As part of the BBC’s ongoing series on deep time, Alexander Rose describes the research he’s been doing for the clock of the long now—materials, locations, ideas …all the pieces that have historically combined to allow artifacts to survive.
So, could researchers find clear evidence that an ancient species built a relatively short-lived industrial civilization long before our own? Perhaps, for example, some early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 million years ago. There are fossils, of course. But the fraction of life that gets fossilized is always minuscule and varies a lot depending on time and habitat. It would be easy, therefore, to miss an industrial civilization that only lasted 100,000 years—which would be 500 times longer than our industrial civilization has made it so far.
As installation begins, it feels like a good time to revisit this twelve year old essay by Michael Chabon on The Clock Of The Long Now. It’s a remarkable piece of writing about our relationship to the very idea of The Future, and how that relationship has changed in just one lifetime.
Ten thousand years from now: can you imagine that day? Okay, but do you? Do you believe “the Future” is going to happen? If the Clock works the way that it’s supposed to do—if it lasts—do you believe there will be a human being around to witness, let alone mourn its passing, to appreciate its accomplishment, its faithfulness, its immense antiquity? What about five thousand years from now, or even five hundred? Can you extend the horizon of your expectations for our world, for our complex of civilizations and cultures, beyond the lifetime of your own children, of the next two or three generations? Can you even imagine the survival of the world beyond the present presidential administration?
From the library of Alexandria to the imagined canals of mars to the spots on the sun, this is a beautifully written examination of the chronology contained within the bristlecone pine.
The oldest of the living bristlecones were just saplings when the pyramids were raised. The most ancient, called Methuselah, is estimated to be more than 4,800 years old; with luck, it will soon enter its sixth millennium as a living, reproducing organism. Because we conceive of time in terms of experience, a life spanning millennia can seem alien or even eternal to the human mind. It is hard to grasp what it would be like to see hundreds of generations flow out from under you in the stream of time, hard to imagine how rich and varied the mind might become if seasoned by five thousand years of experience and culture.
There is only the briefest passing mention of the sad story of Don Currey.
An even thornier problem than the Clock of the Long Now.
A website dedicated to one of the most, um, interesting solutions to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage problem:
- Engineer cats that change colour in response to radiation.
- Create the culture/legend/history that if your cat changes colour, you should move some place else.
There are T-shirts!
Kelli Anderson’s thesis on the Human Interference Task Force project set up to mark nuclear waste sites for future generations (a project I’ve referenced in some of my talks).
This infographic offers a visual way to explore the various stages of the Earth’s history using a 12 hour clock analogy.