This Sunday, October 12, The Interval hosts a special event to celebrate the posthumous release of Leonardo’s Brain: Understanding Da Vinci’s Creative Genius by Leonard Shlain. Leonardo’s Brain looks at the life, art and mind of 15th century Florentine polymath Leonardo da Vinci. Shlain’s book considers Da Vinci as a glimpse into the future of what our species can become; it was completed shortly before Dr. Shlain’s death in 02009.
The event will feature readings by Leonard Shlain’s three children who were instrumental in bringing his final book to publication: Kimberly Brooks, artist and founding editor of the Arts and Science Section of the Huffington Post; Jordan Shlain, doctor and founder of Healthloop.com; and Tiffany Shlain, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, founder of The Webby Awards and director of the show “The Future Starts Here.”
Dr. Shlain’s books including “Leonardo’s Brain” will be on sale throughout the day
NOTE: this is Fleet Week in San Francisco, with an air show featuring the Blue Angels on Sunday (12:30-4pm) prior to our 5pm program. The Marina and Fort Mason are great places to watch the show, before or after coming by The Interval.
Praise for Leonardo’s Brain and the work of Leonard Shlain:
“By exploring Leonardo da Vinci’s brain through the lens of contemporary neuroscience, Leonard Shlain not only celebrates da Vinci’s legendary creativity, he shows how we can integrate and strengthen both sides of our minds and tap into the amazing possibilities within ourselves.” —Arianna Huffington
“Shlain’s ability to synthesize not only information but also genuine wisdom across multiple and disparate disciplines was extraordinary.” —Al Gore
“This book is a gift from the heavens where Leonard Shlain is today and another bright example of his force and spirit shining through the prism of the mind of Leonardo da Vinci.” —Norman Lear
Many suggest we have entered the Anthropocene – a new geologic epoch ushered in by humanity’s own transformations of Earth’s climate, erosion patterns, extinctions, atmosphere and rock record. In such circumstances, we are challenged to adopt new ways of living, thinking and understanding our relationships with our planetary environment. To do so, anthropologist Richard Irvine has argued, we must first “be open to deep time.” We must, as Stewart Brand has urged, inhabit a longer “now.”
So I wonder: could it be that nuclear waste repository projects – long approached by environmentalists and critical intellectuals with skepticism – are developing among the best tools for re-thinking humanity’s place within the deeper history of our environment? Could opening ourselves … to deep, geologic, planetary timescales inspire positive change in our ways of living on a damaged planet?
Anthropologist Vincent Ialenti conducted two years of fieldwork among a Finnish team of experts in the process of developing a long-term geological repository for high-level nuclear waste. In a triptych of posts on NPR’s 13.7 blog, he reflects on the state of mind that is prompted when you begin asking the kinds of questions that nuclear waste experts confront in their work.
Describing the way an awareness of deep time scales began to seep into his own thinking as he immersed himself in the world these nuclear waste experts inhabit, Ialenti suggests that this kind of ‘attunement’ to long-term geologic processes may broaden and deepen our experience of our world.
In fact, Ialenti writes, this consideration of the long term is crucial in this Anthropocene age. In light of the irreversible impact we humans make and have made on our planet, we must begin to think about how that impact will reverberate throughout the millennia to come. This does not entail turning a blind eye to the concerns of the present moment, Ialenti cautions. But
What it does mean, though, is that we must have the backbone to look these enormous spans of time in the eye. We must have the courage to accept our responsibility as our planet’s – and our descendants’ – caretakers, millennium in and millennium out, without cowering before the magnitude of our challenge.
Tuesday September 16, 02014 – San Francisco
Natural genomes are nearly impossible to figure out, Endy began, because they were evolved, not designed. Everything is context dependent, tangled, and often unique. So most biotech efforts become herculean. It cost $25 million to develop a way to biosynthesize the malaria drug artemisinin, for example. Yet the field has so much promise that most of what biotechnology can do hasn’t even been imagined yet.
How could the nearly-impossible be made easy? Could biology become programmable? Endy asked Lynn Conway, the legendary inventer of efficient chip design and manufacturing, how to proceed. She said, “Go meta.” If the recrafting of DNA is viewed from a meta perspective, the standard engineering cycle—Design, Build, Test, Design better, etc.—requires a framework of DNA Synthesis, using Standards, understood with Abstraction, leading to better Synthesis, etc.
“In 2003 at MIT,” Endy said, “we didn’t know how to teach it, but we thought that maybe working with students we could figure out how to learn it.” It would be learning-by-building. So began a student project to engineer a biological oscillator—a genetic blinker—which led next year to several teams creating new life forms, which led to the burgeoning iGEM phenomenon. Tom Knight came up with the idea of standard genetic parts, like Lego blocks, now called BioBricks. Randy Rettberg declared that cooperation had to be the essence of the work, both within teams (which would compete) and among all the participants to develop the vast collaborative enterprise that became the iGEM universe—students creating new BioBricks (now 10,000+) and meeting at the annual Jamboree in Boston (this year there are 2,500 competitors from 32 countries). “iGEM” stands for International Genetically Engineered Machine.
Playfulness helps, Endy said. Homo faber needs homo ludens—man-the-player makes a better man-the-maker. In 2009 ten teenagers with $25,000 in sixteen weeks developed the ability to create E. coli in a variety of colors. They called it E. chromi. What could you do with pigmented intestinal microbes? “The students were nerding out.” They talked to designers and came up with the idea of using colors in poop for diagnosis. By 2049, they proposed, there could be a “Scatalog” for color matching of various ailments such as colon cancer. “It would be more pleasant than colonoscopy.”
The rationale for BioBricks is that “standardization enables coordination of labor among parties and over time.” For the system to work well depends on total access to the tools. “I want free-to-use language for programming life,” said Endy. The stated goal of the iGEM revolutionaries is “to benefit all people and the planet.” After ten years there are now over 20,000 of them all over the world guiding the leading edges of biotechnology in that direction.
During the Q&A, Endy told a story from his graduate engineering seminar at Dartmouth. The students were excited that the famed engineer and scientist Arthur Kantrowitz was going to lead a session on sustainability. They were shocked when he told them, “‘Sustainability‘ is the most dangerous thing I’ve ever encountered. My job today is to explain two things to you. One, pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Two, optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
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On October 01, 02014 we successfully concluded our ‘brickstarter’ fundraiser for The Interval at Long Now. The money raised goes toward the construction costs of our newly renovated headquarters as well as funding a pair of robots that will soon be installed in the space. We reached our initial goal and even surpassed our stretch goal, ending up at over $590,000 after nearly two years of fundraising.
This project was a crowdfunding triumph. We were supported by a global community of Long Now members and fans. We’d like to thank everyone who made it possible: our donors, partners and staff.
We also want to thank our customers who have made The Interval’s first three months in business such a success. We hope they appreciate our commitment to excellence in serving fine coffee, cocktails and spirits in a unique, stimulating environment surrounded by artifacts of Long Now’s projects.
The Interval is now open to all from 10AM to midnight every day. This is only the beginning. What a beginning!
Tonight is your last chance to become an Interval Charter Donor
all donors by 9pm Pacific on 10/1/02014 will be listed on our Donor Wall
at The Interval in San Francisco. Please help us reach our goal!
Today culminates two years of raising funds to build and open The Interval at Long Now.
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.
Thanks so much to all of you who have donated to our ‘brickstarter’ so far
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:
Our list comes from suggestions by Interval donors, Long Now members, and some specially-invited guests with particular expertise. All the book lists we’ve published so far are shown here including lists from Brian Eno, Stewart Brand, Maria Popova, and Neal Stephenson. Interval donors will be the first to get the full list when it is complete.
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.
David Brin (photo by Cheryl Brigham)
David Brin’s list
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.
Bruce Sterling’s list
Daniel Suarez made a huge stir with his 02006 self-published debut novel Daemon . Its success led to him speaking in 02008 for Long Now’s Seminar series and to a deal with a major publisher. In 02014 he published his fourth novel Influx.
Daniel Suarez’s list
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.
Photo by Because We Can
In October 02013 NASA engineer Adam Steltzner spoke for Long Now about landing Curiosity on Mars. In Beyond Mars, Earth, Steltzner gives an insiders view of previous Mars missions leading up to his team’s incredible feat of landing the Curiosity rover safely on the planet’s surface. More broadly he ponders why humans have the need to explore and where we may go next.
Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is free for all to view. Beyond Mars, Earth is a recent SALT talk, free for public viewing until September 02014. Listen to SALT audio free on our Seminar pages and via podcast. Long Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD.
This month our Seminar About Long-term Thinking (SALT) ”flashbacks” highlight Space-themed talks, as we lead up to Ariel Waldman’s The Future of Human Space Flight at The Interval, September 30th, 02014.
“With this kind of exploration,“ Steltzner said, “we’re really asking questions about ourselves. How great is our reach? How grand are we? Exploration of this kind is not practical, but it is essential.” He quoted Theodore Roosevelt: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
After the epic subjects of his talk, Steltzner’s Q&A with Stewart Brand gets quite personal. A late-comer to science and engineering, one night he looked up at the stars, asked himself a question, and that lead him to a whole new life.
Adam Steltzner is an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who has worked on the the Galileo, Cassini, and Mars Pathfinder missions as well as the Shuttle-Mir Program. He was the lead engineer of Curiosity rover’s “Entry, Descent, and Landing“ phase.
The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. It is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.
Everyone can watch full video of the last 12 Long Now Seminars (including this Seminar video until late June 02014). Long Now members can watch the full ten years of Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.
“Scaling up will kill Burning Man.” “That new rule will kill Burning Man.” “The Bureau of Land Management will kill Burning Man.” “Selling tickets that way will kill Burning Man.” “Board infighting will kill Burning Man.” “Upscale turnkey camps will kill Burning Man.”
What if Burning Man is too fragile to be killed? What if celebrating ephemerality is the best guarantee of continuity? What if every year’s brand new suspension of disbelief has deep-down durability? What if conservatively radical principles and evolving rules are more robust over time than anything merely physical?
What really keeps the Man burning? If anyone knows, it should be the event’s primary founder, author of The Principles, and ongoing Chief Philosophical Officer, artist Larry Harvey.
In 02007, SALT speaker Alex Wright introduced us to Paul Otlet, the Belgian visionary who spent the first half of the twentieth century building a universal catalog of human knowledge, and who dreamed of creating a global information network that would allow anyone virtual access to this “Mundaneum.”
In June of this year, Wright released a new monograph that examines the impact of Otlet’s work and dreams within the larger history of humanity’s attempts to organize and archive its knowledge. In Cataloging The World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age, Wright traces the visionary’s legacy from its idealistic mission through the Mundaneum’s destruction by the Nazis, to the birth of the internet and the data-driven world of the 21st century.
Otlet’s work on his Mundaneum went beyond a simple wish to collect and catalog knowledge: it was driven by a deeply idealistic vision of a world brought into harmony through the free exchange of information.
An ardent “internationalist,” Otlet believed in the inevitable progress of humanity towards a peaceful new future, in which the free flow of information over a distributed network would render traditional institutions – like state governments – anachronistic. Instead, he envisioned a dawning age of social progress, scientific achievement, and collective spiritual enlightenment. At the center of it all would stand the Mundaneum, a bulwark and beacon of truth for the whole world. (Wright 02014)
Otlet imagined a system of interconnected “electric telescopes” with which people could easily access the Mundaneum’s catalog of information from the comfort of their homes – a ‘world wide web’ that would bring the globe together in shared reverence for the power of knowledge. But sadly, his vision was thwarted before it could reach its full potential. Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova writes,
At the peak of Otlet’s efforts to organize the world’s knowledge around a generosity of spirit, humanity’s greatest tragedy of ignorance and cruelty descended upon Europe. As the Nazis seized power, they launched a calculated campaign to thwart critical thought by banning and burning all books that didn’t agree with their ideology … and even paved the muddy streets of Eastern Europe with such books so the tanks would pass more efficiently.
Otlet’s dream of open access to knowledge obviously clashed with the Nazis’ effort to control the flow of information, and his Mundaneum was promptly shut down to make room for a gallery displaying Third Reich art. Nevertheless, Otlet’s vision survived, and in many ways inspired the birth of the internet.
While Otlet did not by any stretch of the imagination “invent” the Internet — working as he did in an age before digital computers, magnetic storage, or packet-switching networks — nonetheless his vision looks nothing short of prophetic. In Otlet’s day, microfilm may have qualified as the most advanced information storage technology, and the closest thing anyone had ever seen to a database was a drawer full of index cards. Yet despite these analog limitations, he envisioned a global network of interconnected institutions that would alter the flow of information around the world, and in the process lead to profound social, cultural, and political transformations. (Wright 02014)
Still, Wright argues, some characteristics of today’s internet fly in the face of Otlet’s ideals even as they celebrate them. The modern world wide web is predicated on an absolute individual freedom to consume and contribute information, resulting in an amorphous and decentralized network of information whose provenance can be difficult to trace. In many ways, this defies Otlet’s idealistic belief in a single repository of absolute and carefully verified truths, open access to which would lead the world to collective enlightenment. Wright wonders,
Would the Internet have turned out any differently had Paul Otlet’s vision come to fruition? Counterfactual history is a fool’s game, but it is perhaps worth considering a few possible lessons from the Mundaneum. First and foremost, Otlet acted not out of a desire to make money — something he never succeeded at doing — but out of sheer idealism. His was a quest for universal knowledge, world peace, and progress for humanity as a whole. The Mundaneum was to remain, as he said, “pure.” While many entrepreneurs vow to “change the world” in one way or another, the high-tech industry’s particular brand of utopianism almost always carries with it an underlying strain of free-market ideology: a preference for private enterprise over central planning and a distrust of large organizational structures. This faith in the power of “bottom-up” initiatives has long been a hallmark of Silicon Valley culture, and one that all but precludes the possibility of a large-scale knowledge network emanating from anywhere but the private sector.
Nevertheless, Wright sees in Otlet’s vision a useful ideal to keep striving for:
Otlet’s Mundaneum will never be. But it nonetheless offers us a kind of Platonic object, evoking the possibility of a technological future driven not by greed and vanity, but by a yearning for truth, a commitment to social change, and a belief in the possibility of spiritual liberation. Otlet’s vision for an international knowledge network—always far more expansive than a mere information retrieval tool—points toward a more purposeful vision of what the global network could yet become. And while history may judge Otlet a relic from another time, he also offers us an example of a man driven by a sense of noble purpose, who remained sure in his convictions and unbowed by failure, and whose deep insights about the structure of human knowledge allowed him to peer far into the future…
Wright summarizes Otlet’s legacy with a simple question: are we better off when we safeguard the absolute individual freedom to consume and distribute information as we see fit, or should we be making a more careful effort to curate the information we are surrounded by? It’s a question that we see emerging with growing urgency in contemporary debates about privacy, data sharing, and regulation of the internet – and our answer to it is likely to play an important role in shaping the future of our information networks.
The Interval brickstarter ends on October 1 at 5pm–that’s the last chance to become an Interval Charter Donor. We’ve set two ambitious stretch goals to reach before it ends: raising $550,000 in total (about $42K to go) and having 1000 total donors.
Thanks to hundreds of supporters around the world we have funded our ‘brickstarter’ for The Interval’s construction! This achievement was possible thanks to more than 700 long-term thinkers (and counting) who have donated over the last 2 years.
Our supporters gave from around the US and the world: Atlanta to Zurich; Australia to Croatia; New Hampshire to Hawaii! Thank you all for your generosity in helping build a one-of-a-kind venue, The Long Now Foundation’s new home: The Interval at Long Now.
The Interval is now open to all 10AM to Midnight every day at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. The names of our Charter Donors will soon be listed on our Donor Wall within The Interval as thanks for their support in making our new home a reality.
The money raised will help fund the Interval’s two robots by October 1st.
Let’s meet our Robots…
The Bespoke Gin Robot will be stationed behind the bar and wields an array of 15 botanicals including coriander seed, lemon peel, and apricot kernels. Each botanical is individually distilled by the amazing folks at St. George Spirits and the bot’s with components were made by Party Robotics.
Including the juniper spirit base, the Gin Robot can create custom gin to-order in 87,178,291,200 possible combinations. The Interval could serve up a different gin variation each day for the next 238 million years. It’s our hope that this cocktail possibility machine will be worthy of sitting next to Brian Eno’s Ambient Painting.
Top 10 donors in the stretch phase get invited to a special tasting with the Gin Robot.
Our Chalkboard Robot has been designed by artist Jürg Lehni. The chalkboard itself is now up at The Interval. It awaits the artist’s arrival from Switzerland to install the bot which will then write or draw by our command. Below you can see Viktor, out robot’s elder cousin, in action.
Everyone who donates by October 1 will be a charter donor. All of our great donor perks like Challenge Coins, Long Now flasks, and bottle keep bottles of exclusive St George Bourbon, Single Malt, or Bristlecone Gin are still available.
The stretch goal of $550,000–adding $55K to our brickstarter total–will help cover costs associated with building and installing the robots. We’ve set a participation stretch goal of 1000 Donors (less than 300 to go!).
The Interval is intended to be both a community hub and a funding source for the Foundation going forward. Your donations help to defray our construction and startup costs, so your generosity is incredibly important to getting this endeavor off on a flying start toward profitability.
If you haven’t donated, please consider a gift by October 1, to become a Charter Donor and enjoy first chance to buy tickets to Interval events and be listed on the Donor Wall. You’ll also be a part of starting up a unique venue that helps get important ideas about long-term thinking into the world.
If you have donated, thank you! We’d appreciate your help spreading the word before the October 1 deadline. And remember gifts (and employer matches) are cumulative–consider going up a level? We have only days left to reach our stretch goal and fund these wonderful additions to The Interval’s array of mechanical wonders.
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