, to defy her in her own name. Every colony of bacteria has had a simple job: kidnap as many inanimate molecules and electrons as you can and press-gang them into the family of DNA. Take carbon, oxygen, sulfur, whatever natural resources you can, and turn them into proteins, lipid envelopes and cells. Capture as much energy as you can to run societies. Our first ancestors were bacteria 3.5 billion years ago. Their societies were massive. A colony the size of your palm had seven trillion members, more than all the humans who have ever been. Those bacteria communicated chemically. They knit themselves into a collective intelligence. They spotted problems and opportunities. They did research and development. They reinvented their own genomes to turn formerly toxic stuff into food, fuel, and sustenance. They “raped” nature by sucking in wayward photons from the sun and using them to hook nitrogen, carbon, and hydrogen together in the fabric of life. But, like any materialistic consumerists, they farted out their refuse, a toxic gas. They used the atmosphere as their garbage dump. After more than a billion years of this pollution, they had poisoned the atmosphere entirely, filling it with a gas that killed. Then, according to biologist Lynn Margulis, there came a mass extinction. The survivors were those who learned to turn the poison into building material and energy. That poison’s name was oxygen. To us, the progeny of the survivors, oxygen is a vital resource. We don’t know it, but we are harvesters of what was once catastrophe.
In a planet of mass extinctions, the challenge of bacteria was to turn as much waste as they could find into biomass. To turn every bit of barrenness into riches and niches, new places to live, new delicacies and treats. Why turn every nook and cranny into biofuel? To survive the next climatic catastrophe. To outwit the inevitability of change. To ride out each disaster. To thrive despite apocalypse. So what is nature’s imperative to us? It’s to harness the forces of change. Those are the forces we are hiding from when we contemplate global warming. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is a fuel waiting to be made. Our real task is one that bacteria have undertaken many a time, to muster the ingenuity to invent a new carbon dioxide alchemy. To turn atmospheric carbon dioxide into food and fuel for more biomass, food and fuel to expand the enterprise of life.
Nature’s imperative to her first life forms—bacteria--was simple. Suck energy from wherever you can, even from granite two miles beneath our feet and from the poisons spewed by hot vents in the sea. Make everything you can a part of life’s economy. And that, David, is our imperative too. We are nature incarnate. In her name we must learn to wring energy from every storm and cyclone, every shift of climate, every poison and every toxic waste. We must build on what the global warming obsessives are creating--meteorological engineering. We must learn to turn the most impossible and catastrophic of things into biomass.
We became who we are today by challenging climate change beyond belief. As I mentioned, we evolved during 20 ice ages. We were born as the most pathetic creatures this planet has ever seen. We had no fangs, no ripping teeth. We had no claws. We had no fur with which to endure the shift from summer’s heat to winter’s cold. So we learned to reinvent ourselves. We made artificial fangs and claws from stone. We called them “tools”. We killed creatures and made clothing from their fur coats. We learned to use those coats and animal skin boots to endure even the glacial cold. We harnessed a catastrophe, fire. We invented fishhooks, calendars, sewing needles, and thread. We made our camps next to the very ice sheets that threatened our extinction and invented palaces made of mammoth tusks, mammoth ribs, and mammoth hides .No matter how much we curb our gaseous carbon excretion, future planet-wide climate catastrophe is inevitable. It will not be a product of our sin. It will be a product of nature. And we must ready ourselves to outwit and harvest disaster… or we simply won’t survive.
Scientificblogging.com: At the conference you were one of the most vocal participants regarding the need for communication and creating a public awareness and forum around the issues of Global Warming, finding new sources of energy, conservation and generally getting humanity mobilized. Why, and what should be done?
Bloom: My real focus was on changing public opinion about the new forms of energy-harvesting. The press campaign for global warming has been incredibly successful. It began with the first Earth Day of 1970. Earth Day and organizations like Greenpeace did something very wise. They created one PR stunt after another. They inserted a new vocabulary, a new way of thinking into the public heart. They did it by reaching kindergarten teachers, first grade teachers, and high school teachers. Those teachers taught the eco- vocabulary and the mantra that the earth is fragile to kids at the age when we form the passions that steer us for the rest of our lives. Together, the eco-organizations, the Sierra Club and others—changed the way we feel and the way we think.
What I want is to spread a more hopeful set of concepts. Yes, it’s true. The climate of this planet could turn on us at any minute…with or without our industrial gases and our tailpipe emissions. Yes, it’s important to clean the atmosphere so we can breathe free. And, no, we don’t want our coastal cities to disappear beneath the seas. But the solution is invention and technology, just as it was for our Ice Age ancestors. The solution is ingenuity, the ingenuity that will allow our cities to float and to literally go with the flow. Our solution is to make our agriculture independent of temporary weather patterns like those that have favored vegetable and grain growing in America’s Midwest, in California, in Florida, in Argentina, and in Brazil.
Mother Nature’s weather patterns will eventually change and shift, gifting new locations. Remember, we are in the middle of a climatic anomaly, a momentary truce with Mother Nature’s fickle fancy, her taste for massive change. This anomaly has lasted 10,000 years. Eventually it will end and things will go back to normal. And Nature’s norm is the Jurassic’s “hothouse” warmth, a warmth that spread swamps and seas where many of our greatest cities are today. Nature’s norm is the two million years of Ice Age that gave birth to modern man, to your big brain and mine.
Are there practical technologies to make cities and farms portable? Am I wasting your time and energy with fantasies? We have floating, portable oil platforms that currently can host as many as 350 workers. We can build on that technology. We have at least one ship, a 43,000-ton vessel called The World, that’s a floating town filled with condominium apartments for the rich. With wireless, the inhabitants are connected to the world. And with helicopters, they can go to their home-bases on land whenever they please. In the world of agriculture, there are hydroponics and greenhouses, all of which can be erected wherever the climate of the year is most favorable. Investments in these technologies on a mass scale would be huge. But climate change, no matter how successfully we postpone it, is a simple, blunt inevitability.
Scientificblogging.com: Any innovative ideas on mobilizing the public around this urgent issue of energy given your grounding in popular culture?
Bloom: Right now, two groups I run—The Space Development Steering Committee and The Big Bang Tango Media Lab--are focused on television to re-excite the public about space. Space solar power is one of the energy options that can free us from our carbon spew. It may be valid to plan a television series on energy alternatives, too. The public yearns to be freed of oil and the wars that seem to be its price. And the public, despite its fixation on doom, still is excited by techno lust.
One TV series or show will accomplish little. To get people excited about new energy technologies, we need the kind of 30-year-long PR effort the eco-movement used to change the way that we perceive.
My own attempt at a contribution came a few weeks ago when I ran a seminar in Reperceiving Leadership for twelve of Malaysia’s top executives. Four were from the country’s electricity monopoly, TNB. And two were from Malaysia’s plantation industry. I encouraged the Malaysians to use their skills to raise massive quantities of algae and halophytes—salt water eating plants. Algae and halophytes, like all plants, breathe in carbon dioxide and turn it into biomass. And biomass can be used to make fuel or to generate electricity. One of the Thirteen Commandments of Reperceiving Leadership is “turning garbage into gold”—taking every poison and reperceiving it as a resource. Then it hit one of the TNB executives. Malaysia is spending hundreds of millions, she said, to eradicate an insidious weed, the water hyacinth. Why not run biomass-fueled power plants on hyacinths? If TNB and Malaysia’s top plantation companies, Mardec and Guthrie, follow up on this brainstorming session, we might see the first country to run itself on flower power.
Why hand out American technologies so freely? Because we in America are not using them. They are not even on our radar screens. Get Malaysia to use these new energy breakthroughs and we may be able to rouse America’s competitive spirit. We may be able to give our somnolent, fear-ridden culture a kick in the ass. The alternative is this. Malaysia and Korea, the two countries I visited on my Asian trip, are moving far ahead of the US, and they are doing it fast. They have the optimism and the future-orientation that our guilt-culture lacks.
If America doesn’t begin to look up again, if it doesn’t see futures that are exciting over the horizon, then we will be the next Third World culture. In fact, flying in from Inchon airport to Atlanta I had the impression that I was reentering the third world. The Kuala Lumpur and Inchon airports are effortlessly efficient. Atlanta was a mass of lines that went on forever, baggage checks so primitive that the Homeland Defense folks simply tossed the bags they’d combed into a giant pile, a pile that included luggage going to Texas, Mississippi, and New York. Everyone I met in these lines had missed his or her connecting flight. The situation was so snarled that Delta had six counters just to rebook those who’d been kept from their flights by the endless security lines. This was NOT first-world thinking.
Scientificblogging.com: Do you believe in peak oil? When do you think the planet might run out of oil?
;Bloom: To me, peak oil remains a hypothesis, a guess. There is a theory supported by my favorite biologist, Lynn Margulis, co-creator of the Gaia Hypothesis, that says everything we know about oil is wrong. Oil, says this theory, is not just a product of decaying plants and dinosaurs. It is a natural product of the earth itself. It is formed by geological processes. Yes, it’s a strange theory. But the fact is that astronomers have discovered carbon-based molecules all over the place in outer space. These carbon molecules are in hot interstellar gas clouds, cold interstellar gas clouds, comets, and on spicules of space ice. Of the 120 molecules found in space to date, 100 are biomolecules, they are carbon-based. So the notion that this planet will ooze oil forever is worth at least a second thought.
Scientificblogging.com: How important is conservation and finding more efficient ways to utilize existing sources of energy?
Bloom: We tend to find efficiencies even when we don’t look for them. When I was a kid, a stereo system swallowed huge amounts of energy. We measured the value of an amplifier by the amount of energy it ate, the number of watts it consumed. Today a stereo is an iPod nano that uses a fraction of that energy. This is the case even with that disturbing gas-guzzler, the automobile. The average automobile today is roughly half the size and weight of an American car from the late 1950s or 1960s. And the miles per gallon are twice as high. However Congress’ failure to mandate higher energy efficiency in automobiles in August, 2008, was deplorable. Congress’ techno-cowardice made me sick.
Scientificblogging.com: What do you think are the most promising alternative sources of energy short term?
Bloom: Biofuels. Cellulosic ethanol—alcohol made from the bark of trees, from woodchips, from saw grass, and from other “waste materials”. But the real jackpot is in the ultimate toxic waste—human shit. We produce excrement in massive quantities. And that excrement is already gathered in central points, waste treatment plants. Then there’s the pig shit polluting many a river in the midwest. This stuff is biomass, man. It’s fuel and energy waiting to be made. Remember the lesson from Reperceiving Leadership—turn garbage into gold. I just asked one of my friends in the biomass energy industry yesterday if the energy-generation plants he’s perfecting can run on human shit. The answer was yes.
Scientificblogging.com: Long term?
Bloom: Space solar power—harvesting the nearly endless supply of photons from the sun, doing it where the concentration of photons is ten times what it is on earth, doing it where passing clouds and night-time can’t turn off the supply of light, then beaming solar energy back to earth. The beam is the problem. In current proposals, it’s microwave. I’ve been told over and over again by experts who know this technology better than anyone else on the planet, folks like John Mankins, a 25-year NASA veteran, the man who is THE source on space solar power, that the beam is as harmless as the wireless signal you tap for your laptop. Let’s hope the experts are right.
Scientificblogging.com: How important is the government in solving our energy crisis? Will they ever lead or must the people take the lead and force government into action?
Bloom: Under the Carter administration, from 1977 to 1981, we had a war for energy independence. It produced, among other things, the immense wind turbines that today populate wind farms on the tops of hills in places like California. But under Ronald Reagan, the government pulled out of alternative energy research. The result is that the wind turbines invented in America are now made in and imported from Scandinavia.
Alexander Hamilton knew that to invent a paradigm-changing technology, you need both industry AND government. The early presidents of America knew that, too. They subsidized continuous experimentation on the manufacture of firearms. Under government aegis and with government money America’s armament centers developed interchangeable parts and mass production. It took over 50 years of government investment. But by 1851, when the new system of firearms manufacture was demonstrated at London’s Crystal Palace in the Great Exposition, the Europeans were astonished by it. They called this brand new form of mass production “The American System”. Eventually Henry Ford would employ The American System to turn out a major paradigm-shifter, the automobile. But without a half a century of government investment and invention, Ford could not have mass produced the Model T.In fact, without investment from both the British and American governments, we might never have had the Industrial Revolution.
Scientificblogging.com: If you could set the priorities for the world right now as it pertains to the entire complex issue of energy and our future, what would be the top three?
- Peace—the most difficult of all things to achieve. We have learned to turn sand into silicon for cellphones and for computers that exponentially upgrade our abilities. But we haven’t learned to tame the beast of group violence. And we must.
- Energy Independence for the United States, Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe.
- The Perception Shifts that turn poisons into pleasures and excrement into energy.
Scientificblogging.com: Any final thoughts you might want to share with readers?
Bloom: Those who say that we have raped the planet and have come dangerously close to using and misusing all of Terra’s resources are dead wrong. We are using less than a quadrillionth of the resources of this planet. There are 1.097 sextillion cubic meters of rock, magma, and iron beneath our feet. (1,097,509,500,000,000,000,000) That’s a one-with-eighteen-zeroes-after-it stock of raw materials we haven’t yet learned to use. We haven’t yet learned to turn that sextillion-square-meter stockpile into fuel, food, or energy. We haven’t yet recruited it into the clan of biomass, into the family of DNA. This is a sin against the imperative of life, the imperative of evolution, and the imperative of nature herself. Is the idea of bioforming a small fraction of this mass to make food, fuel, and energy absurd? Apparently Evolution and Mother Nature don’t think so. As I mentioned, there are bacteria two miles beneath your feet and mine, lithoautotrophs, turning solid granite into soup, salad, entrée, and desert. They’re doing it as you read this very word. If bacteria can do it, surely we creatures with brains can do it better. And thanks to the eco-movement, we can do it without poisoning the current crop of species populating this barely bioformed globe. Remember, like endangered fish, owls, and flowers, we are nature incarnate. We are a tool nature has evolved to upgrade and change herself. And change is our mandate.
Scientificblogging.com: Howard, thank you very much!
Bloom: My pleasure, thank you!