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 9/11, 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.


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