Progress Through Fear

February 11, 1969

A talk on the impact of science and technology on man’s role in the natural world.



I’d like to give a very swift set of changes going on in big ways of evolution. As, for instance, there is in all history of technology—and you find, also, biologically—there are biggest kinds of living creatures and some smallest. And some kind of oscillating pattern goes on in evolution; in relation to it. But in developing, for instance, a new tool, there’s a history of our first mastering of principle, like discovering how to build a ship. And then you get bigger and bigger and bigger ships. Then we get, finally, to really an optimum sized ship for the largest waves. Then, if they’re going to have a bigger ship than we have—for instance, the Queen Mary—it gets to a point where it is up on top of an enormous wave, has enormous cantilever function. Then it is going to really go on, now it’ll have to be able to span between two great seas. It’ll have to be twice the size of Queen Mary. At this point, men began to discover how to make lighter and more powerful, capable ships. So the Queen Mary was the biggest. We got to 85,000 tons. And suddenly, the steam ship the United States has built at 45,000 tons—just a little more than half—she was able to carry the same number of passengers, same amount of cargo, at the same rate of turnaround and round-trip trans-oceanic trips. So there are suddenly smaller [ships] doing it.


Then, within a year or so, two aeroplanes began to demonstrate the capability to out-carry the passenger transport of either of those ships in a year. Just two aeroplanes outdid them. So suddenly they lost their significance altogether for trans-oceanic passenger-carrying. And they began to just get used as cruise ships and so forth, which has its own very important educational function and so forth for society. But the point is, we get to a biggest, and then get to elephantine, and then we can go smaller. And it’s gone on with all of machinery. All of our technology does this. And then we begin to get miniaturization. We get down into the transistors and something even smaller. So we’re going through that biggest thing.


Now, in the history of man organizing himself in large states with the working assumption there’s going to be Armageddon, they’re going to have to have a professional soldiery. We went through the period of men—early, just each one with his own club and stones and slings. Then they got to swords. And swordplay was very swift. And the sword, if he’s very swift, then he seems to be faster than the eye and he can make the coup de grâce. Now, then came the pistol. And whoever could hold his pistol without jerking it, and squeeze the trigger without jerking it, quicker than the other man, got his bullet away. And the other man, you find, only one bullet got in the air. The other bullet didn’t get away. We have, then, the bullet getting faster and faster than the eye.


This is the kind of game where it was felt the eye was very much at a disadvantage. And we got into all kinds of controls of these armaments. Now, the armaments began, then, carrying greater hitting power, greater distances, greater accuracy. And finally came through World War II, and after it, suddenly, came this rocketry and came the atomic bomb. And I want to point out the really great surprise; kind of a feature that occurs here. Because society has been thinking, then, about the eye. The rockets we speak about are twelve times as fast as the fastest bullets. So we see the bullet is much too fast for the eye, but also we say that rocketry is vastly faster than the eye.


But we hadn’t thought about the significance about it as Einstein did, and Max Planck, of the significance of the measurement of the speed of light. Because suddenly we had a radar, and whereas 15,000–20,000 miles an hour is very fast, that rocket is very slow compared to the rate at which we can now see, because we can now see at 700,000,000 miles an hour. So we had our great nation developing this fantastic hitting power, building out these great arsenals of fantastic hitting power to be sent intercontinentally, or 5,000 miles away. And the main stockpiles are 5,000 miles apart.


To go that 5,000 miles takes about 20 minutes at 15,000 miles an hour average speed. It means that when they fire—think about your old Western gun battle: suddenly, a man fires a pistol, and his bullet goes, but it’s going to take twenty minutes to get to the other man. But it’s so designed that the other man can’t escape. No matter where he goes, it’s going follow him and hit him in twenty minutes. So this man sees it’s coming, and so he’s got twenty minutes to do something about it. So he’s got plenty of time to get out his pistol, and he fires, and he’s got a bullet that’s going to find the other man. So both men are doomed to die. He’ll say, “Well, I’ve got nineteen more minutes. We’re both doomed to die. And I don’t like you at all, so I’m going to send something more.” So by the time twenty minutes is up, they not only get all their warheads in there, but they also send all the gas warfare and all the biological warfare. So by the time twenty minutes is up, it became perfectly clear that they both have so much in the end that they would not only wipe each other out, but most the rest of humanity was soon gone because they’d leave the Earth absolutely untenable.


It’s very fascinating. There is something called—all the great war games, as played from Moscow, Peking, the Pentagon, are all playing what are called von Neumann game theory. Von Neumann game theory assumes that one side is going to have to die. It assumes Malthus to be correct. And it’s called sum-zero or drop dead: one side’s going to have to drop dead. And in that game theory, it is easiest to demonstrate now, mathematically, that if one side makes one altruistic move, that side is going to lose. Now, talk about the inertia of bureaucracy and so forth: this is what the bureaucracy assumes. Particularly in the permanent bureaus of the great nations who are handling all the military. And everything’s so complex that the political leader can’t really catch on to the complexity of the kind of game I’m talking about right away. So the bureau keeps coming on, saying, “Alright, we have to simply warn our political head that this condition is this way, and he’s going to make a very crucial decision.” The fact, then, that one altruistic move would mean you’re going to lose means that all the exchanges of words between great nations—you may wonder how they’re going to be so crude and so completely lacking in any warmth; in fact, go the other way—is simply because they want to be sure that that be never mistaken for any altruism. They’re going to lose.


Now we have, then, this was a time of Khrushchev and Eisenhower coming into power. That the joint chiefs of staff of all the great nations, powerful nations, realized that they, for the first time in history of man, they couldn’t use a big gun. To use it meant: you lose. The meeting of Khrushchev and Eisenhower in Geneva to even discuss allowing their scientists to look, to speak to one another across the Iron Curtain, was looking into the possible peaceful uses of this atomic power. But neither political head had any idea how you really could carry on this very formidable condition.


At this point we have the joint chiefs of staffs in Moscow, Washington, Peking, Paris, NATO—they’re all saying quite clearly, there’s nowhere nearly enough to go around. And that still remains the working assumption. It’s been that way for a long time. Bureaucracy doesn’t know anything else. So they say it’s going to have a showdown, and we can’t use the big guns! So if we’re going to have to have a showdown and can’t use the big guns, what do we use? Now there’s the two most powerful—Russia and the United States—and they have done what the great powers have done right along before. When they’re trying to find out how you’re going to come out in the next war, they have what you call experimental warfare. And they can’t have experimental warfare between the major states. If Russia and the United States engage, they can’t have experimental warfare because they can’t disengage. There’s no way to disengage. So what they do is to find two small nations that are warring, and they come in, one behind the two. And then, by supplying them both, they’re able to really find out about the other one’s strength. That’s what went on in Korea of course, and that’s what went on in Vietnam.


Korea occurred before they had come to the conclusion. Because you go back to Korea and you find it was before we really realized, before Khrushchev and Eisenhower, and before the joint chiefs of staff realized they couldn’t use the big guns. It was only the United States that seemed to have any important stockpiles before Russia built up very much momentum of its stockpiling of its atomic power. But Vietnam is after Russia came into a very powerful position.


So we have, then, what goes on in Vietnam was only to be where you join a war. And if you can’t use the biggest, what do you use? Well, you go in exactly the opposite direction. You go towards invisibles and particularly into subversive warfare. And the biggest and most important task is to try to destroy the credit of the other nation with the other nations. Try to destroy its own confidence in itself. And that is what—there’s somewhere around 150 billion a year going into the (in all those major countries) into their warfare, out of which about one third, or about 50 billion, is going into subversive warfare.


I want you to realize some of the things that are going on in our respective economies. And the United States has tried to do anything it could to disrupt and hurt the other side in a secret way, and the other side has been very effective doing it. And Russia—I’ll now make an announcement to you, and that is: World War III is now over. Now, the United States lost World War III. This is quite extraordinary, because the Russians discovered that the United States had a fundamental weakness, and that was the free press. The free press was highly exploitable because it survives by virtue of its advertising. And the amount of advertising it gets is proportional to the lineage of their news. Any news will do so long as it’s called news. And so it’s very easy to exploit this and building up bonfires of discontent. There’s always discontent everywhere, but it’s very easy to organize and to multiply with a free press. The Russians have really said to me they couldn’t understand how we could think of having such a free press.


Any rate, I’ve said that war is over, and the Russians have found that this was a great vulnerability, and they were able to start such an avalanche of activity. Due to the fact—there are a number of factors operating here, but above all, the young world that is born with less misinformation and a young world that is now thinking about all the world. The first time in the history of man that the young world is thinking about all-world, not because it’s more altruistic, not because it’s more idealistic, but it has the information. It is the first generation—as things began to go into protest here on the Berkeley campus in the… what was that? 1965. That generation was the first generation to be born with the television. That generation has grown up hearing from what I call the third parent, the television, with usually better diction than the family has. Usually much better information. It tells the kids right in the house. It’s a third voice right in the house. And it’s telling them about the whole world. And the parent comes home and talks about the shoe store. And the third parent tells them about the world, and first tells them about all the inventions, all the things that can be done, and tells young people about not only all the people around the world, but all the trouble they’re having, all the pain they’re in, all the things they need. So that the compassion of your young world today is for all the world. It just cannot assume a loyalty, a blind loyalty, because of love with parents. It feels that parents are very biased and just think of one side.


So we have a young world that is full of compassion for the whole world, and eager to do things to try and make our world work. It’s beginning to have the suspicion the world could work. So it’s very easy to have a young world get up and find, suddenly, I give you a great cause to realize how absolutely worthless our educational system is. And so that the young world feels that very intuitively. And things only get hurt where they’re vulnerable. So there is a great vulnerability of our educational systems that are loaded with people who are just there because that’s a way they make a living, not because they’re really concerned about how humanity carries on with the information, how it takes responsibility.


Any rate, when the United States, then, went to meet the Vietcong in Paris… I said the war was over because the Russians had succeeded in having—that was the impression the world has: the United States is meeting the Vietcong. Nobody is saying that the Russians are fighting the Vietnamese. The experimental warfare was equally true the other way. And the United States, the kind of armament it has, wasn’t able to get very far because it was opposed very effectively by the armaments of Russia. But the Russians had been able to make the world see it that it was the United States fighting Vietcong and oppressing, and not the other way. I’m not talking about any preference for one side or the other, and I don’t have political preferences at all. I’m interested, however, in trying to see things as a scientist, without bias, trying to understand what is going on.


At any rate, I would say that we have actually—it has now been discovered that the United States did lose World War III, and that’s what’s going on, that’s what’s admitted by the Paris Conference. So Russians are contented about that and they are willing to look at things. They only wanted experimental warfare. They were not eager to actually destroy the United States. Not necessarily. Maybe they would like the economies changed and all. But the point is that this was experimental warfare, and it was not a final coup de gras.


Now, when we came to Czechoslovakia, the kind of agitation that had been done on the other side became somewhat effective. And the Russians acted very, very hastily and swiftly for quite strategically a very important reason. I meet with the Russians a great deal, and they don’t understand how the United States can… they feel the United States is very naïve in arming Germany, because Russia thinks of Germany as their prime enemy. They launched millions and millions of Russians to the Germans. And they expect the Germans will do it again just as Khrushchev can. They feel that the Germans are gradually going to see various members of NATO fade out, and they’ll gradually take things over. If you look at your map, and look at it very carefully, you’ll see that Czechoslovakia is the front door from Germany right into Russia. The Russian military said to Russian political leaders: no matter whether it’s becoming or unbecoming, you’re going to have to shut that door or everything’s completely over. You’ll have lost World War IV! So they proceeded to close it. It is exactly as if the Cuban refugees who’ve come into Florida suddenly took over Florida and opened the door to Castro. It was that kind of an intimacy. And so the first thing you notice that the Russians did when they got things under control in Czechoslovakia was to kill the free press which had gotten going. Because that is the great vulnerable tool of World War III.


Now, something you’ve all observed, which is that in World Wars I and II, which were great industrial wars, the consequence was that the loser had all the things that were really hangovers and ancient and were making their economy inefficient were wiped out. They’ve been suddenly given an absolutely brand-new chance and they became powerful overnight, as Japan and Germany have. I think it’s very interesting, then, that the United States, having lost World War III, it may be that we will come out of it with very great strength. Because I don’t think I could talk as I’m talking to you tonight if it wasn’t gradually merging in the minds of all of humanity what some of the problems really are. This has been highly educational. We’re going to learn a great many things. As, for instance: the United States is not a nation. The United States happens to be simply the most advanced phase of cross-breeding world Man.


And I know by experience as I travel around the world, and I do travel around the world a very great deal, as I talk to the Arabs I find them having no (as individuals) animosity whatsoever towards the Israeli and vice versa. I find human beings everywhere around the world well disposed to the others, feeling they’ve been put upon by their political leaders. I find, as you must know, and as anybody knows, there’s nothing going on between the Arabs and Israelis, fundamentally, at all. All the back of it is simply that, when it comes to the war and hitting power, the great military machines say who’s going to own that Arabian oil. That’s all it’s about. These are very, very stark things.


Now I’m taking quite a lot of your time, but I don’t think Man has much time. I think we’re in a very critical position in the fate of humanity aboard this little particular spaceship. I think we have to review things as rapidly as we can. I said I would try to talk to you in a very big way in terms of general systems theory. I’ll point out to you that the physicists became very powerful when they discovered (as Einstein and Planck did when the speed of light was measured), they thought that the classical scientific world was thinking inadequately because the scientific scholarly world that I first knew when I first went to Harvard, long before going to the naval academy before World War I, the scholarly community was thinking in the terms of the following: they’d learned with the expiration of energy as steam, they got into thermodynamics, that every local system loses energy. We call it entropy. Quite clearly, to Man, there were the stars, and the stars were instant stars. You see them instantly. When it’s dark at night, there are the stars. Instantly there. There was instant Universe. Instant, simultaneous Universe. Newton thought of time permeating all the universe uniformly. He thought of gravity as having… its effects were instantaneous, but not omnidistant. He found its effects were in terms of relative distance of the masses apart.


But he thought of instant Universe. I find, then, the scholarly community that I first knew at Harvard—and I’m sure it is the same here at Berkeley—at the turn of the century it was saying, then, we have instant Universe, and therefore the Universe is a system. And every system loses energy, therefore, our universe must be losing energy, and the universe is running down. In fact, the way the Universe was explained to me by the scholars when I was young was that there really was, normally, it had been absolutely at rest. Motionless. There had been some kind of disturbance, and this was abnormal. And finally that would subside and everything would come to rest again. But the energies were being dissipated, and anybody who made any changes was going to use up that energy rapidly, and it’d simply mean that all of us would lose our energy effectiveness, our advantage, very rapidly. Anyway, this is where the word “spending” came from. Spending was abhorred because we were going to make everybody poorer quickly.


Now, Einstein and Planck said that now that we’ve seen there’s a speed of light—it takes eight minutes for the light to come from us from the sun, and the next nearest star takes 2.5 years to get to us. And look at this star, here, and we’re seeing a live show taking place 30,000 years ago, and right next to it we see a show taking place 7,000 years ago. In fact, all of these shows coming to us are coming for thousands of years apart. So they said the universe is an aggregate of non-simultaneous events. There is simultaneity, there is no instantaneity. They said in response we find that energy, then, this light radiation, has a speed. We have to reassess our universe altogether. And Einstein and Planck—in effect; these are not their words, but I’ve done some paraphrasing on large amounts of thinking—in effect they said: our universe is a scenario. It’s not a single picture. It is a scenario because it is an aggregate of non-simultaneous and only partially overlapping events. As, for instance: there is a man who is born, and then he has his children, his grandchildren, and he overlaps them. But he doesn’t overlap his great-grandchild. He’s just been here this far. Now then, the universe is an aggregate of non-simultaneous, only partially overlapping, events.


I would like to think about that just a little more, because I find I’m sure everybody in this audience has said to themself at one time or another as you read about most recent astronomical discoveries of objects at great distance, you said: “I wonder what’s outside outside?” In which you have said to yourself: the universe is static. It is a sculptural affair. Everything is instantly in these relationships. It’s a single picture. In a scenario, one frame can’t tell the story. The picture of a caterpillar does not foretell the picture of a butterfly. Nor does one picture of a butterfly say that the butterfly flies.


Now, what I’m getting at, then, is that you cannot—to ask what’s outside outside is asking for a single-frame picture. It is like saying: which word is the dictionary? In other words, an unintelligent question. It simply shows a complete lack of the significance of the information that was found by Einstein and Planck. It’s going to take a little time for this to be disseminated. But in a sense it was a surprise factor where people didn’t realize what was coming, but you couldn’t use the big guns.


Alright. I spoke about, then: the physicist, having discovered that Universe was an aggregate of non-simultaneous event, they said: then it is possible that when energy leaves here, it doesn’t go out of the universe, it simply transfers and goes there. Why? We think that, we see it could be so. Could we see a little child growing, getting bigger? It’s anti-entropic. We see a tree getting bigger. Energies must be being collected. They are not going away. So they said: it could be, then, that when energy dissociates here, it always associates there. Review of physical experiments show that this was the case. Science has found no instance of energy either being created or being lost. Therefore, the attitude had to be entirely new towards the phenomena energy. And the Einsteinian and Planck viewpoint, and associates of those men, was then suddenly that energy is conserved. The physical energy is conserved. Because the energy is conserved, they could deal in 100% of energy. They were able to make very powerful new strides.


We have—I spoke about synergy: behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of the parts. Typical would be our knowledge about the triangle, where we know the sums of the angles are 180 degrees of a plane triangle. We know, then, if we know, it’s also corollary the known behavior of the whole, which is 180-degree-ness. And the known behavior of the sum of the parts, as for instance two angles and an included side, or two sides and an included angle, and you can find out about the rest of the parts. There’s a synergetic capability if you know about the whole, and in some of the parts you find out about the other parts.


So the physics, having discovered the energy was finite and whole, then they could find out about the past, because all things were going to have to add up to 100%. Every once in a while, an experiment was made where there was an unaccounted fraction of the energy. And they said: maybe I made a mistake in my experiment. So he did it over again. Came out the same strange little fraction. So you write a report. Somebody makes the same experiment elsewhere and comes out with the same fraction. You’re so confident by now of the 100%, you say: there is a behavior of nature (with which we are unfamiliar) which requires that much of energy. Therefore, we’ll simply give it a name right now, and later on we will (and they usually do) isolate it, and they found out just exactly what the behavior is. And that is the way the physics world is going on. But the physical man said there are a great many earnest men exploring intellectually, but they’re not dealing with things that are weighable. They’re not in the physical world. They’re in what we call metaphysical world. And metaphysics are open-ended.


Now, I spoke to you about general systems theory, and if we would like to be really powerful in dealing with variables or great probabilities, we mustn’t have any variables that are missing. And because a very important part of our life—our thinking—is weightless, is metaphysical, we find, then, the mathematics completely weightless; that we will not be very strong unless we have some way of coping with all the variables and the metaphysical as well. I said: is it possible to develop a much more powerful total general systems theory which includes, really, the whole universe—both the metaphysical and the physical. The physical is already harnessed. Can we master the metaphysical? And I found that we could. Because describing the universe in the terms of experimental science, we have to describe the terms of experience. So if we describe our universe in the terms of experience, we find that we have to describe Universe as the aggregate of all of humanity’s consciously apprehended and communicated experiences. What else are we talking about? This includes everything—it includes all the becoming, the growing. All the successive experiences of having a little more facets on the same phenomena, whatever it may be.


That being our definition, we find that all the experiences have beginnings and endings because our experiencing is discontinuous; it’s in packages. It’s packaged in waking up and going to sleep. In sixty cycles per second, packages of seeing. Getting down to quanta themselves; energy quanta, which are discontinuous. An aggregate of finites is finite. Our universe is described as finite, but as we saw in that great scenario as described by Einstein, we have a universe, then, not only the physical universe, but the metaphysical universe is an aggregate of non-simultaneous and only partially overlapping events. This means, then—and one frame can’t do it—so it means that Universe, as defined, though it is finite, it is non-unitarily conceptual. What man used to think about as being infinite was non-conceptuality. I find that the universe is totally finite but non-conceptual. We find that what we call “thinking” or “conceptuality” is a subdivision of Universe. We take out a limited number of experiences and we find their relationships.


If we take a piece of paper and would like to make it come back on itself, to make a polyhedron, I find that I have to take out some angle like this to begin to make a lampshade. Take out a little more angle here. And gradually I get all the edges coming back so they join each other and it becomes a system. A system subdivides the Universe into all the universe outside the system and all the universe inside the system, and a little bit of the universe that is the system itself. Here is a system: these are polyhedra. They are systems with insideness and outsideness. And they have what we call conceptuality, where we take a certain number of our experiences and say: what are the relationships of those experiences? What we call “thinking” is, then, finding the relationship between the points. These are a number of experiences. You say: how many relationships are there between them? And the fact is that the number of relationships will always be the number to the second power minus the number divided by two: N2N2. The beautiful mathematical relationship of how many relationships there are to the number of experiences we’re trying to think about. And that is what we call thinking. And then you say: I understand. Could we have found what the connections are? What the relationships are?


Now then, going from what seems to be a plane that goes, we think, to infinity—therefore non-conceptual—into something that we will call a system, we simply have to keep taking out angles. So each vertex there you see an interaction of lines that is not in a plane at all, but is (as seen from outside) convex, and (seen from inside) is concave. This is typical of all systems. Inherently: concave inside, convex outside. If the vertex is added up to 360 degrees at each point, they go to infinity. They could not come back and point themselves. We have learned—because there are no solids; physically found no solids—we cannot have a sphere as the Greeks defined it; as a surface equidistant in all directions from a point, suggesting a continuous surface with no holes in it. We find that all systems are full of holes, that entropy indicates energies coming and going. The Greek sphere (as defined as a surface equidistant in all directions to a point, therefore having no holes in it), meant, then, a subdivision of the in all the universe inside the sphere and all the universe outside the sphere, and no traffic between the two. It would defy entropy and would be the first perpetual motion machine. It would be adequate to itself. It could do away with the rest of the universe.


We find, then, that all systems, I find, have a very important property. I find that the sums of the angles around all the vertexes of any system is always 720 degrees less than the numbers of the vertexes times 360 degrees. The Greeks and all the calculists today still assume that for an infinitesimal moment, a sphere is congruent with a plane to which it is tangent. There is 360 degrees around every point on the sphere. What we’re learning here is that the sphere, as defined, cannot be so. It will always be a polyhedron. And there will always be not only less than 360 degrees around each point in order to come back on itself and not go on to infinity, and we find that the amount taken out out of the amount of angle—you always take out, to make it come back, join to itself, with always 720 degrees. Now 720 degrees is four times 180 and is a sum of the angles around all the vertexes of the tetrahedron. 720 degrees is the angular description of tetrahedrno.


Now I’ll say to to you, then, that the difference between any conceptual system in Universe and the rest of the universe, which is finite but non-conceptual, is always one tetrahedron. Now, an angle is an angle independent of size. The length has nothing to do with it. Length is linear and is cyclically measured. Angle is always sub-cyclic; is part of a cycle. Three angles give me a triangle. The triangle is a triangle independent of size. A tetrahedron is a tetrahedron independent of size. So this tetrahedron I give you can be any size. And it accommodates what I say. What man used to think of as infinite I call finite but non-conceptual. What man used to call finite I call definite: definable and conceptual. And the difference between the two is one tetrahedron; one finite tetrahedron. I just want to give you there this [???]. Now we have a very powerful general systems capability because we’re dealing in a finite universe. And we know how to handle the local variables. We know how, then, to dismiss the irrelevancies to the problem we’re concerned with without missing anything.

Richard Buckminster Fuller

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