Blog Archive for the ‘Seminars’ Category

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The 10,000-Year Geneaology of Myths

Posted on Wednesday, February 8th, 02017 by Ahmed Kabil
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The “Shaft Scene” from the Paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux, France.

The “Shaft Scene” from the Paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux, France.

ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS SCENES in the Paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux, France depicts a confrontation between a man and a bison. The bison appears fixed in place, stabbed by a spear. The man has a bird’s head and is lying prone on the ground. Scholars have long puzzled over the pictograph’s meaning, as the narrative scene it depicts is one of the most complex yet discovered in Paleolithic art.

To understand what is going on in these scenes, some scholars have started to re-examine myths passed down through oral traditions, which some evidence suggest may be far older than previously thought. Myths still hold relevance today by allowing us to frame our actions at a civilizational level as part of a larger story, something that we hope to be able to accomplish with the idea of the “Long Now.”

Historian Julien d’Huy recently proposed an intriguing hypothesis[subscription required]: the cave painting of the man & bison could be telling the tale of the Cosmic Hunt, a myth that has surfaced with the same basic story structure in cultures across the world, from the Chukchi of Siberia to the Iroquois of the Northeastern United States. D’Huy uses comparative mythology combined with new computational modeling technologies to reconstruct a version of the myth that predates humans’ migration across the Bering Strait. If d’Huy is correct, the Lascaux painting would be one of the earliest depictions of the myth, dating back an estimated 20,000 years ago.

The Greek telling of the Cosmic Hunt is likely most familiar to today’s audiences. It recounts how the Gods transformed the chaste and beautiful Callisto into a bear, and later, into the constellation Ursa Major. D’Huy suggests that in the Lascaux painting, the bison isn’t fixed in place because it has been killed, as many experts have proposed, but because it is a constellation.

Comparative mythologists have spilled much ink over how myths like Cosmic Hunt can recur in civilizations separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years with many aspects of their stories intact. D’huy’s analysis is based off the work of anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, who posited that these myths are similar because they have a common origin. Levi-Strauss traced the evolution of myths by applying the same techniques that linguists used to trace the evolution of words. D’Huy provides new evidence for this approach by borrowing recently developed computational statistical tools from evolutionary biology.  The method, called phylogenetic analysis, constructs a family tree of a myth’s discrete elements, or “mythemes,” and its evolution over time:

Mythical stories are excellent targets for such analysis because, like biological species, they evolve gradually, with new parts of a core story added and others lost over time as it spreads from region to region.  […] Like genes, mythemes are heritable characteristics of “species” of stories, which pass from one generation to the next and change slowly.

A phylogenetic tree of the Cosmic Hunt shows its evolution over time

This new evidence suggests that the Cosmic Hunt has followed the migration of humans across the world. The Cosmic Hunt’s phylogenetic tree shows that the myth arrived in the Americas at different times over the course of several millennia:

One branch of the tree connects Greek and Algonquin versions of the myth. Another branch indicates passage through the Bering Strait, which then continued into Eskimo country and to the northeastern Americas, possibly in two different waves. Other branches suggest that some versions of the myth spread later than the others from Asia toward Africa and the Americas.

Myths may evolve gradually like biological species, but can also be subject to the same sudden bursts of evolutionary change, or punctuated equilibrium. Two structurally similar myths can diverge rapidly, d’Huy found, because of “migration bottlenecks, challenges from rival populations, or new environmental and cultural inputs.”

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman, in his talk “How Stories Last” at Long Now in 02015, imagined stories in similarly biological terms—as living things that evolve over time and across mediums. The ones that persist are the ones that outcompete other stories by changing:

Do stories grow? Pretty obviously — anybody who has ever heard a joke being passed on from one person to another knows that they can grow, they can change. Can stories reproduce? Well, yes. Not spontaneously, obviously — they tend to need people as vectors. We are the media in which they reproduce; we are their petri dishes… Stories grow, sometimes they shrink. And they reproduce — they inspire other stories. And, of course, if they do not change, stories die.

Throughout human history, myths functioned to transmit important cultural information from generation to generation about shared beliefs and knowledge. “They teach us how the world is put together,” said Gaiman, “and the rules of living in the world.” If the information isn’t clothed in a compelling narrative garb—a tale of unrequited love, say, or a cunning escape from powerful monsters— the story won’t last, and the shared knowledge dies along with it. The stories that last “come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and want them to propagate,” said Gaiman.

Sometimes, these stories serve as warnings to future generations about calamitous events. Along Australia’s south coast, a myth persists in an aboriginal community about an enraged ancestor called Ngurunderi who chased his wives on foot to what is today known as Kangaroo Island. In his anger, Ngurunderi made the sea levels rise and turned his wives into rocks.

Kangaroo Island, Australia

Linguist Nicholas Reid and geologist Patrick Nunn believe this myth refers to a shift in sea levels that occurred thousands of years ago. Through scientifically reconstructing prehistoric sea levels, Reid and Nunn dated the myth to 9,800 to 10,650 years ago, when a post-glacial event caused sea levels to rise 100 feet and submerged the land bridge to Kangaroo Island.

“It’s quite gobsmacking to think that a story could be told for 10,000 years,” Reid said. “It’s almost unimaginable that people would transmit stories about things like islands that are currently underwater accurately across 400 generations.”

Gaiman thinks that this process of transmitting stories is what fundamentally allows humanity to advance:

Without the mass of human knowledge accumulated over millennia to buoy us up, we are in big trouble; with it, we are warm, fed, we have popcorn, we are sitting in comfortable seats, and we are capable of arguing with each other about really stupid things on the internet.

Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows, in his talk “Civilization’s Infrastructure” at Long Now in 02015, said such stories remain essential today. In Fallows’ view, effective infrastructure is what enables civilizations to thrive. Some of America’s most ambitious infrastructure projects, such as the expansion of railroads across the continent, or landing on the moon, were spurred by stories like Manifest Destiny and the Space Race. Such myths inspired Americans to look past their own immediate financial interests and time horizons to commit to something beyond themselves. They fostered, in short, long-term thinking.

James Fallows, left, speaking with Stewart Brand at Long Now

For Fallows, the reason Americans haven’t taken on grand and necessary projects of infrastructural renewal in recent times is because they struggle to take the long view. In Fallows’ eyes, there’s a lot to be optimistic about, and a great story to be told:

The story is an America that is not in its final throes, but is going through the latest version in its reinvention in which all the things that are dire now can be, if not solved, addressed and buffered by individual talents across the country but also by the exceptional tools that the tech industry is creating. There’s a different story we can tell which includes the bad parts but also —as most of our political discussion does not—includes the promising things that are beginning too.

A view of the underground site of The Clock looking up at the spiral stairs currently being cut

When Danny Hillis proposed building a 10,000 year clock, he wanted to create a myth that stood the test of time. Writing in 01998, Long Now co-founder Stewart Brand noted the trend of short-term thinking taking hold in civilization, and proposed the myth of the Clock of the Long Now:

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed-some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where ‘long-term’ is measured at least in centuries. Long Now proposes both a mechanism and a myth.

Jennifer Pahlka Seminar Tickets

Posted on Wednesday, January 11th, 02017 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Jennifer Pahlka presents Fixing Government: Bottom Up and Outside In

Jennifer Pahlka presents “Fixing Government: Bottom Up and Outside In”

TICKETS

Wednesday February 1, 02017 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

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

 

About this Seminar:

Code for America was founded in 02009 by Jennifer Pahlka “to make government work better for the people and by the people in the 21st century.”  

The organization started a movement to modernize government for a digital age which has now spread from cities to counties to states, and now, most visibly, to the federal government, where Jennifer served at the White House as US Deputy Chief Technology Officer.  There she helped start the United States Digital Service, known as “Obama’s stealth startup.”

Now that thousands of people from “metaphysical Silicon Valley” are working for and with government, what have we learned?  Can government actually be fixed to serve citizens better—especially the neediest?  Why does change in government happen so slowly?

Before founding Code for America, Jennifer Pahlka co-created the Web 2.0 and Gov. 2.0 conferences, building on her prior experience organizing computer game developer conferences. She continues to serve as executive director of Code for America, which is based in San Francisco.

Steven Johnson Seminar Tickets

Posted on Monday, December 12th, 02016 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Steven Johnson presents Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

Steven Johnson presents “Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World”

TICKETS

Wednesday January 4, 02017 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

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

 

About this Seminar:

Steven Johnson is a writer and co-creator of the PBS series How We Got To Now. His latest project is the book and podcast Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World.

Lost Landscapes of San Francisco, 11 Seminar Tickets

Posted on Tuesday, November 15th, 02016 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Rick Prelinger presents Lost Landscapes of San Francisco, 11

Rick Prelinger presents “Lost Landscapes of San Francisco, 11″

TICKETS

Tuesday December 6th & Wednesday December 7, 02016 at 7:30pm Castro Theater

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $20

 

About this Seminar:

Our annual Lost Landscapes of San Francisco show with Rick Prelinger will run for 2 nights this year and a portion of the proceeds are going directly to support the Prelinger Library!

Members can reserve tickets on either Tuesday December 6 or Wednesday December 7, 02016; the show is at 7:30pm at the Castro Theater (doors are at 6:30pm) on both nights.

Tuesday 12/6/16: On Tuesday night, we’ll be having our Long Now Winter Party for members and their guests after the show on the Mezzanine of the Castro Theater, with wine, beer and holiday snacks. Please join us to celebrate another year of thought-provoking Seminars and other Long Now achievements!

Wednesday 12/7/16: The Wednesday showing will also feature a presentation on the Prelinger Library. On both evenings you can purchase $50 Prelinger Library Patron Tickets, which include reserved seating in the theater. 100% of proceeds from the sale of these tickets go directly to the library!

The eleventh year of Lost Landscapes of San Francisco, the annual archival film program that celebrates San Francisco’s past and looks towards its future.

This year’s program features new scenes of San Franciscans working, playing, marching and partying during the Great Depression; unseen footage of Seals Stadium and the Cow Palace in the late 1930s; the reconstruction of Market Street and Embarcadero Plaza in the 1970s; rare footage of southeastern San Francisco and the Hunters Point drydock; the 1975 Gay Freedom Day parade; a 1940s-era ode to our fog; many more newly discovered gems; and greatest hits from past programs.

As always, the audience makes the soundtrack at the glorious Castro Theatre! Come prepared to identify places, people and events; to ask questions; and to engage in spirited real-time repartee with fellow audience members.

Part of your Lost Landscapes ticket price this year benefits Prelinger Library, San Francisco’s famed experimental research library that supports artists, historians, community members, and researchers of all kinds. Your purchase of a Patron Ticket directly benefits the library.

Founded by Megan & Rick Prelinger in 02004, the Library contains over 60,000 books, periodicals, maps and ephemeral print items available for research and reuse. Prelinger Library is a community-supported resource open to the public, keeping regular hours in the South of Market neighborhood; details and hours at http://www.prelingerlibrary.org.

Douglas Coupland Seminar Tickets

Posted on Wednesday, October 19th, 02016 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Douglas Coupland presents The Extreme Present

Douglas Coupland presents “The Extreme Present”

TICKETS

Tuesday November 1, 02016 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

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

 

About this Seminar:

Douglas Coupland has done so much more than name a generation (“Generation X”—post-Boomer, pre-Millennial, from his novel of that name). He is a prolific writer (22 books, including nonfiction such as his biography of Marshall McLuhan) and a brilliant visual artist with installations at a variety of museums and public sites. His 1995 novel Microserfs nailed the contrast between corporate and startup cultures in software and Web design.

Coupland is fascinated by time. For Long Now he plans to deploy ideas and graphics “all dealing on some level with time and how we perceive it, how we used to perceive it, and where our perception of it may be going.” A time series about time.

Jonathan Rose Seminar Tickets

Posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 02016 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Jonathan Rose on The Well Tempered City

Jonathan Rose on “The Well Tempered City”

TICKETS

Tuesday September 20, 02016 at 7:30pm Herbst Theater

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

 

About this Seminar:

Cities and urban regions can make coherent sense, can metabolize efficiently, can use their very complexity to solve problems, and can become so resilient they “bounce forward” when stressed.

In this urbanizing century ever more of us live in cities (a majority now; 80% expected by 2100), and cities all over the world are learning from each other how pragmatic governance can work best. Jonathan Rose argues that the emerging best methods focus on deftly managing “cognition, cooperation, culture, calories, connectivity, commerce, control, complexity, and concentration.”

Unlike most urban theorists and scholars, Rose is a player. A third-generation Manhattan real estate developer, in 1989 he founded and heads the Jonathan Rose Company, which does world-wide city planning and investment along with its real estate projects–half of the work for nonprofit clients. He is the author of the new book, THE WELL-TEMPERED CITY: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life.

Kevin Kelly Seminar Media

Posted on Thursday, July 28th, 02016 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

The Next 30 Digital Years

Thursday July 14, 02016 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Kelly Seminar page.

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

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Digital is just getting started – a summary by Stewart Brand

In Kevin Kelly’s view, a dozen “inevitable” trends will drive the next 30 years of digital progress. Artificial smartnesses, for example, will be added to everything, all quite different from human intelligence and from each other. We will tap into them like we do into electricity to become cyber-centaurs — co-dependent humans and AIs. All of us will need to perpetually upgrade just to stay in the game.

Every possible display surface will become a display, and study its watchers. Everything we encounter, “if it cannot interact, it is broken.” Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) will become the next platform after smartphones, conveying a profound sense of experience (and shared experience), transforming education (“it burns different circuits in your brain”), and making us intimately trackable. “Everything that can be tracked will be tracked,” and people will go along with it because “vanity trumps privacy,” as already proved on Facebook. “Wherever attention flows, money will follow.”

Access replaces ownership for suppliers as well as consumers. Uber owns no cars; AirBnB owns no real estate. On-demand rules. Sharing rules. Unbundling rules. Makers multiply. “In thirty years the city will look like it does now. We will have rearranged the flows, not the atoms. We will have a different idea of what a city is, and who we are, and how we relate to other people.”

In the Q&A, Kelly was asked what worried him. “Cyberwar,” he said. “We have no rules. Is it okay to take out an adversary’s banking system? Disasters may have to occur before we get rules. We’re at the point that any other civilization in the galaxy would have a world government. I have no idea how to do that.”

Kelly concluded: “We are at the beginning of the beginning—the first hour of day one. There have never been more opportunities. The greatest products of the next 25 years have not been invented yet.”

“You are not late.”

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Seth Lloyd Seminar Tickets

Posted on Thursday, July 21st, 02016 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Seth Lloyd on Quantum Computer Reality

Seth Lloyd on “Quantum Computer Reality”

TICKETS

Tuesday August 9, 02016 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

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

 

About this Seminar:

Seth Lloyd is a professor at MIT whose areas of research include quantum information and quantum computing. He will discuss the current state of quantum computer progress, where it stands in life’s long process of comprehending and harnessing information in the universe, and what the prospects are for the field over the next few decades.

Brian Christian Seminar Media

Posted on Friday, July 1st, 02016 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Algorithms to Live By

Monday June 20, 02016 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Christian Seminar page.

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

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Solving hard decisions – a summary by Stewart Brand

Deciding when to stop your quest for the ideal apartment, or ideal spouse, depends entirely on how long you expect to be looking, says Brian Christian. The first one you check will be the best you’ve seen, but it’s unlikely to be the best you’ll ever see. So you keep looking and keep finding new bests, though ever less frequently, and you start to wonder if maybe you refused the very best you’ll ever find. And the search is wearing you down. When should you take the leap and look no further?

The answer from computer science is precise: 37% of the way through your search period. If you’re spending a month looking for an apartment, you should calibrate (and be sorely tempted) for 11 days, and then you should grab the next best-of-all you find. Likewise with the search for a mate. If you’re looking from, say, age 18 to 40, the time to shift from browsing and having fun to getting serious and proposing is at age 26.1. (However, if you’re getting lots of refusals, “propose early and often” from age 23.5. Or, if you can always go back to an earlier prospect, you could carry on exploring to age 34.4.)

This “Optimal Stopping” is one of twelve subjects examined in Christian’s (and co-author Tom Griffiths’) book, Algorithms to Live By. (The other subjects are: Explore/Exploit; Sorting; Caching; Scheduling; Bayes‘ Rule; Overfitting; Relaxation; Randomness; Networking; Game Theory; and Computational Kindness. An instance of Bayes’ Rule, called the Copernican Principle, lets you predict how long something of unknown lifespan will last into the future by assuming you’re looking at the middle of its duration—hence the USA, now 241 years old, might be expected to last through 2257.)

Christian went into detail on the Explore/Exploit problem. Optimism minimizes regret. You’ve found some restaurants you really like. How often should you exploit that knowledge for a guaranteed good meal, and how often should you optimistically take a chance and explore new places to eat? The answer, again, depends partly on the interval of time involved. When you’re new in town, explore like mad. If you’re about to leave a city, stick with the known favorites.

Infants with 80 years ahead are pure exploration— they try tasting everything. Old people, drawing on 70 years of experience, have every reason to pare the friends they want to spend time with down to a favored few. The joy of the young is discovering. The joy of the old is relishing.

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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.