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Tagged with “long now” (91)

  1. Michael Frachetti: Open Source Civilization and the Unexpected Origins of the Silk Road - The Long Now

    Travel the ancient Silk Road with an archaeologist researching a revolutionary idea.

    Nomadic pastoralists, far from being irrelevant outliers, may have helped shape civilizations at continental scale. Drawing on his exciting field work, Michael Frachetti shows how alternative ways of conceptualizing the very essence of the word “civilization” helps us to recast our understanding of regional political economies through time and discover the unexpected roots and formation of one of the world’s most extensive and long-standing social and economic networks – the Silk Road that connected Asia to Europe.

    Archaeologist Michael Frachetti is an Associate Professor with the Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis and author of Pastoralist Landscapes and Social Interaction in Bronze Age Eurasia (02008).

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02018/feb/26/open-source-civilization-unexpected-origins-silk-road/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  2. Steven Pinker: A New Enlightenment - The Long Now

    The Enlightenment worked, says Steven Pinker. By promoting reason, science, humanism, progress, and peace, the programs set in motion by the 18th-Century intellectual movement became so successful we’ve lost track of what that success came from.

    Some even discount the success itself, preferring to ignore or deny how much better off humanity keeps becoming, decade after decade, in terms of health, food, money, safety, education, justice, and opportunity. The temptation is to focus on the daily news, which is often dire, and let it obscure the long term news, which is shockingly good.

    This is the 21st Century, not the 18th, with different problems and different tools. What are Enlightenment values and programs for now?

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02018/mar/13/new-enlightenment/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  3. Charles C. Mann: The Wizard and the Prophet - The Long Now

    Two ways to save humanity

    Mann titled his talk “The Edge of the Petri Dish.”

    He explained, “If you drop a couple protozoa in a Petri dish filled with nutrient goo, they will multiply until they run out of resources or drown in their own wastes.”

    Humans in the world Petri dish appear to be similarly doomed, judging by our exponential increases in population, energy use, water use, income, and greenhouse gases.

    How to save humanity?

    Opposing grand approaches emerged from two remarkable scientists in the mid-20th century who fought each other their entire lives.

    Their solutions were so persuasive that their impassioned argument continues 70 years later to dominate how we think about dealing with the still-exacerbating exponential impacts.

    Norman Borlaug, the one Mann calls “the Wizard,” was a farm kid trained as a forester.

    In 1944 he found himself in impoverished Mexico with an impossible task—solve the ancient fungal killer of wheat, rust.

    First he invented high-volume crossbreeding, then shuttle breeding (between winter wheat and spring wheat), and then semi-dwarf wheat.

    The resulting package of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizer, and irrigation became the Green Revolution that ended most of hunger throughout the world for the first time in history.

    There were costs.

    The diversity of crops went down.

    Excess fertilizer became a pollutant.

    Agriculture industrialized at increasing scale, and displaced smallhold farmers fled to urban slums.

    William Vogt, who Mann calls “the Prophet,” was a poor city kid who followed his interest in birds to become an isolated researcher on the revolting guano islands of Peru.

    He discovered that periodic massive bird die-offs on the islands were caused by the El Niño cycle pushing the Humboldt Current with its huge load of anchovetas away from the coast and starving the birds.

    The birds were, Vogt declared, subject to an inescapable “carrying capacity.“

    That became the foundational idea of the environmental movement, later expressed in terms such as “limits to growth,” “ecological overshoot,” and “planetary boundaries.”

    Vogt spelled out the worldview in his powerful 1948 book, The Road to Survival.

    The Prophets-versus-Wizards debate keeps on raging—artisanal organic farming versus factory-like mega-farms; distributed solar energy versus centralized fossil fuel refineries and nuclear power plants; dealing with climate change by planting a zillion trees versus geoengineering with aerosols in the stratosphere.

    The question continues: How do we best manage our world Petri dish?

    Restraint?

    Or innovation?

    Can humanity change its behavior at planet scale?

    Mann ended by pointing out that in 1800 slavery was universal in the world and had been throughout history.

    Then it ended.

    How?

    Prophets say that morally committed abolitionists did it.

    Wizards say that clever labor-saving machinery did it.

    Maybe it was the combination.

    —Stewart Brand

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02018/jan/22/wizard-and-prophet/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  4. Stewart Brand – The Polymath of Polymaths | The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

    Stewart Brand (@stewartbrand) is the president of The Long Now Foundation, established to foster long-term thinking and responsibility. He leads a project called Revive & Restore, which seeks to bring back extinct animal species such as the passenger pigeon and woolly mammoth.

    Stewart is very well known for founding, editing, and publishing The Whole Earth Catalog (WEC), which changed my life when I was a little kid. It also received a national book award for its 1972 issue.

    Stewart is the co-founder of The WELL and The Global Business Network, and author of Whole Earth Discipline, The Clock Of The Long Now, How Buildings Learn, and The Media Lab. He was trained in biology at Stanford and served as an infantry officer in the US Army.

    https://tim.blog/2017/11/21/stewart-brand/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  5. Brian Eno: The Long Now - The Long Now

    The Long Now

    Brian told the origins of his realizations about the "small here" versus the "big here" and the "short now" versus the "long now."

    He noted that the Big Here is pretty well popularized now, with exotic restaurants everywhere, "world" music, globalization, and routine photos of the whole earth.

    Instant world news and the internet has led to increased empathy worldwide.

    But empathy in space has not been matched by empathy in time.

    If anything, empathy for people to come has decreased.

    We seem trapped in the Short Now.

    The present generation enjoys the greatest power in history, but it appears to have the shortest vision in history. That combination is lethal.

    Danny Hillis proposed that there’s a bug in our thinking about these matters—-about long-term responsibility.

    We need to figure out what the bug is and how to fix it.

    We’re still in an early, fumbling phase of doing that, like the period before the Royal Society in 18th-century England began to figure out science.

    Tim O’Reilly gave an example of the kind of precept that can emerge from taking the longer-term seriously.

    These days shoppers are often checking out goods (trying on clothes, etc.) in regular retail stores but then going online to buy the same goods at some killer discount price.

    Convenient for the shopper, terrible for the shops, who are going out of business, hurting communities in the process.

    The aggregate of lots of local, short-term advantage-taking is large-scale, long-term harm.

    Hence Tim’s proposed precept, now spreading on the internet: "Buy where you shop."

    Ie. When you shop online, buy there.

    When you shop in shops, buy there.

    Four simple words that serve as a reminder to head off accumulative harm.

    Leighton Read observed that imagining the future is an acquired skill, and comes in stages.

    An infant can’t imagine the next bottle, or plan for it.

    A teenager can at most imagine the next six months, and only on a good day; on a rowdy Saturday night, Sunday morning is too remote to grasp.

    For us adults the distant future is still unimaginable.

    One thing that Leighton likes about the 10,000-year Clock project is that it lets you imagine a particular part of the very remote future—-the Clock ticking away in its mountain—-and then you can widen your scope from there, to include climate change over centuries, for example.

    Alexander Rose suggested that we should collect examples where a small effort in the present pays off huge in the long term.

    Tim O’Reilly would like to see us develop a taxonomy of such practices.

    Brian’s talk Friday night at Fort Mason was a smashing affair.

    Some 750 people were pried into the Herbst Pavillion, while 400-500 had to be turned away.

    Eno evidently attracts the sweetest, brightest people—-everyone was polite and helpful and patient.

    The only publicity for the lecture had been email forwarded among friends and posted on blogs, plus one radio show (Michael Krasny’s "Forum").

    —Stewart Brand

    http://longnow.org/seminars/02003/nov/14/the-long-now/

    —Huffduffed by adactio

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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

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