Truth vs Reality: How we evolved to survive, not to see what’s really there
Take the circumstances in your life seriously, but not literally. Here's why.
DONALD HOFFMAN: Galileo was quite controversial, of course, in his time, because he was claiming that something that we all could see with our own eyes wasn't true. We could all see that the earth doesn't move and that the sun, and moon, and stars go around the earth. And we believed that as a race for about 2,000 years. And Galileo was saying that your eyes are lying to you. The earth actually moves and it's not the center of the universe.
And he was put under house arrest for it. And we don't like to be told that our senses aren't telling us the truth. And then Galileo took it another step. He said, it's not just that our senses are lying about movement of the earth, he said that he thought that tastes, odors, colors, and so on reside in consciousness. Hence, if the living creature were removed, all these properties, these qualities, would be utterly annihilated. That's almost a direct quote in the translation.
So he was saying that our senses are also making up the tastes, odors, and colors that we experience. They're not properties of an objective reality. They're actually properties of our senses that they're fabricating. And by objective reality in this case, I'm going to use that term in a very specific way. By objective reality, I mean what most physicists would mean. And that is that something is objectively real if it would continue to exist even if there were no creatures to perceive it. So the standard story, for example, is that the moon existed before there was any life on Earth and, perhaps, before there was any life in the universe. But it still existed.
Its existence does not depend on the perceptions of any creatures. And so that's the sense in which I'll talk about objective reality. And what Galileo was saying was that colors, odors, tastes, and so on are not real in that sense of objective reality. They are real in a different sense. They're real experiences. And so I'll talk about real experiences. So your headache is a real experience, even though it could not exist without you perceiving it. So it exists in a different way than the objective reality that physicists talk about.
So Galileo was quite brave and quite out of the box in his thinking by saying not only the earth in his movement, but even colors, tastes, and odors are our perceptual constructions. But he wouldn't go the next step. He wouldn't say that shapes, and mass, and velocities of objects, and space, and time themselves are our constructions. He thought that those were objectively real. So the shape of the moon, the position of the moon, is an objectively real thing, including its mass and its velocities. So, this is a distinction that was later called the primary and secondary qualities of distinction by John Locke. Primary qualities are things like position, mass, shape, and so forth. These are presumed to exist even if no creature observes them. Whereas colors, and odors, and tastes are secondary qualities that are sort of mostly the contribution of our senses.
And in brief, what I'm saying is we need to take the next step beyond what Galileo said. It's not just tastes, odors, and colors that are the fabrications of our senses and are not objectively real. It's, rather, that space-time itself and everything within space-time-- objects, the sun, the moon, the electrons, quarks, their shapes, if objects have shapes, their masses, their velocities-- all of these physical properties are also our constructions. And I've come to that conclusion. It was a bit of a shock to me. We always assume that our senses are telling us the truth. So it was quite a stunning shock to me when I realized that maybe we needed to take a step beyond Galileo on this. And the reason I'm saying this is because of evolution by natural selection.
Most of my colleagues in the cognitive and neurosciences assume that our senses tell us the truths that we need to survive. That seeing reality accurately will make you more fit. And I would say that that makes perfect sense. The argument is that those of our ancestors who saw reality more accurately had a competitive advantage over those who saw it less accurately in the basic activities of life, like feeding, fighting, fleeing, and mating. And because they had a competitive advantage, they were more likely to pass on their genes which coded for the accurate perceptions. And so after thousands of generations of that, we can be quite confident that we see reality as it is. Of course, not all of reality. No one claims that our senses exhaustively tell us all the truths about objective reality
. But from an evolutionary point of view, the idea is we see those aspects of reality accurately that we need to survive. And so when we see space and time, we see physical objects with their shapes and motions, and so forth, we're seeing truths, objective truths. Truths about objects that would exist even if no creature were there to perceive them. That's the standard view. And it seems intuitively plausible-- the argument that I just gave is actually in the textbooks in my field. But it turns out that we don't have to just deal with plausibility here. Evolution by natural selection is a mathematically precise theory. There is the field of evolutionary game theory that was established in the 1970s by John Maynard Smith and has flourished. It's now a very advanced and very interesting mathematically precise field.
It unites Darwinian evolution by natural selection with the tools of game theory. And it's very, very powerful. So we don't have to guess or wave our hands anymore. We can actually run simulations and prove theorems about the effects of natural selection on our senses. We can ask a technical question. Does natural selection favor organisms with sensory systems that tell them truths about reality, objective reality? It's a clean technical question. And it turns out there is a clean technical answer that comes from evolution. And it is quite surprising. I first started this about 12 years ago with a couple of graduate students of mine-- Justin Mark and Brian Marion.
We ran hundreds of thousands of evolutionary game simulations in random worlds with resources and creatures that had to forage for these resources. And we played god. Some of the creatures got to see the truth. Others didn't. And the ones that didn't, we had them just perceived the fitness payoffs. And we can talk a little bit about fitness payoffs a little bit later. That's a key, key notion in evolution. And what we found was in the simulations organisms that saw the truth never out-competed never outperformed creatures in our simulations that saw none of the truth and were just perceiving the fitness payoffs. So that gave me some confidence that maybe there was a theorem here. And so I proposed a theorem to a very talented mathematician named Chetan Prakash with whom I've worked for many years.
Chetan and I discussed it, worked on it. And Chetan brought it home. He proved the theorem. An organism that sees reality as it is is never more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality and is just tuned to the fitness payoffs. Translated, that means if you see the truth, you'll go extinct. And so the question is, of course, what our fitness payoffs? And what's going on there? And it's a technical term in game theory. The payoffs are what sort of drive the game. But I think an analogy can help. Think of life as like a video game. In a video game, you have to, in many video games, you have to try to grab as many points as quickly as you can at the level that you're at. And if you get enough points in the minimal time, you might get to the next level. If you don't, you die. And you have put in some more money or start over.
And the idea is that life is like that. It's like a video game, but instead of the points in a game, we have fitness payoffs. Getting the right kind of food, high-quality food, not eating poisonous things, breathing the right kind of air, finding the right mate and so forth. These are all fitness payoffs that we can get. And if we get more fitness payoffs than the competition-- it's not like getting millions of fitness payoffs, you just have to do a little bit better than the competition-- then you have a better chance of passing on your genes that code for your strategies for getting fitness payoffs. So you don't go to the next level like in a video game, but your genes and your offspring go to the next level. And so that's, informally, the idea of fitness payoffs.
They're what drive success or failure in evolution and life. And what we discovered was two things-- First, that fitness payoffs themselves destroy information about the structure of the world. It's truly stunning. Fitness payoffs depend on the state of the world. And I can give you an example. So what is the fitness payoff of, say-- I like this example of a T-bone steak. Well, for a hungry lion looking to eat, that T-bone steak offers a lot of fitness payoff. It will help it to stay alive and be strong. For that same lion that's well fed and looking to mate, the T-bone steak offers no fitness payoffs. And for a cow, in any state, a T-bone steak is not a good thing.
So the payoffs depend on objective reality, whatever that might be, whatever the state of the world might be. And also on the organism, like lion versus cow, its state, hungry versus fed, and its action, eating versus mating, for example. So fitness payoffs, as you can see, are complicated functions. They depend on the state of the world, whatever the world might be, but also on the organism, its state, and its action. And if we fix an organism, state, and action, then fitness payoffs are functions from the world, whatever the world might be, into a set of payoff values, say from 1 to M, fitness payoff values where 1 means you're dead, M means you're getting the most you could possibly get.
And what we've discovered is that function, those fitness functions, almost surely destroy information about the structure of the world. I can give you a concrete example of what I mean by that. So suppose-- and by the way, when I said that, I don't need to know anything about the world. I don't need to propose I know anything what reality is. These terms hold anyway. That's the nice thing about the mathematics. You might say, well, you know, how could you prove such a theorem unless you know what the world is? It turns out you can. These theorems hold regardless of what the world is. Suppose we take, for sake of argument, a world in which there really is oxygen concentration.
There is air and there's oxygen. And oxygen concentration can go from 0 percent to 100 percent. That's what mathematicians would call a total order 0 is less than 1 less than 2, all the way up to 100. That's a total order. And it turns out that-- so that would be a structure in the objective world in this example. Now the percentages of oxygen that will maintain human life is about 19.5 percent to 22.5 percent. If you get outside that range, you'll be in distress and eventually die. And so there's this very narrow range of oxygen concentrations that are useful for life. So suppose you had a creature that had only two colors that they perceived.
So a very simple creature. It just sees green and red. And let's assume that we're going to say green is greater than red, just we'll just put an order on green and red. We can put an arbitrary order on them. So green is greater than red. And suppose-- look at two different creatures. One sees as much of truth as possible with just two colors. In that case, you might use red for 0 percent of oxygen to 50 percent. So red is for very little oxygen to medium. And green would be from medium to 100 percent. That way if you saw red, you'd know there was less oxygen. And if you saw green, you'd know there was more.
And so you're knowing as much about the truth of the objective reality-- namely the amount of oxygen-- as you could possibly know given the limits of your sensations. So that will be a truth organism. Now consider a fitness organism that only, again, has two colors, green and red. To encode fitness, you could do the following: Let's use red for 0 through 19.5, which will kill you. And for 22.5 to 100, which will also kill you. In other words, we use red for those amounts of oxygen that will not sustain life. And we'll use green for that narrow band from 19.5 to 22.5 that will sustain life. So if I see green, I know I'm good. I don't need to change anything. I'm going to live. If I see red, I know I'm in trouble. I need to do something differently. But notice if I see red, I have no idea about the truth, about how much oxygen there is.
There could be 100%. There could be 0%. I have no idea. So that concrete example gives you an intuition about why seeing the truth is a very different thing than seeing fitness and why that they're really at odds. They're not the same thing. Our intuitions are, of course, if I see the truth, that will make me more fit. And this example makes it very, very clear that seeing the truth is the opposite in most cases of seeing what's fit. And we were actually able to prove that-- this is now inside baseball language, but I'll throw it out there-- the set of fitness payoffs, if the world has N states, N as in Nancy, and the fitness payoffs have M values, M as in Mark.
There are going to be M raised to the N power, total fitness payoffs, very simple math, combinatorics. And you can for any structure in the world that you want to consider, a total order, a symmetric group, a cyclic group, a measurable structure, a topology, you can ask in each case how many of those M to the N fitness payoffs will preserve that structure. Mathematicians call them homomorphisms. So the homomorphisms of a topology are what we call continuous functions. The homomorphisms of measurable structures are what we call measurable maps and so forth.
It's straightforward to show in each case that the probability-- well, nah, I wouldn't say straightforward. If you a mathematician working with you, then looking over their shoulder, it looks straightforward, but, of course, it's hard work for the mathematicians. But it's combinatorics. And some of the combinatorics is pretty straightforward for mathematicians. In each case, we show that the ratio, the number of homomorphisms, the fitness payoffs, that preserve the structure of the world, that tell you something about the truth, to the total number of fitness payoffs, that ratio-- so the truth preserving payoffs versus all payoffs, we look at that ratio. And that ratio goes to 0 as the number of states in the world increases and the number of fitness payoffs increases, and that means the fitness payoffs generically destroy information about the structure of the world. Our senses will be tuned to the fitness payoffs.
And being tuned to the fitness payoffs means that you will not be tuned to the structure of the world, because the fitness payoffs have lost that structure. And so that's how devastating this is. So we're in a dilemma here. We have two things that we deeply believe. We deeply believe in evolution by natural selection. And we deeply believe in physicalism. That space-time and physical objects as we perceive them are a true representation of reality as it is. Those two claims are in conflict. Both cannot be true. And that's what we've done. I'm saying that space and time and physical objects don't exist unless they're perceived.
And someone might say, "Well, look, Don, if you think that that train coming down the tracks is just some little thing that you're creating on the fly, you're making that up, it's just an icon in your desktop, or a symbol in your virtual reality, why don't you step in front of that train? And after you're dead, and your ideas with you, we'll know that that train was real and it really can kill." And I wouldn't step in front of the train for the same reason that I wouldn't, for example if I'm, say, writing an email. And the email icon is blue and rectangular and in the middle of the screen.
That doesn't mean the email itself on the computer is blue and rectangular in the middle of the computer. So I don't take the icon literally. It's not literally true about what's in the reality. But I do take it seriously. I would not drag that icon to the trashcan carelessly. If I drag the icon to the trashcan, I could lose all of my work. So I take my icons seriously, but not literally. And that's the case with the train as well. Evolution by natural selection has shaped us with perceptions that are designed to keep us alive. So if I see a snake, don't pick it up. If I see a cliff, don't jump off. If I see a train, don't step in front of it. We have to take our perceptions seriously, but that does entitle us to take them literally.
So another objection is, I look over there and see a train, and I ask all of my friends, they'll also say that they see a train. So given that we all see the train, surely that means that, therefore, there is a train in objective reality. There really is a train. And that seems very compelling. Of course, we all look, we see the moon. We all agree that there is a moon. So therefore, the moon must really exist. But again that's a logical error. In the visual example that we looked at earlier with the cubes that were floating in front of the disks, we all would agree that we saw a cube. But we would all agree that the reason you saw a cube was because you created the cube. The cube doesn't exist unless you create it.
So the reason we agree about trains, and the moon, and cars, and apples, and so forth is because we have a similar interface. We're constructing similar objects. And because we construct our worlds in similar ways, we tend to agree. Although 4 percent of us have synesthesia and can view the world in very, very different ways from the rest of us. So the bottom line is agreement only means agreement, it doesn't mean that we're seeing objective reality. Descartes famously said, "I think, therefore I am." And that does raise a really interesting question about consciousness and what we call the physical world.
A physicalist would say, "Look, I know about things like umbrellas, and the moon, and rocks. I mean all of this concrete, stable stuff, I know about that reality. But when you talk about consciousness and conscious experiences, I'm not sure that you're really talking about anything real. It might just be an illusion. It might be a figure of speech. We could be very, very deeply wrong." So that's the view of most of my hard-nosed physicalist colleagues. "I know about this physical world out there. That's really solid. It's something we can really look out and test. This stuff about consciousness is airy fairy, wiggly. I don't know what you're talking about. It's too squishy for me." But there is a completely different point of view. It's to say, "Look, when I look over here, I'm having an experience, say, that I would call an apple. And so I know that I'm having an experience. And when I close my eyes, my experience of the apple stops. Now I'm just experiencing a gray field. And you want to tell me that, in fact, there's a red apple that still exists even when I'm perceiving a gray field. Well, that's actually more than I know. All I know is that when I open my eyes, I'm experiencing a red apple. And when I close my eyes, I'm not. It's an extra step. And it's a big jump to say that experience of the red apple is actually true of a real red apple. And that red apple still exists even when I'm stopping, when I don't have that experience. That's more than I know. I think it's far less problematic and less going out there on a limb to just say I have my experiences. And I don't know what the objective reality is that's out there."
So physicalism is actually a stronger and more problematic claim. It's saying that there is a reality that in some way matches our experiences and continues. I'm just saying we have these experiences. So the "cogito, ergo sum" that "I think, therefore I am," I think Descartes wasn't just talking about thinking in the normal sense of like abstract cogitation, doing reason. I think he was talking about perceiving. And in that sense, I would say yes. I'm having experiences. I'm perceiving. My, thoughts my rationality, I'm experiencing that as well. That's the starting point. And I would say I wouldn't go all the way with Descartes. He says therefore I am. I don't know what the word "I" refers to there. Certainly conscious experiences seem to exist from that. The "I" may be another construct, another symbol that I make. So the symbol that I call Don, the I, may not be absolutely necessary for the experience.
So I don't know if I'd go all the way with Descartes on that. But I would go part of the way and say, yes, saying that there is a world of experience is going less out on a limb than saying that there is a world of objective objects that resembles my world of experience, in addition to my experiences. So in my own scientific investigations, I've proposed a very controversial theory. And I've gotten lots of very pointed and sharp criticism, some in print, some published, some in person. And what I found is I've learned a lot from each of the criticisms. In many cases, they forced me to think about an aspect of the theory that I had not thought about that way before.
And in some cases, they put me into days of doubt, where I was looking at that part of the theory, wondering about it, and then either revising the theory or realizing, "oh, wow, the theory has resources that I didn't realize to deal with that problem." And that's the power of a nice theory, by the way, a mathematically precise theory. When you write down the theory, the theory then becomes your teacher. It becomes smarter than you in a way. When Einstein wrote down the equations of general relativity, he did not know that they entailed the existence of black holes. In that sense, the equations were smarter than Einstein. Einstein didn't believe in black holes for decades.
The equations were very clear that they could exist. Einstein said, no. And it turned out Einstein was wrong and the equations were right. So it is very interesting. We do these theories because we can learn from them. But when you have criticisms, it forces you to-- it forced me to examine parts of my theory very, very carefully and ask, "Is this correct? Do I need to revise? Or are there the resources within the theory to handle this objection?" And in many cases, I discovered new strengths in the theory that I hadn't known before.
And then I would use them later on as advertisements for the theory: "You might say such and such is a problem, here's the answer." And that often, then-- a lot of my colleagues now when I talk with them, I know the first 10 objections they're going to have because I've been given those objections. I've thought about them. So I give them the objections. I give them the answers. And so it forces the discussion to a new level which is good. All the easy objections, quote unquote "easy objections" are taken out of the picture. Let's go deeper. Give me an objection I've not heard before so I can learn something new. And that's sort of the attitude. Take the objections. Learn from them. It's always a growing experience. If you have the attitude "If someone is disagreeing with me, no, I'm not going to listen to that," that's when you stop learning.
- Galileo was quite controversial, in part, because he argued that Earth moved around the sun, despite people's senses deluding them that the world was static.
- Evolution may have primed us to see the world in terms of payoffs rather than absolute reality — this has actually helped us survive. Those who win payoffs are more likely to pass on their genes, which encode these strategies to get to the "next level" of life.
- It's important to listen to people's objections because they may bring something to your attention outside your ken. Learn from them to make your ideas sharper.
- Does the Language We Speak Affect Our Perception of Reality ... ›
- If reality is a data structure, can the simulation theory hold up? ›
- We Survive Because Reality May Be Nothing Like We Think It Is ... ›
- Did we evolve to see reality as it exists? - Big Think ›
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A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.
- A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
- The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
- The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
Several years ago, a meta-analysis of studies on human fertility came out warning us about the declining sperm counts of Western men. It was widely shared, and its findings were featured on the covers of popular magazines. Indeed, its findings were alarming: a nearly 60 percent decline in sperm per milliliter since 1973 with no end in sight. It was only a matter of time, the authors argued, until men were firing blanks, literally.
Well… never mind.
It turns out that the impending demise of humanity was greatly exaggerated. As the predicted infertility wave crashed upon us, there was neither a great rush of men to fertility clinics nor a sudden dearth of new babies. The only discussions about population decline focus on urbanization and the fact that people choose not to have kids rather than not being able to have them.
Now, a new analysis of the 2017 study says that lower sperm counts is nothing to be surprised by. Published in Human Fertility, its authors point to flaws in the original paper's data and interpretation. They suggest a better and smarter reanalysis.
Counting tiny things is difficult
The original 2017 report analyzed 185 studies on 43,000 men and their reproductive health. Its findings were clear: "a significant decline in sperm counts… between 1973 and 2011, driven by a 50-60 percent decline among men unselected by fertility from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand."
However, the new analysis points out flaws in the data. As many as a third of the men in the studies were of unknown age, an important factor in reproductive health. In 45 percent of cases, the year of the sample collection was unknown- a big detail to miss in a study measuring change over time. The quality controls and conditions for sample collection and analysis vary widely from study to study, which likely influenced the measured sperm counts in the samples.
Another study from 2013 also points out that the methods for determining sperm count were only standardized in the 1980s, which occurred after some of the data points were collected for the original study. It is entirely possible that the early studies gave inaccurately high sperm counts.
This is not to say that the 2017 paper is entirely useless; it had a much more rigorous methodology than previous studies on the subject, which also claimed to identify a decline in sperm counts. However, the original study had more problems.
Garbage in, garbage out
Predictable as always, the media went crazy. Discussions of the decline of masculinity took off, both in mainstream and less-than-reputable forums; concerns about the imagined feminizing traits of soy products continued to increase; and the authors of the original study were called upon to discuss the findings themselves in a number of articles.
However, as this new review points out, some of the findings of that meta-analysis are debatable at best. For example, the 2017 report suggests that "declining mean [sperm count] implies that an increasing proportion of men have sperm counts below any given threshold for sub-fertility or infertility," despite little empirical evidence that this is the case.
The WHO offers a large range for what it considers to be a healthy sperm count, from 15 to 250 million sperm per milliliter. The benefits to fertility above a count of 40 million are seen as minimal, and the original study found a mean sperm concentration of 47 million sperm per milliliter.
Healthy sperm, healthy man?
The claim that sperm count is evidence of larger health problems is also scrutinized in this new article. While it is true that many major health problems can impact reproductive health, there is little evidence that it is the "canary in the coal mine" for overall well-being. A number of studies suggest that any relation between lifestyle choices and this part of reproductive health is limited at best.
Lastly, ideas that environmental factors could be at play have been debunked since 2017. While the original paper considered the idea that pollutants, especially from plastics, could be at fault, it is now known that this kind of pollution is worse in the parts of the world that the original paper observed higher sperm counts in (i.e., non-Western nations).
There never was a male fertility crisis
The authors of the new review do not deny that some measurements are showing lower sperm counts, but they do question the claim that this is catastrophic or part of a larger pathological issue. They propose a new interpretation of the data. Dubbed the "Sperm Count Biovariability hypothesis," it is summarized as:
"Sperm count varies within a wide range, much of which can be considered non-pathological and species-typical. Above a critical threshold, more is not necessarily an indicator of better health or higher probability of fertility relative to less. Sperm count varies across bodies, ecologies, and time periods. Knowledge about the relationship between individual and population sperm count and life-historical and ecological factors is critical to interpreting trends in average sperm counts and their relationships to human health and fertility."
Still, the authors note that lower sperm counts "could decline due to negative environmental exposures, or that this may carry implications for men's health and fertility."
However, they disagree that the decline in absolute sperm count is necessarily a bad sign for men's health and fertility. We aren't at civilization ending catastrophe just yet.
A year of disruptions to work has contributed to mass burnout.
- Junior members of the workforce, including Generation Z, are facing digital burnout.
- 41 percent of workers globally are thinking about handing in their notice, according to a new Microsoft survey.
- A hybrid blend of in-person and remote work could help maintain a sense of balance – but bosses need to do more.
More than half of 18 to 25 year-olds in the workforce are considering quitting their job. And they're not the only ones.
In a report called The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?, Microsoft found that as well as 54% of Generation Z workers, 41% of the entire global workforce could be considering handing in their resignation.
Similarly, a UK and Ireland survey found that 38% of employees were planning to leave their jobs in the next six months to a year, while a US survey reported that 42% of employees would quit if their company didn't offer remote working options long term.
New work trends
Based on surveys with over 30,000 workers in 31 countries, the Microsoft report – which is the latest in the company's annual Work Trend Index series – pulled in data from applications including Teams, Outlook and Office 365, to gauge productivity and activity levels. It highlighted seven major trends, which show the world of work has been profoundly reshaped by the pandemic:
- Flexible work is here to stay
- Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call
- High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce
- Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized
- Shrinking networks are endangering innovation
- Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing
- Talent is everywhere in a hybrid world
"Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says in the report. "Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly – inclusive of collaboration, learning and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker, including frontline and knowledge workers, as well as for new graduates and those who are in the workforce today. All this needs to be done with flexibility in, when, where and how people work."
Organizations have become more siloed
While the report highlights the opportunities created by increased flexible and remote working patterns, it warns that some people are experiencing digital exhaustion and that remote working could foster siloed thinking. With the shift to remote working, much of the spontaneous sharing of ideas that can take place within a workplace was lost. In its place are scheduled calls, regular catch-ups and virtual hangouts. The loss of in-person interaction means individual team members are more likely to only interact with their closest coworkers.
"At the onset of the pandemic, our analysis shows interactions with our close networks at work increased while interactions with our distant network diminished," the report says. "This suggests that as we shifted into lockdown, we clung to our immediate teams for support and let our broader network fall to the wayside. Simply put, companies became more siloed than they were pre-pandemic."
Burnout or drop out
One of the other consequences of the shift to remote and the reliance on tech-based communications has been the phenomenon of digital burnout. And for those who have most recently joined the workforce, this has been a significant challenge.
The excitement of joining a new employer, maybe even securing a job for the first time, usually comes with meeting lots of new people, becoming familiar with a new environment and adapting to new situations. But for many, the pandemic turned that into a daily routine of working from home while isolated from co-workers.
"Our findings have shown that for Gen Z and people just starting in their careers, this has been a very disruptive time," says LinkedIn Senior Editor-at-Large, George Anders, quoted in the report. "It's very hard to find their footing since they're not experiencing the in-person onboarding, networking and training that they would have expected in a normal year."
But it is perhaps the data around quitting that is one of the starkest indications that change is now the new normal. Being able to work remotely has opened up new possibilities for many workers, the report found. If you no longer need to be physically present in an office, your employer could, theoretically, be located anywhere. Perhaps that's why the research found that "41% of employees are considering leaving their current employer this year".
In addition to that, 46% of the people surveyed for the Microsoft report said they might relocate their home because of the flexibility of remote working.
A hybrid future
In looking for ways to navigate their way through all this change, employers should hold fast to one word, the report says – hybrid. An inflexible, location-centred approach to work is likely to encourage those 41% of people to leave and find somewhere more to their tastes. Those who are thinking of going to live somewhere else, while maintaining their current job, might also find themselves thinking of quitting if their plans are scuppered.
But remote working is not a panacea for all workforce ills. "We can no longer rely solely on offices to collaborate, connect, and build social capital. But physical space will still be important," the report says. "We're social animals and we want to get together, bounce ideas off one another, and experience the energy of in-person events. Moving forward, office space needs to bridge the physical and digital worlds to meet the unique needs of every team – and even specific roles."
Bosses must meet challenges head on
Although the majority of business leaders have indicated they will incorporate elements of the hybrid working model, the report also found many are out of touch with workforce concerns more widely.
For, while many workers say they are struggling (Gen Z – 60%; new starters – 64%), and 54% of the general workforce feels overworked, business leaders are having a much better experience. Some 61% said they were 'thriving', which is in stark contrast to employees who are further down the chain of command.
Jared Spataro, corporate vice president at Microsoft 365, writes in the report: "Those impromptu encounters at the office help keep leaders honest. With remote work, there are fewer chances to ask employees, 'Hey, how are you?' and then pick up on important cues as they respond. But the data is clear: our people are struggling. And we need to find new ways to help them."
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Buildings don't have to be permanent — modular construction can make them modifiable and relocatable.
- Modular construction involves building the components of a habitable structure in a factory, and then assembling those components on-site.
- The history of modular construction stretches back centuries, and it became briefly popular in the U.S. after World War II, but it's never quite caught on.
- Construction firms like iMod Structures, which constructs buildings that can be modified and relocated, may soon change that.
Modular construction is on the rise. Once a marginal sector focused on building affordable homes, modular construction is now building an increasing share of structures used for commerce, healthcare, and education. By 2028, the modular construction market is projected to be worth $114 billion.
What is modular construction? It's like building with Legos but on an industrial scale: standardized block-shaped modules are constructed in a factory, transported to a building site, and assembled together to form a habitable structure.
What's most striking about modular buildings isn't appearance but the speed of construction. In 2015, for example, a Chinese construction company built a 57-story glass-and-concrete skyscraper made of 2,736 rectangular modules in a record-breaking 19 days. That's three stories per day.
In addition to speed, modular construction promises to be more modifiable, more transportable, and less wasteful than traditional construction methods. The method could transform construction, which, despite being one of the world's biggest sectors, is one of the slowest growing in terms of labor productivity and digitization.
One modular construction firm aiming to bring the sector into the 21st century is iMod Structures, which builds shipping container-sized modules that can be assembled into buildings. The modules can then be disassembled to modify the existing structure or transported to a different site to build a new one.
Freethink recently visited iMod Structures to get an up-close look at its unique spin on modular construction.
Do buildings have to be permanent? | Hard Reset by Freethink www.youtube.com
Techniques like this could help bring construction into the 21st century. But despite its futuristic and transformative appeal, modular construction is far from a new idea. In fact, the history of prefabrication — the broader category of construction to which modular belongs — goes back centuries.
Prefabrication: From 17th-century cottages to diners to skyscrapers
One of the earliest examples of prefabrication came in 1624, when a colonial American fisherman commissioned an English construction company to fabricate components of a building and ship them overseas to the fishing village of Cap Anne.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, English firms also shipped prefabricated structures — storehouses, cottages, and hospitals — to Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. In the U.S., prefabricated homes became popular during the Gold Rush when California towns had too many people but too few houses.
In the early 20th century, mass-production made modular construction more practical and, sometimes, more popular. From 1908 to 1940, Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes across the country; some of the cheapest models started around $160. (Kit homes were like IKEA products: the manufacturer builds and precuts the parts, and the buyer assembles them.)
Still, prefabricated homes weren't particularly popular in the first half of the 20th century; homebuyers generally viewed the structures — especially the metal and experimental ones — as strange and undesirable.
Pre fabricated house shipped via boxcarThe Aladdin Company via Wikipedia
But appearance wasn't a major concern during World War II. Facing huge demand for cheap and simple housing for soldiers in the early 1940s, the U.S. produced hundreds of thousands of Quonset huts — prefabricated, semi-cylindrical structures made of corrugated galvanized steel — which about six unskilled laborers could construct in a day.
A Quonset hut being put in place at the 598th Engineer Base Depot in Japan, post-World War IIUS Army Corps of Engineers via Wikipedia
After the war, millions of U.S. soldiers returned home, and the nation faced a housing shortage crisis. Hundreds of companies entered the prefabricated housing market, with several receiving support from the federal government. One of the most iconic models was the enameled-steel Lustron house, which cost $7,000 to $10,000, took two weeks to assemble, and promised to "defy weather, wear, and time."
By 1958, roughly 10 percent of all homes in the U.S. were prefabricated. In addition to homes, the prefabrication industry also built thousands of diners throughout the 20th century, especially after World War II when owning a prefabricated diner was a decent small-business opportunity. Popular in New Jersey, the narrow diners could easily be shipped to buyers by rail.
Interior of a 1938 Sterling manufactured diner, with curved ceiling, in Wellsboro, PennsylvaniaI, Ruhrfisch via Wikipedia
Despite the post-war boom, modular construction never really caught on in most parts of the world, though many architects and builders have long been attracted to the method. Some of the reasons include consumer perception that modular homes are unattractive, technological constraints, and the high costs of researching and developing new building techniques.
These challenges can be prohibitive, especially for large-scale projects.
"Building anything over 10 stories in modular is something no one has wanted to do because you have to invest in research and development," Susi Yu, executive vice president of residential development for the Forest City Ratner Corporation, told Fast Company. "There's science behind it that you need to figure out."
But attitudes on modular buildings may be shifting.
"Today, modular construction is experiencing a new wave of attention and investment, and several factors suggest it may have renewed staying power," noted a 2019 report from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. "The maturing of digital tools has radically changed the modular-construction proposition — for instance, by facilitating the design of modules and optimizing delivery logistics. Consumer perceptions of prefab housing are beginning to change, particularly as new, more varied material choices improve the visual appeal of prefab buildings."
The report goes on: "Perhaps most important, we see a change in mind-set among construction-sector CEOs, as many leaders see technology-based disruptors entering the scene — and realizing it may be time to reposition themselves."
In recent decades, construction firms around the world have built all kinds of modular buildings, including modular skyscrapers in the U.K., U.S., and China; containerized homes in Mexico; and classrooms in rural South Africa.
"In many countries, modular construction is still very much an outlier," McKinsey noted. "But there are strong signs of what could be a genuine broad-scale disruption in the making. It is already drawing in new competitors — and it will most likely create new winners and losers across the entire construction ecosystem."
The benefits of modular construction
Modular construction has the potential to deliver $22 billion in annual savings to U.S. and European markets, mainly because of the inherent benefits of building components in a controlled factory setting. The Modular Building Institute lists a few examples:
- Shorter construction schedule. Because construction of modular buildings can occur simultaneously with the site and foundation work, projects can be completed 30 percent to 50 percent sooner than traditional construction.
- Elimination of weather delays. 60 to 90 percent of the construction is completed inside a factory, which mitigates the risk of weather delays. Buildings are occupied sooner, creating a faster return on investment.
- Improved air quality. Because the modular structure is substantially completed in a factory controlled setting using dry materials, there's virtually no potential for high levels of moisture (which can cause mold growth) to get trapped in the new construction.
- Less material waste. When building in a factory, waste is eliminated by recycling materials, controlling inventory, and protecting building materials.
- Safer construction. The indoor construction environment reduces the risks of accidents and related liabilities for workers.
But perhaps the biggest benefit of modular construction is relocatability and modifiability.
Future-proofing buildings and cities
Buildings are hard to modify and practically impossible to move. That's a problem for many organizations, including the Los Angeles Unified School District. The district currently maintains thousands of decades-old trailers it built to accommodate a fast-growing student population.
Seeking to replace those trailers with structures, the district partnered with iMod Structures to build "future proof" modular classrooms that can be reconfigured and relocated, depending on fluctuating enrollment levels.
"If you have one of our classrooms in a particular location and 5, 10, or 20 years later, you need them across town at another campus within the school district, you simply disassemble, relocate, and reassemble them where they are needed," Craig Severance, Principal with iMod Structures, said in a statement. "And it can be done within a few days, minimizing school [downtime] and disruption of our children's education."
iMod Structures classroomiMod Structures
Founded in 2009 by former real estate investors John Diserens and Craig Severance, iMod Structures takes a hyper-efficient approach to modular construction. Instead of making many types of prefabricated components, the firm makes only one standardized block-shaped frame, each roughly the size of a shipping container. The firm builds the frames in factories and then outfits them with walls, windows, and other custom features the client wants.
Because the frames have the dimensions of a standard shipping container, they can be easily transported to the building site by truck or rail. On site, the frames are connected together or stacked on top of each other. Once the structure is intact, workers finish the job by adding plumbing, electricity, and other final touches.
The process saves a lot of time.
"Typically, it would take nine to 15 months to manufacture a classroom out in the field," said Mike McKibbin, the head of operations for iMod. "We're doing that in twelve days."
Today, iMod Structures is focusing on future-proofing classrooms in California. But it's not hard to imagine how this kind of modular construction could transform not only the ways we build buildings but also organize cities. For example, if a company wants to set up offices in a new part of town, it could build an office park out of iMod Structures frames.
But what if the company needs to expand? It could attach more modules to its existing structure. If it needs to shut down? Instead of demolishing the office park, the structure could be modified and converted into, say, a hospital or apartment building. Alternatively, the modules could be removed from the site, and reused elsewhere, so the city could construct a park.
Under this kind of framework, cities could become far more flexible and dynamic, able to quickly adapt to changing needs. And with no need to demolish buildings, modular construction could prove far more sustainable than any method the industry uses today.
"We don't want our buildings to ever end up in a landfill. Ever," said Reed Walker, head of production and design at iMod Structures. "We want to take that system and use it again and again and again."