The Long Now Foundation

Another Big Ideas group is the Long Now Foundation.

The Long Now Foundation formed in 1996 to foster creative thinking about long-term futures. They asked not about humanity’s place in a decade or a century, but what can we do to sustain human civilization for 10,000 years?

Their first project is the Long Now Clock, designed to last for 10,000 years and create different chimes every year, decade, and century.

One of the founders of the Long Now foundation is Stewart Brand who went from training infantry soldiers parachuting skills in the US Army to working with the Grateful Dead in San Francisco before traveling the country with Ken Kesey as a merry prankster. He started the Whole Earth Catalog and Co-Evolution Quarterly. Brand is one of his generation’s most provocative thinkers and spoke at TED in 2004, 2006, and 2009.

Brian Eno has also been an important contributor to the Long Now Foundation since its early days. In addition to composing Bell Studies For The Clock of The Long Now he also gave a talk early in the seminar series (2003) which nicely sums up the Long Now philosophy. You can download the audio of his talk, “The Long Now,” here under the downloads tab.

“Brian told the origins of his realizations about the “small here” versus the “big here” and the “short now” versus the “long now.” He noted that the Big Here is pretty well popularized now, with exotic restaurants everywhere, “world” music, globalization, and routine photos of the whole earth. Instant world news and the internet has led to increased empathy worldwide.

“But empathy in space has not been matched by empathy in time. If anything, empathy for people to come has decreased. We seem trapped in the Short Now. The present generation enjoys the greatest power in history, but it appears to have the shortest vision in history. That combination is lethal.

“Danny Hillis proposed that there’s a bug in our thinking about these matters—about long-term responsibility. We need to figure out what the bug is and how to fix it. We’re still in an early, fumbling phase of doing that, like the period before the Royal Society in 18th-century England began to figure out science.”

Video, audio, and more information about the Long Now seminars can be found here.


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