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Why do we always make things harder when we try to make them easier?

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posted on Feb, 19 2011 @ 07:28 AM
Greetings, innerspace adventurers.

Last night, at a party, some of us were discussing why human progress always seems to bring problems in its train, and the further we progress, the bigger and nastier the problems seem to get. Someone recalled that the last century featured the biggest death-tolls from wars, epidemics and natural disasters ever seen in human history, the worst environmental degradation from human activity, etc. This seemed to illustrate the point, but then someone else pointed out that things have got better lately; since the 1980s, death-rates in wars and epidemics and crime rates in most of the world have actually been declining, more nations and people have been climbing out of the poverty trap, and so on. However, we can see that there are some really big problems waiting for us round the corner: climate change, food deficits, the demands of aging populations in the developed world and the demand for political and economic freedom in the poor one to name just a few. I observed, pessimistically, that a lot of us nowadays look back on the twentieth century and think, 'Lord Shiva be praised that's done with, we're over the hump at last,' but it may be that the twentieth century was really just the beginning – a foretaste of far worse horrors to come.

Back home, lying in bed, I thought about the question. Half-formed ideas from physics and evolutionary biology (which are the places I normally go to look for answers to the Big Questions) circled lazily in my head, seeming to merge and separate and occlude one another in their circlings. This morning, the question still troubled me – I couldn't stop thinking about it. And then synchronicity struck.

Browsing ATS at lunchtime, I found our good friend Gazrok asking the following question in this post on a thread in another ATS forum:

The more we try to make our lives "easier", the more complicated everything seems to get. Why is that?

This is pretty much the same question my friends and I were discussing last night.

I think it is a very profound question, and so I bring it to the reflective, philosophically-minded habitués of this ATS forum, eager to hear what their answers might be. Why do we always make things harder when we try to make them easier? Is it God's will, karma, Murphy's Law, the second law of thermodynamics, the machinations of scaly aliens or slimy illuminati, all of the above or something else altogether? Let the joust begin!

posted on Feb, 19 2011 @ 09:47 AM
We are forced to lead lives that are generally unnatural to what we instinctivley were adapted to - i.e. industrial revolution. Too many conveniences prevents us from being creative, and when we lose creativity we lose our ability to handle complexities, and in turn, we start to rely on computers and other power structures to keep all of our complex systems in check, and in turn these structures require systems and resources of their own in order to maintain.
edit on 19-2-2011 by SystemResistor because: (no reason given)

Basically, more conveniences creates less time as we have to work harder to create the artificial world that we live in, with less time on our hands to enjoy our spare time, in turn, we demand more conveniences to make our lives easier!
edit on 19-2-2011 by SystemResistor because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 19 2011 @ 10:22 AM
The more we know about a subject, the more questions will arise.
The more we simplify a problem, change of a variable will have a greater effect.
Humans are fallible = the human race is fallible. Our potential to change things became greater as we advance and work together, so the results of our errors are on a grander/global scale. We become aware of issues that were previously unknown to us.
By creating imperfect solutions, we create problems along the way.

posted on Feb, 19 2011 @ 10:31 AM
It's an imbalance of knowledge over wisdom.

If we were more clever, we could be in a utopia.

It's only "human nature" that keeps us here.

Time to evolve our nature.

posted on Feb, 19 2011 @ 01:04 PM
Consider in an economics-centric based society, "enlightened" self interests drive the quest for making life easier. If the government supports me, I don't have to spend my time "working" - that's an easy life. If I buy this consumer good I can do such&such faster, making my life easier. From an elite perspective, wouldn't life be easiest if the entire world revolved around my needs and desires? The personal nature of "motivation" underlie what needs and wants we seek - it's not unusual that a benefit for some is a detriment for others in an economic system.

Sorry. The short retort is that if we tried to make things easier for others and removed any interest for ourselves from the equation, things would have far greater probability of beneficial result. So the answer is simple: just change human nature, eliminate selfishness and greed and we're all good to go. Otherwise the law of unintended consequence is going to play a big part in the results achieved.


posted on Feb, 19 2011 @ 01:21 PM
reply to post by Astyanax


Isn't it dictated in some law of nature for us self-aware thinking creatures to make things harder?? If we would really be making things easier, we would have been done for ages ago........

God forbid that we find answers without raising more questions.

I will give your thread some more thought. Thanks in advance for depriving me of my sleep.


posted on Feb, 19 2011 @ 01:23 PM
Complexity is a byproduct of resistance to the natural.

Resistance, from an intelligence perspective, is caused by denying the natural process. Think friction.

Ego forces man to try to top or best nature.

Grandma said it best..."if it ain't broke, don't fix it"


In my opinion, money as a motivation is the root of the issue. an example is mp3 players. we made them but instead of moving on to something else we are 12-14 years into reinventing the wheel despite the adverse effects on psychology, economy, ecology, etc;

posted on Feb, 19 2011 @ 01:48 PM
reply to post by Astyanax

Good question.

I haven't really thought about it before, but off the cuff I would say it has to do with the true way that humans learn (that way being "the hard way"), leading to generational differences in attitude toward the improvements. When gratitude is replaced by expectation, problems start to show up.

Those born with an improvement (say, the automobile) already established and standardized essentially see it as simply a part of the world. It's difficult for most people these days in developed countries to even fathom life without a car. An educated person of course knows the car is a human invention with a history, but this is an intellectual compartmentalization (not to mention many such people can not even do basic maintenance on one). One does not actually understand life without a car unless one has lived it.

I haven't thought out the logical implications of this, but I can definitely imagine them leading to things getting harder in near-unpredictable ways. As Carl Sagan once said, "We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That's a clear prescription for disaster."

edit on 19-2-2011 by NewlyAwakened because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 20 2011 @ 02:31 PM
reply to post by Astyanax
From the perspective of a subject close to your heart, is it not the physical manifestations, in our world, of our own evolution? Where once we were simpler creatures (prokaryotes?!) with smaller brains and fewer synapses, our increasing mental complexity is realised in our thoughts and creative actions.

An abstract thought occurred whilst considering your question...the three-legged stool; simple and stable on uneven floors. Yet here we are in a world of four-legged chairs. Hold on, there's a metaphor in there apologies.

Tangentially, to where will all this increasing complexity take us? Should we fly the banners and charge headlong into complexity or take the road less travelled and seek simplicity?

It'd be a tough call to make if we had any say in the matter...sigh...

posted on Feb, 20 2011 @ 11:10 PM
reply to post by SystemResistor

Are you saying we're so spoilt by all the labour-saving technology we've invented, we can't come up with ideas to solve our problems any more?

Think back to when human beings first began to control and use fire. That happened far back in our history, before we'd even evolved into modern humans. Fire makes a lot of things easier – from hunting wild animals to chewing their meat – but its use also brings all kinds of dangers and complications, such as securing a fuel supply, keeping it safely under control and dealing with the smoke and cinders and ashes. A million years after learning to use fire, we still haven't found ways to cope with some of those problems. No, I don't think the answer is that we got more stupid over time. It's always been like this.


reply to post by hastur

I agree with you that our problems seem to increase in proportion to our achievements – and of course, our sheer numbers. The question is, why does that happen? Why does every blessing bring a curse in its wake? Is it a divine law, or a law of science, that every rose must have its thorn?


reply to post by unityemissions

Is it really just lack of cleverness?

See my reply to SystemResistor above.

We're pretty clever as individuals, even as teams, though we behave stupidly in large groups. But the cleverer we get – and we do get cleverer, even though we don't get any more intelligent, because our knowledge and skills and cultures build upon themselves – the bigger the problems seem to become. How is that?


reply to post by ganjoa

The answer is simple: just change human nature, eliminate selfishness and greed and we're all good to go. Otherwise the law of unintended consequence is going to play a big part in the results achieved.

So it's a result of human nature? Let's go back to the fire example I use above. Certainly selfishness, greed and other human frailties can increase the number of problems created by the use of fire – we can use it to kill other people in wars, or to destroy rainforests in Sumatra and give children in Kuala Lumpur bronchitis just so that we can make money out of palm-oil plantations. But even if you left all that stuff out and just used fire to cook food and keep warm inside your cave, you'd still have to keep the kids away from the hearth, fix up a vent for the smoke and sweep out the ashes in the morning. Those obligations are not part of human nature; they are part of the nature of fire.

So I don't think it's just human nature, though I agree that it can make things worse. Anyway, we'd better hope the answer isn't human nature, since human nature is something that never seems to change.


reply to post by zroth

Are you saying the problem is money, or just the desire to make things better for ourselves in the first place?

Wasn't money also something we invented to make things easier for ourselves? And we all know the kind of problems money creates. I don't think the root of the problem is money, or even the love of it, whatever the Book of Proverbs says.

As for wanting to make things better in the first place, that's the motive, but it doesn't explain the result.


reply to post by NewlyAwakened

Do you mean the problem is greed? Why can't we be greedy without making things harder? What prevents it?


reply to post by Kandinsky

I'm don't believe I understand what you're getting at, Kandinsky. Would you care to run it by us again?


Hmm. Most of the answers suggested so far seem to be variations on 'it's our fault, a kind of punishment for being stupid or greedy.' Karma, or divine retribution, or something of that kind.

But think about how these problems arise. Yet again, consider fire; however sparingly and responsibly we use it, fire still burns, still demands fuel that must come from somewhere, still produces smoke that makes us cough and choke and get lung cancer. These problems are not caused by us. Enjoying the benefits of fire means having to cope with them, but does that mean we should simply stop using fire? At the terminus of that line of reasoning is the demand that we give up all our technology and live once again as naked savages. That's not a conclusion many of us would endorse.

You certainly can say that all the difficulties created in the world by trying to make things easier are somebody's fault, but that doesn't explain why those difficulties arise in the first place. There seems to be some principle at work, some kind of natural law, perhaps, independent of human agency.

Let's dig down deeper and see if we can find it. Any ideas?

edit on 20/2/11 by Astyanax because: of the fumes.

posted on Feb, 21 2011 @ 12:57 AM
I believe a simple answer is that humankind is not at the level of advancement to create perfect solutions.
Confucius: "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

Some more thoughts on why things create problems via solution:

Inability to predict all consequences - due to the limits of human understanding

Impatience/time available - some solutions are required quickly to satisfy growing need, and becomes a settled upon answer through majority use. e.g. Drilling for oil to provide power and materials.

Demand - solutions may exist that scale badly. e.g. A potato battery provides a small amount of ecologically friendly power. But a town's power grid could not be powered by potato batteries.

Resource availability (material and mental) - A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Greed - A particular outcome is desired in spite of the other solutions available. e.g. People want a popular luxury item so they take out a loan. In the future they will pay back more than they borrowed (net loss). It was more desirable than going without what they wished to purchase and saving for it.

I believe greed is the root cause. The wants of the population = the problems.

Have you ever heard of Epicurus' four part cure (tetrapharmakos)?
"What is good is easy to get"

I don't know if you will accept my answer, but thank you for making me think about it, regardless of if it satisfied you.

posted on Feb, 21 2011 @ 09:01 AM

Originally posted by Astyanax
Do you mean the problem is greed? Why can't we be greedy without making things harder? What prevents it?

That's a bit of a simplification. Greed is of course part of the equation, and it's probably true that if we are all greedy it will make things harder. Well, more accurately, if human nature (all aspects including greed taken together) remains as it always has been, then the civilization cycle (where societies rise and fall) will continue as it always has.

What's unnerving is that with the whole world now as essentially one society, and with the highest population in all of history, and with the most advanced technology in all of history, the "fall" side of the cycle is going to be a big one.

Big enough to make enough people, as individuals, realize something must change in their own nature to prevent such a catastrophe in the future? Perhaps. It's hard to predict because the events will be unprecedented. That is, the decline of this civilization is going to be on an unprecedented scale, and my guess is it will take the form of a fairly rapid collapse rather than a slow decline. The interdependencies are set up like dominoes.

I am getting a bit off-topic. But things becoming difficult with supposed progress is a symptom of the whole cycle. It shows we are approaching the top of the sine curve. The more problems we solve, the bigger problems we meet, until we eventually become overwhelmed by them and start backtracking. Like the Romans.

edit on 21-2-2011 by NewlyAwakened because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 21 2011 @ 10:24 AM
The basic things, such as running water, septic systems, heat sources for cooking and washing machines make life much easier. Anyone who doesn't agree with this should try raising a family without access to these.

Of course even these have their costs attached, and I don't just mean financial costs.

For a great example of technology producing more problems than it solves, just look at the development/introduction of the Melbourne MyKi card

Having large groups of people living together creates a need for services, which necessarily get more complex as the density of the population grows. Skills are developed because the need was there, and our skills are still developing in response to needs. This means things are always a bit out of control, because we are constantly reacting with new technology, and new things always have unexpected effects. There is always the danger of reactive technology being like the old lady who swallowed a fly.

The fact that many of the decisions regarding implementation of technology come from people looking for short term gains in wealth, power or popularity does not help produce gains without long-term losses.

The use of CFCs in refrigeration was an example of this. About 10 years back I found, on the net, a copy of an old application made by Westinghouse to an American government committee for permission to use a new technology, CFCs, in refrigeration. It was explained in the application that this would lead to global warming. It was also explained that, because of America's geographical location and financial power, this would cause fewer problems to America than to other countries, and thus be useful in keeping America in a position of power.

The application was approved.

Technology is necessary as an answer to problems created by society. However we may have to wait hundreds of years for technology to be a completely positive force. And even then, it may suit people in power for that to never happen.

The way to do something that will have a positive effect on this world is to simply find opportunities for little kindnesses. As often as not, kindness will be, in some way, at some time, passed on - and on - and on ...

posted on Feb, 22 2011 @ 02:00 AM

A Question of Balance?

Thank you for your replies. I wish I could say one of them answers the question satisfactorily, but so far I don't think any of us has even come close.

People are still saying things like 'it's greed; it's human nature; it's bad decision-making.' I think we've already disposed of those answers. Greed, or the desire for comfort, convenience and pleasure, are what spur us on to try to make things easier and better in the first place, but they do not explain why things get harder (or worse) when we try. They just explain why we try.

As for human nature, I've already shown you that the problem is not a human one, but is embedded into the fabric of the physical world. Other animals are prey to it too; beavers who build too many dams destroy the local environment and in the end, themselves, too.

Poor decision-making may be a contributor to the problem, but again, it isn't primary. Nobody can foresee the future with perfect accuracy, which you'd need to be able to do in order to make the right decisions all the time.

Let's stop playing the blame game, guys. This is not about identifying who is at fault; we can worry about that later. Put it aside for now and -- I ask again -- please dig a little deeper.

Remember my earlier post. The difficulties with fire arise from the nature of fire, not from human nature. The problem of undesired consequences is one that attends every action, even the most benign, even the most innocent. It seems to me that the problem lies with matter more than it lies with mind.

Considering that, allow me to share with you a few 'keywords' that pop up in my mind when I think about this issue. Perhaps they will set you thinking along different lines. Here they are:

  • Nonlinear functions
  • Second Law of Thermodynamics
  • Dynamic equilibria
  • Self-repairing and feedback systems
  • Natural selection and selective pressure from the environment
  • Murphy's Law
  • Roundabouts and swings
  • Economic costs and benefits

Let's see if that helps at all. And no, I don't have some ready-packed answer to trot out at the end of the thread. But I'm hoping that -- with your help -- I will have one by the time the thread reaches its natural terminus.

edit on 22/2/11 by Astyanax because: I was too bold.

posted on Feb, 22 2011 @ 09:35 AM
I'm almost starting to think that we humans NEED conflict and challenges to survive.

Seems crazy, I know, but I'll illustrate.

Take someone like Paris Hilton for example. Here's a woman who could, if she wanted to, simply live in a Utopia... Everything she could want at her fingertips...never need worry about a bill or where her next meal is coming from, etc. And yet, she's had numerous scandals and conflicts like sex tapes, binges, etc.

Simply put, I think that we cannot survive in a state of boredom. So, even when we manage to create free time (or like Paris above, could have ALL of our hours as free time), we can take only so much idleness before we NEED to generate some kind of challenge or conflict for ourselves.

For most of us, we probably picture a Utopia where we just live a life of leisure, maybe robots do all the work, etc. But, even then, we'd need conflict. Even if we escaped in movies or TV shows, those shows would feature our NEEDED conflicts. While we may long to sit and look at a beautiful vista, I think that we'd ultimately NEED challenges to sustain us. I think it's just our nature.

posted on Feb, 22 2011 @ 11:27 AM
reply to post by Gazrok


Everything in the universe is constantly changing. When it comes to life, where there is challenge, there is growth. Where there is stagnation, there is decay.

Star for debunking the, hmm, pleasure principle? You have debunked a common assumption that we all live with but I can't think of the right name for it. But yeah, we have gotten too smart to still be animals. Animals avoid pain and seek pleasure, but don't think too hard about it. Humans in their genius have figured out how to make pain go away and distill pleasurable stimuli of all sorts, and what are we finding? That the satisfaction just isn't there anymore. Our brains adapt; we become desensitized to pleasurable stimuli and oversensitized to painful ones, rendering us all dissatisfied and paranoid. ATS is a case in point ;-)

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