Micah Saul: This project is built on a hypoth­e­sis. There are moments in his­to­ry when the sta­tus quo fails. Political sys­tems prove insuf­fi­cient, reli­gious ideas unsat­is­fac­to­ry, social struc­tures intol­er­a­ble. These are moments of crisis. 

Aengus Anderson: During some of these moments, great minds have entered into con­ver­sa­tion and torn apart inher­it­ed ideas, dethron­ing truths, com­bin­ing old thoughts, and cre­at­ing new ideas. They’ve shaped the norms of future generations.

Saul: Every era has its issues, but do ours war­rant The Conversation? If they do, is it happening?

Anderson: We’ll be explor­ing these sorts of ques­tions through con­ver­sa­tions with a cross-section of American thinkers, peo­ple who are cri­tiquing some aspect of nor­mal­i­ty and offer­ing an alter­na­tive vision of the future. People who might be hav­ing The Conversation.

Saul: Like a real con­ver­sa­tion, this project is going to be sub­jec­tive. It will fre­quent­ly change direc­tions, con­nect unex­pect­ed ideas, and wan­der between the tan­gi­ble and the abstract. It will leave us with far more ques­tions than answers because after all, nobody has a monop­oly on dream­ing about the future.

Anderson: I’m Aengus Anderson.

Saul: And I’m Micah Saul. And you’re lis­ten­ing to The Conversation.

Micah Saul: How’s it going?

Aengus Anderson: Not bad. This morn­ing I’m going to hop on the motor­cy­cle and zip over to the Fort Mason Center, drop by the Long Now Foundation office.

Saul: Excellent. This is anoth­er one that I’ve been excit­ed about.

Anderson: Yeah this’ll be Alexander Rose.

Saul: Cool. And he’s the direc­tor, and also the project man­ag­er on the Clock, correct?

Anderson: Yes. And do you want to tell peo­ple what the clock is?

Saul: Well, actu­al­ly let’s go back even a step fur­ther. So, the Long Now Foundation is a orga­ni­za­tion found­ed by Danny Hillis and some oth­ers. Danny Hillis is sort of a rock star in the com­put­er sci­ence world, one of the the ini­tial devel­op­ers of the con­cept of mas­sive par­al­lel com­put­ing. But any­way, their whole thing is that basi­cal­ly we, as human­i­ty, tend to think of now” in terms of this sec­ond, this minute, this hour, today. Maybe this year. And that real­ly sort of influ­ences how we treat our­selves, how we treat the world, how we treat the envi­ron­ment. And their whole thing is what hap­pens if we extend the con­cept of the now to be much longer? What if now is instead on the scale of a thou­sand years or ten thou­sand years, which is where The 10,000 Year Clock comes in.

Anderson: Yeah. And that that’s right up our alley, which is one of the rea­sons we want­ed to talk to them, because they are…in a dif­fer­ent way, they are real­ly con­cerned about the Conversation and the future.

Saul: Right. Exactly. We’re com­ing at it from dif­fer­ent direc­tions, but I think our end goals are very similar.

Anderson: And I think one of the things that I’m real­ly curi­ous to find out in the con­ver­sa­tion today is if they think the par­tic­u­lar moment we’re in now is cru­cial. If this is a spe­cial moment.

Saul: Yeah. It’s a good point. I won­der if he’ll agree that it is cru­cial, or actu­al­ly I won­der if he’s going to say some­thing along the lines that every moment is cru­cial to be think­ing about the future.

Anderson: Right, very much the way Andrew Keen said.

Saul: Exactly. I also…you know, we we talked about this a lot. I’m wondering…for some­one whose job it is to be talk­ing about the future at all times, I’m real­ly inter­est­ed to hear what he has to say about whether or not he’s an opti­mist or a pessimist.

Anderson: Yes. I’m also curi­ous to know—because he’s spent so much time dis­cussing the future and think­ing about the future—if he has spe­cif­ic ideas about how he wants it to look. 

Saul: Yes.

Anderson: Or if he’s more inter­est­ed in the idea of peo­ple talk­ing about it.

Saul: Right. Is he try­ing to lead the con­ver­sa­tion or is he try­ing to just make sure it’s happening?

Anderson: And there are val­ue assump­tions under­neath try­ing to make it hap­pen, which are dif­fer­ent from some of the oth­er peo­ple we’ve pur­sued. So I’ll be curi­ous to know why he thinks it’s impor­tant to half the Conversation.

Saul: Yeah. Absolutely.

Anderson: Great.

Saul: Well, cool. Sound good. I’m look­ing for­ward to hear­ing what happens.

Anderson: Alright. Well, I will recap in the evening and we’ll lis­ten to this stuff, and we’re record the out­ro as always.

Saul: Sounds good.

Anderson: And maybe we’ll have real­ly wit­ty things to say then.

Saul: Uh…I would­n’t count on it.

Alexander Rose: I grew up in a junk yard, actu­al­ly, in Sausalito, which is not far from here. So I grew up build­ing stuff all the time. And when I went to go into for­mal edu­ca­tion, I want­ed some ver­sion of that. Industrial design seemed to be the best one, so I went to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. And I’d known Stewart Brand, who is one of the founders of the Long Now Foundation from grow­ing up. He also lives in the Sausolito water­front. He told me about this project of build­ing a 10,000-year clock. It kind of flipped a bit for me in that…you know, I’d grown up at the tail end of the Cold War where there real­ly was no future. Our future was nuclear Armageddon. And the moment I real­ized we did have a future and that you even major cat­a­stro­phes prob­a­bly won’t take every­body out, and there is some ver­sion of our future that could last into the thou­sands of years, if not much fur­ther. And if that’s the case what do we…you know, we aren’t real­ly act­ing that way. So the idea of work­ing on a project that has that lev­el of hope it it was real­ly attrac­tive to me. Then we increas­ing­ly found our­selves the only group in the space of long-term think­ing, so oth­er projects grew out of that.

Anderson: Can you tell me a lit­tle bit about the big project itself?

Rose: The Clock project start­ed with a pro­to­type that we fin­ished in 1999. That pro­to­type end­ed up in the Science Museum in London, and we learned a lot from it. And as we’ve been work­ing on pro­to­types towards an even­tu­al monument-scale ver­sion that’s being built in the desert in West Texas, under­ground, the things that we learned the most about are the ideas of expe­ri­ence design.

And if the point of mak­ing a 10,000-year clock is to get peo­ple to think longer term, how do you design that expe­ri­ence so that it real­ly does that? And one of the things that we we real­ized is that peo­ple real­ly need to be able to inter­act with it. That they need to be able to make the moment they vis­it it their own. So while the clock does keep time all by itself with the tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ence from day to night, it does­n’t actu­al­ly update any of the dials, none of the chimes chime, unless some­one’s there to wind it. And so it’s when you arrive it shows you the time of the last peo­ple who were there. So it’s wrong, but you get this oth­er bit of infor­ma­tion of how long it’s been since some­body else was there. And then you wind it, and it stops when it reach­es now. The clock always knows where now is and it stops, and then you also get the chimes and things like that, all the kind of human inter­face parts are pow­ered by the peo­ple that vis­it it.

Anderson: Okay. And give me a sense of the scale for which this clock is designed to last.

Rose: Our design hori­zon is ten thou­sand years. It’s not like ten thou­sand years then it stops. It’s kind of always ten thou­sand years. So the idea is that with basic main­te­nance and not very high tech­nol­o­gy, you could keep the Clock run­ning for the next ten thou­sand years, when­ev­er you hap­pen to encounter the Clock.

The oth­er things that we do in the design is make sure that you can main­tain things with­out hav­ing to take the entire clock apart. So you want to be able to replace a bear­ing or some­thing like that very eas­i­ly with­out hav­ing to pull the whole thing out from under­ground, and things like that.

Anderson: Just to to give lis­ten­ers a sense, what will this look like?

Rose: The Clock that we’re build­ing in Texas is stretched out over almost five hun­dred ver­ti­cal feet of under­ground space. So we’re cur­rent­ly exca­vat­ing that space and we’re cur­rent­ly build­ing the clock mech­a­nism that’s going to go in it. So, it’s kind of hard in a sense to give a post­card image of it because it’s actu­al­ly stretched out over a lot of under­ground space and you’ll nev­er see all of it at once, because you’ll be mov­ing through this under­ground space. 

The way it’s designed is that you start by walk­ing by the parts that are not mov­ing, the parts that only move when you wind them. And then you do some wind­ing, and you arrive at the dials that show you all the astro­nom­i­cal cycles as well as cal­en­dric cycles that the Clock tracks. And then you get to see what time it is, in a sense, down to basi­cal­ly the day and date as well as the plan­ets and stars and things like that.

Anderson: So you actu­al­ly move through the clock.

Rose: Yeah. The idea of build­ing at this scale is that it is archi­tec­tur­al in scale and that you actu­al­ly get to move through the mech­a­nism itself. That was the oth­er thing we learned that when we built our first pro­to­type, that was about eight feet tall. You need a cer­tain amount of scale to real­ly cap­ture peo­ple’s atten­tion and to change the con­ver­sa­tion, and ulti­mate­ly that’s real­ly what this is, kind of a device to change the con­ver­sa­tion about time and respon­si­bil­i­ty towards the future.

Anderson: And that’s the per­fect per­fect jumping-off point to the next ques­tion I had. What sort of think­ing sparked the idea of the Clock, in terms of what is it respond­ing to?

Rose: The idea of the Clock came from a com­put­er sci­en­tist named Danny Hillis. He had spent his whole life build­ing some of the fastest super­com­put­ers in the world. And the more he built faster and faster machines, the more he real­ized peo­ple were not pay­ing atten­tion to the longer-term cycles, and that there’s many prob­lems in the world, whether they be edu­ca­tion or envi­ron­ment, cli­mate change, that are clear­ly only going to be solved if you look at them on a gen­er­a­tional scale. They’re not gonna be solved in a four-year elec­tion hori­zon. So there­fore, soci­ety was writ­ing those prob­lems off, because you just did­n’t have the time to engage them.

But if you looked at them and said oh well, we need to solve the edu­ca­tion sys­tem and fix that in the next fifty years, what would we do? That’s kind of a whole dif­fer­ent way of look­ing at some of our larg­er soci­etal issues, and it changes them from intractable to tractable.

Anderson: How do you hope peo­ple react to the actu­al expe­ri­ence of see­ing the Clock? What would be an exam­ple of the sort of feel­ings you would hope to evoke?

Rose: The best suc­cess of the Clock is real­ly just the phys­i­cal­i­ty of doing it. It engages peo­ple in a very dif­fer­ent way than as a thought exer­cise. For instance, ear­ly on in the project when we were just fin­ish­ing up parts of the first pro­to­type, I gave a tour to a bunch of the heads of dif­fer­ent tech­nol­o­gy offices and IBM. And this one guy from India looked at and he said, Well you know, in three thou­sand years they’re going to be sac­ri­fic­ing vir­gins on this thing, and blood­’s going to go down into it and gum it all up, and it’s nev­er going to work.” I was like, well that may be, but before you walked in here you weren’t think­ing three thou­sand years ahead, so it’s already worked. And so you know, it’s as much about the skep­ti­cism as it is about the hope. But once you decide to think on those kind of time scales, it’s already achieved its goal. 

One of the prin­ci­ples that we have learned over the years is that you want to make choic­es now that increase choic­es in the future as opposed to decrease them. So for instance, if you log in old-growth red­wood for­est that can’t be replaced in a thou­sand years, you have now tak­en those away from a future gen­er­a­tion. So it’s kind of a very sim­ple rule that if you’re clos­ing off options for the future, you’re prob­a­bly not doing it right. If you’re open­ing up options for the future, you prob­a­bly are.

Anderson: Is this try­ing to encour­age some­thing that we’re not actu­al­ly very good at, biologically?

Rose: Yes. I mean, I think that there’s a lot of rea­sons why peo­ple are not nec­es­sar­i­ly hard-wired for very long-term thought. Obviously if you’re con­cerned with day-to-day nutri­tion and hav­ing a roof over your head, you can’t think on very long-term timescales. And that’s obvi­ous­ly where we get our pro­gram­ming from.

So yeah, we’re were after some­thing that requires a bit of a stretch, I think, for most peo­ple and even for the species. I think that we’re in a rea­son­able place as a soci­ety to actu­al­ly start think­ing about these things, espe­cial­ly since we’re actu­al­ly affect­ing the world on these scales now, too. Not only do we have small­er soci­etal based issues, ones that I men­tioned like say a prison sys­tem that’s not work­ing, or an edu­ca­tion sys­tem that’s not work­ing, we now have in a multi-thousand year cycles that we’re up against in terms of the cli­mate. And one of the few threats to human­i­ty that prob­a­bly does exist is a mete­or impact, and that’s that’s exact­ly on this scale. You know, ten thou­sand years it’s very like­ly that a very large mete­or will impact the plan­et and might be on the scale of an extinction-level event.

And I would think that we now have the capa­bil­i­ty to work as a species to pre­vent such a thing. We know that it exists and it’s the first time that we have that. So these are the kind of things that I think we are able to do now that we were nev­er able to do before. And it’s kind of our duty to think about them differently.

Anderson: Do you think that this actu­al­ly is a unique moment?

Rose: Well, I think all moments are unique. And I think that we are on the upswing of a lot of curves. I think it how­ev­er also bears remind­ing that many peo­ple have felt this way in many points in his­to­ry. Will Wright, the game design­er, told a great sto­ry that he had read where a per­son saw a anoth­er per­son in a café with his hand­held device in their hands, and that per­son was com­plete­ly absorbed into this hand­held device. And the device he was talk­ing about was the book. 

So I think a lot of these things that we think are unique or not that unique. But clear­ly our lev­els of pop­u­la­tion and our lev­els of aware­ness of every­thing around the world is unique. But even things like pop­u­la­tion are com­ing towards a peak that’s going to start descend­ing, too. And if you want to talk about a very unique time in his­to­ry, it will be when the pop­u­la­tion starts going down. Short of the Black Plague and a few very quick blips in major world wars, we’ve nev­er seen some­thing on the scale of a multi-decade pop­u­la­tion decline, and all of eco­nom­ics and the engines of how we oper­ate in the world are assum­ing more and more peo­ple all the time. And, like­ly with­in the next forty to fifty years if not soon­er, we’re going to start to decline pop­u­la­tion, and the only pop­u­la­tion cen­ters that will be inclin­ing will be in the Global South, for the most part, which will be very dif­fer­ent than the indus­tri­al­ized world ver­sion of pop­u­la­tion increase.

So, I do think that this is unique, and I think it is a cru­cial time to be talk­ing about these issues, but I’m not sure that it’s unique in the ways that many peo­ple assume. 

Anderson: Part of the unique­ness that I won­der about is the abil­i­ty to change the envi­ron­ment in unknown ways, or the abil­i­ty to build a soci­ety that does ulti­mate­ly have a sup­ply chain that goes down to a cou­ple essen­tial resources. And so that’s where I won­der if there’s a unique vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty where talk­ing about the future becomes more impor­tant now in a way that maybe you can’t get away with a short-term conversation.

Rose: Well, I mean it was just at the end of the 60s that it was assumed that we were not going to have enough food to sus­tain a pop­u­la­tion any­where close to the one we have now. And Lomborg cre­at­ed the wheat that he cre­at­ed, and all of a sud­den the car­ry­ing capac­i­ty of the Earth fell right in sync with the population. 

So there’s a lot of peo­ple who like to think that there’s always going to be a tech­no­log­i­cal fix for a thing. We obvi­ous­ly have seen civ­i­liza­tions where that was not the case. There was some mas­sive die-off and decrease of the Maya. There’s clear­ly times where peo­ple did not inno­vate their way out of their niche that they had cre­at­ed. And now, as a whole globe, the ques­tion is does that still hold true or is our inno­va­tion at a lev­el that is resilient enough that we would solve these prob­lems on the fly, even even look­ing at a very short term cycle?

It’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion, if that’s the case. I think that the the nice thing about being this glob­al and this inter­con­nect­ed is that peo­ple can work on ideas that could solve prob­lems in a much bet­ter way than they could. I think we have a lot more resilience in that case. I think we’re more flex­i­ble than peo­ple give cred­it for. So, I think if any­thing we’re more resilient because of our inter­con­nect­ed­ness. And so I think we’re in a bet­ter posi­tion than we ever have been before in his­to­ry because of that.

Anderson: If we’re more resilient, then does talk­ing about the future become less important?

Rose: That’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion. I mean I guess it just depends on the lev­els of suc­cess that you want, right? So if you…let’s say there is mas­sive cli­mate change and we are only think­ing short-term and we’re not able to cor­rect the mas­sive cli­mate change prob­lem, and sea lev­els rise twen­ty feet, tak­ing out most of…basically all the cities in the world that are built near water, and changes the agri­cul­tur­al car­ry­ing capac­i­ty of the world. So if car­ry­ing capac­i­ty were to drop sig­nif­i­cant­ly because of some­thing like that, it does­n’t mean that we weren’t resilient and we did­n’t sur­vive. But it does mean that it was a pret­ty rough tran­si­tion from nine bil­lion to four bil­lion in ten or twen­ty years. That does­n’t mean you want to live through that time.

Anderson: Right. 

Rose: So, it’s a ques­tion of qual­i­ty of liv­ing, how painful you want it to be. Not whether or not we will sur­vive but how we will survive.

Anderson: And that gets to an inter­est­ing ques­tion of, if we assume resilience but also assume that there are some sce­nar­ios that are bet­ter than oth­er ones, how do we bro­ker a con­ver­sa­tion about the future that also engages the idea of what’s good, when we have so many dif­fer­ent ideas about what peo­ple want in the future?

Rose: It’s a very inter­est­ing ques­tion as to what is a good future. And obvi­ous­ly parts of the strug­gles going on all over the world are part of that con­ver­sa­tion about what that future is. And I’m sure if you asked the Taliban what they think the future should be, or Venezuela, or our own gov­ern­ment, you would get very very dif­fer­ent answers as to what that future should be. And I think the first thing that you need is to have the con­ver­sa­tion about the future, which I think is large­ly void from seri­ous, cer­tain­ly polit­i­cal, dis­course, where every­one’s just kind of kick­ing the can fif­teen min­utes down the road at best at this point, instead of real­ly look­ing at large problems. 

So how you bro­ker that con­ver­sa­tion I think is a very inter­est­ing ques­tion. I think we are start­ing to see pop­u­lar cul­ture grab hold of some of these things. I’m encour­aged by every­thing from TED Talks’ pop­u­lar­i­ty to to see­ing things like the World Economic Forum kind of turn them­selves inside out as a slight­ly more pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion. So we’ll see. I think those are encour­ag­ing notes, but I’m not sure if they’re every­thing that’s required.

Anderson: This is sort of a ques­tion of how we think about his­to­ry and agency. Is the Conversation some­thing that actu­al­ly mat­ters? When I explain the project to peo­ple, I can point out all these dif­fer­ent moments in his­to­ry that seem like the Conversation me, where in ret­ro­spect we can iden­ti­fy all of these peo­ple and their strands of thought. There’s a big shift in the way peo­ple think. How much does human agency and con­ver­sa­tion mat­ter in those shifts, and how much is just sort of ran­dom move­ment of social forces or envi­ron­men­tal determinism…?

Rose: That’s a very good ques­tion. And I think the argu­ment can often be made that while the con­ver­sa­tion shift­ed at a cer­tain crit­i­cal time, it could also be that if you give it anoth­er year, all those things would have hap­pened anyway.

But I do think that you can often tie very large effects down to very key moments. One that stuck in my head recent­ly was some­one who had been a part of the orig­i­nal UN char­ter, and they were they were try­ing to get it final­ized before a dead­line for it to be announced. And it was get­ting held up because the French del­e­gates required every word of the con­ver­sa­tion to be trans­lat­ed. And then they would respond, and that would be trans­lat­ed back, and they would­n’t work it in English. And at some point dur­ing the night, some­one sab­o­taged the trans­la­tion sys­tem, the whole audio sys­tem in the room, and every­one had to come togeth­er in the room at like four in the morn­ing face to face and it all just got fixed in that few hours because the sys­tem broke.

So it’s hard to say, would that nev­er have hap­pened? Would it just have tak­en a lit­tle bit longer? I don’t know.

Anderson: What do you think the most crit­i­cal issue of our era is?

Rose: I’m deep into this world of try­ing to encour­age peo­ple to think longer term. And if you look at a com­mon denom­i­na­tor of many of the prob­lems fac­ing soci­ety or even civ­i­liza­tion, they are a lack of abil­i­ty to take the long-term seri­ous­ly. A recent exam­ple in Japan, where they had what was con­sid­ered an about a once in every few centuries-level tsuna­mi that was cre­at­ed by a once in lit­er­al­ly ten thousand-year earth­quake. There’s now sev­er­al sto­ries of towns that were either saved or ignored to their per­il these mark­ers. There were these mark­ers from four hun­dred years ago that were put up on the hill­side that said things like, High places are the sav­ior of our towns. Do not build below this line.” It was four hun­dred year old mark­er and every­thing above that was saved, and every­thing below it was destroyed. 

And there was anoth­er town that had a sim­i­lar tem­ple that was built in a place where the waters con­verged from a large tsuna­mi sev­er­al hun­dred years in the past where every­one ran think­ing they were get­ting to high ground and were killed. Two chan­nels of water went around the hills and came to this point and took out all these peo­ple. So they built the tem­ple there and they told the sto­ry through­out the gen­er­a­tions that this is where you don’t go even though it real­ly seems like the place you should go. And it worked. And hun­dreds of years lat­er peo­ple ran to the right place.

We’re often see­ing these mark­ers, whether or not we are see­ing these mark­ers. So whether it’s the polar ice melt­ing away at a rate faster than expect­ed, or some­thing like that, we’re get­ting the signs. And just like the peo­ple who built below those mark­ers knew that that was there and built below that mark­er any­way, it’s just real­ly a ques­tion of how much we pay atten­tion to these signs. Again, I think it’s that ques­tion no of whether or not we as a species are going to make it so much as how hap­py we will be as a species going forward.

Anderson: And in terms of hap­pi­ness, I like to ask every­one sort of what kind of future you want, and what’s leads to that happiness.

Rose: I think ulti­mate­ly there’s a kind of base lev­el of future that every­body wants, which is a world where you are free to choose what your life is like and that the life of your chil­dren is that same way. And I think that often we look to the past as a much more idyl­lic time. I don’t think, myself, that the past was that idyl­lic. You only have to go back a hun­dred years before peni­cillin, where things were much much worse. And so I’m very much an opti­mist about the future, and I think that there’s no oth­er use­ful way to think about the future but to be opti­mistic. To be pes­simistic about the future and to assume that we can’t be hap­py is just kind of a non-starter. That does­n’t get you anywhere. 

Anderson: Are you opti­mistic that we can actu­al­ly cre­ate that sort of big con­ver­sa­tion. I know you said you’re opti­mistic about our resilience in the long run. But in terms of actu­al­ly bring­ing a lot of peo­ple togeth­er and hav­ing this this talk about the future. 

Rose: I would say in gen­er­al that I am. I am encour­aged that we can have a larg­er con­ver­sa­tion. I think one of the things that I’ve been sur­prised by is, we’ve been run­ning a sem­i­nar series now since 2003 on long-term think­ing. And what we real­ized long before that is that you can’t tell some­one to think long-term. It just kind of does­n’t get you any­where. We need a lot of dif­fer­ent angles into it. But again, we are well-positioned for a lot of dif­fer­ent angles to be heard at this point. And if you look at the broad­er arc of his­to­ry, things seem to be work­ing in favor of broad­er infor­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion and peo­ple hear­ing each oth­er’s sides of view. We look at the near-term bits of it and it can look back­wards in a cer­tain sense, but I think the longer arc is that there is a broad con­ver­sa­tion hap­pen­ing whether not we just call it that. We do have a sense of his­to­ry. We do remem­ber those moments of where mis­takes were made. And those become cor­rec­tions for the future.

Anderson: Has the sys­tem got­ten too com­plex for us to actu­al­ly deal with it ourselves?

Rose: Oh, I think it’s def­i­nite­ly to com­plex for us to steer it. I think that’s the more inter­est­ing ques­tion. Are there oth­er ways to nudge it in direc­tions that we think are good? The jury is very much still out on that, and I think dif­fer­ent peo­ple are try­ing to nudge the con­ver­sa­tion in dif­fer­ent ways, for sure. But the larg­er con­ver­sa­tion on the plan­et is total­ly unsteer­able. You can maybe gal­va­nize some peo­ple with cer­tain events, things like 911, that clear­ly change the world conversation.

But you know, ten years lat­er it does­n’t seem that even that big kind of sea change still has­n’t ulti­mate­ly changed the strug­gles that were going on before and are still going on after it, in terms of the peo­ple that were strug­gling against each oth­er’s ide­olo­gies. But it brought that con­ver­sa­tion to the front for a bit, and maybe bet­ter things will hap­pen because of it. It’s hard to say.

Anderson: There are a lot of peo­ple who sort of have wild­ly dif­fer­ent— I mean, their whole epis­te­mol­o­gy of the world is very dif­fer­ent. Maybe it’s more faith-based. Maybe for them, they aren’t think­ing about the sort of long-term thing because for them there is an actu­al con­clud­ing point to his­to­ry, which is the Revelation. So, they have a dif­fer­ent way of know­ing the world. Can they be brought into the Conversation?

Rose: Well, I mean, peo­ple who think that the world is going to end or that they are going to be tak­en off of this world to anoth­er world or plane of exis­tence with­in their life­time, it is very dif­fi­cult to have a long con­ver­sa­tion about the future with those peo­ple. Obviously their future is much short­er than ours and the­o­ret­i­cal­ly they should not even care about the world that they’re liv­ing for their grand­chil­dren, because their grand­chil­dren will be with them in some new existence.

So if they’re total­ly hard set on that and they know their date, then I don’t know what you can do about that. But I think that there’s plen­ty of peo­ple who believe ulti­mate­ly in a Revelation but are suf­fi­cient­ly unsure about when it will be that at least you might be able to get them to care about their grand­chil­dren. Most of the reli­gions in the world place high val­ue on fam­i­ly, and I think that’s an easy way to engage peo­ple about the future, is gen­er­a­tional­ly. And you know if you’re look­ing at a child or grand­child, what is what is that per­son­’s life going to be like? And that gets you to that kind of hundred-year time span between grand­par­ent to grand­child. And that seems to be where I think some nat­ur­al com­mon ground lies for talk­ing about the future. 

Micah Saul: So, got any­thing witty?

Aengus Anderson: You know, it’s fun­ny. I’ve had all day to try to think of some­thing wit­ty, but I’m so wit­less that I did­n’t. Alexander’s a fas­ci­nat­ing guy, and I think he real­ly took our con­ver­sa­tion in anoth­er new direc­tion, which I think is real­ly excit­ing. And it’s kind of cool now that we have two peo­ple who are project-based… You know with Peter Warren

Saul: I was going to say, you’re think­ing about Peter Warren.

Anderson: Yeah. Both of whom are sort of address­ing the idea of the Conversation, but they’re also actu­al­ly out there, there is a project. A defined project.

Saul: Right. Yeah, it’s an inter­est­ing dis­tinc­tion between the more project-based and the more just…straight con­cep­tu­al thinkers. There were a cou­ple inter­est­ing par­al­lels I found between Peter Warren and Alexander. 

The first that jumped out at me was both of them seemed much more will­ing to say, I don’t know.” They did­n’t feel like they need­ed to have the answers at all times, it seemed like. 

Anderson: Right, and that was some­thing that made this inter­view very dif­fer­ent for me going into it. I was­n’t sure how much we were going to jump into spe­cif­ic ideas about an ide­al future, or moral ideas guid­ing a future. But I felt that Alexander was real­ly good about sort of talk­ing about here are dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties for think­ing about the future and here are some really…well he just has great anecdotes.

Saul: Totally. He had an exam­ple for every­thing, which I thought was real­ly cool.

Anderson: Absolutely. Like, the temple. 

Saul: The tem­ple whose sole pur­pose is, Don’t come here in times of disaster.”

Anderson: Yeah. It’s fab­u­lous how well he illus­trates the idea of his­tor­i­cal memory.

Saul: Yes, absolutely.

Anderson: And its val­ue, but also its sort of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty at times. 

Another thing that I thought was sort of inter­est­ing was his opti­mism in resilience. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly that things would be good, but that we’d make it through.

Saul: Right.

Anderson: Which is a real sort of aer­i­al per­spec­tive on things. In ret­ro­spect, lis­ten­ing to the audio of our con­ver­sa­tion again, I wish I’d asked him more about that, how he sep­a­rates him­self just as a per­son from this aer­i­al per­spec­tive. It’s one thing to say, Well yes, human­i­ty will be resilient, but if your life is not in a par­tic­u­lar­ly good time, is resilience of the species solace for you? I regret not ask­ing the John Fife ques­tion, Do you believe in a soul?”

Saul: I guess just one last thing. You said ear­ly on you sort of regret­ted not push­ing back in places. Was there any place in par­tic­u­lar you were thinking?

Anderson: Yeah, and there was one where…and I just found this so per­sua­sive that I sort of did­n’t even think to ques­tion it until I was get­ting on my motor­cy­cle and leav­ing, but he men­tions that are a good guid­ing prin­ci­ple is more choice, and giv­ing future gen­er­a­tions more options. The part of me that wants to real­ly hash out every issue wants to ask why is more choice good, opposed to few­er choic­es that are bet­ter? And I think that would’ve opened up a con­ver­sa­tion about the good that might have been a lit­tle deep­er than the one that we had.

Saul: I think I men­tioned even in the intro some­thing that I was inter­est­ed to see if he was going to offer, and he end­ed up say­ing this, that he does­n’t want to real­ly lead the con­ver­sa­tion. He was­n’t real­ly try­ing to offer solu­tions, in a dif­fer­ent sort of way than I felt Andrew Keen was­n’t will­ing to offer solu­tions. And I think that comes down to his his belief that just more choice is bet­ter, and who am I to say that this is the right way to do things or the wrong way to do things. Which I guess comes down to a per­son­al lib­er­ty sort of thing and the under­ly­ing lib­er­tar­i­an influ­ence on futur­ist thought.

Anderson: Yeah. Absolutely. And I would’ve liked to have talked to him a lit­tle more about that just to flesh it out some. But oth­er than that, I think we’re in a a good point to sort of jump off to our next conversation.

Saul: Awesome. Sounds good.

Anderson: That was Alexander Rose. Recorded May 21, 2012 at The Long Now Foundation offices in San Francisco, California.

Saul: This is The Conversation. You can find us on Twitter at @aengusanderson and on the web at find​the​con​ver​sa​tion​.com

Anderson: So thanks for lis­ten­ing. I’m Aengus Anderson.

Saul: And I’m Micah Saul.

Further Reference

This inter­view at the Conversation web site, with project notes, com­ments, and tax­o­nom­ic orga­ni­za­tion spe­cif­ic to The Conversation.