Supply Chain

When I go into the supermarket, I see foods from all over the world. I’m not talking about the items in the so-called International section, but even the stuff on the other shelves. I just picked up the nearest supermarket purchased item that came to hand. Batteries. They are packed locally, but are manufactured in China. When I say locally, I mean almost 500 kilometres away.

Much of the fruit and veges that I purchase come from overseas. Bananas and pineapples don’t grow here and are imported from various countries. If I want to buy a t-shirt it will almost certainly originate in Asia somewhere. I just looked at the t-shirt that I’m wearing at the moment, and yup, while it has a designed featuring a local attraction it is manufactured and printed in China.

All our electronic gear come from Asia, our clothes from Asia and plastic ware like laundry baskets also originates overseas.

This is not unique to this country though. It’s much the same in any other country. This country produces dairy products, meat and meat products, fruit and wine which are exported to other countries. The world is full of goods being shipped from one place to another, and sometimes a product will go to more than one location on its journey from where it is produced to the supermarket that it ends up in.

I don’t know if this actually happens, but one can envisage that milk taken from a cow is turned into milk powder here, sent elsewhere to be turned into mozzarella cheese, which is then sent to a pizza manufacturer, who sends the finished pizza to an pizza outlet where it is cooked and then sent out to satisfy the appetites of people somewhere else yet again.

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There’s a term for this. It is “supply chain”. Actually it’s more like a supply network as, if we consider the pizza case, the pizza is made up of multiple ingredients all of which pass through several stages. Even the box that contains the pizza may have a complex history before the pizza is dropped into it and it is sent off.

It’s also possibly that the box may be made of recycled material. Cardboard collected at a recycling station may be pulped, processed and made into pizza boxes. Some of the collected cardboard may be old pizza boxes.

Generally, though, the components or ingredients of a consumer item, like a cell phone or a pizza with extra pepperoni start out by being harvested or dug out of the ground. If you want to cut out the supply chain, you could grow your own, but then you need to source the seeds, you need to buy in compost, unless you make it yourself from vegetables that you’ve sourced somewhere else, which come from goodness knows where, and you need to feed the plants with chemicals which have all come from somewhere else, and most likely have been processed in various ways.

So what would happen if the supply chain broke? People in the cities, who have no other way to acquire things except through the supply network would quickly starve, and would likely flee the city for the countryside, where things would be much better, and where they could settle down and grow things, right?

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Except that most useful productive land in most countries has already been taken for farms, and the fleeing city folk would be forced onto marginal land and would starve, or they would be forced to steal from the farmers who are already there, or maybe they would beg for food from the farmers or work for them for food. Or they would fight to displace the farmers from their lands. In any case a flood of refugees from the city would likely be a trigger for conflict.

Actually the farmers would not be that much better off than the city folks. Most farms these days are more like little factories feeding into the supply chain and would concentrate on one or two crops. A beef farmer would have a surplus of beef, a potatoes farmer would have nothing but potatoes, and so on.

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So, it is likely that even farmers would have severe problems if the supply network broke. Even if the farmer could trade most of his produce with other farmers so that he did not have to subsist purely on potatoes, he would have great difficulty in producing more crops after the first one. He’d quickly run out of fertiliser and without insecticides he would probably loose a lot of his crops.

The problems would be even worse if his land was deficient in some critical mineral. Many farmers these days have to add traces of minerals to their land, either to help grow bigger produce or to add the trace elements that the crops need to even grow.

Of course, not everyone would starve. Some non-city dwellers would eventually, after a period of realignment, be able to feed themselves. But many, many city dwellers would die, and a significant number of non-city dwellers would also die before an new balance is found. All trade would be local, probably barter based, as the city dwellers are the ones who keep the banking systems going, and they would be dead.

I haven’t yet considered what sort of catastrophe could disrupt the global supply network. If the oil ran out, and couldn’t be replaced by some other source of energy, that would do it. Local power could be generated using solar energy or water power, but the ships that ship goods from one place to another run on oil. That means that we would not be able to source solar cells in sufficient number.

If someone started a global nuclear war, then that could cause significant disruption and throw many countries back on their own resources, especially those who are more isolated than most. Similarly, if a super volcano were to erupt anywhere in the world, and as a result the world would become shrouded in clouds of dust for years on end, killing all food crops, then there would be no food to be shipped, even if the ships were to keep on working. And without food crops animals would starve, and so would we.

Consciousness continues to amaze and elude


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I make no excuse for returning to the topic of consciousness. It’s a phenomenon that, apparently, everyone experiences, and almost certainly some animals experience it too. However, it is the ultimate in subjectiveness. No one except yourself knows how you experience consciousness.

It can’t currently be measured and we can only detect it by the behaviour of a person. The old chestnut of a comatose patient coming round with hovering relatives and medical staff is familiar to all. “He’s coming round!” says a person at the bedside as the patient’s eyes flicker and his muscles twitch.

English: Man in coma still not responding to s...
English: Man in coma still not responding to stimuli. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is not a reliable way of determining consciousness. People have surfaced from comas or anaesthetics and have reported that contrary to the physical evidence they were in fact conscious for at least some of the time when they were comatose. Also, deep brain scans have shown changes which may indicate that the patient was responding to question in that his brain patterns changed, which has led to a medical furore. There is disagreement as to whether or not the changes in the brain indicate that the patient was in fact conscious.

Definition of “Conscious”
1.

a. Characterized by or having an awareness of one’s environment and one’s own existence, sensations,and thoughts. See Synonyms at aware.

b. Mentally perceptive or alert; awake: The patient remained fully conscious after the local anesthetic was administered.
2. Capable of thought, will, or perception: the development of conscious life on the planet.

The fact that consciousness is an objective phenomenon (so far as we can currently tell) means that we can only subjectively assess if it exists in a person. Even if a person behaves as if he or she were conscious, feeling pain, drinking beer, doing all the things that a conscious person would do, how does one know that this person is actually a conscious person? It is conceivable that what looks like a person is a sort of zombie, programmed to behave exactly like a conscious person would behave.

English: zombie
English: zombie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(These philosophical zombies are not like the usual cinematic concept of a zombie – they look like ordinary people, they have not died and revivified, bits do not fall off them, and they don’t have a hunger for brains. It’s a technical philosophical term).

The short answer is that there is currently no objective was to tell. Everyone except yourself might be a zombie. Erm, although I subjectively know that I am not, which might mean that I am the only conscious person in a world of zombies. It’s probably simplest to argue, that I am conscious, and I appear to be little different to everyone else, so it would be silly to argue that everyone else is a zombie. It’s much more likely that we are all subjectively conscious in our own heads.


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Consciousness appears to be an aspect of the brain/mind. If parts of the brain are destroyed, or momentarily shocked by a blow, consciousness ceases and the person becomes unconscious. As above, though, it is conceivable that a person might not be able to move or respond, but still be conscious in the prison of their skull. It sounds like a particularly unpleasant fate.

Consciousness appears to be an emergent property of the brain/mind, because there does not appear to be a particular part of the brain that is related to consciousness as such. I think that it is fair to say this, though I haven’t delved into the subject much recently, though I do read things as I write these posts. In doing this I read an article on The Time website which hits many of the same high notes as I’ve hit here. It’s nice when I find an article that does that!

Emergent (software)
Emergent (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An emergent phenomenon is something like a family or a sports team or a termite nest. The emergent phenomenon is not implicit in individual members of the family or the sports team or the termite nest, but all the members make up a new entity which has an identity of its own.

Emergent phenomenon rely on the synergistic effect of all the members working in a concerted way to achieve more than a single individual can achieve by themselves. (Emergent phenomenon are not restricted to social interactions – water is wet, though an individual water molecule cannot really be considered to be wet in itself).

Synergy-reaching-with-kite
Synergy-reaching-with-kite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It follows that, just as the higher animals band together into families, bands and packs, which is an emergent phenomenon seen in humans societies, that the brains/minds of some animals are likely to experience the emergent phenomenon of consciousness, as they behave as if they do. It is highly unlikely that consciousness only evolved in one species, though of course it is possible.

Opponents of the idea that animals may exhibit consciousness suggest that we are anthropomorphising when we detect conscious behaviour in animals, and that they may be be zombies (in the philosophical sense of the word), and that the apparent consciousness is merely behaviours that are instinctive.

English: A German Shepherd dog Polski: Owczare...
English: A German Shepherd dog Polski: Owczarek niemiecki (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, no one knows for sure if animals do experience consciousness or not. I rather feel that it is likely that they do, and the extent to which they do is determined by how sophisticated their minds and brains. Certainly, I feel it is unlikely that consciousness is controlled by a genetic on/off switch and that it evolved in animals in the same way as any other trait, that is gradually, and our near relatives on the genetic tree are to some extent at least conscious.

If this is so, then consciousness in animals other than ourselves inform ethics – we should treat animals as if they are conscious beings, as far as we can. I read a science fiction story once in which every being on the earth got a boost in brain function as a result of the earth leaving any area of space where a brake was put on brain function by some physical field or similar phenomenon.


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The human race immediately became super-intelligent, and apes became at least as intelligent and conscious as we were. Also other animals, which we used as food sources became to some extent aware. As the story ended one of the characters was musing on this fact and suggested that maybe a religion of self-sacrifice could be given to these animals so that we could continue to eat them. I’d suspect that, more likely, the human race would become vegetarian! Or possibly, as suggested in the story, we would employ the apes to do the dirty work for us.

Animal husbandry
Animal husbandry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)