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Tagged with “long now” (83)

  1. Carolyn Porco: Searching for Life in the Solar System - The Long Now

    Life nearby

    If we find, anywhere in the universe, one more instance of life besides what evolved on Earth, then we are bound to conclude that life is common throughout the vastness of this galaxy and the 200 billion other galaxies.

    The discovery would change how we think about everything.

    Most of the search for life beyond Earth, Porco explained, is the search for habitats.

    They don’t have to look comfy, since we know that our own extremophile organisms can survive temperatures up to 250°F, total desiccation, and fiercely high radiation, high pressure, high acidity, high alkalinity, and high salinity.

    In our own Solar System there are four promising candidate habitats—Mars, Europa (a moon of Jupiter), Titan (a moon of Saturn), and Enceladus (“en-SELL-ah-duss,” another moon of Saturn).

    They are the best nearby candidates because they have or have had liquids, they have bio-usable energy (solar or chemical), they have existed long enough to sustain evolution, and they are accessible for gathering samples.

    On Mars water once flowed copiously.

    It still makes frost and ice, but present conditions on Mars are so hostile to life that most of the search there now is focussed on finding signs of life far in the past.

    Europa, about the size of Earth’s Moon, has a salty ocean below an icy surface, but it is subject to intense radiation.

    Photos from the Hubble Space Telescope revealed that occasional plumes of material are ejected through Europa’s ice, so future missions to Jupiter will attempt to fly by and analyze them for possible chemical signatures of life.

    The two interesting moons of Saturn are Titan, somewhat larger and much denser than our Moon, and tiny Enceladus, one-seventh the diameter of our Moon.

    Both have been closely studied by the Cassini Mission since

    2004.

    Titan’s hazy atmosphere is full of organic methane, and its surface has features like dunes and liquid-methane lakes “that look like the coast of Maine.”

    But it is so cold, at 300°F below zero, that the chemical reactions needed for life may be too difficult.

    Enceladus looks the most promising.

    Cassini has sampled the plumes of material that keep geysering out of the south pole.

    The material apparently comes from an interior water ocean about as salty as our ocean, and silica particles may indicate hydrothermal vents like ours.

    “I hope you’re gettin excited now,” Porco told the audience, “because we were.”

    The hydrothermal vents in Earth’s oceans are rich with life.

    Enceladus has all the ingredients of a habitat for life—liquid water, organics, chemical energy, salts, and nitrogen-bearing compounds.

    We need to look closer.

    A future mission (arriving perhaps by the 2030’s) could orbit Enceladus and continually sample the plumes with instruments designed to detect signs of life such as complexity in the molecules and abundance patterns of carbon in amino acids that could indicate no biology, or Earth-like biology, or quite different biology.

    You could even look for intact organisms.

    Nearly all of the material in the plumes falls back to the surface.

    Suppose you had a lander there.

    “It’s always snowing at the south pole of Enceladus,” Porco said.

    “Could it be snowing microbes?”

    (A by-the-way from the Q&A:

    Voyager, which was launched 40 years ago in 1977, led the way to the outer planets and moons of our Solar System, and five years ago, Porco pointed out, “It went beyond the magnetic bubble of the Sun and redefined us as an interstellar species.”)

    —Stewart Brand

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02017/jul/24/searching-life-solar-system/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  2. Nicky Case: Seeing Whole Systems - The Long Now

    HE BEGAN, “Hi, I’m Nicky Case, and I explain complex systems in a visual, tangible, and playful way.”

    He did exactly that with 207 brilliant slides and clear terminology.

    What system engineers call “negative feedback loops,” for example, Case calls “balancing loops.”

    They maintain a value.

    Likewise “positive feedback loops” he calls “reinforcing loops.”

    They increase a value.

    Using examples and stories such as the viciousness of the board game Monopoly and the miracle of self-organizing starlings, Case laid out the visual basics of finessing complex systems.

    A reinforcing loop is like a ball on the top of a hill, ready to accelerate downhill when set in motion.

    A balancing loop is like a ball in a valley, always returning to the bottom of the valley when perturbed.

    Now consider how to deal with a situation where you have an “attractor” (a deep valley) that attracts a system toward failure:

    The situation is precarious for the ball because it is near a hilltop that is a reinforcing loop.

    If the ball is nudged over the top, it will plummet to the bottom of the balancing-loop valley and be stuck there.

    It would take enormous effort raise the ball out of such an attractor—which might be financial collapse or civil war.

    Case’s solution is not to try to move the ball, MOVE THE HILLS—identify the feedback loops in the system and weaken or strengthen them as needed to make the unsolvable situation solvable, so that the desired condition becomes the dominant attractor.

    Now add two more characteristics of the real world—dense networks and chaos.

    They make possible the phenomena of emergence (a whole that is different than the sum of its parts) and evolution.

    Evolution is made of selection (managed by reinforcing and balancing loops) plus variation (unleashed by dense networks and chaos).

    You cannot control evolution and should not try—that way lies totalitarianism.

    Our ever popular over-emphasis on selection can lead to paralyzed systems—top-down autocratic governments and frozen businesses.

    Case urges attention to variation, harnessing networks and chaos from the bottom up via connecting various people from various fields, experimenting with lots of solutions, and welcoming a certain amount of randomness and play.

    “Design for evolution,” Case says, “and the system will surprise you with solutions you never thought of.”

    To do that, “Make chaos your friend.”

    —Stewart Brand

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02017/aug/07/seeing-whole-systems/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  3. James Gleick: Time Travel - The Long Now

    Time travel is time research

    Gleick began with H.G. Wells’s 1895 book The Time Machine, which created the idea of time travel.

    It soon became a hugely popular genre that shows no sign of abating more than a century later.

    “Science fiction is a way of working out ideas,” Gleick said.

    Wells thought of himself as a futurist, and like many at the end of the 19th century he was riveted by the idea of progress, so his fictional traveler headed toward the far future.

    Other authors soon explored travel to the past and countless paradoxes ranging from squashed butterflies that change later elections to advising one’s younger self.

    Gleick invited audience members to query themselves: If you could travel in time, would you go to the future or to the past?

    When exactly, and where exactly?

    And why.

    And what is your second choice?

    (Try it, reader.)

    “We’re still trying to figure out what time is,” Gleick said.

    Time travel stories apparently help us.

    The inventor of the time machine in Wells’s book explains archly that time is merely a fourth dimension.

    Ten years later in 1905 Albert Einstein made that statement real.

    In 1941 Jorge Luis Borges wrote the celebrated short story, “The Garden of Forking Paths.”

    In 1955 physicist Hugh Everett introduced the quantum-based idea of forking universes, which itself has become a staple of science fiction.

    “Time,” Richard Feynman once joked, “is what happens when nothing else happens.”

    Gleick suggests, “Things change, and time is how we keep track.”

    Virginia Woolf wrote, “What more terrifying revelation can there be than that it is the present moment?

    That we survive the shock at all is only possible because the past shelters us on one side, the future on another.”

    To answer the last question of the evening, about how his views about time changed during the course of writing Time Travel, Gleick said:

    I thought I would conclude that the main thing to understand is: Enjoy the present.

    Don’t waste your brain cells agonizing about lost opportunities or worrying about what the future will bring.

    As I was working on the book I suddenly realized that that’s terrible advice.

    A potted plant lives in the now.

    The idea of the ‘long now’ embraces the past and the future and asks us to think about the whole stretch of time.

    That’s what I think time travel is good for.

    That’s what makes us human—the ability to live in the past and live in the future at the same time.

    —Stewart Brand

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02017/jun/05/time-travel/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  4. Adam Rogers at The Interval at Long Now | San Francisco

    "Proof: The Science of Booze": Wired Magazine editor and author of "Proof: The Science of Booze", Adam Rogers leads us on a tour of the 10,000 year story of alcohol. With deep historical research, expert testimony, and solid science he discusses the accidental discovery of fermentation, an alternative American whiskey history, and his own role in the pre-history of Long Now’s Interval bar. This talk was the first ever in The Interval’s salon talk series; it took place in May of 02014, 2 weeks before The Interval officially opened. From May 02014.

    https://theinterval.org/salon-talks/02014/may/27/proof-science-booze

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  5. Geoffrey B. West: The Universal Laws of Growth and Pace - The Long Now

    Why cities live forever

    West focussed on cities in his discussion of the newly discovered exponential scaling laws that govern everything alive.

    “We live,” he said, “in an exponentially expanding socio-economic universe.”

    Global urbanization has reached the point that there are a million new people arriving in cities every week, and that rate is expected to continue to midcentury.

    What is the attraction?

    One reason for constant urban growth is that the bigger the city, the more efficient it is, because of economies of scale.

    With each doubling of a city’s size, the numbers of gas stations and power lines and water lines, etc. increase at a rate a little less than double.

    In other words, with every size increase there is a 15% improvement in energy efficiency.

    “That‘s why New York is the greenest city in America,” West said.

    The same dynamics of networks explain how what is called “power-law scaling“ works in biology.

    The bigger the animal, the slower and more efficient its metabolism is, at a rate lower than 1-to-1 (“sublinear” in West’s terminology).

    This leads to some remarkable constants.

    Shrews weigh 2 grams, and in their 14-month life their heart beats a billion times.

    Blue whales weigh 200 million grams, and in their 100-year life, their heart beats the same billion times.

    Ditto for all mammals (except humans, who have achieved a lifetime average of 2 billion heartbeats, presumably for cultural reasons.)

    In physical terms, cities are like organisms, enjoying sublinear economies of scale with each increase in size.

    But when you look at cities in terms of their social-economic networks, an astonishing finding emerges. Once again there is power-law scaling if you count patents, wages, tax receipts, crimes, restaurants, even the pace of walking, but instead of slowing down with increasing size, cities speed up with increasing size.

    Their increase is greater that 1:1.

    It is superlinear.

    “Bigger cities are better,” said West.

    Each time they increase in size, they are 15% more innovative socio-economically at the same time they are 15% more efficient in terms of energy and materials.

    Furthermore, they apparently live forever.

    They create most of civilization’s problems, but they are capable of solving problems even faster than they create them.

    However, when you compare companies with cities, companies have similar metabolic efficiencies of scale as they grow, but their innovation rate, instead of increasing with size,

    slows down as they get ever bigger. And they are mortal.

    The average lifespan of a publicly traded companies is 10 years.

    They can grow prodigiously, but their net income, sales, profits, and assets can’t quite keep up—they are sublinear.

    Successful new companies start off like cities, full of innovation, but over time the nature of corporate growth leads them to focus ever more solely on exploiting their success, and eventually they taper off and die like animals.

    The city feeds on their corpses and creates new companies.

    —Stewart Brand

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02017/may/23/universal-laws-growth-and-pace/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  6. Kim Stanley Robinson at The Interval at Long Now | San Francisco

    "Adapting to Sea Level Rise: The Science of New York 2140": Legendary science ficiton author Kim Stanley Robinson returns to The Interval to discuss his just released novel New York 2140. Robinson will discuss how starting from the most up to date climate science available to him, he derived a portrait of New York City as "super-Venice" and the resilient civilization that inhabits it in his novel. In 02016 Robinson spoke at The Interval about the economic ideas that inform New York 2140. He will be joined by futurist Peter Schwartz in conversation after his talk.

    https://theinterval.org/salon-talks/02017/may/09/adapting-sea-level-rise-science-emnew-york-2140em

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  7. Frank Ostaseski: What the Dying Teach the Living - The Long Now

    In one of Long Now’s most moving talks, Ostaseski began: “I’m not romantic about dying.

    This is the hardest work you will ever do.

    It is tough.

    It’s sad and it’s messy and it’s cruel and it’s beautiful sometimes and mysterious, but above all that, it’s normal.

    It’s a boat we’re all in.

    It’s inevitable and intimate.“

    He said that people think it will be unbearable, but they find they have the resources to deal with it, and “they regularly—not always—develop insights into their lives in the time of dying that make them emerge as a much larger, more expansive, more real person than the small, separate self they’d taken themselves to be.”

    That is one message that dying gives to living.

    “Reflection on death,” he said, “causes us to be more responsible—in our relationships, with ourselves, with the planet, with our future.”

    Ostaseski summarized the insights he’s learned from the dying as “five invitations to be present.”

    1) Don’t wait.

    2) Welcome everything, push away nothing.

    3) Bring your whole self to the experience.

    4) Find a place of rest in the middle of things.

    5) Cultivate don’t-know mind.

    For 2), Ostaseski quoted James Baldwin: “Not everything that can be faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed that is not faced.”

    An example of 4): a woman who was panicking at her difficulty breathing was encouraged to try resting in the moment between breaths, and there she found the handle on her panic and relaxed into the situation.

    Ostaseski ended with a story.

    One day at Zen Hospice in San Francisco he was in the kitchen reading a book called Japanese Death Poems.

    A tough old lady from the streets named Sono, who was

    there to die, asked him about the book, and he explained the tradition of Japanese monks to write on the day of their death a poem expressing the essential truth discovered in their life.

    He read her a few.

    Sono said she’d like to write hers, and did, and asked that it be pinned to her bedclothes when she died and cremated with her.

    She wrote:

    Don’t just stand there with your hair turning gray,

    soon enough the seas will sink your little island.

    So while there is still the illusion of time,

    set out for another shore.

    No sense packing a bag.

    You won’t be able to lift it into your boat.

    Give away all your collections.

    Take only new seeds and an old stick.

    Send out some prayers on the wind before you sail.

    Don’t be afraid.

    Someone knows you’re coming.

    An extra fish has been salted.

    —Mona (Sono) Santacroce (1928 - 1995)

    —Stewart Brand

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02017/apr/10/what-dying-teach-living/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  8. Neal Stephenson at The Interval at Long Now | San Francisco

    "SEVENEVES at The Interval reading and signing": A special daytime talk by celebrated speculative fiction author
 Neal Stephenson on the occassion of his just released novel "SEVENEVES". After a reading, Long Now co-founder Stewart Brand joins Neal to discuss the research and writing of the new book, plus a little bit about what is coming next.

    https://theinterval.org/salon-talks/02015/may/21/seveneves-interval-reading-and-signing

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  9. Jason Scott at The Interval at Long Now | San Francisco

    "The Web In An Eye Blink": A filmmaker, historian, and self-proclaimed rogue archivist, Jason Scott discusses his personal history of preserving the digital commons which began with rescuing his favorite BBS-era "text files" and continued with saving gigabytes of the first user-created homepages (i.e. GeoCities.com) which were about to be trashed by their corporate owner. Today his mission, in his role at the Internet Archive, is to save all the computer games and make them playable again inside modern web browsers. And that’s where things get really weird.

    https://theinterval.org/salon-talks/02015/feb/24/web-eye-blink

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  10. Jennifer Pahlka: Fixing Government: Bottom Up and Outside In - The Long Now

    Code for America was founded in 02009 by Jennifer Pahlka “to make government work better for the people and by the people in the 21st century.”

    The organization started a movement to modernize government for a digital age which has now spread from cities to counties to states, and now, most visibly, to the federal government, where Jennifer served at the White House as US Deputy Chief Technology Officer. There she helped start the United States Digital Service, known as "Obama’s stealth startup."

    Now that thousands of people from "metaphysical Silicon Valley" are working for and with government, what have we learned? Can government actually be fixed to serve citizens better—especially the neediest? Why does change in government happen so slowly?

    Before founding Code for America, Jennifer Pahlka co-created the Web 2.0 and Gov. 2.0 conferences, building on her prior experience organizing computer game developer conferences. She continues to serve as executive director of Code for America, which is based in San Francisco.

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02017/feb/01/fixing-government-bottom-and-outside/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

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