Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Waste of Space?

Someone asked me if I thought Simonyi was extravagantly wasteful or a visionary pioneer for spending $25M to visit space. This gave me the chance to do one of my favorite things: reject the premise of the question.

It is a little understood fact that while you can waste money from your own point of view (meaning you could have used it in a way that made you happier), you can't actually waste money. It is not a resource - it is a store of value. You can waste energy by using it unproductively, and you can destroy order unproductively. But when you spend money you are simply transferring it to someone else. Then it is theirs to spend as they see fit.

I think you can only look at it as wasteful if you transfer it to someone that will use it to destry more resources unproductively with it than you would have. NASA does not fit into this category. At any rate, by my quick estimate at most 10% of the fee went to fuel and single use hardware. Not much waste there.

Of course you also cannot call someone a pioneer for buying a ticket. No matter how long the ride or how expensive the seat, many people went before him and the technology is robust at this point. It was probably less dangerous than visiting Baghdad and certainly less dangerous than living there.

In conclusion, I think the categories into which the fellow could be fairly placed include space-geek and rich tourist, but not wasteful or pioneer. Rock(et) on!

2 comments:

Gregory A. Becerra said...

I enjoy your argument but believe it to be logically incorrect as I believe you subconsciously suspect because you go on to answer the original question despite claiming to reject the premise.

Your analysis is wrong from several perspectives. First, creating your own denotation of the word money does not necessarily discount other denotations of the word or what the word represents.

I can easily state that money does not store anything except perhaps moisture, if you drop it in a puddle. People are the stores of the value that is transferred to money in the same way that people transfer value to other things. It is this very characteristic that causes humans to understand an entity as a resource.

For example, most people may not consider dirt a resource. But if we are to include in our understanding of dirt those elements that make up bricks or cement then people start to value it. Understanding something as a resource has more to do with the value people have for it.

Now consider money. The purpose of money is as a common equity. Prior to money, people worked on a barter system where one might trade a chicken for some bread. This barter system was quite inefficient and led people to establish a common equity that allowed people to barter more efficiently. Therefore we can say that money has become the most valuable resource because it is the most convertible resource available.

If we were to imagine a substance that could be converted as a fuel for homes, to power lights, and to feed humans, then it would be very valuable and in demand. Money takes this property because it can be converted to any other resource that one might value.

Therefore there is a very strong argument that money can be denoted as a resource.

Second, as many linguists mistakenly do, you place too much emphasis on the actual language than on what the language represents. The purpose of communication is to convey cognitions between people. A person must take his/her cognition, code it into language, convey it to another, and then that other must then decode it to make sense in that person's own mindset.

Many problems are not problems of logic but problems of communication. You chose to focus on defining a person's choice of words based on your own mindset rather than trying to understand what that person's own connotations of the words were.

An old saying is that you looked at the finger rather than looking at what the finger was pointing to. Given that, what I think this person is implying is if there was perhaps a better way this money could have been used.

The last point I'll make is that you shift the context of the argument but then do not maintain that context. You claim you cannot waste money but then claim that you can waste energy. Energy can never be lost; it is only converted to other forms of energy. So your argument actually works against you. Money is like energy in that it can be converted to other forms of resources.

*****

In regard to the original question, a more logical response might have been: Why does the questioner assume only two possible answers?

Waste is a subjective standard. If I were a billionaire, then spending $25M on something might not seem too thought provoking. If $25M was all the money I had then the context is different. If I am starving and discover someone spent this much to do this, then my reaction might be different. To claim that this individual was wasteful would be to create a logical argument that all people should only spend according to their need. Therefore even small expenditures like movie tickets are wasteful. This seems ridiculous.

On the other hand the common idea of a pioneer is not only that a person is the first but also they have left a trail for others to follow. The proper pioneers are the people that established the program, not the person who was lucky enough to be the first in line. The pioneer spirit is generally regarded to include struggles and difficulties to meet the goal. While this person may have struggled to get the money originally, this person only had to buy a ticket. Calling this person a pioneer would be like calling the first person to ride a commercial jet airplane a pioneer.

The problem with this question is NOT a problem of premise, but a problem of an assumed answer.

RB said...

It's very interesting to read gretory's comments. Language as a set of tool is for communication purpose but just that it's not enough as human communication is a complicated process and any misconnect will lead to totally different directions. That's why we have grammar just like we have ISO for quality control purpose but even that we can still be everywhere in our own mind. Here I more want to talk about the purpose of writing on Blog. We started with writing something we want and hope that can click with its own readers but then we found nobody even knows about our Blog then we start to write something catchy, something that can creates arguments, noises, attentions or whatever. I guess this article is like that.

Now back to this article I don’t know if there is a point worth argue or correct anything just because we feel so and we think so. First let’s say ‘money’, should we define it in economic term, social term or personal term, a rich person’s term or poor man’s term? Second what is waste and is there such thing called waste? If giving we barely know what life is, what this universe is and if time is just a dimension what is ‘after’, so maybe waste is just a word we created to make others feel uncomfortable about their behavior? Third word’ pioneer’, is this even a ‘good’ word? If we take it literally we should call those early colonization leaders our ‘pioneers’ but look what they did to the native people there? Who didn’t have blood on their hand?

People always like to use their own standards to evaluate the others. You are good, he is bad but what on earth do we have this kind of right to make this kind of judgment. What I will say is as long as this person does no harm to anyone then let them do whatever they want. If you want to judge, JUDGE YOURSELF.

BTW, I am not a native speaker and still in the early stage of learning English so anyone who is willing to correct my grammar or word mistake I will be very happy.