Last November, Brian Eno gave the kick-off talk for the Long Now Foundation's seminars on long-term thinking. It was also the first of our blog entries to get a little bit of attention, and we've been on a roll ever since.
While the Brian Eno talk, like the rest of the Long Now seminars, is available on the Long Now site as an audio file, it's also available to be read. Long Now links to a PDF, but I found it a little oddly-formatted and hard to read. Fortunately, Brian Eno's own website now has the transcript available in HTML, complete with Eno's amusing illustrations of different approaches to thinking about the future. The talk is an explanation of what the Long Now Foundation is (Eno being one of founders), what their clock project is really all about, and why it's important to think about the very long term:
Stewart Brand, in his book, called The Clock of the Long Now, which is the Little Red Book of the Long Now Foundation, talks about something he calls slow science, theres very little encouragement to slow science - it doesnt produce glamorous papers, quick results, peer approval, but there have been examples of very, very long slow observations. One is the admiralty of Great Britain has kept detailed weather charts since 1648, theyre daily weather charts, so this makes for the longest continuous survey of weather in existence and in fact its turned out to be very useful. Another similar survey was made in Hawaii over about a fifty year period, and was the first definitive evidence of global warming, it showed the continual rise in CO2 levels, so these long term studies are very important but again, they are not really institutionally recognised or encouraged. We wanted Long Now to be the kind of place where they would be encouraged, where we would become the repository and the facilitator for those kinds of long term thoughts. So some of the things were doing, are done (you could say) in the negative. Theyre perhaps attempts to avert catastrophe, the tragedy of the commons if you like, the tragedy that makes us exploit as much as we can as quickly as we can without thinking of any consequences. But the other side of it is a positive side, the idea that we can celebrate beginning something that wont be finished in our lifetime, that wont be finished in many many lifetimes, something that will grow and embody the intelligence of many people in time.