Lera Boroditsky is a cognitive scientist at UC San Diego (and was previously at MIT and Stanford). She has been named one of 25 Visionaries changing the world by the Utne Reader; other honors include being named a Searle Scholar, a McDonnell scholar, and an NSF Career award. She is Editor in Chief of Frontiers in Cultural Psychology.
In How Language Shapes Thought Boroditsky presents fascinating insights into the relationship between languages and thought. Drawing directly from her own work and other contemporary research, the questions she addresses include: whether those who speak different languages think differently? Does learning a new language shape the way you think? Do multilingual individuals think differently when speaking different languages? Are some thoughts unthinkable without language?
From Stewart Brand’s summary of the talk (in full here):
Time is the most common noun in the English language said Boroditsky. (Followed by person, year, way, and day.) Time is often expressed as travel in space: “We’re coming up on Christmas.” But some languages put the future in front of us, and others put it behind us. For Aborigines that Boroditsky studied in north Australia, time and sequence gets blended into their profound orientation to the cardinal directions. They don’t use relative terms like “left” and “right,” but absolute compass terms (There’s an ant on your southwest leg), and they have extraordinary orientation skills.
She cites a wide range of languages and research from around the world in a scientific tour through cultures and cognition that includes a few experiments with the audience at the Seminar. This is a fun and accessible talk filled with 02000′s pop cultural references like Dick Cheney’s quail hunting mishap and “Freedom Fries”–Boroditsky even has some helpful tips on how to better annoy the French.
Where do the boldest innovations, with the deepest consequences for society, come from?
Business leaders, entrepreneurs, and libertarians claim that the private sector leads the way always, and government at best follows by decades and at worst impedes the process with bureaucratic regulations.
Mariana Mazzucato proves otherwise. Many of the most profound innovations—from the Internet and GPS to nanotech and biotech —had their origin in government programs developed specifically to explore innovations that might eventually attract private sector interest. Governments can take on multi-decade, slow-payoff, ambitious projects where most businesses cannot. The process works pretty well now. How can it work better?
Mazzucato is a professor of the Economics of Innovation at Sussex University and author of The Entrepreneurial State: debunking private vs. public sector myths.
Because the talk revolves around and discusses the specifics of what is still an on-going investigation, there will not be any recording of any kind–audio or visual, of this Seminar. Thank you for your understanding.
Unlooting the Iraq Museum – a summary by Stewart Brand
Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad had been closed to the public by Saddam Hussein for over two decades when his regime fell in April 02003. Iraqis felt no connection to the world renowned cultural treasures inside. Like every other government building, it was trashed and looted.
Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos, then in Basra leading a counter-terrorism group, volunteered part of his team to attempt recovery of the lost artifacts. He arrived at the museum with 14 people to protect its dozen buildings and 11 acres in a still-active battle zone. Invited by the museum director, they took up residence and analyzed the place as a crime scene.
Missing were some of civilization’s most historic archeological treasures. From 3200 BC, the Sacred Vase of Warka, the world’s oldest carved stone ritual vessel. From 2600 BC, the solid gold bull’s head from the Golden Harp of Ur. From 2250 BC, the copper Akkadian Bassetki Statue, the earliest known example of lost-wax casting. From 3100 BC, the limestone Mask of Warka, the first naturalistic depiction of a human face. From 800 BC, the Treasure of Nimrud— a fabulous hoard of hundreds of pieces of exquisite Assyrian gold jewelry and gems. Plus thousands of other artifacts and antiquities, including Uruk inscribed cylinder seals from 2500 BC.
Bidding on the international antiquities black market went to $25,000 for Uruk cylinder seals, $40 million for the Vase of Warka.
Since the goal was recovery, not prosecution, Bogdanos instituted a total amnesty for return of stolen artifacts—no questions asked, and also no payment, just a cordial cup of tea for thanks. Having learned from duty in Afghanistan to listen closely to the locals, Bogdanos and his team walked the streets, visited the mosques, played backgammon in the neighborhoods, and followed up on friendly tips (every one of which turned out to be genuine). 3,000 items had been taken from the museum by random looters. Local Iraqis returned 95% of them.
The prime pieces stolen by professional thieves took longer to track down. Raids on smuggler’s trucks and hiding places turned up more items. The Bassetki Statue was found hidden in a cesspool; the Mask of Warka had been buried in the ground. Some pieces began turning up all over the world and were seized when identified. (Bogdanos noted that Geneva, Switzerland, is where that kind of contraband often rests in warehouses that law enforcement is not allowed to search.)
It turned out Saddam himself had looted the museum of the Treasure of Nimrud and the gold bull’s head back in 01990. Tips led to a flooded underground vault in the bombed-out Central Bank of Iraq, and the priceless items were discovered.
Everything found was returned to the Iraq National Museum, where the great antiquities are gradually being restored to public display. Iraq, and the world, is retaking possession of its most ancient heritage.
Bogdanos quoted Sophocles: “Whoever neglects the arts… has lost the past and is dead to the future.”
(This talk was neither recorded nor filmed, because material presented in it is part of a still on-going investigation. You can get the full story from Bogdanos’ excellent book, Thieves of Baghdad.)
In his Long Now talk The Makers Revolution Anderson takes us step-by-step from the 19th century Industrial Revolution to present day. Desktop publishing, PostScript, factory automation, supply chain innovation, globalization, 3D Printing, Cloud Manufacturing, and the failings of the doll house furniture industry all feature along the way. He relates his own generational maker journey: as a child learning invention & making from his father and grandfather to now manufacturing at home with his kids.
From Stewart Brand’s summary of this Seminar (in full here):
Since 02006, Maker Faires, Hackerspaces, and TechShops (equipped with laser cutters, 3D printers, and CAD design software) have proliferated in the US and around the world. Anderson said he got chills when, with the free CAD program Autodesk 123D, he finished designing an object and moused up to click the button that used to say “Print.” This one said “Make.” A 3D printer commenced building his design.
Published on Friday, February 14th, 02014 by Andrew Warner
Since their inception in 02003, the Seminars About Long-term Thinking have featured over 100 speakers from a wide range of disciplines. Curated by Stewart Brand, each of these Seminars address some aspect of long-term thinking. From the ideas presented and discussed in the live event, he crafts a summary which captures and elucidates these ideas. A few days after a Seminar, this summary gets posted to the SALT list and blog, but we also collect these distillations in a book, “The SALT Summaries”. Every six months we update the Kindle eBook with the most recent Seminars, and we wanted to let our readers know how they can now update their Kindle book.
After you login to your Amazon account, go to the Manage Your Kindle page. On that page, you should see the cover of the book with an update option hovering above it. If you click update, the update should transfer to all of your devices. Thank you for supporting the Seminars About Long-term Thinking.
Published on Monday, February 10th, 02014 by Charlotte Hajer
Credit: Jerome Delay for Associated Press
When we think of the awful consequences of war, the deaths of the soldiers and civilians always remind us that futures have been destroyed – the young man who will never raise a family, or the one-year-old daughter who will never know her father. But war in the third millennium AD has brought us an entirely new and different horror – the destruction of an entire past. What [took] place in southern Iraq [after the American invasion] is nothing less than the eradication of the material record of the world’s first urban, literate civilization. (Gil Stein, Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past)
Scholars had had a premonition that the war in Iraq would bring looters to the National Museum in Baghdad, home to the world’s largest collection of ancient Mesopotamian artifacts; several Iraqi museums had been plundered during the Gulf War of the early 01990s. Nevertheless, they were powerless to stop it from happening again. In April 02003, mere days after American troops first entered Baghdad and most of the museum staff had sought safety at home, bands of looters forced entry into the galleries and took nearly 15,000 artifacts. US Marine Colonel Matthew Bogdanos had just arrived in Iraq when he heard the news. A career prosecutor with a deep personal interest in ancient civilizations, he headed straight for the capital to launch an investigation and large-scale recovery effort.
Growing up in lower Manhattan as the child of Greek immigrants, Bogdanos first became interested in the Classical world when his mother handed him a copy of Homer’s Iliad at the age of twelve. The military encouraged him to pursue this interest further: he obtained a Master’s in Classics, as well as a law degree, while training to become a Marine Corps officer. Indeed, Bogdanos feels that a military career and intellectual pursuits are natural extensions of one another. As he explained in a 02009 opinion piece for the Washington Post,
… British general Sir William Butler warned a century ago [that] “A nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards.” It was not always so. We praise classical Greece for philosophy, art and democracy. Yet Athenians knew Socrates, the father of philosophy, for his bravery on the battlefield and Xenophon, author of the epic “Anabasis,” for his generalship. Aeschylus, antiquity’s greatest tragedian, wrote his own epitaph: “This gravestone covers Aeschylus … The field of Marathon will speak of his bravery.” In our time, a steady aggrandizement of self at the expense of society has forced the warrior culture and its ideals to the margins as antique refinements, like knowing classical languages. Yet the most cherished ideal – arête, the classical Greek concept of honor – is anything but passe. Just as “Semper Fidelis” (always faithful) is not merely the Marine Corps motto but a way of life, so is honor a form of mental conditioning – a force-multiplier: Decide in advance to act honorably, and you know without hesitation what to do in a crisis.
Upon resigning from active duty in 01988, Bogdanos joined the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, where his sense of duty and tenacious investigative skills earned him the nickname “pit bull.” Pop culture will remember him best as the prosecutor who failed to convict Sean “P. Diddy” Combs for a 01999 club shooting.
After the Al Qaeda attack of September 11, 02001, Bogdanos was called back to active duty with the Marine Corps. After a brief tour in Afghanistan he was deployed to Iraq, where he was asked to investigate terrorist funding and banned weapons. He had just arrived in Basra when a question from an angry journalist alerted him to the looting at the National Museum in Baghdad. Realizing that its facilities housed a priceless and unique record of the world’s oldest civilization, Bogdanos felt duty-bound to take action. He recalls:
Here I was in Basra, I had the only law enforcement, counterterrorism team that the U.S. Government had in-country. This was a criminal investigation. And we also had enough firepower to at least secure the museum. So I simply decided this was our mission. I know sometimes I get painted as this maverick Marine colonel, but one of the things the Marine Corps instills in you is a seize-the-initiative mentality. It is a Marine Corps philosophy that it is better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. So, what I was not going to do was file a request in triplicate in order to go to the museum.
The plundering and destruction of artifacts had begun only days after troops first entered Baghdad. A few remaining members of the museum’s staff had done what they could to safeguard its holdings, but were unable to protect the premises on their own. The looters included professional thieves, but also others – local residents, even government officials and some museum staff, who knew where to find the most valuable objects. Forty artifacts were stolen from the public gallery; more than 13,000 were lifted from the building’s storage rooms and basement.
Scholars had anticipated the war’s destructive impact on the vast collections of ancient ruins and artifacts in Iraq – once the heart of Mesopotamian civilization. Many had spent the months leading up to the invasion in painstaking efforts to document whatever objects and remains they could, hoping to preserve at least a record of what had been there. This would prove helpful in Bogdanos’ mission to recover the looted artifacts. The public availability of records on these items made it difficult for looters to unload them through the antiquities trade – an illegal market that would not only help objects disappear, but also provide a significant source of funding for the insurgency in Iraq. Bogdanos collaborated with scholars at the Oriental Institute in Chicago to create an online catalog of all artifacts that had been taken from the National Museum. In the years since 02003, this database has facilitated the recovery of many artifacts. Many more, however, remain to be found.
… we’re talking about our history, our heritage, our cultural beginnings. … those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat its mistakes. The past is what we have. It’s what we bring with us into the future. I can’t imagine a more important undertaking. (PBS News Hour)
Colonel Matthew Bogdanos received a national humanities medal for his work and wrote a book about the effort. He will discuss the investigation and the continuing, global search for lost artifacts, at the SF JAZZ Center on February 24. You can reserve tickets, get directions, and sign up for the podcast on our Seminar page.
Make the next legal U-turn – a summary by Stewart Brand
“Bitching Betty,” they call the robotic voice of the car’s GPS guidance system. Eno and Hillis, on their road trips, always become so engrossed in conversation that they get lost—one time, driving to Monterey they wound up in Sacramento, 200 miles wrong. So they turn on GPS, and Betty joins the conversation with helpful advice about U-turns.
Hillis observed, “The GPS is very good at giving you instructions to get someplace. But Brian and I have no idea where we’re going; we just want some time together. What usually happens for us after a couple days of frustratingly looking at the tiny GPS map is that we stop and buy a big paper map. And the moment we open a map of Nevada or Arizona, it feels like we’re in a much bigger world. The big maps are not that useful to navigate by, but there’s a sense of relief of seeing the bigger context and all the possibilities of where we might go. That’s exactly what The Long Now Foundation is for.”
Culture is a long conversation, Eno proposed. “When I talk about the practice of art I often use the word “conversation” because I think that you never see a piece of art on its own. You look at a painting in relation to the whole conversation of paintings. Some things are completely meaningless outside of that kind of context. if you think about Kazimir Malevich’s “White on White” painting, it’s hardly a picture actually, but it’s an important picture in the history of painting up to that point.”
Hillis replied, “My plan for painting is to have my bones removed and replaced with titanium, and then I grind up my bones to make white pigment.” Eno: “That’s very old-fashioned.”
Hillis talked about the long-term stories we live by and how our expectations of the future shape the future, such as our hopes about space travel. Eno said that Mars is too difficult to live on, so what’s the point, and Hillis said, “That’s short-term thinking. There are three big game-changers going on: globalization, computers, and synthetic biology. (If I were a grad student now, I wouldn’t study computer science, I’d study synthetic biology.) I probably wouldn’t want to live on Mars in this body, but I could imagine adapting myself so I would want to live on Mars. To me it’s pretty inevitable that Earth is just our starting point.”
Eno remarked, “Sex, drugs, art, and religion—those are all activities in which you deliberately lose yourself. You stop being you and you let yourself become part of something else. You surrender control. I think surrendering is a great gift that human beings have. One of the experiences of art is relearning and rehearsing surrender properly. And one of the values perhaps of immersing yourself in very long periods of time is losing the sense of yourself as a single focus of the universe and seeing yourself as one small dot on this long line reaching out to the edges of time in each direction.”
Hillis described some elements of surrender designed in to the visitor experience of the 10,000-year Clock being built in the mountains of west Texas. “You’ll be away from your usual environment for days to travel to the remote site. Because of where it is on the mountain, you have to wake up before dawn, and there’s the physical exertion of climbing up the mountain. As you climb, there’s some points of confusion, where you’re not sure if you’re in the right place.
“For example, in the total darkness inside the mountain, as you go up the spiral stairs surrounding the Clock mechanism for hundreds of feet, you think you know where you’re going because there’s light at the top of the shaft that you’re climbing toward, but as you get up there, the stairs keep becoming narrower, and you see they’re tapering off to smaller than you could possibly walk on. And you realize, ‘My plan isn’t going to work.’
“You have to get away from the idea of direct progress and surrender that kind of control in order to find your way.”
Please note that because this talk revolves around and discusses the specifics of what is still an on-going investigation, there will not be any recording of any kind–audio or visual, nor a live stream for members.
Thank you for your understanding.
About this Seminar:
Destruction is easy. Recovery is hard. Destruction is big news. Recovery is the real news.
In April 02003 when Baghdad fell to US forces, the renowned Iraq Museum was looted of thousands of civilization’s most ancient and unique treasures, and the international press reacted with outrage. Marine Colonel Bogdanos, who had advanced degrees in Classical Studies and Law, rushed to Baghdad with a team of special-forces volunteers to recover the lost artifacts. Two years later he could write in the American Journal of Archaeology, “Working closely with Iraqis and using a complex methodology that includes community outreach, international cooperation, raids, seizures, and amnesty, the task force and others around the world have recovered more than 5,000 of the missing antiquities.“ (That was out of some 15,000 items stolen. The total of recovered antiquities is now over 10,000, with more still turning up.)
Matthew Bogdanos is a homicide prosecutor with the district attorney’s office in New York City and a middleweight boxer. He continues to serve in the US Marine Corps Reserve, where his nickname is “Pit Bull.”
For members unable to attend in person, you can learn more about the investigation through Colonel Matthew Bogdanos’ book, Thieves of Baghdad. The book will be for sale at the Seminar.
A diverse group of speakers helped us complete our first decade of Seminars. Archeologists, an archivist, an astronaut, a historian of technology, two Long Now Board members, the founder of the MIT Media Lab, a rocket engineer, a drone entrepreneur, a Nobel Laureate, the man who oversees more than a dozen US National museums, and an off the grid globetrotter. Between them they have authored over 40 books, and each presented a thought-provoking contemplation of the Long Now.
Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo began their archeological work on Easter Island in 2001 expecting to do no more than add details to the standard morality tale of the collapse of the island’s ecology and society—Polynesians discovered Rapa Nui around 400-800AD and soon overpopulated the place (30,000 people on an island the size of San Francisco); competing elites cut down the last trees to move hundreds of enormous statues; after excesses of “moai madness” the elites descend into warfare and cannibalism, and the ecology collapses; Europeans show up in 1722.
But Hunt and Lipo quickly noticed flaws in that narrative. The facts on the ground and the statues beside ancient roads led them to very different conclusions. Here’s a short clip from their talk:
You can watch the Seminar on our site to get the complete story of their groundbreaking research. This is the oldest of the 12 free Seminars, so it will stay on the site only until our first 02014 Seminar is up near the end of January. Watch it while you can!
In March George Dyson’s No Time Is There talk was a dense, enthralling tour of computing history tracing a path from 1941 and Julian Bigelow’s anti-aircraft predictive system (“Maxims of Ideal Prognosticators”) to the smartphone in your pocket. But the incredible human stories which intertwine the science are what make his talk and resultant book (“Turing’s Catherdral“) so much more than a timeline of innovations. For example, these insights into the women who worked on the earliest computer projects at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study (IAS):
Military technology and computer science developed symbiotically, and Dyson highlights IAS and the IAS machine, an early electronic computer used at Princeton on the Manhattan Project to help develop the atomic bomb. The cast of real life characters includes Alan Turing, John von Neumann, Kurt Gödel, and Julian Bigelow–some of the greatest scientific minds the world has known. His research included time spent in von Neumann’s personal library and interviews with others who were there.
Dyson also put in historical perspective the massive datasets, commonly termed “Big Data”, which are a common feature of today’s Cloud-y technological landscape: “Big Data is what happened when the cost of storing information became less than the cost of making the decision to throw it away.”
In April Nicholas Negroponte offered perspective on more recent technological progress in his Beyond Digital Seminar. Did you know that in the 1970′s they thought ‘touch was stupid’?
In August we welcomed Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 02002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his groundbreaking work in behavioral economics. Here’s an excerpt from his talk Thinking Fast and Slow:
This Seminar had an abbreviated Q&A due to a fire alarm going off at the venue. After Dr. Kahneman’s talk detailing his psychological research, some in the audience suspected at first that we were subjects in a live experiment on thinking in a crisis. But alas, no. It was a false alarm all around, though it did end the event prematurely. Watch the full video here.
There isn’t room to recap them all in detail, but we are so proud of the high quality and thoughtfulness of all of these Seminars. Many thanks to our speakers, and all of you who attended in person or enjoyed them online afterwards. You’ll find highlights of a few more 02013 Seminars below. What an incredible year.
Tuesday January 21, 02014 at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater, San Francisco
Brian Eno and Danny Hillis are long time friends and collaborators. Eno is an influential British musician, producer and artist known both for his work with some of the biggest names in rock as well as his identification and popularization of ambient music. Hillis is an American inventor, scientist, author, and engineer known for his work as one of the key inventors of parallel computing.
As the creator of some of the world’s fastest computers, Danny Hillis has helped “enforce” Moore’s law but also to question its effects. Faster and faster computers may help us with certain problems, but they can’t tell us which problems to focus on; instantly available information gives us new insight into the present, but can’t necessarily help us see where we’re going. In mulling over these problems, Hillis sought a way to encourage long-term thinking beyond the newest technological developments and earnings reports.
Danny Hillis first publicly proposed his idea for a clock that could last 10,000 years in 01995, in Wired Magazine. Describing some of the conversations he’d already had about the idea, he mentioned what had come from discussing it with Eno:
“Artist Brian Eno felt it should have a name, so he gave it one: The Clock of the Long Now.”
It was only a year later, in 01996, that Danny Hillis and Brian Eno, along with Stewart Brand and others, turned these conversations into action by forming The Long Now Foundation. In a few more years, Stewart Brand’s book The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility outlined the guiding philosophy that had been developed in those conversations. It includes an anecdote from Eno about how he came to coin the Clock’s (and the Foundation’s) name: Eno was astonished by the contrast between an acquaintance’s opulent loft and run-down neighborhood.
During dinner I asked the hostess, “Do you like living here?” “Oh sure,” she replied, “this is the loveliest place I’ve ever lived.”
I realized that the “here” she lived in stopped at her front door. This was a very strange thought to me. My “here” includes the neighborhood at least. After that, I noticed that young arty New Yorkers were just as local in their sense of “now.” “Now” meant “this week.” Everyone had just got there, and was just going somewhere else. No one had any investment in any kind of future except their own, conceived in the narrowest terms.
I wrote in my notebook that December, “More and more I find I want to be living in a Big Here and a Long Now.”
Eno recounted this story and expanded on his thoughts around “The Long Now” in the first of the monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking. He later appeared with SIM City creator Will Wright to discuss the fun and aesthetic potential of generative systems.
That love for generative systems influenced Eno’s involvement in the design of the Clock of the Long Now. He has guided the clock’s sonic component – its chimes. Bells and chimes, in fact, were central to an early form of generative music called change ringing. In that spirit, Eno collaborated with Danny Hillis to ensure that visitors to the Clock will have the opportunity to hear it chime 10 bells in a unique sequence each day at noon.
I wrote to Danny Hillis asking whether he could come up with an algorithm for the job. Yes, he wrote back, and in fact he could come up with an algorithm for generating all the possible algorithms for that job. Not having the storage space for a lot of extra algorithms in my studio, I decided to settle for just the one.
A physical prototype of this collaboration, The Chime Generator, lived in the now-closed Long Now Museum & Store and will be viewable again once the Museum re-opens as the Long Now Salon: