The Knowledge will be on sale at the talk, and Lewis will sign books and chat more with the audience afterwards
Far from a doomsday prediction, Dartnell’s book reveals the potential resiliency of humanity if we approach challenges with an awareness of the natural sciences and understanding of how contemporary technology works. The Knowledge brings a lot of this fundamentally useful information into one place; and it’s bibliography points to deeper resources for a wide range of subjects. Lewis has previously shared his expertise with Long Now for our Manual for Civilization project.
“The Knowledge is a fascinating look at the basic principles of the most important technologies undergirding modern society… full of optimism about human ingenuity” — The Wall Street Journal
The videos below show two examples of tips you’ll find in The Knowledge. The first draws on insights into how our world works today (manufacturing) to reveal an ideal solution. There are many ways to open a can, but this is probably the best. The second is more sophisticated: how to use a scavenged battery to drive electrolysis and isolate useful elements like oxygen and chlorine. That requires a better understanding of chemistry than you will get studying TV plotlines, but it’s mostly high school level science. And it hints that the best solutions actually create more tools to help us more rapidly recover.
Often Dartnell’s advice relies on a combination of scientific knowledge and scavenged resources. Both industrial detritus (a golf cart battery) and common household items (steel wool) are useful in resuscitating features of modern society. This kind of ingenuity is familiar in pop culture: television shows in particular from MacGyver to Breaking Bad feature protagonists whose expertise with the periodic table and access to a junkyard or various consumer packaged goods help save the day time after time. It’s the same principle: when the stakes are high we are capable of ingenuity, even if we aren’t geniuses.
It started with a seed planted in the mind of Scottish artist Katie Paterson when she made the connection between tree rings and chapters of books. Now several years in the making, Paterson’s vision will unfold over the next century in her artwork Future Library–an ambitious and evolving piece that will outlive Paterson and most of us living today.
Photo by Giorgia Polizzi
In the summer of 02014, Paterson and her team planted 1,000 Norwegian Spruce saplings in the forest Normarka, situated just outside of Oslo. The site is about a 25-minute walk from a metro station, yet according to Paterson, feels deep within the forest and has no city sounds.
Photo by Giorgia Polizzi
These trees will supply the paper for an anthology of books to be printed in a hundred years’ time, when the saplings are fully grown. In the meantime, one writer every year will be invited to add a new text to the collection of unpublished, unread manuscripts held in trust at the New Public Deichmanske Library in Bjørvika until their publication date in 02114. The text can take on any length, form, and genre. The only request is to have the work submitted by manuscript within one year of invitation. As the trees grow, so does the collection. Katie Paterson explained:
The idea to grow trees to print books arose for me through making a connection with tree rings to chapters – the material nature of paper, pulp and books, and imagining the writer’s thoughts infusing themselves, ‘becoming’ the trees. Almost as if the trees absorb the writer’s words like air or water, and the tree rings become chapters, spaced out over the years to come…This artwork will bring together the work of preeminent writers, thinkers and philosophers of this and future generations. It is an artwork that belongs not only to us and the City of Oslo now, but to these who are not yet born.
With the forest planted, the next key part of the Future Library is designing the Silent Room to house the unpublished texts in the New Deichmanske Library, which will open in 02018. In collaboration with the library’s architects Lund Hagem and Atelier Oslo, Paterson is specially constructing this room from the cut-down trees recently cleared for the Future Library saplings.
Photo by Giorgia Polizzi
The Silent Room will be located on the top floor of the library – the floor that houses the library’s special collection of books and archives. The small, intimate room will be geared for one or two people; it will face the forest, awaiting the growth of the trees and providing a view of where, in essence, the books are developing. The other aspect of the texts–the unpublished manuscripts–will be contained here with only the authors’ names, the title of their work and the year visible to visiting patrons. Katie Paterson explained:
The atmosphere is key in our design, aiming to create a sense of quietude, peacefulness, a contemplative space which can allow the imagination to journey to the forest, the trees, the writing, the deep time, the invisible connections, the mystery.
As is the case with any long-term project, questions of trust dominate the design of Paterson’s Future Library. Planning a project with a timescale of 100 years provides many challenges, such as the consideration of tree types, native Norwegian pests, climate, or potential fires; communicating across time; ensuring access to a printing press (one will be stored in Oslo and workshops will be held for the next generations in printing and binding books); and crafting 100-year contracts with lawyers. How will the library room be looked at and experienced in a century? How will the materials react over the decades to come? What languages will people be speaking in 02114? What kind of technologies will exist? What will be the status of the printed book, the written word? Paterson asked herself 100-year-timespan questions such as these with every decision made for Future Library. It involves thinking and developing on a timespan that transcends most conventional artwork. Paterson explained:
The works like Future Library really slow the pace down, to over a century. There is still constant movement within the artwork; inviting authors, the library room design, trust meetings, forest tending, yearly events, the writing, even the tree rings forming. Future Library will evolve and live over ‘long time’ and over ‘now’ simultaneously…I like the idea that time is substance, that can be manipulated and invented. I certainly see time as non-linear – reaches of time, webs, loops, networks, holes – and visualize time growing and existing like a cell or a wave, expanding and contracting. Future Library is marked out by yearly demarcations and these ‘chapters’ keep it fluid.
Future Library was conceived by Paterson, is commissioned and supported by the Bjørvika Utvikling urban development project, and produced by the Bristol-based arts producer Situations. A Future Library Trust has been established to help sustain Future Library for its 100-year duration. It consists of seven members, including the literary director of the Man Booker Prize. Its members will change decade by decade, and they are the ones to invite the 100 authors, whose names will be announced year by year. The authors are being selected for their “outstanding contributions to literature or poetry and for their work’s ability to capture the imagination of this and future generation.”
Photo by Giorgia Polizzi
This month, award-winning author Margaret Atwood was named as the first contributor to the Future Library. The author of novels such as Daughters of the North and Oryx and Crake (both of which will be included in Long Now’s own Manual for Civilization) is in many ways ideally suited for a collection like Future Library: much of Atwood’s work explores human lives and lived experience in a variety of possible futures. As Paterson explains,
[Atwood] is incredibly perceptive, continually writing about prescient subjects and her work speaks across generations, across time. She writes about time and catapults her readers to a future time and place, projecting unsettling, strange, dystopian worlds. Her work has so much to say about us alive now and futures we are building as a species.
Atwood has already started writing the tale that only she will read during her lifetime.
When asked about the content of her story in an interview with the Louisiana Channel, Atwood stated that wild horses could not drag it out of her:
I think it takes us to that period of childhood when we used to bury things in secret locations and hope that somebody would come and dig them up. Or that other period when we put messages in bottles and put them into the ocean. But essentially that’s what writing is anyway, so publishing a book is like a message in the bottle and throwing it in the ocean because you never know who will read it. And writing and publishing a book is also like time travel because the book is a vehicle for the voice, and it doesn’t turn into a voice again until somebody at the other end reads it. So in this case, the filament between the launching of the book and the turning of the book back into voice just happens to be longer than usual.
On a cosmic timescale, a span of 100 years is fleeting and insignificant. “However, in many ways the human timescale of 100 years is more confronting,” Paterson explains. “It is beyond many of our current life spans, but close enough to come face to face with it, to comprehend and relativize.”
What can help us confront and comprehend this short-yet-long timespan is, perhaps, a sense of hope and optimism. The Future Library project, for its part, tries to encourage these perspectives. In her reply letter to her Future Library invitation, Atwood wrote, “This project, at least, believes the human race will still be around in a hundred years!” Paterson expands upon Atwood’s statement in her own words:
In its essence, Future Library is hopeful – it believes there will be a forest, a book, and a reader in 100 years. The choices of this generation will shape the centuries to come, perhaps in an unprecedented way. Inside the forest time stands still. This place could have existed for one hundred, one thousand, one million, or even one hundred million years. I take comfort in the natural processes that have unfolded over such enormous expanses of time. Imagining the plethora of living beings that have evolved in its ecosystem. The earth itself has a predicted lifespan of another few billion years, and there are millions of other planets and galaxies. Life in this universe will continue to exist.
What captures your imagination about the future of libraries?
That’s the question asked by The Knight Foundation in an open call for innovative library projects. There have been 680 proposals from around the country, and only a few days remain to give feedback and “Applaud” your favorites. We think our Manual for Civilization project fits well with The Knight Foundation’s News Challenge funding goal:
We view libraries as key for improving Americans’ ability to know about and to be involved with what takes place around them. The library has been a vital part of our communities for centuries—as keepers of public knowledge, spaces for human connection, educators for the next generations of learners. While habits are changing, those needs have not. We want to discover projects that help carry the values of libraries into the future.
The Manual for Civilization is a crowd-curated library of the 3500 books most essential to sustain or rebuild civilization. Knight Foundation funds will help us complete our collection of books–including many rare, hard-to-find titles. It would also support live events to engage the community and online initiatives providing broader access to the project. Read more on the News Challenge website.
We have had an incredible response from people around the world donating to help us complete Long Now’s new home which is also a gathering place for our members and the public. Only a few hours left and we are getting ever closer.
If we make the goal we’ll throw a big party for our Charter Donors and the top donors will get a special tasting session with the Gin Possibility Machine that will be our Bespoke Gin Robot.
We hope you will consider a donation, or just spread the word to help us reach our participation goal of 1000 Charter Donors.
But just by the fact you are reading this blog means you’re showing an interest in long-term thinking. So thanks to you, because you are a part of realizing our mission to help everyone think more in the long now.
The Manual for Civilization is a crowd-curated collection of the 3500 books you would most want to sustain or rebuild civilization. It is also the library at The Interval, with about 1000 books on shelves floor-to-ceiling throughout the space. We are about a third of the way done with compiling the list and acquiring selected the titles.
We have a set of four categories to guide selections:
Cultural Canon: Great works of literature, nonfiction, poetry, philosophy, etc
Mechanics of Civilization: Technical knowledge, to build and understand things
Rigorous Science Fiction: Speculative stories about potential futures
Long-term Thinking, Futurism, and relevant history (Books on how to think about the future that may include surveys of the past)
Today we add selections from science fiction authors Bruce Sterling, David Brin, and Daniel Suarez. All three are known for using contemporary science and technology as a starting point from which to speculate on the future. And that type of practice is exactly why Science Fiction is one of our core categories.
David Brin is a scientist, futurist and author who has won science fiction’s highest honors including the Locus, Campbell, Nebula, and Hugo awards. His 01991 book Earth is filled with predictions for our technological future, many of which have already come true. He has served on numerous advisory committees for his scientific expertise.
Bruce Sterling‘s first novel was published in 01977. In 01985 he edited Mirrorshades the defining Cyberpunk anthology, and went on to win two Hugos and a Campbell award for his science fiction. His non-fiction writing including his long-running column for Wired are also influential. He spoke for Long Now in 02004.
Getting science fiction recommendations from great authors is an honor and a privilege. And we appreciation their support for The Interval, in helping to give it the best library possible, as well as of The Long Now Foundation as a whole. Books from all three of these authors will appear in the Manual for Civilization, as well as these selections that they’ve made of books that are important to them.
We hope that you will give us your list, too. If you’ve donated then you should have the link to submit books. And if you haven’t, then hurry up and give before October 1 at 5pm–your last chance to become a charter donor.
Artist/maker/hacker Dan Novy (Novysan) is an Emmy award-winning transmedia storyteller with a background in theater, a host of film and television credits, and a research/PHD-candidate position at the MIT Media Lab. Last fall he and his colleague Sophia Bruckner taught Science Fiction to Science Fabrication(aka “Pulp to Prototype”) at the Lab; their students read classic and contemporary science fiction and then built prototypes based on the worlds they’d read about.
The authors they read included J. G. Ballard, Arthur C. Clarke, Warren Ellis, Daniel Suarez and William Gibson. The point was that the fantastic future worlds of speculative fiction are often essential precursors to real world technology. Novy’s own work in Immersive Display technologies and Non-Invasive Narrative Neurostimulation has drawn inspiration directly from the works of Neal Stephenson and Ray Bradbury. He’ll tell us more about the class and share some thoughts about the Manual for Civilization as well.
The Interval at Long Now is Long Now’s new home which is now open seven-days-a-week. A cafe and museum by day and with a cocktail, beer, and wine menu after 5pm, The Interval features art designed by Brian Eno and artifacts from our 10,000-year Clock. Several Tuesday nights a month The Interval hosts salon events.
What information is essential to sustaining civilization? What books would you want to have if we had to start from scratch? What references would we need available to rebuild what we have today? Long Now is collecting 3,500 books based on those questions to form a Manual for Civilization. We’ve asked for suggestions from Long Now members, donors to The Interval at Long Now (where this library will be housed), and a diverse, distinguished group of experts who we’ve invited to help.
Today’s list of additions to the Manual for Civilization comes from a groundbreaking artist whose work suggests a post-apocalyptic future full of fiery marauding mechanical creatures. For 35+ years Mark Pauline has been building and destroying machines as founder and leader of Survival Research Laboratories (SRL).
Two decades before Robot Wars and BattleBots made DIY-built robo-gladiators a television spectacle, Mark Pauline and SRL were creating their own machines out of industrial detritus and staging underground events in San Francisco that were full of flying metal, shooting fire and lots and lots of noise.
Since 01978, SRL has produced more than 50 events around the world with a mission to “[re-direct] the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare.” Here’s what that looks like:
Thanks so much to Mark for taking the time to give us this great list. If the robo-uprising happens, now we’ll be ready.
Previously we’ve shared book lists from Neal Stephenson, Kevin Kelly, Maria Popova, and Brian Eno amongst others, and more suggestions are coming in from Long Now members and Interval donors. We are starting to acquire physical books for the shelves and are working with the Internet Archive to make digital versions of all these books available online. So whether you are visiting us at The Interval in San Francisco or on the other side of the world you can access the Manual for Civilization collection.
To add your recommendations for the Manual for Civilization and vote for which suggested titles should find a place on The Interval’s shelves, just make a donation to support the project. All donors, at any level, can suggest and vote on books. And your support will help give long-term thinkers an inspiring place to gather, full of amazing books.
This week The Interval “brickstarter” surpassed $400K in funding. That’s more than 80% of our fundraising goal. This covers the capital improvements and redesign of our space at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, including the build-out of a beautiful bar/café/event space for the public, offices for Long Now staff, and a world class audio-visual system for showcasing sound and visuals by Brian Eno.
One of the early inspirations for creating the Manual for Civilization was an email I received from Lewis Dartnell in London asking me for information on a book he was writing inspired by James Lovelock’s “Book for all Seasons”. The idea was a kind of reboot manual for humanity, and it coincided well with some other conversations we had been having at Long Now about making a collection of books that could do something similar.
Fast forward to 02014 and Lewis has finished his book “The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch” which comes out today, and he was kind enough to send us a copy for our Manual for Civilization library collection. Since this is a single volume you might be wondering how much practical knowledge a book like this could actually impart. This book gives the reader a basic strategy for rebooting civilization – not every detail. For instance if you wanted to get a certain technology up and running again, which method should you employ given what we now know about modern and historical methods? Dartnell goes over the basic principle for each fundamental technology, and then discusses best options for how to rebuild it with scavenged materials (always easier), or how you might do it from scratch. He starts with the most critical and fundamental, and then builds on each of these as the book progresses. So in a way the book kind of boot straps itself from chapter to chapter. The overall goal, it seems, is to make the “hole” referred to in the graph below smaller and recover faster than the one left after the fall of Rome. (yes I know there are lots of issues with that graph but it illustrates the point of a loss of technology in civilizations)
The Knowledge is not another survival guide for gun toting doomsday “preppers”, or those excited for the zombie apocalypse, but both crowds might get something out of it. It is also not a standalone book, Lewis has published his chapter by chapter further reading list and bibliography alongside it that contains the nitty gritty details for each of the technologies discussed. You should consider The Knowledge a primer and table of contents for that larger reading list. We are happy to have The Knowledge in our collection for this reason.
Dartnell has also been following The Manual for Civilization project and has submitted his own list of books for our collection, which we include below. He considers these to be the most useful from his bibliography. You can follow updates and new information around the book via @KnowledgeCiv on Twitter. Dartnell speaks at The Interval in March 02015
Best-selling author Neal Stephenson has added a couple dozen books to the Manual for Civilization. Long Now is assembling a corpus of 3,500 volumes that would help sustain or rebuild civilization. This collection will be featured at The Interval, our new public space, as a floor-to-ceiling library available to our visitors. The collection will comprise books suggested by Long Now members and charter donors to the Interval project. We’ve also invited a select group of eminent friends of Long Now, including archivists, artists, authors, educators, scientists and more, to submit lists of the books they believe are essential to Civilization.
For thirty years Neal Stephenson’s writing has been distinguished by how he weaves minutely detailed historical and technical information into his complex stories, usually with a wicked sense of humor. Whether it’s fashion in Victorian England or World War II era cryptography, his dedication to detailed research is readily apparent. The Baroque Cycle novels perhaps most exemplify this, as they focus on key people and events in the development of science across many cultures in the 17th and 18th centuries. We knew his recommendations would be invaluable for this project.
Many of the research sources for his novels can be found in his home library. And it was an honor and privilege that Neal walked me through his library and thoughtfully selected the list of books below for the Manual for Civilization. You can see from his selections that he believes understanding history is essential to creating the best possible future.
Many thanks to Neal Stephenson for taking the time and care to recommend these books for our collection. His list adds to suggestions from Kevin Kelly, Maria Popova, Violet Blue, Stewart Brand, Brian Eno and dozens of other Long Now members and supporters.
Check back for lists from Danny Hillis and Neil Gaiman, amongst others. And for details on The Interval’s May 02014 public opening, as well as pre-opening events for charter donors. Your gifts help us pay for construction, acquire the books for the Manual for Civilization, build the A/V system to present Brian Eno’s art, and everything else that will make The Interval a one-of-a-kind venue worthy of Long Now’s mission to inspire and extol long-term thinking. Thanks for considering a gift.
Long Now Member Maria Popova is the mastermind behind the popular cultural blog of ideas known as Brain Pickings. The blog was founded in 02006, where she has been reviewing books, writing multiple blog entries and tweeting 50 times a day, all while balancing on a wobble board. The lifelong bibliophile has also written for Wired UK, The New York Times, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow. And now, she has compiled her own reading list of 33 books to add to the collection of the 3,500 volumes most essential to sustain and rebuild civilization.
When we launched the Manual for Civilization project, it was a natural fit with Popova’s interests and expertise. She reviewed Brian Eno’s selections for the Manual for Civilization and contemplated Stewart Brand’s 76-book list, noting that only 1.5 of the books Brand suggested were authored by women. Here is an excerpt of her thoughtful reflections when creating her own list:
In grappling with the challenge, I faced a disquieting and inevitable realization: The predicament of diversity is like a Russian nesting doll — once we crack one layer, there’s always another, a fractal-like subdivision that begins at the infinite and approaches the infinitesimal, getting exponentially granular with each layer, but can never be fully finished. If we take, for instance, the “women problem” — to paraphrase Margaret Atwood — then what about Black women? Black queer women? Non-Western Black queer women? Non-English-speaking non-Western Black queer women? Non-English-speaking non-Western Black queer women of Jewish descent? And on and on. Due to that infinite fractal progression, no attempt to “solve” diversity — especially no thirty-item list — could ever hope to be complete. The same goes for other variables like genre or subject: For every aficionado of fiction, there’s one of drama, then 17th-century drama, then 17th-century Italian drama, and so on.
The Brooklyn-based editor will be speaking with author Caroline Paul at Hattery in San Francisco tomorrow, April 11, 02014. At the event titled “Brain Pickings: An Evening with Maria Popova,” (currently sold out) they will talk about “hunting and gathering on the internet, lessons on creativity, and musings such as the curious minds (and sleep habits) of famous writers past and present.”