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.
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:
Unlost San Francisco Life – a summary by Stewart Brand
“You are the soundtrack,” Prelinger reminded the 1,400 assembled at the Castro to revel in his eighth mustering of wondrous archival film of San Francisco.
(Long Now people and San Franciscans do love to party, we notice every December at the Castro with Rick. All the more reason to have high expectations for the Long Now Bar (ahem, Salon) under construction at Fort Mason. It will be a non-stop thoughtful party, perhaps lasting centuries, opening in 02014. You can hasten its opening with a contribution.)
Rick’s film this time featured the China Clipper taking off from the water next to the World’s Fair on Treasure Island; another float plane hopping along the water from Oakland to San Francisco as a ferry; the now outlawed traditional downtown blizzard of calendar pages drifting down from highrise offices celebrating the last day of work every December; the dirt roads of Telegraph Hill leading to Julius’ Castle; one of the 80,000 Victory Gardens in the city during World War 2; the bay filled with war ships (no one was supposed to photograph them); a tourist promotion film lauding San Francisco’s “invigorating sea mists”; a drive down historic middle Market Street, with the audience crying out a landmark, “There’s the Twitter Building!”
Brian Eno delivered the first SALT talk exactly ten years ago. He gave The Long Now Foundation its name, contributed in no end of artistic and financial ways, and designed the chimes for the 10,000-year Clock. Danny Hillis instigated and co-founded Long Now and designed its series of Clocks, culminating currently in the 500-foot one being built inside a west Texas mountain. In the course of their collaboration, Eno and Hillis became fast friends.
Thousands of years pass a decade at a time. The idea and works of Long Now have been active for two decades (1/500th of 10,000 years). Between the conception and initial delivery of a deep idea, much transpires. If the idea resonates with people, it gains a life of its own. Allies assemble, and shape things. Public engagement shapes things. Funding or its absence shapes things. Refinements of the idea emerge, branch off, and thrive or don’t. Initial questions metastasize into potent new questions.
Over time, the promotion of “long-term thinking” begins to acquire a bit of its own long term to conjure with. Eno and Hillis have spent 20 years thinking about long-term thinking and building art for it, with ever increasing fascination. What gets them about it?
Members of Long Now will be able to reserve one complimentary ticket for this special evening, and purchase one additional ticket for a guest.
We anticipate a great deal of interest in this Seminar; please understand that we may not be able to accommodate everyone who would like to attend. There will be audio and video produced of this Seminar; check our blog for media availability.
Members can also tune in to a live audio stream of the Seminar; if you are considering membership, now is a great time to join and support Long Now and our mission to foster long-term thinking.
We begin 02014 with some big news about online access to our Seminars About Long-term Thinking (SALT). Now for the first time on Longnow.org there is full, free public access to video of the twelve most recent Long Now Seminars. That’s a whole year’s worth, and as new Seminars are added we’ll keep the most recent dozen available. So you may want to watch the oldest ones first.
As we celebrate completing the first decade of our speaking series, we are thrilled to make these talks more available and easier to share. We hope that all of you who listen to Seminar audio podcasts each month will enjoy the ability to watch complete Seminars videos even more.
We’ve launched a redesigned experience for our Seminar pages which includes embeddable/sharable clips of most Seminars, new ways to search our archives or browse by subject, and access to the audio-only version right on the page. This update will help us reach an even wider audience and give everyone interested in Long Now more ways to explore and experience our decade of Seminars.
Long Now members have additional options just for them including HD versions of the videos and download access. Members have access to all Seminars videos, amongst many other benefits.
Our audio podcast remains free as always. Tens of thousands of people around the country and the world listen-in each month. We often hear from listeners who have heard the entire series and cherish the insight and information they’ve gained over the years. We hope the videos will add to everyone’s enjoyment of the series. Seminar recordings are amongst Long Now’s best forms of outreach, so making them more widely available helps us fulfill our mission to promote and encourage long-term thinking.
Long Now members will continue to have access to the complete ten years of Seminar videos, and exclusively have the option to view or download HD video versions of the talks. The support of our membership program, now more than 5,200 strong, enables us to provide this additional general public access to videos. Membership levels start at just $8/month and include many other benefits like tickets to see Seminars in-person and a real time online simulcast of most talks.
SALT speakers address diverse topics spanning the arts, science, policy, history, economics, and more–in all cases bringing a long-term mindset to the areas of their expertise. Seminar speakers have included MacArthur Fellows, Nobel Laureates, Medal of Freedom recipients, and celebrated individuals from academia, business, government, and beyond.
The SALT series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco at various venues for in-person audiences of up to 1,200 people. The series is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand.
Figuratively holding up one museum item after another, Kurin spun tales from them. (The Smithsonian has 137 million objects; he displayed just thirty or so.)
The Burgess Shale shows fossilized soft-tissue creatures (“very early North Americans”) from 500 million years ago. The Smithsonian’s Giant Magellan Telescope being built in Chile will, when it is completed in 2020, look farther into the universe, and thus farther into the past than any previous telescope—12.8 billion years.
Kurin showed two versions of a portrait of Pocahontas, one later than the other. “You’re always interrogating the objects,” he noted. In the early image Pocahontas looks dark and Indian; in the later one she looks white and English.
George Washington’s uniform is elegant and impressive. He designed it himself to give exactly that impression, so the British would know they were fighting equals.
Benjamin Franklin’s walking stick was given to him by the French, who adored his fur cap because it seemed to embody how Americans lived close to nature. The gold top of the stick depicted his fur cap as a “cap of liberty.” Kurin observed, “There you have the spirit of America coded in an object.”
In 1831 the first locomotive in America, the “John Bull,” was assembled from parts sent from England and took up service from New York to Philadelphia at 15 miles per hour. In 1981, the Smithsonian fired up the John Bull and ran it again along old Georgetown rails. It is viewed by 5 million visitors a year at the American History Museum on the Mall.
The Morse-Vail Telegraph from 1844 originally printed the Morse code messages on paper, but that was abandoned when operators realized they could decode the dots and dashes by ear. In the 1840s Secretary of the Smithsonian Joseph Henry collected weather data by telegraph from 600 “citizen scientists” to create: 1) the first weather maps, 2) the first storm warning system, 3) the first use of crowd-sourcing. The National Weather Service resulted.
Abraham Lincoln was 6 foot 4 inches. His stylish top hat made him a target on battlefields. It had a black band as a permanent sign of mourning for his son Willie, dead at 11. He wore the hat to Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. When you hold the hat, Kurin said, “you feel the man.”
In 1886 the Smithsonian’s taxidermist William Temple Hornaday brought one of the few remaining American bison back from Montana to a lawn by the Mall and began a breeding program that eventually grew into The National Zoo. His book, The Extermination of the American Bison, is “considered today the first important book of the American conservation movement.”
Dorothy’s magic slippers in The Wizard of Oz are silver in the book but were ruby in the movie (and at the museum) to show off the brand-new Technicolor. The Smithsonian chronicles the advance of technology and also employs it. The next Smithsonian building to open in Washington, near the White House, will feature digital-projection walls, so that every few minutes it is a museum of something else.