If you have a membership to Lowell Observatory (and if you don’t, I highly recommend that you join), then you will probably receive via email periodic “Lowell Observatory AstroAlerts” from Dr. Michael West, Deputy Director of Science at Lowell Observatory. He describes these alerts as “breaking news from the world of astronomy, odd bits of astronomical lore, and information about upcoming astronomical events.”
This week he sent an alert focused on the 10,000-year clock. You can learn more detail about the project here: longnow.org. There you’ll also find a thoughtful essay about the future by Michael Chabon.
In a recent lecture on C. S. Lewis I attended, an anecdote was shared that I’ll paraphrase here. Lewis had asked his students whether they had read Aristotle’s Ethics. Some raised their hands. He told the others that he envied them this opportunity to encounter the text for the first time.
That’s what it is like to be a nonscientist in this science town. What might be an interstellar commonplace in our community of astronomers, might be, for a nonscientist, an experience akin to seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time. There’s nothing quite like that horizontal gravitational pull of yearning to know, and know, and know more.
Yet, I’ve been down the road far enough to have an initial reaction of—“How much will this thing cost and who’s paying for it?”—followed by, “OK, no tax dollars. If a billionaire wants to fund the project, who am I to judge?”
But, back to the future, and to the clock. Dr. West aptly summarizes the essence of the project: “The goal of the project is to encourage people to engage in long-term thinking.”
Others have already done so.
“A hotel mini-bar allows you to see into the future and what a can of Pepsi will cost in 2020.”—Rich Hall
“I can’t imagine a world without me in it. I just can’t do it.”—Robert Schimmel
“People don’t realize that the future is just now, but later.”—Russell Brand.
“I was a peripheral visionary. I could see the future, but only way off to the side.”—Steven Wright
“There’s no future. There’s only the immediate future and the recent past.”—George Carlin
“I’m single. I often think about my future wife and how lax she has been in getting in touch with me.”—Ted Alexandro
“There are two kinds of people: those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.”—Unknown
“Those who predict, don’t have knowledge. Those who have knowledge, don’t predict.”--LaoTzu
“The future, according to some scientists, will be exactly like the past, just more expensive.”—John Sladek
“Why should I do anything for posterity? What has posterity ever done for me?”—Groucho Marx
“I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.”—Albert Einstein
There’s something hopeful, at least for this nonscientist, in realizing that, right now, people are engaged in building a 10,000-year clock.
Thanks, for the alert, Dr. West.