Good hypotheses are simple

The thing about doing science is that when you really do it, you do it even when you don’t know you do it. Thinking about reality in truly scientific terms means that you tune yourself on discovery, and when you do that, man, you have released that ginn from the bottle (lamp, ring etc.). When you start discovering, and you get the hang of it, you realize that it is fun and liberating for its own sake. To me, doing science is like playing music: I am just having fun with it.

Having fun with science is important. I had a particularly vivid realization of that yesterday, when, due to a chain of circumstances, I had to hold a lecture in macroeconomics in a classroom of anatomy. There was no whiteboard to write on, but there were two skeletons standing in the two corners on my sides, and there were microscopes, of course covered with protective plastic bags. Have you ever tried to teach macroeconomics using a skeleton, and with nothing to write on? As I think about it, a skeleton is excellent for metaphorical a representation of functional connections in a system.

Since the beginning of this calendar year, I have been taking on those serious business plans, and, by the way, I am still doing it. Still, in my current work on two business plans I am preparing in parallel – one for the EneFinproject (FinTech in the market of energy), and the other one for the MedUsproject (Blockchain in the market of private healthcare) – I recently realized that I am starting to think science. In my last update in French, the one entitled Ça me démange, carrément, I have already nailed down one hypothesis, and some empirical data to check it. The hypothesis goes like: ‘The technology of renewable energies is its phase of banalisation, i.e. it is increasingly adapting its utilitarian forms to the social structures that are supposed to absorb it, and, reciprocally, those structures adapt to those utilitarian forms so as to absorb them efficiently’.

As hypotheses come, this one is still pretty green, i.e. not ripe yet for rigorous scientific proof, on the account of there being too many different ideas in it. Good hypotheses are simple, so as you can give them a shave with the Ockham’s razor and cut bullshit out. Still, a green hypothesis is better than no hypothesis at all. I can farm it and make it ripe, which I have already applied myself to do. In an Excel file you can see and download from the archive of my blog, I included the results of quick empirical research I did with the help of https://patents.google.com: I studied patent applications and patents granted, in the respective fields of wind, hydro, photovoltaic, and solar-thermal energies, in three important patent offices across the world, namely the European Patent Office (‘EP’ in that Excel file), the US Patent & Trademark office (‘US’), and in continental China.

As I had a look at those numbers, yes, indeed, there has been like a recent surge in the diversity of patented technologies. My intuition about banalisation could be true. Technologies pertaining to the generation of renewable energies start to wrap themselves around social structures around them, and said structures do the same with technologies. Historically, it is a known phenomenon. The motor power of animals (oxen, horses and mules, mostly), wind power, water power, thermal energy from the burning of fossil fuels – all these forms of energy started as novelties, and then grew into human social structures. As I think about it, even the power of human muscles went through that process. At some point in time, human beings discovered that their bodies can perform organized work, i.e. muscular power can be organized into labour.

Discovering that we can work together was really a bit of a discovery. You have probably read or heard about Gobekli Tepe, that huge megalithic enclosure located in Turkey, and being, apparently, the oldest proof of temple-sized human architecture. I watched an excellent documentary about the place, on National Geographic. Its point was that, if we put aside all the fantasies about aliens and Atlantians, the huge megalithic structure of Gobekli Tepe had been most probably made by simple, humble hunters-gatherers, who were thus discovering the immense power of organized work, and even invented a religion in order to make the whole business run smoothly. Nothing fancy: they used to cut their deceased ones’ heads off, would clean the skulls and keep them at home, in a prominent place, in order to think themselves into the phenomenon of inter-generational heritage. This is exactly what my great compatriot, Alfred Count Korzybski, wrote about being human: we have that unique capacity to ‘bind time’, or, in other words, to make our history into a heritage with accumulation of skills.

That was precisely the example of what a banalised technology (not to confuse with ‘banal technology’) can do. My point – and my gut feeling – is that we are, right now, precisely at this Gobekli-Tepe-phase with renewable energies. With the progressing diversity in the corresponding technologies, we are transforming our society so as it can work the most efficiently possible with said technologies.

Good, that’s the first piece of science I have come up with as regards renewable technologies. Another piece is connected to what I introduced, about the market of renewable energies in Europe, in my last update in English, namely in At the frontier, with my numbers. In Europe, we are a bit of a bunch of originals, in comparison to the rest of the world. Said rest of the world generally pumps up their consumption of energy per capita, as measured in them kilograms of oil equivalent. We, in Europe, we have mostly chosen the path of frugality, and our kilograms of oil per capita tend to shrink consistently. On the top of all that, there seems to be pattern in all that: a functional connection between the overall consumption of energy per capita and the aggregate consumption of renewable energies.

I am going to expose this particular gut feeling of mine by small steps. I Table 1, below, I am introducing two growth rates, compound between 1990 and 2015: the growth rate in the overall, final consumption of energy per capita, against that in the final consumption of renewable energies. I say ‘against’, as in the graph below the table I make a visualisation of those numbers, and it shows an intriguing regularity. The plot of points take the form opposite to those frontiers I showed you in At the frontier, with my numbers. This time, my points follow something like a gentle slope, and the further to the right, the gentler that slope becomes. It is visualised even more clearly with the exponential trend line (red dotted line).

We, I mean economists, call this type of curve, with a nice convexity, an ‘indifference curve’. Funnily enough, we use indifference curves to study choice. Anyway, there is sort of an intuitive difference between frontiers, on the one hand, and indifference curves, on the other hand. In economics, we assume that frontiers are somehow unstable: they represent a state of things that is doomed to change. A frontier envelops something that either swells or shrinks. On the other hand, an indifference curve suggests an equilibrium, i.e. each point on that curve is somehow steady and respectable as long as nobody comes to knock it out of balance. Whilst a frontier is like a skin, enveloping the body, an indifference curve is more like a spinal cord.

We have an indifference curve, hence a hypothetical equilibrium, between the dynamics of the overall consumption of energy per capita, and those of aggregate use of renewable energies. I don’t even know how to call it. That’s the thing with freshly observed equilibriums: they look nice, you could just fall in love with them, but if somebody asks what exactly are they, those nice things, you could have trouble to answer. As I am trying to sort it out, I start with assuming that the overall consumption of energy per capita reflects two complex sets. The first set is that of everything we do, divided into three basic fields of activity: a) the goods and services we consume (they contain energy that served to supply them) b) transport and c) the strictly spoken household use of energy. The second set, or another way of apprehending essentially the same ensemble of phenomena, is a set of technologies. Our overall consumption of energy depends on the total installed power of engines and electronic devices we use.

Now, the total consumption of renewable energies depends on the aggregate capacity installed in renewable technologies. In other words, this mysterious equilibrium of mine (in there is any, mind you) would be an equilibrium between two sets of technologies: those generating energy, and those serving to consume it. Honestly, I don’t even know how to phrase it into a decent hypothesis. I need time to wrap my mind around it.

Table 1

Growth rate in the overall, final consumption of energy per capita, 1990 – 2015 Growth rate in the final consumption of renewable energies, 1990 – 2015
Austria 17,4% 80,7%
Switzerland -18,4% 48,6%
Czech Republic -19,5% 241,0%
Germany -13,7% 501,2%
Spain 11,0% 104,4%
Estonia -33,0% 359,5%
Finland 4,1% 101,8%
France -3,7% 42,3%
United Kingdom -23,2% 1069,6%
Netherlands -3,7% 434,9%
Norway 17,1% 39,8%
Poland -8,0% 336,8%
Portugal 26,8% 32,6%

Growth rates energy per capita vs total renewable

 

I am consistently delivering good, almost new science to my readers, and love doing it, and I am working on crowdfunding this activity of mine. As we talk business plans, I remind you that you can download, from the library of my blog, the business plan I prepared for my semi-scientific project Befund  (and you can access the French versionas well). You can also get a free e-copy of my book ‘Capitalism and Political Power’ You can support my research by donating directly, any amount you consider appropriate, to my PayPal account. You can also consider going to my Patreon pageand become my patron. If you decide so, I will be grateful for suggesting me two things that Patreon suggests me to suggest you. Firstly, what kind of reward would you expect in exchange of supporting me? Secondly, what kind of phases would you like to see in the development of my research, and of the corresponding educational tools?

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