Blog Archive for the ‘Announcements’ Category

navigateleft Older Articles   

Kevin Kelly Seminar Tickets

Posted on Friday, June 17th, 02016 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

 

The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Kevin Kelly on The Next 30 Digital Years

Kevin Kelly on “The Next 30 Digital Years”

TICKETS

Thursday July 14, 02016 at 7:30pm Herbst Theater

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

Since the mid-01980s Kevin Kelly has been creating, and reporting on, the digital future. His focus is the long-term trends and social consequences of technology. Kelly’s new book, THE INEVITABLE: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, is a grand synthesis of his thinking on where technology is heading in the next few decades, and how we can embrace it to maximize its benefits, and minimize its harms.

Kevin Kelly is the founding executive editor of Wired magazine and is a founding board member of The Long Now Foundation.

Brian Christian Seminar Tickets

Posted on Thursday, May 26th, 02016 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Brian Christian presents Algorithms to Live By

Brian Christian presents “Algorithms to Live By”

TICKETS

Monday June 20, 02016 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

It is possible to be extremely astute about how we manage difficult decisions. With just a few mental tools we get the benefit of better outcomes along with release from agonizing about the process of deciding.

Many mental tools—algorithms—developed with obligatory clarity for computers turn out to have ready application for humans facing such problems as: when to stop hunting for an apartment (or lover); how much novelty to seek; how to get rid of the right stuff; how to allot scarce time; how to consider the future; when to relax constraints; how to give chance a chance; how to recognize when you’re playing the wrong game; and how to make decisions easier for others (“computational kindness”).

Brian Christian, the co-author of Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, lives in San Francisco, deploying his degrees in philosophy, computer science, and poetry.

Walter Mischel Seminar Media

Posted on Monday, May 16th, 02016 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control

Monday May 2, 02016 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Mischel Seminar page.

*********************

Audio is up on the Mischel Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

*********************

Thinking hot and cool – a summary by Stewart Brand

In the 1960s, Mischel and colleagues at Stanford launched a series of delayed-gratification experiments with young children using a method that later came to be known as “the marshmallow test.” A researcher whom the child knew and trusted, after playing some fun games together, suggested playing a “waiting game.” The researcher explained that the child could have either one or two of the highly attractive treats the child had chosen and was facing (marshmallows, cookies, pretzels)–depending on how long the child waited for them after the researcher left the room. The game was: at any time the child could ring a bell, and the researcher would come back immediately and the child could have one treat. To practice, the researcher left the room, the child rang the bell and the researcher came right back, saying, “You see, you brought me back. Now if you wait for me to come back by myself without ringing the bell or starting to eat a treat you can have both of them!!” The wait might be as long as 15 or 20 minutes. (About one third made it that far.)

The kids varied widely in how long they could stand it before ringing the bell. Mischel emphasizes that the focus of the research was to identify the specific cognitive strategies and mental mechanisms, as well as the developmental changes, that make delay of gratification possible–not to “test” or pigeonhole children. Between the ages of 4 and 6 years, for example, the older kids could delay their gratification longer, apparently as the impulse-overriding “executive function” of their maturing brains kicked in. And in some conditions it was easy for the children to wait, while under other conditions it was very difficult. The research sought to identify the cognitive skills that underlie willpower and long-term thinking and how they can be enhanced.

Longitudinal studies of the tested children suggested that something profound was going on. By the time they were adolescents, the kids who had been able to hold out longer for the bigger reward in some conditions were also likelier to have higher SAT scores, to function better socially, and to manage temptation and stress better. On into their adulthood, they were less likely to show extreme aggression, less likely to over-react if they became anxious about social rejection, and less likely to become obese. For the kids who did not hold out well and took the quick reward, Mischel said the findings suggested that “the inability to delay gratification can have quite serious potential negative effects.” (Mischel cautions that the longitudinal results are only correlations that describe group findings and do not allow accurate predictions for individual children.)

Can “delay ability” be trained? Mischel thinks it can, if we understand how our mind works. He and colleagues postulated a “Hot System” and a “Cool System” in the brain. (They are similar to Daniel Kahneman’s “System 1” and “System 2” in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.) The Hot System (Go!) is: emotional, simple, reflexive, fast, and centered in the amygdala. It develops early in the child and is exacerbated by stress. The Cool System (Know), on the other hand, is: cognitive rather than emotional, complex, reflective, slow, and centered in the frontal lobes and hippocampus. It develops later in the child and is made weaker by stress. In the Hot System the stimulus controls us; in the Cool System we control the stimulus.

You can chill a hot object of desire by representing it to yourself in Cool, abstract terms. Don’t think of the marshmallow as yummy and chewy; imagine it as round and white like a cotton ball. One little girl became patient by pretending she was looking at a picture of a marshmallow and “put a frame around it” in her head. “You can’t eat a picture,” she explained. (Girls were better handling temptation than boys.)

While coolly defusing a temptation, you can also make Hot the delayed consequences of yielding to it. Mischel was a three-pack-a-day smoker ignoring all warnings about cancer until one day he saw a man on a gurney in Stanford Hospital. “His head was shaved, with little green X’s, and his chest was bare, with little green X’s.” A nurse told him the X’s were for where the radiation would be targeted. “I couldn’t shake the image. It made hot the delayed consequences of my smoking.” Mischel kept that image alive in his mind while reframing his cigarettes as sources of poison instead of relief, and he quit.

“If you don’t know how to delay gratification,” he said, “you don’t have a choice. If you do know how, you have a choice.”

Subscribe to our Seminar email list for updates and summaries.

New Seminar Apps and Long Now Video Archive

Posted on Wednesday, May 11th, 02016 by Danielle Engelman
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

The Long Now Foundation is making its video archive of the Seminars About Long-Term Thinking (SALT) freely available on its website and on the new Apple apps, allowing people to stream the SALT Seminars on Apple TV and their iOS devices.

The free iOS apps feature videos of The Long Now Foundation’s latest Seminars, including those by author and Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman; author Neil Gaiman; English composer and record producer Brian Eno; oceanographer Sylvia Earle; biotechnologist, biochemist and geneticist, Craig Venter; WIRED’s founding executive editor Kevin Kelly; author and MacArthur Fellow Elaine Pagels; Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh; biologist Edward O. Wilson; author and food activist Michael Pollan; and psychologist Dr. Walter Mischel, creator of The Marshmallow Test.

Long Now Seminars iOS app

The Long Now Foundation Seminars, which are hosted by Stewart Brand, are online and available in the iTunes store as as free app and audio podcast. The iOS app initially launched with 50 Seminars with new videos added monthly as part of the Foundation’s ongoing lecture series.

The Seminars are free to watch, and are made available through the generous donations of the members and sponsors of The Long Now Foundation. Membership begins at $96 per year, and includes free tickets to the monthly Seminars held at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco, as well as a quarterly newsletter, free and discounted tickets to partner events amongst other member offerings. The Seminar media is created in association with Shoulder High Productions, a full circle media company and with FORA.tv, a San Francisco-based video production and marketing company.

 

Walter Mischel Seminar Tickets

Posted on Tuesday, April 12th, 02016 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

 

The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Walter Mischel presents The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control

Walter Mischel presents “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control”

TICKETS

Monday May 2, 02016 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

Can you pass the marshmallow test? You’re a little kid. A marshmallow is placed on the table in front of you. You’re told you can eat it any time, but if you wait a little while, you’ll be given two marshmallows to eat.

The kids who have the self-control to pass this most famous of psychological tests turn out to have more rewarding and productive lives. Walter Mischel, who first ran the test in the 1960s, spent the rest of his career exploring how self-control works, summarized in his 2014 book The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. “The ability to delay gratification and resist temptation has been a fundamental challenge since the dawn of civilization,” he writes. “It is the ‘master aptitude’ underlying emotional intelligence, essential for constructing a fulfilling life.”

This talk spells out the remarkable things have has been learned about willpower and self-control in the individual. It also considers wider implications. Does it make a difference when an organization or society has more people able to fully engage self-control? Does it make a difference when that kind of behavior is publicly expected and trained for explicitly? Is there a social or political or cultural level of surmounting marshmallow-test temptations? That might be the essence of long-term behavior.

Stephen Pyne Seminar Media

Posted on Thursday, February 25th, 02016 by Danielle Engelman
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Fire Slow, Fire Fast, Fire Deep

Tuesday February 9, 02016 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Pyne Seminar page.

*********************

Audio is up on the Pyne Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.

*********************

Ecological wildfire – a summary by Stewart Brand

“We are uniquely fire creatures,” Pyne began, “on a uniquely fire planet.” Life itself is a form of slow metabolic combustion—which eventually created oxygen and burnable vegetation that allowed fast combustion, ignited by lightning. Humans came along and mastered fire for warmth, food preparation, and managing the landscape, and that made us a keystone species. Humanity’s ecological signature on the world is fire.

Then we made fire the all-purpose catalyst for craft (clay, glass, metal) and eventually industry, shifting to the vast geological resource of fossil fuels. That “pyric transition” made humans dominant on the earth, even to the point of affecting climate. We used fire to clear much of the world’s forest for agriculture.

Then came a century of misdirection about wildfire. The forests of Europe are mostly too wet to burn, but by the late 19th century the leading foresters in world came from there and taught their ignorance to foresters in North America and India, where the land depends on seasonal fire for ecological health. National governments set about suppressing all wildfire, with catastrophic success. In the absence of the usual occasional local fires, massive fuel loads built up, and destructive megafires became the norm. There was an alternative theory of a “restoration strategy” to manage wildfire in way that would emulate how lightning and native American burning kept the landscape ecologically healthy, but it has been applied haltingly and fractionally, and megafires still rule.

“The real argument for fire is that it does ecological work that nothing else does,” Pyne concluded. “Charismatic megaflora” like redwoods need fire. An ecologically rich mosaic of forest, savannah, and meadows needs fire. Healthy prairie needs fire or it gets taken over by invasive woody plants. People trained only as foresters are blind to all that. Wildfire practice now works best when it is guided by wildlife biologists who insist that red cockaded woodpeckers need fire-dependent longleaf pines, that grizzly bears need the berries that grow in recent burns, that pheasants need grassland burned free of invasive eastern red cedar.

The techniques for prescribed burns for a bioabundant natural landscape are now well honed. They need to be applied much more widely. When in doubt how to proceed, ask the ecologists, who will ask the animals.

Subscribe to our Seminar email list for updates and summaries.

Molecular Foundry Award Goes to Rosetta Project to Develop a Wearable Rosetta Disk

Posted on Thursday, February 18th, 02016 by Laura Welcher
link   Categories: Announcements, Rosetta   chat 0 Comments

This November, The Rosetta Project was awarded access to staff and facilities at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to develop a wearable version of the Rosetta Disk. The successful proposal, titled “The Rosetta Disk – An Exploration into Very Long-term Archiving” focused on the need for access to high-powered microscopes and imaging technology available at the Lab to prepare and evaluate components of a new Rosetta Disk prototype. The user program will provide Rosetta Project staff access to the Molecular Foundry, Advanced Light Source, and National Center for Electron Microscopy.

Rosetta Disk

The new version of the Rosetta Disk currently under development uses a similar manufacturing process as the first edition of the Rosetta Disk, with the resulting archive being microscopically formed in nickel and readable with 1000x magnification or less. The main difference is that the final archive is about 2 centimeters in diameter, making it a size that could comfortably be worn on the human body. Given the new process is reliable, fast, and less expensive than the one used for the original Rosetta Disk prototypes, it is the first version of the Disk that could potentially meet the long-desired goal of broad dissemination, in keeping with the long-term archiving strategy of LOCKSS (“lots of copies keeps stuff safe”).

Although the new, smaller size of the disk is an advantage, it imposes a new constraint of having less surface space that the archive contents can occupy. If we keep the information or “pages” in the archive at the size where they can be read with 1000x magnification, we can fit 1000 or fewer of them on the disk. The original Rosetta Disk has over 1,500 languages and 13,000 pages of information, so this means we must include fewer languages, fewer pages for each language, or some combination of the two. Yet constraints breed creativity, and we have chosen to meet this new challenge by slightly altering the contents that will go on the wearable Rosetta Disk.

The contents will be in keeping with the original Rosetta Disk in that they will be represent many of the world’s human languages. The contents will also be parallel, that is, the same information for each language. The two main kinds of content will be a parallel text and parallel vocabulary list. The text we have chosen is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), which is available in over 300 languages, and the parallel vocabulary will be Swadesh lists compiled by Long Now’s PanLex Project. The vocabularies will be chosen to match the texts as nearly as we can.

In a major departure from how the contents of the original Rosetta collection were assembled, the Universal Declaration and PanLex data are all “born digital”. This means we have a lot of control over font and font size, but this entails making choices. Our goal will be to maximize the amount of language content on the disk while preserving maximum legibility. This is where access to the Lab microscopes and imaging equipment will be especially helpful.

Another advantage to having “born digital” material is we can make the contents of the wearable Rosetta Disk available as open digital data as well as a physical artifact. We hope this will allow for all kinds of interesting experimentation in the archival longevity of both forms. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights collection we will be using are all available in Unicode, which is a much preferred long-term format, and the PanLex Swadesh lists are now part of the Natural Language Toolkit collection and available as a corpus for computational tinkering.

TEAM 1

The 1000x magnification required to read the Rosetta Disk is vastly lower than what is capable with the resources of Lawrence Berkeley Lab, which in addition to a vast array of imaging equipment operates the most powerful microscope in the world (TEAM I, left). Nonetheless, access to higher power equipment will allow us to prepare the content that will go on the disk, evaluate the longevity of the materials we are choosing to use, and to explore new methods to protect the disk surface from environmental damage as well as direct contact with human skin (many people – myself included – are sensitive to nickel).

An aspirational goal of the project is to develop long-term relationships with the staff and scientists at the Lab who have interest in exploring new materials and methods for long-term archiving. Some intriguing new possibilities have already emerged from early discussions (hint: think color!). These may allow us to radically change not only how we archive, but what we are able to archive for the long-term as well. And while new archival technologies are evolving rapidly, what seems steadfast and applicable to all of them are the strategies for long-term archiving long articulated by The Rosetta Project, and both explored and practiced in its Rosetta Disk.

Jane Langdale Seminar Tickets

Posted on Monday, February 15th, 02016 by Andrew Warner
link   Categories: Announcements, Seminars   chat 0 Comments

 

The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Jane Langdale on Radical Ag: C4 Rice and Beyond

Jane Langdale on “Radical Ag: C4 Rice and Beyond”

TICKETS

Monday March 14, 02016 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

 

About this Seminar:

The late 20th century saw the yields of the world’s staple crops more than double. To keep this momentum going well into the 21st century, scientists are working on C4 rice, a rice that more efficiently photosynthesizes sunlight, potentially making the crop that feeds half the world up to 50% more effective.

Jane Langdale is a Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford.

Is the Great Auk a Candidate for De-Extinction?

Posted on Thursday, February 4th, 02016 by Stewart Brand
link   Categories: Announcements, Revive & Restore   chat 0 Comments

Great auk
On June 25 and 26, 2015, a meeting was held at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle, England, to discuss whether the extinct Great Auk–a once-common flightless pelagic bird known as “the penguin of the north”–might be a realistic candidate for bringing back to life using recent breakthroughs in genetic technology.  Twenty-two scientists and other interested parties gathered for the event.

Until its final extinction in 1844, the Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis) ranged across the entire north Atlantic ocean, fishing the waters off the northern US, Canada, Iceland, and northern Europe, including the coast near Newcastle in northern England.  The size of a medium penguin, it lived in the open ocean except for when it waddled ashore for breeding on just a few islands.  There its flightlessness made it vulnerable to human hunting and exploitation for its down that reached industrial scale.  Attempts to regulate the hunting as early as the 16th Century were fruitless.  The last birds, on an island off Iceland, were gone by 1844.

The host of the Great Auk meeting was Matt Ridley, member of the House of Lords, former science editor of The Economist, author of The Rational Optimist and Genome.  He opened the meeting by noting that de-extinction comes in four stages, which he described as: 1) In silico (the sequencing of the full genome of the extinct animal into digital data); 2) in vitro (editing the important genes of the extinct animal into living reproductive cells of its nearest living relative; 3) in vivo (using the edited reproductive cells to create living proxies of the extinct animal); and 4) in the wild (growing the proxy animal population with captive breeding and eventually releasing them to take up their old ecological role in the wild.)

Razorbill
The nearest relative of the Great Auk is the Razorbill (Alca torda, above).  It looks similar and has the same trans-Atlantic range and feeding habits, but it can fly and is about 1/8th the size of the Great Auk.  At the meeting, Tom Gilbert, an ancient-DNA expert at the Centre for Geogenetics, University of Copenhagen, reported on his preliminary sequencing of the Great Auk and Razorbill genomes, confirming that they are genetically close.  There are a number of Great Auk museum specimens to work with—71 skins, 24 skeletons, 75 eggs, and even some preserved internal organs and ancient fossil remains.

Three participants from Revive & Restore—Ben Novak, Ryan Phelan, and Stewart Brand—spelled out the current state of de-extinction projects involving the Passenger Pigeon, Heath Hen, and Woolly Mammoth. In each case the extinct genomes have been thoroughly sequenced, along with the genomes of their closest living relatives, and some of the important genes to edit have been identified.  With the woolly mammoth, 16 genes governing three important traits have been edited into a living elephant cell line by George Church’s team at Harvard Medical School.  For birds, the crucial in vivo stage of being able to create living chicks with edited genomes utilizing a primordial germ cell (PGC) approach has yet to be fully proven, though work has begun on the process, working with a private company in California.

Michael McGrew from Roslin Institute in Edinburgh described the current state of play using primordial germ cell techniques with chickens.  Progress may go best by introducing the edited PGCs into the embryos of chickens adjusted to have no endogenous germ cells of their own.  Because so much work has been done on chicken genetics, working with a bird in the same family, the extinct Heath Hen, may offer the most practical first case to pursue.  For the Great Auk eventually, a flock of captive-bred Razorbills will be needed to supply embryos for the PGC process.

Oliver Haddrath (Ornithologist at the Royal Ontario Museum) and Richard Bevan (Ecologist at Newcastle University) described what is known of the lifestyle, ecology, and history of Great Auks compared with Razorbills, and Andrew Torrance (Law professor at the University of Kansas) examined potential legal hurdles for resurrected Great Auks and found them not explicitly prohibitive and potentially navigable.

The meeting concluded with a sense that the project can and should be pursued.  Next steps include funding the completion of Tom Gilbert’s genetic study of Great Auks and Razorbills and scheduling a follow-up meeting in the summer of 2016, perhaps at another location (Canada, Iceland, Denmark) in the once-and-perhaps-future range of the Great Auk.

Meeting
Following the formal meeting, many of the 22 participants were taken by Matt Ridley on a boat tour of the nearby Farne Islands, where thousands of Razorbills and other seabirds are gathered in dense breeding colonies.  One of the islands has a low beach that would be a perfect land base for Great Auks.

Meeting

Participants:  Alastair Balls, Richard Bevan, Stewart Brand, Sir John Burn, Linda Conlon, Federica DiPalma, Graham Etherington, Fiona Fell, Tom Gilbert, Dan Gordon, Oliver Haddrath, James Haile, Jeremy Herrmann, Noel Jackson, Mike McGrew, Ben Novak, Ryan Phelan, Chris Redfern, Matt Ridley, Ryan Rothman, Jimmy Steele, Andrew Torrance.

Matt Ridley added the following about the Farne Islands:

The Farnes are one of the very few island groups on the east coast of Britain, so they are very attractive to island-nesting seabirds. They host about 90,000 breeding pairs of seabirds each summer: mainly puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, black-headed gulls, herring gulls, lesser black-back gulls, Arctic, Sandwich and Common terns, shags, cormorants, eider ducks and fulmars. About 2000 grey seal pups are born on the islands each autumn.

The number of breeding birds has approximately doubled in 40 years, largely thanks to protection from human disturbance, control of the predatory large gull population, and habitat management. Most of the birds depend on just one species of fish to feed their young: the sand eel. The eels lives in vast shoals over the sandy sea floor close to the islands. Some studies have suggested that nutrients from human activities on land — including agricultural fertiliser and human sewage — have contributed to the productivity of this part of the North Sea, though treated sewage effluent outflow to the sea has now ceased. It is likely that there are more breeding birds on the Farne islands today than for many centuries, because in the past people lived on the islands (as farmers or religious hermits), and visited them to collect eggs and chicks for food. There is archeological evidence that great auks lived here in the distant past, but they would have been quickly exterminated by people on islands so close to the shore, being so easy to catch.

Centuries of the Bristlecone

Posted on Thursday, January 21st, 02016 by Jonathon Keats
link   Categories: Announcements, Long Term Art   chat 0 Comments

The Nevada Museum of Art has a commitment to supporting the creation, study, and preservation of art that explores the boundaries of human environments. In spatial terms that means the Museum collects and exhibits work from the Great Basin outward to the polar regions, the great deserts of the world, and high altitudes, including near space. In temporal terms, that includes materials with roots in deep human time, such as projects with Australian Aboriginal artists—but also artworks that project into the future, which is to say the Long Now.

Jonathon Keats’ proposal to construct a 5,000 year calendrical index linked between the Museum in Reno and Long Now’s site at 11,000 feet in remote eastern Nevada resides simultaneously on many frontiers. This is also a hallmark of our Art of the Greater West collection, which includes work from throughout a super-region that extends from Alaska south to Patagonia, and west across the Pacific to Australia. This physical and metaphorical territory “west of the mountains” is in a perpetual state of discovery. The Museum’s multiple permanent holdings, including its Contemporary Art and large Altered Landscape photography collection, are focused around human interactions with natural, built, and virtual spaces. Jonathon’s calendar will powerfully manifest how these collections, exhibitions, and research projects inhabit this rich confluence.

 

Bill Fox
Director, Center for Art + Environment
Nevada Museum of Art

William Fox will be speaking about the Art of the Greater West at The Interval at Long Now in April 02016. The Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno is partnering with the artist Jonathon Keats and The Long Now Foundation to realize Centuries of the Bristlecone for a permanent installation at the Museum in 02020. The archive of the project will reside at the Center for Art + Environment, where it will be available to researchers.

Keats

Centuries of the Bristlecone

A Living Calendar on Mount Washington

by Jonathon Keats

In pre-Classical Greece, time was kept by cicadas’ songs, the flowering of artichokes, and the migration of cranes. Ballads recounted these annual events, and provided their interpretation. (When the cranes migrated, it was time to plow the fields.) Although constellations also provided guidance, celestial authority was contingent in this three-thousand-year-old calendar, with days arbitrarily added as the stars fell out of sync with nature.

Gradually society made calendars more regular. First the moon was used, and then the sun. Julius Caesar improved the reliability of solar timekeeping by introducing the leap year. By modern reckoning, the Gregorian year is 365.2425 days long, and the movement of our planet has ceded authority to atomic clocks. Time has become abstract. The cranes are late if they migrate in November rather than October; November isn’t deemed ahead-of-schedule.

Undoubtedly the Gregorian calendar is useful for keeping dental appointments and managing multinational corporations. But is it worthy of our trust? Is it more valid than the sounding of cicadas and flowering of artichokes? Should we value mathematical exactitude over ground truth? Working in collaboration with the Long Now Foundation and the Nevada Museum of Art, I plan to provide an alternative to Gregorian time by bringing the calendar back to life.

At the core of my calendrical system will be the most long-lived of timekeepers: Pinus longaeva, commonly known as the bristlecone pine tree. Bristlecone pines have a lifespan that can exceed five thousand years, making the oldest more ancient than Greek civilization. They keep count of the years with annual ring growth, a natural calendar prized by dendroclimatologists because it’s irregular. The thickness of each ring is a measure of environmental conditions in a given year. The growing girth of the tree thus clocks environmental time cumulatively. Sited on Long Now property atop Mount Washington, my living calendars will do so for the next five millennia, visibly tracking time as lived on our planet.

Here is the vision: Around each bristlecone pine will be arranged a double spiral of large stone pillars, indicating the girth the bristlecone can be expected to have in 500 years, 1,000 years and more, as extrapolated from the current average annual ring growth for Mount Washington bristlecones. Each of the stones will be incised with the appropriate year. The steady development of the tree – and concomitant increase of the tree’s diameter – will turn over each successive pillar with the completion of each consecutive time increment, thereby indicating the approximate date. However, as climate change alters the living landscape, the calendar will fall out of step with Gregorian years. Through time, each bristlecone will bear witness to human activity in the Anthropocene. The meaning of the living calendar will change with the changes we bring to the environment.

Naturally there are myriad ways in which these calendars will defy expectations. Most certainly some will grow faster than others, subject to fluctuations in microclimates on the mountain, each differently impacted by global climate change. Also bristlecone pines typically grow irregularly, the harshness of their environment recorded in the contour of their trunks. Depending on what transpires in their vicinity, they may turn over pillars out of order. Or a trees may die prematurely, time frozen in hardwood that will take many millennia to decompose.

These uncertainties are integral to the concept. In these calendars, time is alive with contingencies. Through these calendars, we’ll come to terms with where prediction fails us: the limitations of what we can know about the future, and the threat of hubris.

Keats
Under the stewardship of Long Now, Mount Washington will host five stone spirals around five trees of different ages at different altitudes. Beginning in the year 2020 – when we anticipate construction to be complete – voyagers will visit each calendar in turn, discovering the date by reading the stones.

Centuries of the Bristlecone will encourage people to visit Mount Washington who might otherwise never see it. Yet these mountain calendars will probably be experienced primarily by word of mouth – a living myth. For that reason, there will be a more broadly accessible dimension to the project: A sixth bristlecone pine will be configured with an electronic dendrometer, an instrument that wraps around the tree trunk, precisely measuring diameter. Data from the dendrometer will be relayed by satellite to a computer that will calculate an exact date based on the tree’s daily increase in girth. The computer will control a monumental mechanical calendar situated in downtown Reno at the Nevada Museum of Art.

Additionally the dendrometer will control a variable Bristlecone Time Protocol, accessible online and via an app for smartphone and smartwatch. The protocol will provide a precise digital indication of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years according to the growth of the tree on Mt. Washington.

The bristlecone date will thereby become a fully viable (if notoriously unreliable) alternative to the Gregorian date. People will be able to choose which calendar to follow, and, in the ensuing confusion, will be forced to confront the discrepancy. Is time a universal abstraction or grounded in lived experience? Each calendar will carry conflicting authority, much as stars and artichokes did in pre-Classical Greece.