06-07-2021, amendment 07.09.2022

The limits to errors/defects/failures

Nearly all acts of a human being can be seen as continuous, in part instinctively executed series of attempts to maintain self-preservation and control: to maximise life-expectancy, to perpetuate its genetic properties, to optimise profit, power, quality of life, but also to gain understanding of the world. Many decisions to execute these attempts are preceded by considerations about their arrangements and timing. But the results make obvious that many attempts were unsuccessful. Thus errors, defects, failures, omissions, fiascos, but also misdeeds and crimes, result from carrying out wrong decisions and are summarised here as mistakes. States, groups and individuals commit them; they occur during actions in and interactions with nature as well as in the cultural spaces established in it. Of course the spaces of time between realising a mistake and the onset of the attempt to further prevent or correct it as well as the success message about its elimination depends on innumerable factors, so that these cannot be listed here; this also accounts for the numerous categories of mistakes and different dimensions and orders of magnitude of effected damage.
There are mistakes because of wrongly biased confirmation, retrospective view, reminiscence, attribution, continuation, self suggestion and because of alternative facts and fake news;
mistakes occur due to manipulation, self deception and the "better-than-average-effekt", routine blindness, procrastination, emotionally biased decisions, obstinacy, overestimation of one's own capacities, exaggeration, arrogance, superbia, wrong pride, know all manner, subjectivity, illusion of control, denial/loss of reality, escapism, repression, mental inactivity, inconsequence, indifference, heuristic way of thinking, impatience, inaccuracy, carelessness, avoidance of cognitive dissonance, irresponsibility, etc. (GEO 03/2012: 136-149).
Mistakes can remain unidentified for a long time or permanently. It is a problem, if there is throughout no will to see mistakes having occurred; if there detection is faked by lobby-groups; if power secures their continuation and if mistakes are even subsidised in order to make more money. It is a disastrous situation in the case of irreparable damage/injury caused by a mistake. It is intolerable for impaired persons, if it was ordered per final jurisdictional decree of the court that nobody is liable for the damage/injury/fatality caused by a mistake.

Therefore the recommendation: Make Your decision or start Your experiment only subsequent to sufficient time for reflection; and if You got aware that You acted wrong because You errored, then trace and identify Your mistake, learn from it, evolve and improve the following attempt. Unless the next attempt took care of itself, because it was seen that its realisation would worsen the situation. You owe that to common sense, moral and to Your responsibility. And try vigorously to falsify Your all the best thesis and replace it with a better one. Never stop doubting.

Permanent and critical scrutinising of own actions and intentions (Sokrates) might be the universal principle of each positive and constructive development of culture. Unfortunately this is by far not realised in every case, as shown by the following arbitrary examples: 24.02.2022: Putin commands invasion of the Ukraine; 14.-17.07.2021: Flood catastrophy in Ahr Valley, Germany; 25.05.2020: murder of George Floyd; 10.03.2019: crash of Boeing 73 Max; 25.01.2019: tailings dam failure at Brumadinho (Brazil); 07.01.2015: assault in Charlie Hebdo's editorial office (Paris); 17.07.2014: downing of flight MH17 of Malaysian Airlines; 24.07.2010: mass panic at love parade in Duisburg; 20.04.2010: Deepwater Horizon blowout; ca. 2007: climate change driven extinction of the animal species Melomys rubicola; 16.01.2003: Columbia Space Shuttle disaster; 04.-07.1994: genocide in Ruanda; 28.09.1994: capsisinig of MS Estonia in the Baltic Sea; 26.04.1986: nuclear core meltdown at Chernobyl; 05.09.1972: Munich Olympic Massacre; 10.11.1966: Gang rape and murder of Vietnamese woman Phan Thi Mo; 1960: Onset of the environmental crisis at Lake Aral; 01.10.1957: Onset of the Contergan scandal; 06.-09.08.1945: Drop of two atomic bombs over Japanese cities; 01.09.1939: Provocation of the second world war by Reichsgermany; 06.05.1937: Airship havary at Lakehurst; 14.04.1912: Sinking of RMS Titanic in the Labrador Sea; etc. pp. ad infinitum.

The expedition leader and exhibition manager George H. Tulloch, who filmed, studied and searched at the Titanic wreck, who recovered artifacts from it and presented them in a museum, concluded about error culture as follows: „The Titanic is a symbol for the price we had to pay for our courage. And the objects we recovered, symbolise that the rediscovery of our failure is essential, so that we are saddened, that we heal us and we grow.“ (SPIEGEL TV GmbH: 14.04.1912: Die letzten Stunden der unsinkbaren Titanic.- DVD-Edition, Nr. 33, 2012). Accordingly, learning from mistakes is optimally effective in that case, if original fragments or relicts of the havary/failure are recovered and presented in the wide public. The longer the search for such outcomes of human mistakes lasts, the more difficult the access to and the recovery of them has turned out to be and the larger the dimension of the referring human mistake has been, the higher their pedagogic value.
However, poetess Adrienne Rich interpreted such objects as fragments of social coexistence recovered from the deep. This point of view even transcends learning from failures.

The factor of the dimension of the effect of a mistake, however, implies a restriction of the general feasibility of the principle of the multiple applicability of „try and error“: mentioned repeatability any time is given only for these kinds of mistakes, whose effects do not sustainably impinge or tip the overall greater general system and let its state continue more or less intactly. But since the onset of development of industrial technology, the detrimental consequences of mistakes can have enormous dimensions. If too many - different or again and again the same - mistakes add in their effects, because they were not identified timely or because they were ignored willingly despite one's better knowledge, then it becomes possible that these have accumulated in their whole sum sufficient potential and momentum to change the whole general system sustainably and irreversibly (i. e. „to pull all into the abyss“). Because essential measures avoiding this development were neither enough nor timely started: e. g. advancement of a sustainable turnover in resource economy, establishment of the new ethical value system included in the Era of Enlightenment 2.0, averting the third World War. Having taken no notice of The Limits to Growth led towards the limits to failures.

A new situation has originated: because of the global effect of that type of mistake on the old general system, no intact areas can exist any more, out of which a second attempt could be launched, willing to try again and to improve. Thus a development according to the above described method „try and error“ has become impossible.

Due to the totality of the effect of such mistakes, the preexisting - nature and culture - has became extinct, dissolved, fragmented or transformed. Because of interactions between effects caused by mistakes, unpredictable emergencies might evolve additionally. Rescue or recovery will then have become impossible, because nothing - no part of the old system - has remained in original state, out of which relief actions might occur; and wherein the rescued / recovered might be deposited in time safely. There is yet the option of conservation, limited in time and size: it consists in transferring valuable or iconic objects of the old integral system timely into artificial niches like museums, botanic gardens, zoos, archives, seed-vaults, ice core deposits, etc. set up in the new system, where they still can be preserved for some time. Also by means of these evidence objects, the underlying mistake can be analysed, realised, interpreted and used for corrections in mental development. Objects preserved from nature recall to lost paradises, those preserved from culture remember very often mistakes.

In analogy to the Titanic wreck resting for a long time on the deep sea floor, the earth system would shift after transgression of tipping points in a global locked-in state characterised by long lasting and stable hothouse condition. But the speed of the shift towards that adverse state is yet unknown. All must be done to avoid the ultimate boundary mistake.

Learning from mistakes, so reads a classic proverb. It means finally and essentially to swiftly and completely realise the application of the thereof derived, evidence based knowledge. This behaviour resulted in numerous benign constituents of cultural development; see echapter 17 of my book. But the philosopher Lucius A. Seneca found that the behaviour to hinder corrections of errors/failings is as old as the species homo sapiens itself: "Errare humanum est; sed perseverare in errare diabolicum". The deplorable consequences thereof and the manyfold reasons therefore I attempted to summarise in the chapters 18-19. From this it is necessary to ponder, how this property deeply fixed in many human brains to attempt to prevent/procrastinate solving errors/failures known since long can be amended or even terminated: E. g.: How the already mentioned producers of fossil energy carriers and potential profiteers from climate change [e. g. governments of and industries in countries north of 49N (GEO 06: 85, 2021)] can be convinced to act in solidarity, so that the earth system will not be pushed closer to tipping points. It would amount to the holocaust of reason, if this would not be accomplished. All developments would terminate and human beings would have forfeited their claim to the attribute "sapiens".

Hubert Engelbrecht

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