Monday, May 19, 2008

The very long now

A reader links to an interesting debate between Niall Ferguson and Peter Schwartz at the Long Now website. The Long Now foundation, for those who don't know -- and that included myself up to about fifteen minutes ago -- is devoted to lengthening our attention span, which is typically days, into considering longer-term trends. "It began with an observation and idea by computer scientist Daniel Hillis":

When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 2000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium.

It's impossible to give a complete flavor of the interchange between Ferguson and Scwartz without linking to the podcast, which because of design shortcomings on, there's no way to do without providing a direct link to the actual .mp3, something I ethically shouldn't do. But if you go to the main page and scroll down you'll find the .mp3 for now. What I'll try to do is provide a taster of the discussion.

Ferguson contends that the hitorian is at an advantage over futurists because while there is no future, only a number of possible futures, there is a definite past. "A planet inhabited by dead people". Moreover, composed of dead people because it is above all, a record of consciousness which we can only dimly represent.

Why is it then that people insist upon imagining a series of alternative pasts in the way a futurist might script out a variety of possible tomorrows? It is because, Ferguson argues, we are compelled to find reasons why alternative pasts didn't happen. Here Ferguson is overreaching himself. It's wonderful to imagine, as he does, what would have happened if World War 2 had begun in 1938, but we never know exactly why things happened as they did. The past was a complex system and too much information has been lost in the system change of state to reconstruct it. If history were like a transactional database it might be possible to replay it; but such a transaction log, if it exists, is accessible only by God, if you will allow the term. To most mortals the past is as obscure as the future.

Ferguson, perhaps instinctively realizing this problem, proposes that we instead "commune with the dead". (See my previous remarks on the "Communion of Saints"), and quotes an old philosopher as asserting that all of written history is the product of people imagining themselves in the past.

It's a startling observation which suffers from one glaring shortcoming. The dead are remembered in our present in ways we often cannot apprehend. Our present world is built on their bones even when we do not know it. We do not know how to speak the language of dead. We can only imagine ourselves speaking to them in ours.

Ferguson attempts to redress this weakness by adducing what he calls "covering laws". These are macro-historical and macro-economic models which claim, among other things, that when rapid change and the collapse of empires coincide for example, then all hell tends to break loose. And if that unsettlingly resembles the situation today well we had better take heed (and buy more books).

But despite this, historian is in better case than the futurist, who are (Ferguson argues) nothing but historians too, in disguise. Futurist take past trends and project them into the future. They compound the inherent uncertainties of history with those of projection. If the past is a Distant Mirror, the Future which is built on its image is even more clouded.

It occurred to me, as Ferguson was speaking, that a futurist held one advantage denied to an historian. He could perform a running a posteriori analysis on a hypothesis. A futurist could predict and observe whether his prediction came true. Unlike the historian, who could only tell which horse had won the race last derby but only guess why, the futurist can guess which horse will win the next horse in advance, depending on his reasons why.

Niall concluded by saying that we have as much to learn from the past about the future as any scenario can offer. And what we can take away from the past (and specifically his book), is that scientific and economic progress is no innoculation against war; that globalization may bring about its own destruction. We are not safe. Nor have we ever been.

In order to keep from giving the game away (and because I have to meet other day job deadlines) I'll leave the rest of the podcast to interested readers. I'll only add that whether or not we can predict the future we ought to be interested in it because, as the immortal psychic Criswell once said, the future is where we are going the spend the rest of our lives. It's interesting to consider that even theology, the Communion of Saints contains people who haven't been born yet. The future is real, but it's not our kind of real.

And for that reason an interest in the future remains as vital as fascination with the past. And we are helped by the fact that it's not always necessary to stare far into the future for it to be useful. A little warning is often enough. A shooter doing angle searches around corners is engaged in a kind of futurism because recognizing the significance of things we see before they fully come into view is often all that we can do -- and all we need. Both the immediate past and the impending future live on the edges of our Long Now.

The Belmont Club is supported largely by donations from its readers.


Blogger mercutio said...

I find W's prior essay on the 'Communion of Saints' to be more interesting (and on target) than the Ferguson--Schwartz discussion. W provided there some possible, relevant context for thinking about the present and future. Ferguson and Schwartz avoid such context. A big clock, indeed.

Whenever I want to get a bead on the world-view of an author, I go to the index and look up 'religion' and 'family.' If there's no mention of either one, or mention of only one, I know something about the author's world view. Traditional societies think of the 'long now' in terms of families and genealogy. Modernists and post-modernists think in terms of projects.

The Communion of Saints, on the other hand, envisions an entirety of time. The living inhabit a particular span of that time. "Now" is part of a "Very Long Now" that is "all now" because it is present to God and the saints. Those who inhabit the City of God engage in the liturgical cycle that commemorates this communio. "I believe in the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, forever and ever. Amen." Dr. Faustus, or Nietzsche's Zarathustra, or the Great Helmsman, would scoff at the utter unremarkableness of this communion, but the communion entails some foundational utility that transcends the individual.

One might make investments in education, child-rearing, voting, etc., as part of a commitment to an idea of the common good. The Bottom Billion need our help. Who is going to help them? And will we do so out of a sense of noblesse oblige or out of a sense of the worthiness of those billion persons? Perhaps the large clock will inspire us?

In what movie was the line, "I have seen the future, and it sucks"? That's the way I feel when I consider the large clock.

Hmm. I was enjoying much more the comments on Alexis's Freudian analysis of the Hezbollah flag. But W. pushed my theology button, resulting in this automatic screed and the ruin of an otherwise nice day.

5/19/2008 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Ramen said...

If God is keeping a transaction log, hopefully he is running something other than SQL Server.

5/19/2008 01:39:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

It's interesting to consider that even theology, the Communion of Saints contains people who haven't been born yet. The future is real, but it's not our kind of real.

That is not correct, for the following reasons:

1. A future which is already written does not permit free will. With no free will, there is no morality. A robot executing a program is amoral. With no morality there is no justice when God renders unto each man according to his works.

2. A future which is already written is identical to the immutable past. There is no mechanism by which we can locate our "now" moment in the panorama of time, and no reason why my now moment need correspond with yours. All of us could be utterly alone, because my "now" would be located in 1977 and yours would be located in 2008 and someone else's located in 2016. There could be no love, because if I offer affection to someone, it could not be reciprocated "now" because that person's consciousness is really processing events in my past or my future.

CONCLUSION: There is only an eternal Now, shared by everyone. The only past which endures is found in records and memories, and those are fleeting. Eternity is already among you.

5/19/2008 02:14:00 PM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

It's funny that the Long Now project is named for a gnomic utterance from Brian Eno, who serves on its board. Though I was very impressed by Eno's musically deft nonsense (solo and with Roxy Music and David Byrne) when I was younger. For an example of this sort of nonsense, from the Long Now site:

The Long Now Foundation uses five digit dates, the extra zero is to solve the deca-millennium bug which will come into effect in about 8,000 years.

That's about 90,000 years before the centi-millenial bug that will strike in 98,000 years, but we're talking about a Long Now, right? So why not use 6 digits instead of 5?

As for me, I shall continue to use two digits and treat it as an intelligence test of sorts. And I will be documenting some of Alexis' Freudian explorations of HizbAllah symbolism on my site as I get the drawings together.

5/19/2008 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Keepsakes from the past:
AFP Obama camp spies endgame in Oregon
'We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK'...

Thank G_d for Mothballs!
...I'll just break out my Carter Era sweaters!

Free: 1 hour with Scalia on Ingraham show.
Justice Scalia on the courts, his new book and more.

(Katchoo = Teresita, Catholic Woman, and etc)

5/19/2008 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Regarding the difficulties of predicting the future, I've been a science fiction fan all my life and no science fiction author predicted the Internet.

Had a sufficiently precient author predicted the Internet, I doubt if he would have predicted the two killer aps would be downloading porn and violating music copyrights.

Newt Gingrich, who teaches history, now writes "alternative history" novels. He says he wants to get people thinking critically about the forces and processes that shape history without boring them with faces and dates that need to be committed to memory.

The author of The Black Swan observes that the people who have the biggest impact on history may be completely unknown. If an alert INS inspector had deported the 9/11 hijackers the week before 9/11 the world would be a very different place. But the agent's name would never have been in the headlines.

5/19/2008 05:54:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/19/2008 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Naseem Taleb, the author of the Black Swan, noticed that his grandfather's chauffer (his grandfather was the defense minister in Lebanon) understood as much as the defense minister about where the conflict was going. The difference was that the driver didn't know, but the defense minister thought he knew, when in fact the relevant facts are unknown to him.

This is because the relevant facts about the future are often in the outliers, not in the main trend line. They are often in the anomalies, whose significance we recognize retrospectively.

Consider that for hundreds of years the hypothesis that the sun revolved around the earth coincided with most observations. But it was the unexplainable observation that was freighted with the truth. Relativity similarly has its roots in the failures of the Newtonian model which works so well that to all intents and purposes it governs ever aspect of practical engineering.

We can't see the future because it hasn't happened yet. But the name of the game is to see it just a little sooner than anyone else. To recognize the significant a fraction ahead of the other players. Eventually people catch on to the fact that a particular stock is good to buy or sell. But to see it first, not in the future, but as it enters the edge of our Long Now, that's the trick.

5/19/2008 06:10:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

When Repression Masquerades as Social Justice
- Confessions of a Cuban Boy

As Elie Wiesel reminds us, there is no more eloquent witness against injustice and evil than eyewitness memory. A colleague of mine at Yale, the theologian Miroslav Volf, who spent time in prison in Croatia simply because his father was a Protestant minister, has argued that evil can triumph multiple times: first when an injustice is committed, and over and over if the record of that injustice is wiped out and the memory of it denied.[1]

In 1959, when Fidel Castro took power, the population of Cuba was only 6 million. But except for the scale, life there was much like it was in the Soviet Union. Imagine having lived in a repressive state, and then from the moment you reach the United States constantly being told what a wonderful place you came from and how wonderful the Castro revolution has been to your people. Imagine being told constantly—sometimes directly, sometimes insinuated—that you are simply selfish, you didn’t want to share your property with other people, and that’s why you are here. That’s my story and why I wrote my memoir. I face this every day still, even recently at the UN, because I come not from Europe but from the “third world.”

5/19/2008 07:11:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Could infighting end Minuteman movement?
Daily Herald ^ | 5/19/2008 | Kerry Lester

Posted on Monday, May 19, 2008 7:30:13 PM by SwinneySwitch

Anti-illegal immigration group struggling as chapters disband, donations slow

"We've lost the battle," said Minuteman project founder Jim Gilchrist. "My intuition tells me … this entire movement will fizzle to nothing by the end of the year."

5/19/2008 07:29:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Researchers and space enthusiasts see helium-3 as the perfect fuel source.

Scientists Use Sunlight to Make Fuel From CO2

5/19/2008 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

When Repression Masquerades as Social Justice - Confessions of a Cuban Boy

I think there a large numbers of people out there who understand that their lives are denied; and how self-evident reality is expunged. When I posted on the tiger attack at the San Francisco zoo, it was in the context of "common knowledge" whose existence was denied for decades.

There's a lot of "common knowledge" truth out there that will never see the light of day in "publications of record". What the First Amendment protects, I think, is the spirit of publication. What it is anathema to, I believe, is the concept of a "publication of record". No one owns the truth. It is apprehended by each man. The only real social truths are the ones we hold to be self-evident. And they are not self-evident simply because they are printed on a piece of paper.

5/19/2008 08:10:00 PM  
Blogger Dymphna said...


Hmm. I was enjoying much more the comments on Alexis's Freudian analysis of the Hezbollah flag. But W. pushed my theology button, resulting in this automatic screed and the ruin of an otherwise nice day.

Wretchard is a theologian dressed up in blogger's clothing. You will find that button pushed more than once. However, it's an accumulative experience and will benefit you in ways you cannot foresee.

Or, if you could foresee them, the results wouldn't be nearly so interesting.

5/19/2008 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger Kirk Parker said...

"no science fiction author predicted the Internet."

Well, Jerry Pournelle came close--not on the universally-networked aspect, but certainly on the information-availability part. Also I think Vannaver Bush (though not a SF author) came close for his day, too.

5/19/2008 10:40:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

First, forgive my cynicism Peter Grynch, but your hypothetical INS agent certainly would be in the headlines... named in a lawsuit by the ACLU, CAIR, and the Department of Justice for having applied "racist PROFILING" to a bunch of undeniably innocent and well-meaning Islamic Youth!
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Several things distinguish wisdom from cleverness. I forget most of 'em. But one I remember is that getting older often means you get a lot of chances to compare what you believed at some point in the past with the unfolding realities you fancied you understood. So the supposed wisdom of the greybeards is simply the result of knowing that some interpretations of reality are WRONG WRONG WRONG, and some are reasonably useful approximations.

Magicians Penn & Teller put together a TV special in the mid 1990's which traced the lineage of conjurors through the ages. Ultimately the point they were making was that the illusionist as street entertainer was really doing a public service by showing people how easily they could be tricked.

"if a single human being standing right in front of them with no more than a few simple props, could make them believe in things that really hadn't happened," so goes the reasoning, "what could prevent the King and his ministers from deluding the public on a vast scale? After all, the monarch and his minions have at their disposal resources far beyond those of the simple street magicians... Trust No One!"

Wretchard's reference to a "shooter doing angle searches around corners" reminds us that there is much to be gained by just studying the way the world works, how patterns coalesce, resolve, and dissipate. For instance, we intuitively understand and can evaluate the significance of cast shadows, reflections in odd-shaped auto chrome, images refracted by bottles on a countertop. We don't even have to understand WHY things do what they do, so long as we at least observe that they DO change in specific and consistent patterns. Some of those patterns are fleeting as mayflies, some can only be perceived in their slow unfolding from the perspective of a hundred generations.


It's difficult for folks who have the attention span of a butterfly, living in an endless NOW in which everything happens without warning, without discernible cause or effect. In a vicious irony, the public schools have perfected the process for cranking out graduates with mini-contemplative nano-cognition at just the moment when we need minds disciplined enough to scrutinize and dissect some of the most subtle and complex challenges of all known history.

We used to know how to educate kids so they grew up into confident, capable, independent-minded citizens; adults who could read up about an issue and choose from among several logically distinct options. Generations of Americans grew up able to navigate the shoals of life armed with a darn good 8th grade education as preparation. Only since the end of World War II has a college education become a commonplace, a mundane chore for the great mass of youth, instead of a cherished opportunity for a few who had to achieve distinction to be considered.

And the result, especially among the alleged graduates of public high schools, is a stark spreading dysfunctionality --- illiteracy, innumeracy, enfeebled logic skills, and an attention span that would get a sneer from an ephemeron. The cash registers in fast food restaurants operate by way of icons rather than numbers or text NOT because they're meant for immigrants for whom English is a new language. They are designed to be used by U.S. kids "educated" right here, who have never been taught enough to be able to operate a cash register, or make change.

Of course, the system that worked for our society before the 1960's may not work on the current culture, because that culture has been eroded and debilitated by the same government that has trashed the educational system.

Funny. It used to be the mean old Catholic Church that suppressed knowledge and ideas. Ask yourself: which groups now consistently are aligned against independent thought and expression?

5/19/2008 11:09:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...


Don't miss Caroline Glick's latest article. Her article captures the essence of why Barack Hussein scares me silly.

Hussein maybe the most dangerous man on the planet. It's interesting that over 75,000 Oregon moonbats went into ecstasy over their messiah. Sort of reminds me of Hitler's Nuremberg Rally (Der Sieg des Glaubens).

5/19/2008 11:55:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

From the strange World of Larry Johnson:
Obama Freakout Over Michelle Video The Ticking “Whitey” Time Bomb

(Kevin James says he has heard the same rumor from different sources)

5/20/2008 03:11:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Written in the skies: why quantum mechanics might be wrong

For instance, quantum theory uses probability to describe the properties of a particle. These properties obtain definitive values only when they are measured, which means that you cannot predict a particle's position or momentum, for instance, with certainty.

These premises troubled Albert Einstein. He believed that particles contain extra properties — or 'hidden variables' — that determine their behaviour completely. If only we knew what these hidden variables were, we could predict the fate of particles and the outcome of measurements with certainty. Bohmian mechanics is one of a suite of 'hidden variables' theories — many now discredited — formulated to tackle this problem.

But Valentini thinks that the stalemate could be broken by analysing the cosmic microwave background — the relic radiation left behind after the Big Bang. The cosmic microwave background contains hot and cold temperature spots that were generated by quantum fluctuations in the early Universe and then amplified when the Universe expanded.

Almost all measurements of the cosmic microwave background seem to fit well with the predictions of quantum mechanics, says Valentini. But intriguingly, a distortion that fits one of Valentini’s proposed signatures for a failure of quantum mechanics was recently detected by Amit Yadav and Ben Wandelt at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (see 'Deflating inflation?'). That result has yet to be confirmed by independent analyses, but it is tantalizing, Valentini adds.

“It’s far too early to say that this is definite evidence of a breakdown in quantum mechanics — but it is a possibility,” he says.

5/20/2008 05:03:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

In Search Of The Lost Sahara

In five years' work, the Basque archeologists have catalogues more that 300 archaeological sites, including former human settlements, carvings and cave paintings. Most of them are between 3,000 and 10,000 years old. The research work helps to make the prehistoric heritage of the southern region of the Western Sahara better known. The gathered material will be part of the first archaeological catalogue of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

"We are sweating blood but it is worthy. We will keep on trying to research the past of the Sahrawis. It is vet important for them to know their cultural heritage, which is very rich opposite to what it was generally thought. It is a way to show and claim and their ancestors lived here", Sáenz de Buruaga said.

5/20/2008 05:06:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Platypus Looks Strange on the Inside, Too

If it has a bill and webbed feet like a duck, lays eggs like a bird or a reptile but also produces milk and has a coat of fur like a mammal, what could the genetics of the duck-billed platypus possibly be like? Well, just as peculiar: an amalgam of genes reflecting significant branching and transitions in evolution.

The research is described in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature by a group of almost 100 scientists led by Wesley C. Warren, a geneticist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The single subject of the study was a female platypus named Glennie, a resident of Glenrock Station in New South Wales, Australia, whose DNA was collected and analyzed.

In their investigation of the platypus genetic blueprint, the scientists found that its genome contains about 18,500 genes, similar to other vertebrates and about two-thirds the size of the human genome. The platypus shares 82 percent of its genes with the human, mouse, dog, opossum and chicken. Some repeated elements in the genome, the scientists noted, hold hints as to the chronology of changes in the platypus.

Of particular interest, the researchers reported, the analysis identified families of genes that link the platypus to reptiles (like those for egg-laying, vision and venom production), as well as to mammals (antibacterial proteins and lactation). The platypus lacks nipples; the young nurse through the abdominal skin.

Picture of Platypus

5/20/2008 05:13:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

California Decision Will Radically Change Society (Why Same Sex Marriage Is Wrong Alert)

Studies I've seen of Scandinavian countries that legalized same sex marriage--showed a subsequent collapse of heterosexual marriages.

5/20/2008 05:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles: Studies I've seen of Scandinavian countries that legalized same sex marriage--showed a subsequent collapse of heterosexual marriages.

As if heterosexual marriage is not in a state of collapse already. Britney Spears gets to marry some bozo for 11 hours, that's okay, she's straight, but I can't marry my sole partner of 21 years because slot A and slot B don't go together. This is America, Charles, not some Scandinavian commune. People like to mind their own business.

5/20/2008 06:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kirk Parket: Well, Jerry Pournelle came close--not on the universally-networked aspect, but certainly on the information-availability part. Also I think Vannaver Bush (though not a SF author) came close for his day, too

In 1984 William Gibson wrote Neuromancer, which was blatantly ripped off to create The Matrix. He depicted a global shared dataspace accessed by visual symbology, and first called it "cyberspace".

5/20/2008 06:33:00 AM  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

One of the fascinating perambulations I've had to do is look at the question that the left and right have shied from: what is terrorism?

This is, actually, a well understood, documented and thought about part of human culture and dates back to the rise of the first city states and piracy. If you are trying to design a Long Now, then that *Now* begins with the advent of human organization at a scale larger than the clan, extended family or tribe. In one of the greatest attempts to wipe out our working knowledge (not 'oh, of course I know about it' sort but the 'yes, and here is what that means to us today' sort) is the non-teaching of vital texts that link up with those areas of knowledge.

There are those that have written not to define the future but to dileneate the past and put together why it is vital to the Now. Of particular interest are the works of Hugo Grotius who worked across many spheres (and did have a few grudges to settle) but the seminal works encompassing War, Peace and Sea rights are seminal, that latter being based on the older compendium of post-Roman laws in Europe in the Black Book of the Admiralty. The Law of Nations would evolve conceptually during that time from the Black Book to the late 18th century, with de Vattel organizing and regularizing it with the help of such folks as Blackstone, from England.

That described framework of what Nations are and how they operate is something that has proven not to be time delimited: when humans organize into states you get this form of interaction. Even if it is not written down, you get it... and that is the startling thing to realize when reading late Bronze Age records (particularly the Hittite foreign ministry/diplomatic archive) is that the things we consider today as relatively 'modern' date back to the dawn of the City States: diplomacy, regularization of trade, normalization of borders, internal and external accountability systems... the list is *not* endless, but all inclusive. One of the reasons that we can gloss over historical summaries is the things they describe are exact types of things we have today - this modern world is new in its formulation but not its type.

Digging into these areas, however, reveals a wealth of understanding of these things called Nations resting upon States, and what their forms and functions are. No matter what we do to the speed of the process, the nature of the transaction remains the same. The movement of the State being the only one that can legitimately wield arms is not a Marxist invention, but one going to the late Bronze Age (at least, if not further) to end the depredations of those waging Private War to their own ends. That clear and concise dileneation betwen Public and Private war is crystal clear: if war authorized by a Sovereign State it is Public War; everything else is Private War.

Yet, in our lovely and so very complex modern world, we have purposely forgotten that by not teaching the texts necessary to understand it. If a 'well read man' of the early 19th century was expected to understand this, then surely this can be done by Secondary School in the US, no? I mean the calculus is already being taught by then in many school systems along with some other parts of math and science that used to be relegated, just a generation ago, to universities.

Yet that Long Now of humanity, dating back to earliest history, has this conceptual framework as a foundation, even if it was only written down in an orderly manner in the late 18th century. That entirety of Sea Law, Laws of War and Peace and Law of Nations operate as an integrated whole and were all expected to be a foundation of all teaching from the early 19th century onwards so that we didn't go about trying to re-invent the wheel.

For these things to be understood they must be taught and related to our modern times so that we understand the legacy of what has been learned and why it is important in how we understand the world. While the works, themselves, are textual, the actual carrying out of them and knowing them must be a lived experience and passed on so that we understand what civilization actually is and why we define it the way we do. Those works were not considered to be completed, but to point out a full scope of 'best practices' on a framework of interoperability that had been built up for centuries. It is only those that don't keep to these things that act in a barbaric manner.

And if it isn't taught, how can you know them and not be a barbarian?

5/20/2008 06:55:00 AM  
Blogger ADE said...

Wretchard is a theologian dressed up in blogger's clothing.

Right on!

I'm a lapsed Catholic, but he comes closest to making me think I've got it wrong.

And in that very long now sense, he's right.

In debate, I like my ephemeral reponses such as "Life's a waste of time", but I don't live by it, because I have children, and because I don't believe it.

The future - you're either for it, or you don't matter.


5/20/2008 07:10:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Charles quoted:

“It’s far too early to say that this is definite evidence of a breakdown in quantum mechanics — but it is a possibility”

Einstein didn't like quantum mechanics and is famous for his quote "Gott würfelt nicht" (God doesn't play dice). However something they have us do in university quantum mechanics courses is derive the atomic hydrogen atom from the Schrödinger wave equation and then calculate its emission spectra. That result matches the experimental data to ridiculous precision (among the most accurate in the history of science). You can't argue with that sort of success. Einstein had the same experience. People say it was quantum mechanics that turned Einstein into an atheist (a mistaken reaction in my very humble opinion).

Charles was on a roll and also said:

"In five years' work, the Basque archeologists have catalogues more that 300 archaeological sites, including former human settlements, carvings and cave paintings. Most of them are between 3,000 and 10,000 years old."

There are a bunch of interesting neolithic sites along the coast of Europe and in the Boyne Valley of Ireland. Supposably most of the more interesting neolithic sites are below the ocean's surface because the sea level has risen significantly in the last 4.5 thousand years (pre-industrial global warming). The neolithic tombs in the Boyne Valley are extremely interesting. They're about the same age as the Great Pyramid in Giza. The technology of the Great Pyramid is light years beyond the tombs in the Boyne Valley but they still represent a remarkably advanced society (we know almost nothing about these ancient pre-Gaelic Irishmen).

5/20/2008 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger Martin McPhillips said...

If you want a good start on "The very long now," read Arnold Toynbee's "A Study of History." Just go for the two-volume abridgement (it's enough for any man or woman). It's rough going at first, as you get used to Toynbee's historical vocabulary and gradually imbibe his argument about history. But as you move along you begin to see a thousand years ago as being very much yesterday. You'll see the whole post-war era from 1945 to now as one coherent moment in history (even though Toynbee stops around WWII).

Be warned that Toynbee is not a big fan of the United States, but he is typically not as clear in his understanding of the world around him as he is of the entire sweep of history.

One old Marxist friend of mine once insisted to me that "Toynbee has been refuted." I told him that that was like saying that the "Rocky Mountains have been refuted."

"A Study of History" was the greatest intellectual achievement of the 20th Century, in my opinion.

You'll definitely get a very long now from it.

5/20/2008 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger mercutio said...

Doug quotes Carlos Eire, Yale author of 'Waiting for Snow in Havana,' a fine book.

The Eire quotation reminds me of another Yale luminary, Yaroslav Pelikan, whose motto, via 'Faust,' he presented at a graduation ceremony I attended some years ago:

"What you have received as an inheritance from your fathers, you must possess again in order to make it your own."

As Mad Fiddler notes, the culture doesn't have much sense of the value of the past: "It's difficult for folks who have the attention span of a butterfly, living in an endless NOW in which everything happens without warning, without discernible cause or effect."

I guess the culture doesn't see much value in the inheritance at this time, except as something to squander. Maybe there will be a return of the prodigal daughters and sons at some point? Depending on whatever cultural tipping points emerge, maybe a return will not be possible.

(Katchoo, by the way, is correct is noting that the Communion of Saints does not include people who haven't been born yet. That would be deterministic. But the Communio will include those who will be born. It's a Providence thing.)

5/20/2008 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

"If God is keeping a transaction log, hopefully he is running something other than SQL Server."

God strikes me as more of an Oracle guy. Us mortals are pretty much stuck with Access.

5/20/2008 09:44:00 AM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

To A Jacksonian,

You have addressed far more eloquently and specifically than I the idea I fumbled in my earlier post. Thank you.

A central assertion you make (if I understand you) is that Terrorism equates to Private War. You seem to avoid addressing the question of rebellion, whether against a government tyrannical or just. Within the context you describe of people recognizing the value of sovereign nation-states from out of the depths of time, revolution within a sovereign state has only occasionally raised fear among all nations of a universal upheaval.

I recall reading that the French revolution of the late 18th century upset a lot of Monarchists. You'd think they would have been a little less aggravated at Napoleon after he caught on and declared himself emperor, which more or less quashed all that nonsense about "egalité" and suchlike. Well, except he wanted to be emperor of EVERYTHING...

But seriously, It is the Marxist-Communist ideology that has done so much in the last century to undermine education and culture in the West.

Funny that precisely the same people who take it as a firm fact that the U.S. government spends a vast portion of its treasure to upset and undermine the societies of its adversaries REFUSE to acknowledge the historical fact of the Communist International.

But in the brief window (a few decades) between the collapse of the Soviet system and the present closing of their archives by Putin, we have learned that in fact, the USSR had funded and supported ComIntern activities through most of the 20th century, just as the crazy Republicans had always claimed. Darnedest thing.

From the 1920's through the 1970's ComIntern recruited many tens of thousands of communist-socialist sympathizers from scores of countries. Transporting them to the Soviet Union, ComIntern trained and indoctrinated them and sent them back to their countries of origin, with instructions to infiltrate their own societies in all areas without revealing their connection to ComIntern or the USSR. They were eventually meant to work their way into positions of trust and responsibility --- as teachers, administrators, union shop stewards, doctors, police, military, etc.--- from which they could influence policies and actions to be as favorable as possible to communist goals.

The communist movement throughout the 20th century was working to trivialize and ridicule religion and conventional morality in capitalist countries, so as to weaken respect for the authorities and make them vulnerable to overthrow. Chaos and social upheaval and discontent have been the conditions the communists sought to create, thinking that they would be the inheritors once the old regimes collapsed.

Call me crazy.

Seems to me the survival of Marxism in universities, and of Socialist delusions throughout the West, can be largely credited to ComIntern.

5/20/2008 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Doug said:

"From the strange World of Larry Johnson: Obama Freakout Over Michelle Video..."

From the commentary, it appears the video is being save as an "October Surprise". Some other people claimed that hard right conservatives want to release the video now and spoil the surprise. Why would they want to do that?

If this video is real, it has the look and feel of the surprise inflicted upon the McGovern campaign when it was revealed that his vice presidential running mate Thomas Eagleton had a history of serious mental illness (McGovern was such an idiot).

Wouldn't it be amusing if they had a whole bunch of surprises concerning Hussein. They'd just release a new surprise every two weeks until November. Maybe McCain could beat Nixon's landslide record against McGovern?

Here's hoping...

5/20/2008 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

eggplant said......

Supposably most of the more interesting neolithic sites are below the ocean's surface because the sea level has risen significantly in the last 4.5 thousand years (pre-industrial global warming). The neolithic tombs in the Boyne Valley are extremely interesting. They're about the same age as the Great Pyramid in Giza. The technology of the Great Pyramid is light years beyond the tombs in the Boyne Valley but they still represent a remarkably advanced society (we know almost nothing about these ancient pre-Gaelic Irishmen).
I'm a big fan of the distros on Freerepublic put out by blam and Sunken_Civ. They post all the archaelogy that going on all over the world at the same time. Most of the archeology is the result of people building roads, bridges and house foundations everywhere -- and turning up old stuff.

blam and Sunken_Civ will mix that in with dating for trees, sediments, isotopes ice and what not.

Their postings have convinced me that sometime a bit over 4000 years ago people began to look up.


imho the earth was hit by some kind of comet strike that wiped out the old kingdom in egypt and the sumerian civilizations along the tigris euphrates. (One candidate currently for the comet strike is a crater in the ocean off (madagascar.)

The results were that megaliths like the pyramids and stone henge were built to either track or imitate star patterns.

There was something else. Coastal sailing has been around for 10's of thousands of years. Yet within 1000 years the Europeans and Polynesians learned to track the stars to sail across ocean.

1000 years isn't much terms of deep time. 1000 years suggests that something speculative was set off all over the world at the same time sometime in the relatively recent past.

My vote is for a comet or asteroid--but it could be something else.

Further, these kinds of large scale disruptions happen more regularly than most people currently understand and acknowledge. However, the comet strike on Jupiter back in the 90's did serve as a reminder.

5/20/2008 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Martyrs Or Imperial Guard?Old Roman frescos & bones discovered.

5/20/2008 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger joe buz said...

Many dont do history because the important lessons are often hard or painful. Those are they types that function on feeling. They strive for the "long good feel".

5/20/2008 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Charles said:

"Their postings have convinced me that sometime a bit over 4000 years ago people began to look up. Why? imho the earth was hit by some kind of comet strike that wiped out the old kingdom in egypt and the sumerian civilizations along the tigris euphrates."

I think human beings "look up" because we're programmed to do that at a genetic level.

Major events did occur about 4500 years ago but I think those major events were mainly related to climate and population density. I believe that prior to the Neolithic and Old Kingdon Egypt, our ancestors were restricted to the lower latitudes by glaciers (Europe had been covered with glaciers). There had been an earlier era during the Paleolithic that allowed human beings to migrate out of Africa but that era was terminated by an ice age. With the end of the latest Ice Age, our ancestors were able to migrate into the Nile Valley and Europe. Those areas were relatively predator free, well suited for agriculture and allowed the local population density to significantly increase. Once the population density exceeded a critical threshold, the development of more advanced technology was possible, e.g. pyramid building, etc. Unfortunately the population density continued to increase until the local population was susceptible to plagues. Plagues would then knock the population down to levels were certain economic activity and technologies were no longer feasible. The limitation of population density and disease continued to put an upper limit on human development until the Age of Reason (Reformation) in Europe that brought about the hygenic revolution, i.e. bath, don't drink dirty water, don't throw excrement in the middle of the street, bury your dead outside the city limits, keep a cat in the house to kill rats, etc. The hygenic revolution allowed human population density to grow to the point of enabling the Industrial Revolution. That of course, lead to where we are today.

5/20/2008 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Did Humans Colonize The World By Boat
Discover Magazine ^

Jon Erlandson shakes out what appears to be a miniature evergreen from a clear ziplock bag and holds it out for me to examine. As one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient seafaring, he has devoted much of his career to hunting down hard evidence of ancient human migrations, searching for something most archaeologists long thought a figment: Ice Age mariners. On this drizzly late-fall afternoon in a lab at the University of Oregon in Eugene, the 53-year-old Erlandson looks as pleased as the father of a newborn—and perhaps just as anxious —as he shows me one of his latest prize finds.

5/20/2008 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger David N. St. John said...

Kirk Parker said:

"no science fiction author predicted the internet"

Actually, James H. Schmitz came as close as anyone to "predicting the internet" in his series of stories known as the "Federation of the Hub", or sometimes also known as the "Telzey Amberdon series", most of which were published in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

These have been collected and republished in paperback editions by Baen Books. In particular, I recommend that anyone interested look on page 109 of the second volume of the republished series, "T'nT: Telzey & Trigger", July 2000, ISBN: 0-671-57879-0. The name of the story is "Compulsion", if you have to look it up somewhere else.

What Telzey does in that handful of pages with her "ComWeb" connection sounds a lot like the Internet to me!

David N. St. John

5/20/2008 09:26:00 PM  

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