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infinite energy

Issue 78
March/April 2008
Infinite Energy Magazine

The Seventh Wave and Beyond: A World Revolution Driven by Knowledge

  Bill Zebuhr   

It is easy these days to get a bit depressed about the state of the world and the prospects for the future. World pollution, religious wars, deforestation, decimation of wildlife, over-use of resources, poverty, disease, and other ills all result in a world lifestyle that is highly unsustainable. Things seem bad and bound to get worse while governments around the world—overseen by so-called leaders that are often pathetic—fiddle with weak ideas that have been tried and proven wrong by history and common sense. Yet there is hope. It does not come from politics or religion, but from knowledge mostly gained by science and technology and led mostly by private business. 

The last 250 years or so can be divided into six waves of innovation that have resulted in the state of technology that we have today. The first wave started in the mid-1700s and lasted for about 100 years. Use of iron became widespread and enabled mechanization of water power and textile machinery. Commerce expanded greatly as newly manufactured goods were traded around the world. The second wave lasted until the early 1900s and was characterized by steam power, railroads, steel production, and cotton growing and processing. The third wave dominated until the mid-1900s and was driven by the internal combustion engine (with all that it enabled) and a greatly expanded chemical industry. Petrochemicals, aviation, electronics, and space technology led the fourth wave that lasted until it was taken over by the fifth wave around 1990. The fifth wave is where we are now and is driven by the internet, biotechnology, software, and information technology. The sixth wave has started but is not yet dominant and will focus on correcting many of the sins of the previous waves to attempt to make the world economy sustainable. Technology will be developed that will enable much more efficient use of resources and a great reduction in environmental damage. This includes renewable energy, waste disposal, water treatment, better materials, whole system design that increases efficiency, green chemistry, nanotechnology, and bioengineering. 

Each wave is characterized by a greater level of innovation than the previous one because it can make use of greater knowledge and better tools. A water turbine of today bears little resemblance to a water wheel of the 1700s even though they both are designed to extract power from flowing water using the same science. The difference is that the science has benefited from thousands of man years of refinement and likewise the tools used to refine the design make use of all the technology developed in the intervening years. The internal combustion engine of today is an incredibly refined machine even though it is based on the same principles as the homemade engines built by Henry Ford and the Wright brothers. It has been predicted for decades that it would be superseded by other technology such as fuel cells, but continuous refinement has kept it very competitive. It makes use of all the world’s collective technical knowledge to remain so. This is an immense amount of knowledge that would have been completely incomprehensible to the early engine builders, but the same basic science was being followed. 

While governments have fumbled, science and technology have charged ahead and created the world we have today, for better or worse. The sixth wave may or may not make the world’s economy sustainable. I think it will go part way, but changes in people’s lifestyle will be necessary as well. These changes can be encouraged by economics, such as fuel consumption decreasing with increased price. This would happen smoothly except for the interference by governments in the market. Governments are generally part of the problem, not the solution, so they have to be worked around. As technology progresses, more power is available to individuals so that they can either ignore the government or be more alert to government action to take preemptive action. Using technology to live off the grid, for example, avoids services that might be supplied by the government and the internet can inform and empower people as to pending government action. Some power and water purification technologies developed during the sixth wave will definitely reduce the power that governments have over individuals. The net result of the sixth wave will at least be a world that will hang together long enough to get to the seventh wave. The seventh wave will change things a lot. 

The six waves are all based on the same science, mostly Newtonian with some quantum mechanics and relativistic effects included. Rockets still work on the same principle as ancient Chinese rockets, engines are still limited by the second law of thermodynamics, we still don’t know what gravity is or the structure of an atom or whether relativity is close to being correct, and we certainly don’t understand the strange effects predicted and demonstrated by quantum mechanics. Healthy people still live about as long as they have for about a hundred years, so we have a long way to go in understanding life. There are numerous unexplained events in the world that science ignores or makes fun of but is clueless as to how to solve or understand them. When these things are fully acknowledged and better understood it will begin the seventh wave. I am proposing that the seventh wave is the wave of innovation and development that will make use of new science and the technology resulting from it. I am also proposing that the six waves are components of a super wave and that the seventh will be the first of a series of waves all based on the new science but with different technologies dominating as the science is better understood and utilized. 

The role that government played in the start of the six waves of innovation was to be less oppressive and provide a legal structure where property rights were recognized and enforced. The six waves started soon after the American Revolution, which led the more developed world toward better government. Today government is like mainstream science in that there are a lot of problems but it does not know what to do next. In this case government is going to be guided and forced by technology to change. Religion is another part of the human condition that has historically been repressive and severely slowed the understanding of the universe. Separation of church and state and other freedoms from oppression released a torrent of innovation that started the first wave. During the next super wave, science and technology will drastically change religion. True knowledge will gain the upper hand and it will rule. The rule will be far more benign than government or religion has been. 

The sixth wave that is already underway could last a long time and even be considered the “last” wave if: 1) the population stabilizes or decreases, 2) the earth cooperates by not changing too drastically, 3) individuals cooperate in reducing consumption or they are forced to do so, 4) no extraterrestrial force or event intervenes, or 5) mankind loses its appetite for innovation. Of these scenarios, the least likely to happen is the last. If mankind does not innovate it dies, it will no longer be a race of men and women but something less. Given innovation, no matter how sustaining the world is or how comfortable, someone will upset the apple cart with new ideas that will be pursued no matter what. 

Comfort is a two-edged sword. It can be pleasant and even totally satisfying for some, but it does not provide an automatic driving force for growth. The mind needs growth or decay sets in. An active, healthy mind may be comfortable and even joyful but never satisfied. The only way to suppress growth in a healthy mind is to subjugate it to relatively mindless tasks that keep it occupied enough to prevent real thinking. That was the human condition for many centuries until man had a little time left after just surviving. Innovation can be overtly dangerous (weapons) or subtlety dangerous like the car which can not only kill but uses so many resources that the whole planet is endangered. The innovation that will occur in the seventh wave may totally destroy sustainability—at least for a while—but it will occur anyway and the problems will be dealt with later. The search will go on to discover the true nature of the universe and that will lead to some upsetting technology and some ideas that are very upsetting to the social status quo. This has gone on for a long time but knowledge is increasing so much and communication is improving so much that the myth keepers and mis-information purveyors will have no place to hide.

Discoveries made during the seventh wave will not only enable great new technologies but will reveal truths that have been kept under cover by science, religion, and government. Myths about the Big Bang, dark matter, aspects of relativity, and the reality behind quantum mechanics will fall along with the myths associated with the hundreds of religions that somehow survive today. The myth that government is “here to help you” will be harder to overcome because the issues are less clear cut and politicians will be in a fight for their lives. 

One of the most anticipated and important of the new technologies will be the production of abundant clean energy. The energy will most likely be produced in a distributed fashion and used near where it is produced. The energy will enable the local treatment of water and sewage. In fact, it will allow the recycling of water to the extent that a central water utility may not be needed. Thus, new energy will reduce the dependence on government. Fully understanding life and the nature of the mind will enable rapid low-cost learning. This will remove another government service (education—which is poorly provided at high cost). Personal flying machines may greatly reduce the need for roads, another government service. The greatly reduced need for oil will make yet another government service obsolete—the fighting of wars for oil and the support of corrupt governments. Generally, individuals will have so much technology available locally that they will have much more ability to live with minimal outside service, almost like farmers before the first wave but with greater luxury and abundant leisure time. The great reduction of the power of government and religion will make the world a much safer place and enable more rapid development and widespread use of the new technologies to come.

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