17 July 2006

The Long Now Foundation

If you thought Al Gore has a point with his movie "An Inconvenient Truth", and are feeling lately that the "world" has a rather short term perspective on things such as the World, then you should visit the website of the Long Now Foundation. I took this picture at the headquarters of Long Now, which is right next to my favorite restaurant in San Francisco - Greens.

The Long Now Foundation was established to get humanity to focus on the long term; ten thousand years to be exact. Which is longer than civilization has existed. Founded by Stewart Brand, Brian Eno and Danny Hillis, the Mission of the Long Now Foundation is:

"The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996 [not a typo] to develop the Clock and Library projects, as well as to become the seed of a very long term cultural institution. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide counterpoint to today's "faster/cheaper" mind set and promote "slower/better" thinking. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years."

Michael Chabon wrote the following excellent summary of the project in Details magazine:

"I was reading, in a recent issue of Discover, about the Clock of the Long Now. Have you heard of this thing? It is going to be a kind of gigantic mechanical computer, slow, simple and ingenious, marking the hour, the day, the year, the century, the millennium, and the precession of the equinoxes, with a huge orrery to keep track of the immense ticking of the six naked-eye planets on their great orbital mainspring. The Clock of the Long Now will stand sixty feet tall, cost tens of millions of dollars, and when completed its designers and supporters, among them visionary engineer Danny Hillis, a pioneer in the concept of massively parallel processing; Whole Earth mahatma Stewart Brand; and British composer Brian Eno (one of my household gods), plan to hide it in a cave in the Great Basin National Park in Nevada, a day's hard walking from anywhere. Oh, and it's going to run for ten thousand years. That is about as long a span as separates us from the first makers of pottery, which is among the oldest technologies we have. Ten thousand years is twice as old as the pyramid of Cheops, twice as old as that mummified body found preserved in the Swiss Alps, which is one of the oldest mummies ever discovered. The Clock of the Long Now is being designed to thrive under regular human maintenance along the whole of that long span, though during periods when no one is around to tune it, the giant clock will contrive to adjust itself. But even if the Clock of the Long Now fails to last ten thousand years, even if it breaks down after half or a quarter or a tenth that span, this mad contraption will already have long since fulfilled its purpose. Indeed the Clock may have accomplished its greatest task before it is ever finished, perhaps without ever being built at all. The point of the Clock of the Long Now is not to measure out the passage, into their unknown future, of the race of creatures that built it. The point of the Clock is to revive and restore the whole idea of the Future, to get us thinking about the Future again, to the degree if not in quite the way same way that we used to do, and to reintroduce the notion that we don't just bequeath the future, though we do, whether we think about it or not. We also, in the very broadest sense of the first person plural pronoun, inherit it. "

The focus on living in the present moment that is so integral to Zen and Yoga, doesn't mean you don't have to plan for retirement, buy groceries on the way home, or make occasionalonal dentist appointment. The governments of the world are being literal about the present moment, and taking an irresponsibly short term approach to the world's problems.

The Long Now Foundation may seem quixotic, but as Henry David Thoreau said:

All this worldly wisdom was once

the unamiable heresy of some wise man.



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