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Questioning reality, creating the future
Jon Lebkowsky, 12 Nov 05

Prototype of the Clock of the Long NowVernacular perceptions of reality are misleading, if UC Berkeley physics professor Raphael Bousso is correct when he speculates that the Universe is more like a hologram, where the third dimension is only an illusion. Says Bousso, "There's a real conflict between the way that we're thinking about the world right now, which is a very local way where everything happens independently in different regions of space and the way that we're going to have to think about it," which may matter less to non-physicists who buy into the third dimension because it's practical and keeps us from going bump in the night. However it's WorldChanging to take an occasional glance behind the curtain and see what the wizards are up to, and Bousso points out that Einstein didn't have a practical use for the special theory of relativity when he discovered it.

If you combine perception-stretching science and technology with practical futurism, you start to get real-world applications.

One organization that seeks to stimulate new thinking about the future is Accelerating Studies Foundation, producers of the annual Accelerating Change conference. Jamais wrote about the 2004 conference and spoke at this year's event. The Accelerating Studies approach to the future looks, not just at how things are changing, but at how fast those changes are happening. The organization promotes Acceleration and Development Studies (ADS), which will "allow for better human forecasting of predictable social and technological development, for better scenario planning for unpredictable social and technological evolution, and for better ways of discriminating between predictable developmental and unpredictable evolutionary processes." Though perhaps instead of focusing on forecasting and prediction we should, as my friend Derek Woodgate of Futures Lab often says, identify possibilities, and then from those create rather than predict the future. That way we get the future we want, not the future we fear.

One project created to expand our thinking about the future and our relationship to it is Clock of the Long Now, which is the subject of an article in the current issue of Discover. Danny Hillis envisioned the clock as an object that would stretch our conceptual thinking about time, so that we see ourselves as part of the "Long Now", which places us in the center of 20 millennia. With what result? A couple of spinoffs:

  • Noting that "fifty to ninety percent of the world's languages are predicted to disappear in the next century, many with little or no significant documentation," the Long Now Foundation's created The Rosetta Project to create "a broad online survey and near permanent physical archive of 1,000 of the approximately 7,000 languages on the planet."
  • The Long Bets Foundation solicits bets on long-term predictions as a way to stimulate thinking about the future.
The Long Now concept appeals to my Buddhist instincts as well as my futurist instincts – I know I should live in the moment, but who says that moment can't last 10,000 years? Time is an illusion, anyway...!

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I've been going cross-eyed looking at Danny Hillis's new clock - it's pretty cool. Got it off BoingBoing a few days ago. Even Neal Stephenson was there in a flickr pool!

Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 13 Nov 05

I found your site and am very excited that there are people that sense the same things I do regarding our universe and our ability to create the direction of our futures in the now. Not just for our own individual benefit but for the progress of man as the creative force that is his reality. I don't know how I can contribute. I am not a scientist but have an intuitive ability to understand its major principals and see the possibilities for applications. I am poor; so, I do not have money to contribute. I have been wrestling with inner dilemas and tribulations and quite frankly am bored with it and see it is all of my mind's creation and so I am ready to move on. I want to "trip the light fantastic" on the beam of my own mental power and love for humanity. Could you tell me a way to get involved? Your website excites me so much! What a powerful motivator for those of us sitting at home in our own self absorbed cacoons!


Posted by: Ramona Mangrum on 13 Nov 05

Ramona, you point in a direction I'm sure WC editors are wishing they had the muscle to go in. How can we (readers and editors alike) outreach to those millions who are on the same page, eager to contribute, capable of my-corner-of-the-world contributions? The WC site itself, The Book (soon and/or good), what else? TV programs? Radio programs? A network of local WC clubs (any cybercafe will do) where people read the news and _act_ locally on them and then _share_ globally?

No-one can do this alone. Ideas are appreciated.

Posted by: Lucas Gonzalez on 14 Nov 05



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