The Beatles of the Energy Revolution

One of the greatest mysteries of human biology is music. We know that most human beings have the capacity, perhaps even the need, to enjoy music. These ordered sounds and rhythms play a major role in our lives, even if we never set out purposely to make it so.

If you watch television or movies, you are immersed in music. Even if you only listen to talk radio, you will hear music in commercials and as part of virtually every show’s production soundtrack. Our most important rituals and cultural institutions, from weddings to funerals, include music.

Untold volumes have been written by scholars attempting to explain why the phenomenon developed. It is, in fact, deeply ingrained in the human genome and brain, very much as is language. Various theories exist about the reason that music is such an enormous part of the human experience, but there is not serious consensus.

When I was a kid, these people were claiming that Elvis or Buddy Holly were the last great musicians… Then, people who embraced Beatles era music turned off to everything that came after it. They’re all wrong, of course.

Scientists have, though, made numerous interesting observations about music. We know, for example, that listening to and learning music actually changes our brains — physically. All memories, as you know, are physical connections within neurons, created by events of the past. Memories of music, however, seem to be unique.

On occasions, I’ve heard a song that I haven’t listened to since I was a kid, but I find that I can remember quite amazing detail about the music — 50 years later. We know also that children who are taught to play music tend to do better at mathematics. Recently, evidence has come out that indicates the same is true for adults. This may be because music entails many mathematical principles, from the ratios of intervals to the patterns of rhythms. We may not recognize the math in music, but our brains apparently do.

We know very little about the way that music developed and why. I’ve never encountered an explanation for the genetic basis of music that is really convincing. I don’t understand why we would have developed such massive musical capacity without a more obvious biological advantage. Music may be some sort of survival mechanism, but nobody so far has properly explained it if that’s true.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t think that music isn’t important. Both of my kids, in fact, have been given musical training. I suppose you could say that my “hobby,” if that’s the right word, is music history. From Pythagoras through classical, big band, the blues and contemporary forms, I’m fascinated by the constant evolution of music.

In fact, I’ll tell you exactly how best to irritate me. All you have to do is tell me that there hasn’t been any great music made since (fill in the date.) You all know people who have this attitude, that the golden age of music, which always seems to have taken place when they were at the peak of their physical virility, has passed.

When I was a kid, these people were claiming that Elvis or Buddy Holly were the last great musicians and that those long-haired English boys, the Beatles, were just junk. Then, people who embraced Beatles era music turned off to everything that came after it. People who came of age in the ’90s claim that there’s no good music in the 21st century.

They’re all wrong, of course. Every era has a pretty proportionate share of enduringly excellent music as well as junk. If I had the forum for it, I’d enjoy presenting the evidence.

My bigger point is simply that a large percentage of the population sees history, just as they see music, through their own biology. This is why, at any time in history, esteemed writers and thinkers have always declared the end of civilization’s best days and the inevitable descent into mediocrity — if not actual chaos. Somehow, though, civilization has managed to overcome far greater insults than anything we are experiencing today to reach new height after new height after new height.

I’m bringing this up right now because, lately, I’ve been particularly bored by the deference that is given to the contemporary pessimists. They claim, as so many did before them, that civilization has peaked. They are, in fact, the same type of people who see worth only in the music that was popular before they began growing a paunch, losing their hair or seeing wrinkles in the mirror.

Of course, I could be wrong. I don’t have a crystal ball or a time machine. However, I’ve been pretty much right so far about a whole range of issues that should have discredited the doom and gloomers. I normally don’t rub it in, but we all know today that the panicked merchants of Peak Oil got it badly wrong. I said when that Peak Oil “meme” was building that market pricing mechanisms would solve our energy supply problems, and it has happened exactly as I said it would.

We are seeing North America emerge as the greatest producer of fossil fuels on the planet, with hundreds of years of reserves. America is the new Saudi Arabia of the energy world. There’s far more fossil fuel energy than we need to take us to that point in the future when technology enables true alternative energy, especially thorium power, which will power humanity for tens of thousands of years longer. Even more radical innovation is not just possible, it’s likely.

New extraction technologies, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as hydrofracking, have opened up the potential to tap vast reserves of oil and natural gas buried deep underground. But hydrofracking technology has not just opened up massive energy stores. It has made America the cheapest place in the world to produce commodity chemicals. Seven ethylene crackers are under construction right now. Any process, such as phosphate production, that uses natural gas is soaring.

Though the fracking revolution has already begun, this technology is a true breakthrough that will catapult hydrocarbon production at very low marginal costs. I call it the fracking breakthrough, or just the fracking break. And Lord knows, given the complete inanity of our ruling classes, we sorely needed a fracking break.

I think it’s probably normal human psychology to feel as your time is running out that the human race’s best days are over — just as it is normal to think the music of your youth was better than that new stuff the kids are listening to — the whippersnappers. History, however, refutes the notion that despite the incredible acceleration of scientific innovation, progress will end and humanity will slip backward.

A very, very good science fiction writer, William Gibson, felt compelled to address this cyclical pessimism in a work titled Distrust That Particular Flavor. It is a useful read if you’re susceptible to age-related apocalyptic thinking.

Besides the disappearance of Peak Oil and the fracking break, we also are seeing a truly remarkable biotech revolution. I wonder, in fact, if all the pessimists would be so depressed if they knew that healthy life spans have already started increasing dramatically.

On second thought, I suspect that nothing will shake the stubborn confidence of those who refuse to listen to anything they didn’t hear in high school or college. They will always be convinced that the best is behind us, just as they see their own vigor dissipating. They’re wrong, however, and those who invest in the emerging and much better future are going to be vindicated in the best possible ways, with profits and new vigor via revolutionary biotechnologies.

Yours for transformational profits,

Patrick Cox
For Tomorrow in Review

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