Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Worlds Enough and Time

Thread drift can be rather magical, and among the commenters here it frequently is. Thus the last discussion thread revisiting space fighters also touched, just lightly, on the special magic of time, with commenter ushumgal tossing a pebble 40,000 years into the future and wondering what the ripples would be like.

What can we say about the world(s) of the year 42,010? We can guess, with fair confidence, that there won't be militaries that speak in acronyms and wear uniforms with shoulderboards and chest salad. The languages they use will surely not be comprehensible to us, even if derived from English.

As ushumgal points out, even the food they eat may be unrecognizable, quite apart from fancy genetic engineering and the like. Most of our domestic animals and plants are already far removed from their ancestral forms domesticated just a few thousand years ago. In the case of corn (maize, to some of you), Mesoamericans worked it over so thoroughly that its wild progenitor remains uncertain.

For that matter, our descendents could well be unrecognizable: supplanted by our creations, or uploaded into some data cloud, or at least gene modded to a fare thee well. For this discussion I'll set aside transhumanism, because I don't see how it can be discussed in any but the vaguest terms. I'm a bit doubtful that we would choose that path in any case, because most of our joys (and sorrows) - as well as such minor pleasures as a good meal - are part of our inheritance from the primate house, and not things we will wish to relinquish.

So let us merely roll 40,000 years around in our heads, considered as a historical time scale.(Disclaimer: I've heard of Warhammer 40K, of course, but don't know the first thing about it.) The same temporal distance in the other direction takes us to the Upper Paleolithic, and the earliest people to leave tangible markers of their humanity. The first spoken sentence, and perhaps the first song, may at a guess date back two or three times as far, but we have no direct way to judge.

The span of recorded history is much shorter. I have not been able to determine what is the first attested historical event, or when, but the record seems to trail off a bit less than 5000 years ago. Thus we are looking at a period some eight times longer; to people of the year 40,000, we stand very near the Dawn of History. A catastrophic dark age or two, or perhaps just a really bad disk crash, could retrospectively wipe us out, or at least leave archeologists scratching their heads over the site of the British Museum.

Even if the record is fully preserved they mostly won't spend much time thinking about us. Perception of the past tends to be logarithmic. A fair amount of third millennium BCE history is known, but about all we generally remember is the Pyramids. They might remember our own era, perhaps as the beginning of space travel. Or it may all blur together: pyramids, gunpowder, and the first interstellar colony, all roughly contemporary developments at the start of recorded history.

On the other hand, the past is in some ways foreshortened. The history of reflective thought goes back some 2500 years, half the length of recorded history. We still engage intellectually with Confucius and Plato, and morally with the Buddha and the prophetic books of the Hebrew scripture. In this rather sanguinary group we examine the battles of Alexander, and the strategies of Sun Tzu.

Even on the level of popular soap opera we still rubberneck at the Julio-Claudian train wreck, and its Bollywood and Hong Kong counterparts. What is the sell-by date for Nero and Messalina? They may remain vivid, while (say) the whole period from 15,000 to 30,000 falls into the memory hole, too far back to feel relevant and not colorful enough to muscle aside Rome or the Three Kingdoms.

So ... how do you fill 40,000 years of history? And when at last you reach the future present, what do you serve for dinner? Discuss.

Related posts: Last year I reviewed Psychohistorical Crisis, by Donald Kingsbury, which among other things considers the challenges of remembering a long historical past. And in the Tough Guide to the Known Galaxy I dealt with really long time periods.

Image note: The Lascaux cave paintings are a mere 16,000 years old, or thereabouts.


nqdp said...

"So ... how do you fill 40,000 years of history?"

Can we really answer that? No... but the fun is in the speculation, now isn't it?

We can discuss spaceflight in the vaguest terms, I suppose. Assuming that we don't build any sort of FTL, humans could be well past the Galactic Core by the year 30,000. We could finish a round-trip flight to Omega Cen. by 35,000. We could easily complete multiple round trips to just about any star we can see well before 40,000.

It's reasonable to assume that we'll encounter plenty of alien life along the way, though more questionable whether or not we would count it as "intelligent."

Yes, I'm assuming that we finally get our act together and send some people away from Earth in the next millennium. I think it will happen eventually, but that we'll have to wait for the cost to reach orbit to come down. Or for some government to ignore the cost.

Finally, I think it's important to remember that (barring extensive gene-modification) humans in the year 40,000 will still be human. Although their societies might be incomprehensible to us, they will still feel love, hate, greed, compassion, curiosity, and whatever other emotions you care to throw out there. They will still be born; they will still die.

Citizen Joe said...

Human growth is going to outstrip Earth's habitat in less than a century, let alone forty millennia. So we need to either find a way off this rock, or start busting heads back down to the stone age. My guess is that we won't make it in this cycle. So there will probably be several cycles of wars that pare down the population and technology, burying and erasing the past. Eventually, there will be another ice age, again knocking us off our technological high horse. The only hope is that someone has enough foresight to send instructions to future humans that gives them the jump start to space without all the problems of wars.

ElAntonius said...

Just a quick note RE Warhammer 40k:

It's not really interesting in the context of this blog. It's more of a study on "What if LOTR Orcs had railguns?". Even the human race in that setting is generally a caricature...fine enough for a game system and an interesting sociological premise, but not really scientific.

Moving on:
Citizen Joe-
While population growth is a frequently beaten drum, the reality is that as various nations improve their standard of living, the birth rate has fallen below replacement rate. Most first world nations are starting to become concerned with a rapidly aging populace.

Honestly, I think humans will reach the stars eventually. We're stricken by wanderlust, naturally, as a species, combined with an obsession for conquest.

If we colonize Mars, the true motivation will be to show the War God who really is the War God 'round these parts.

Addressing the post proper-
The beauty of the year 40,000 is that it's almost a blank slate. By that point, humanity could have propagated to other stars, lost contact with the nodes, and suddenly encounter these aliens that are distinctly human. It's a setting that even allows for Forehead Ridges.

David T.H. Loring said...

Nevermind what we might do to ourselves, 40000 years is enough for even the lightest of selection pressures to make themselves felt, Idiocracy style or otherwise. Assuming we're even one species. From the perspective of population genetics, a colony ship is no different from a log carrying a breeding pair to a new island. especially if colony planets are of the "fixer-upper" type, adaptive radiation could lead to a profusion of full- or subspecies on timescales barely in the tens of thousands of years. And then the real fun begins

Winchell said...

Yes, perception of historical periods is logarithmic. Sir Arthur C. Clarke alluded to this in his novel THE CITY AND THE STARS. It takes place in Diaspar, one billions years from now:

Before Diaspar there was simply the Dawn Ages. In that limbo were merged inextricably together the first men to tame fire and the first to release atomic energy-the first men to build a log canoe and the first to reach the stars. On the far side of this desert of time, they were all neighbors.

Anonymous said...

42,010 A.D.
The Earth is gripped in an Ice Age; New nations have arose, older nations are nearly unrecognizable, and some are simply gone...The U.S. is a shadow of itself, Canada is burried beneath miles of ice, Russia is fragmented by ice sheets, Tibet is a glacier, Argentina is a third its present size, mountain states are devoured by ice, others' have had their coastlines extended by miles, leaving old seaports far inland, like Monteviedio. The Sulu Sea is a saltwater lake, as is the Meditranian, the Gulf of Mexico, The Red Sea, and The Pursian Gulf.
Off-world, the nations of Mars, Venus, Titan, vie for dominion over the solar systen and their own homeworlds; the Underground Kingdoms of the Moons of Jupiter and the Hidden City-States of the Kuiper Belt Worldlets intrigue to remain free from the dominance of the Inner Worlds by foserting discord amoung the Old Nations.

The Close-in Star Colonies have regular (if infrequent) contact with the Mother-Worlds; some in power are still concerned with the rise of the quisi-religious cults that hold the Home of Man in increasing reverance and ascribe near-mystic qualities to those places...some of which no longer exist. The Far Colonies have their own debate about the Home of Man...between those that do and those who don't believe in its existance.

People may still be human at their core, but (especially Off-Worlders) they may not look like contemporary humans do. In the 43rd Millenium, Humans have deverged enough that someone from Mars is instantly distingushable from someone from Earth, Titan, Venus, or Galiese (or even the World of Terra Omega, where during the summer, you can watch the Gallaxy rise over the horizon; what the locals call the 'Eye of God')
Squat, leathery skinned Heavy-worlders, Green-skinned Solar Adapts; people in every shape, size, hue, gender, and adeptaions to every enviornment from the ice fields of North America to the sunlight-poor worlds of the M-dwarfs, to the troglydites of the Underground Kingdoms; humans come in more varities than at any time since before the eruption of Tuburk volcano in 74,000 B.C. killed off over 90% of the human race.

Sit down to a bowl of popcorn meal-worms, fried carp, Iguana steaks, with kelp-and-mushroom salud; for lunch, a steaming bowl of tomato-potato yak stew; for lunch the next day, a grilled chick-turc-duck sandwich with a side of Krill/Algie/Yeast/Bacterial Paste soup and a slice of baked Bog-leaf and a cold glass of corn beer.

For Earth children, history is devided in to the Cold Time and the Warm Time; For everyone else, history is Pre-colony, Colonial, and Post-Earth... Aliens are subjects of intense public arguments where they are incountered, but elsewhere are merely an esoteric debate amoung intellectuals and academics...Dispatches from the 'Outer worlds' of the frontier are egarly devoured by the Home and Close-in Colonies as thrilling stories of exotic adventure...even though some people don't believe any of them are true.

Resources, nation-to-nation relations, internal politics, and the fate of empire are all the big, ongoing topics; like today, the local hot topics are those that affect peoples' day-to-day afairs and the communities they live in.

The landscape and costumes may have changed in 42,010 A.D., but the people (even though they may look different), are the same.


Jim Baerg said...

"New Ice Age"

I doubt it, at least not if humanity maintains high technology.

Between adjusting the quantities of greenhouse gasses, using large mirrors in space to make snow melt earlier in the spring & possililities I haven't thought of, humanity can & probably will stop any new ice age as it starts.

Rick said...

Welcome to a couple of new commenters!

40,000 years is indeed long enough for STL flight to reach a good size chunk of the galaxy.

Human evolution over that period is an interesting question, and way above my pay grade. It on the same order as the period of human spread and diversification, which has been pretty modest - but colonization of planets only 'somewhat' Earthlike could shuffle the cards faster. Forehead ridges, indeed!

The City and the Stars is my favorite Clarke novel - thanks for reminding me of that wonderful line.

But I share the sense that our essential humanity will be much the same, as the Upper Paleolithic cave painters were.

On the historical time scale, though, that is a big chunk o' time to fill. Cultural traditions have lasted up to a few thousand years; we don't know yet how robust they can be over the time scale of a few tens of thousands of years.

In the world of 40,000 a few things might freak us out because of their quasi familiarity. When I was growing up in San Diego there was a garage (!) in ancient Egyptian style, quite nicely done.

Flip side, our neoclassical architecture would look very odd to an ancient Greek or Roman, since their temples and such were brightly painted. What would they think of all that stark unpainted marble in Washington DC?

Thucydides said...

One thing the future holds is "magic", and like Penn and Teller, this will be done with mirrors.

Mirrors will focus sunlight on the Moon during the 14 days of darkness, pump energy into the Martian biosphere, run generators and smelters in the asteroid belt and form lasing cavities in the solar photosphere.

Mirrors around distant stars will illuminate planets orbiting red dwarf stars and habitable moons orbiting gas giant planets (or shading moons around gas giants orbiting very close to the primary.)

The mark of advanced space faring civilizations will be mirrors in space, and after a dark age, the new civilizations will look and wonder at the lights in the sky the gods or titans of earlier eras created.

Anonymous said...

Jim Baerg said:
"...Between adjusting the quantities of greenhouse gasses, using large mirrors in space to make snow melt earlier in the spring & possililities I haven't thought of, humanity can & probably will stop any new ice age as it starts."

Only if humanity doesn't lapse into another Dark Age (or three), before it happens...:0


Thucydides said...

One of my guilty pleasures is "alt history". We know or remember little enough about events in the relatively recent past (the look on people's faces when I remind them President Clinton was warning of the dangers of Iraqi WMD in 1998 is quite priceless), so reading various speculations about the Knights Templar, the Chinese treasure fleets, the "real" purpose and history of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx or the megalithic monuments of Europe has that tiny grain of plausibility (how much do we really know about these events anyway?).

Now these events are only 500 to 5000 years in the past and already shrouded in mystery, so what will prople really remember 40 millenia from now?

Even super civilizations leaving massive engineering works behind will be subject to interpretation. Imagine the Martian solettas after being abandoned for a thousand years. They will no longer be orbiting Mars, so the "new" civilization will have to determine what these free flying mirrors were for (or why areas of Mars have higher than normal concentrations of aluminum in a very thin layer on teh surface).

Jim Baerg said...

"Only if humanity doesn't lapse into another Dark Age (or three), before it happens...:0"

I *did* say "if humanity maintains high technology".

For what things might be like if there is a 'dark age or 3' I highly recommend _A Deepness in the Sky_ by Venor Vinge. It is set ~ 10 ky hence IIRC & humanity has been doing STL interstellar travel for most of that time. However part of the backstory is that there are lots of ways to trash your civilization & high tech culture in any given solar system seldom lasts more than a few millenia before tripping over one of them. So all but the more recently settled solar systems have had a dark age.

Roger M. Wilcox said...

You don't know the first thing about Warhammer 40k?

Humans fight orks in the 401st Century. Orks are like the orcs of Tolkien, but meaner and stupider. Both sides have turned the entire universe into an awful place to live. Oh, and FTL travel involves moving through hell.

There. Now you know the first thing about Warhammer 40k. ;-)

Geoffrey S H said...

By 985 AD East frankia (Germany) and West frankia (France) were vying for supremcy and coexisting. 1025 years later (barring the occasional breakup and reunion of Germany) they're still at it.

ushumgal said...

Geez, I go away for a couple days and come back to see what a mess I made... :D

I should preface this by saying that this business about 40,000 years in the future arose because I was working on a story background where I wanted to have a sufficient breadth of time for advanced, spacefaring (FTL) civilizations to have risen and fallen at least several times, and fallen severely enough that human origins were remembered only as hazy legend, or forgotten altogether. And that takes a serious collapse for a technological civilization. Imagine if the Romans had our level of technology...we could still watch the assassination of Caesar on youtube.

If we assume that either important digital files will always be copied (not unlike medieval monks laboriously copying the ancient classics), or that memory card can be durable enough to preserve their data for thousands of years in the right conditions, then any major civilization with digital technology is likely to leave a massive amount of data behind for future generations.

This could be argued, I am sure, by people who know more about data storage technology than I. My Sumerian prof used to like to say that if our civilization was destroyed in a nuclear war, future archaeologists digging Ann Arbor would find the clay tablets in the Kelsey Museum and think that we spoke Sumerian and wrote on clay… But it *is* interesting to consider what will survive if our civilization collapses. Recall that archaeologists use pottery as their primary tool for stratigraphy because it is so abundant. So in 40,000 years, what will be left of us? Probably mostly plastic packaging, which lasts almost forever and is even more abundant now than ceramics were in the past. And like ceramics, it will probably allow future archaeologists to date strata with great accuracy, as well as telling them great deals about what we ate (though, given what usually comes in plastic bags, they may think we were even more unhealthy than we actually are…). (Satellites and space junk, preserved in the vacuum up there, will also be very useful, too)

Anyway, for me, 40000 AD was just an excuse to have a great historical mystery for the characters to deal with. But as others mentioned, it leaves a wonderfully clean slate. How might humans develop, socially/psychologically/physiologically/linguistically/etc, in that span of time. May it be long enough for humans to physiologically adapt to the hostile environments of colonized worlds? Perhaps helped along with a bit of genetic engineering?

The difficulty with having a clean slate is that you also need to have enough common ground for your readers to be able to relate to it and not get bored with innumerable tedious explanations (of, for example, the unknown future fruit being eaten by the main character, something like a mix between an orange and a banana but tasting oddly minty...).

nqdp was quite right, though, in pointing out that even in 40,000 years, humans will still be humans. If there is one thing that my studies of ancient history have taught me, it's that people and people. Once you strip away the ephemera of custom and language, you find people at the very beginning of history were pretty much the same as they are now. But I'm sure it would be well beyond my meager skills to try to describe a completely foreign society, and yet allow their basic humanity to shine through.

ushumgal said...

@ Rick: I'm a bit ashamed to say, but I'm not sure what the first -documented historical event is (though it would in part depend on your definition of what constitutes an 'event'). I presume you mean by contemporary documents, not by later writers speaking of something that happened long ago.

The first real writing started in the city of Uruk around 3200 BC, but the earliest documents are generally rather prosaic. Certainly by the Early Dynastic Period (ca. 2900-2300) we have inscriptions of many kings recording their deeds for posterity.* The pesky Egyptians started writing about 3000 BC, but I think their earliest texts were also pretty basic, like names inscribed on objects.

I think a good bet would be the inscriptions of Ur-Nanshe of Lagash, ca. 2500. I know he had at least a few surviving inscriptions (talking, iirc, about building temples). One is in a famous sculpted stone platter which shows him first carrying a basket of dirt for the temple foundations on his head, and then knocking back a cold one with the guys afterwards (ok, that's a *bit* paraphrased...but he is drinking beer in the party scene).

*Since it touches on the remembering of history, please allow me a brief digression about my favorite Assyrian king, Assurbanipal. He had been trained as a scribe (his older brother was originally crown prince, but died while their father still lived, so Assurbanipal took his place) and so was the only Mesopotamian monarch that we know to have been literate. He was interested in history...recall that by the time he lived, the 600s BC, his civilization was as old for him as ancient Greece is for us...and when he was king, he had his scribes scour the former lands of Sumer for ancient inscriptions which they copied, and these copies were found in his library when it was excavated (and the originals of most are long since lost).

Sorry, can't restrain myself, never thought I'd get to rant about history on the scifi blog... :D

Damien Sullivan said...

Yeah, thinking about history can be funky. I think our sense of 'ancient' comes from the Renaissance, who looked back to classical times, but to the Greeks Egypt, and to an extent the Hebrews, were ancient. But just 5000 years of written history, 10,000 of agriculture, and 40-100,000 years of modern humans. Bit of a creepy feeling, for me. All that time we know nothing about.

But the future won't be the past, because we have not just writing but digital record-spam. Barring collapse, history for the future is a cone of increasing retrospective panopticon-nature, with data mining of records taking priority over physically digging things up.

As for people being people -- maybe. By 40,000 years on, and probably long before, I'd expect great biological longevity if not physical immortality, 'spare parts' biological and prosthetic, and artificial minds which can produce human-like behavior whether or not anyone can prove they're conscious. Also deciphering of the human genome and of the brain's function. Will people opt for, or allow each other to opt for, wings or green fur? Maybe not. But control over the likely intelligence, personality, and sexuality of your children seems likely. Also, artificial wombs.

Even if you're otherwise rather conservative about transhumanism, better medicine, gene selection, brain drugs, lifespan, pregnancy options, and automation are probably going to have huge social impacts.

"The Singularity" is such a murky term with so much baggage as to be useless for communication, now. But a Cognitive Revolution of some sort seems likely.

Deep time book: Alastair Reynold's _House of Suns_ takes place 6.5 million years on. Skips over most of the intervening period, of course.

nqdp said...

ushumgal said: "Sorry, can't restrain myself, never thought I'd get to rant about history on the scifi blog... "

I liked it. It was quite a bit more intellectual that the average internet post...

also: "If we assume that either important digital files will always be copied (not unlike medieval monks laboriously copying the ancient classics), or that memory card can be durable enough to preserve their data for thousands of years in the right conditions, then any major civilization with digital technology is likely to leave a massive amount of data behind for future generations."

Do you mean that a civilization will collapse, and then future civilizations will be able to access their digital files? I think physical records would be much easier to decode, unless you manage to somehow describe the codes of jpegs, PDFs, and other files on a "neo-Rosetta Stone."

Speaking of leaving knowledge for future generations, I think that lunar outposts or space stations (in orbits that don't decay in a couple years) would be great relics for future archeologists to explore: no weather or looters to damage them, but easy to find.

Moving on to speculations about the year 40,010: People will probably live on colony worlds scattered throughout the galaxy. These might range in tech-level from god-like to pre-industrial. And some colonies might be intentionally pre-industrial.

Interplanetary warfare will consist of mass, one-way invasions. The second or third son of a planetary king might want to rule something, but his older brother will inherit the throne. The younger prince builds himself a fleet and sails off to conquer the neighboring planet. If he fails, there's probably no way of going back home. If he succeeds, he radios his family back home and tells them not to invade his new planet; they'll get the message in twenty years, and there will be little contact afterwards.

Most planets will probably keep quiet so as not to attract attention from such belligerent neighbors. Others might send out regular broadcasts describing their literature, technology, and society in order to brag and help other planets that might have collapsed to a (somewhat) more primitive level. Most planets will only know what's happening in the rest of the galaxy based on these (questionably accurate) broadcasts.

Of course, that universe assumes no FTL. I personally think (by which I mean hope) that artificial wormholes are a pretty realistic FTL mechanism to look forward to. With wormholes, humanity's rate of expansion would be unaltered, but getting from one well-established colony to another would be relatively easy. It's also reasonable to assume that there might be several "parallel" human civilizations living in the same regions of space at the same time, but that they rarely or never interact because their wormhole networks aren't linked.

nqdp said...

I just realized that calling someone's post "better than most of the internet" isn't much of a compliment. Sorry about that, ushumgal. I really did like your post. And "History" is right at the top of the blog... so anyone attacking you should learn to read more carefully :D

Jim Baerg said...

"I think our sense of 'ancient' comes from the Renaissance, who looked back to classical times, but to the Greeks Egypt, and to an extent the Hebrews, were ancient. But just 5000 years of written history, 10,000 of agriculture, and 40-100,000 years of modern humans. Bit of a creepy feeling, for me. All that time we know nothing about."

For an interesting essay on Deep Time see this

Thucydides said...

Rick alluded to this a bit in the main post, much of what will travel through time will really be legends or folk memories disconnected from their origins.

"Spill the Beans" is a slang term usually used to describe gossip, but how many people know it is actually a political phrase dating to the Athenian eklassia, where the jury's votes were tallied by placing black or white beans in a jar. If you needed to determine which way the vote was going, you could bribe someone to knock over the pot; hence the term.

The Iliad may be a true history rather than a romance, many details are corroborated in the historical records of the Mycenaean palaces and the Hittite empire, as well as on the ground archeology.

Modern stories and entertainments recycle the past as well; "The Phantom of the Opera" is a retelling of "Cupid and Psyche", while other tales have hidden meanings that we might discover by accident; "Hamlet's Mill" suggests precession of the Earth's axis was known and understood in the very distant past, and this knowledge was retained in a variety of myths passed down over the millennia.

So what myths will we leave behind that are so enduring that they will last? The first landing on the moon might be one, perhaps the rise and fall of the American Republic another. Settling large bodies of people into space will almost certainly be a source of a lasting myth (or maybe even more; civilization falls and recovers, the new civilization sends a stream of settlers out only to discover the remains of a previous civilization.)

Rick said...

History has been called the 'trade secret' of SF. Where would we be without Edward Gibbon? Much of the grandeur and sheer evil fun of galactic empires is rooted in their Inevitable Decline and Fall.

Thanks to ushumgal for the fill-in. I agree that the boundary lines of 'historicity' are hazy - if a datable monument provides a royal genealogy, how much credit do we give to the far end of the list?

One curious example. The classical Greeks dated the fall of Troy to c. 1184 BC - different authorities gave different figures, but that seemed to be the consensus. This was based on genealogies only set down (that we know of) centuries later, but it accords strikingly well with the archeological dating for the wave of city sackings that brought down the Mycenaeans.

Did the later Greeks just get lucky? Or did those genealogies have some validity to them?

On recordkeeping, I've seen an argument that physically preserving data might be none too helpful, if no one can read the formats. I have a box in my garage of 8-inch floppy disks in CP/M format. The stuff I put on those disks is about as accessible to me now as if they were cuneiform tablets.

Another challenge could be sheer volume of information. Imagine trying to reconstruct our civilization from the Internet, even if you had a working browser ...

Jnani said...

On the subject of digital data security:

I for one think that if there is a total, or even semi, civilization collapse, pretty much everything we have stored on any digital format will be useless. Let us imagine that the Sumerians left us a truly epic CD collection, with all the most rocking bands that 6000 BC offered. What would a contemporary of Edward Gibbon make of it? In the 18th century, a CD would just look like a shiny disc - perhaps a plate with some nice art on it. And merely a tecnological collapse to 18th century technology is not a giant leap.

Even if there was an even smaller collapse, the encoding technology needed to even uncover a pretty rudimentary technology like a CD is very idiosyncratic, and unless a software engineer survives the oncoming dark age, that probably wont be recovered. UNLESS, that is, the engineering data is stored in a hard copy somewhere - then the next wave of archeologists merely needs to learn our language.

Then, they can listen to Led's greatest hits. And it all does seem truly worthwhile after all.

jnutley said...

Love this Thread!

Some of the posts though, are unsatisfying. By proposing that +40,000 will be as different from today as -40,000 they imply some linearity of change.

I think that the likely scenario will advance to a certain point then greatly decelerate, as our efforts hit the equivalents of the limit to Moore's Law. I am open to the image of climbing an exponential cliff, i.e. a singularity, but I sill believe we'll hit walls we can't easily pass beyond that point.

The question then becomes, are we near or far from the absolute limits of innovation? It's reasonable to me that we have at least another 100 years of accelerating innovation, but that could be followed by an indefinite period of comparative stillness.

In the book mentioned above, Sir Arthur Clarke's "The City and the Stars", he postulates such a society. He imagines a very conservative and insular humanity, both in the city and in the distant "countryside".

What if (setting aside galactic extent) 40,010 CE is very different from 2010, but almost the same as 4010?

Rick said...

Welcome to the discussion boards!

That sort of format unreadability is one of the things I had in mind. Even a preserved hard copy of engineering data could be problematic, unless enough general hard text survives for recovery of the script and language.

Somewhat unrelated, but an odd fact of history is that all those clay tablets from the Bronze Age survived precisely because the archives they were in were burned.

Zachary said...

Nitpick on the etymology of 'spill the beans'- Language Log no likey:

"Number three: the spill the beans entry provides a charming tale about voting with beans in Ancient Greece. (Again, the Ancient Greek thing!) Against this is the OED's assertion that the expression is originally U.S. slang and the fact that the dictionary has no cites for it earlier than 1919 (from an American source, of course)."

From this post:

Jean Remy said...

As far as the past, a few more details.

The Tablet of Narmer and the Mace Head of the Scorpion King already hint at unification and language in pre-dynastic Egypt. The Tablet denotes the Scorpion King's defeat of his enemies (Narmer being his successor. It is dated at 3,000 BC and has been called the earliest historical record... until the Mace Head was found. Still that leaves us with that same figure of roughly 5,000 years, but the more we find the further back we push that date. Due to scarcity loss and damage, and the evolved aspect of those clues hinting at prior evolution, speculations go as far as 6,000.

As for the future:

Few writers have dared speculate this far ahead. Even Herbert stopped at roughly 10,000 years in the future, and he does present us with an alien world, but with very human humans living in it.

It is hard to imagine a catastrophe that would destroy all our records but allow our survival, especially with the Internet and long distance communication becoming so pervasive. No longer is a single country the single holder of knowledge. It has spread like an ideal gas to the hard drives of thousands of individuals. The only ways to destroy the internet, and a large chunk of the sum of human knowledge, are so cataclysmic it becomes hard to see how we could survive it at all.

We view the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, and the Dark Ages, as great periods of loss of knowledge, but really little was lost. While Europeans secreted knowledge away in abbeys so further control of the church by keeping the keys of knowledge firmly in the hand of the clergy, the Maurs were making great strides in Mathematics and Astronomy, the Chinese were involved in great engineering programs, the Aztecs and Mayans were devising precise calendars and the Japanese were becoming masters of metalsmithing. Even the Europeans were no slouches as tremendous stone cathedrals were erected using ever better architectural principles. Hardly the usual picture of Dark Ages.

The Renaissance looked back, yes, but what age hasn't? We always rebel against the preceding generation and look to the generation, or several generations, beyond that. Trends come and go and come back with a new flavor, classicism and romanticism leapfrog. Look at the US Capitol and the Acropolis, and you might notice some *slight* (/tongue in cheek) similarities.

So who is to say we won't see military officers in Napoleonic Regalia sitting in a throne-like chair on a spaceship bridge? The military is at least as much show as it is substance: see any National Day military parade of any random country in the world. It becomes a cultural thing, a fashion statement. What was impressive a century ago seems ridiculous today. What is impressive today will seem drab and underwhelming tomorrow (I notice that underwhelming does not make my spellcheck even twitch. Funny that, as I speak of fashion.) Today Army Drab is de rigueur because you want to hide, but who cares about drab in the hull of a ship? The dress uniforms of the U.S. Navy are blindingly white, proving that the need to look good is still important. Who is to say the fashion of 42,010 isn't a Retro-chic callback to the 41,800s which it itself was a look back at those crazy 41,500s... and so on.

We can't predict what the CDXXIII century will look like anymore than we can predict what it *won't* look like. Though the exercise might be interesting, the fact that there are no limits lessens the interest rather than heightens it, in some respects. Isn't the challenge to predict something within the confines of a realistic progression and known science?

At this point Warhammer 40k is as good a prediction as any.

Jim Baerg said...

"Who is to say the fashion of 42,010 isn't a Retro-chic callback to the 41,800s which it itself was a look back at those crazy 41,500s... and so on."

Also, given STL interstellar travel, there will be lots of semi-independent developments in different solar systems.

But only semi-independent. Radio or laser communications will give some knowledge of artistic etc. developments in other solar systems & there will likely be fashion fads analogous to 18th century Europeans imitating Chinese styles .

VonMalcolm said...

jnutley's comments make me think of this quote:

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
- Charles H. Duell, an official at the US patent office, 1899.

If technological possibilities don't slow down on their own as jnutley suggests (but who can really say either way?), human circumstance may slow things down. Just as KevinC argued that economics may dictate the rise and dominance of the space fighter: economics, catastrophe, environment, etc. might dictate a vastly slower rise in technology.

Jean Remy once suggested that an environmental collapse would be the impetus in conquering space.
Though it may only take a few brilliant minds to come up with a feasible plan for a big concept like colonizing space doesn’t a whole industrialized, wealthy society with money to burn have to be in place to set those big ideas in motion? How many different companies have a hand in building and launching a space shuttle? How many thousands of people are somehow involved? Can this even happen in a third world country? -450 million per launch! I have a hard time seeing space launches taking place in a society where the Road Warriors are trying to steal your juice - this reminds me of Archimedes being cut down by a Roman soldier as he was working on a mathematical problem (supposedly). Even if the environments aren’t as extreme as Mad Max, if all we are doing is trying to survive (even if only economically), advancement in technology may take a serious hit. Even now we live in a world where being smart is a crime (geek, nerd, weirdo ring a bell?): What would happen if a more dog eat dog world arrived. . . The brilliant minds and their space conquering ideas maybe the first to go!

I was thinking about posting something earlier, but 40,000 years. . . Wow, I just didn’t know where to begin! The idea I was leaning toward exploring was nature itself: Would the oceans still be alive with fish or would they be full of just jellyfish? Would there still be rainforests or just scrublands? Could a Permian-Type extinction have happened? Would the Earth have had time to recover from any major man-made catastrophe(s) in 40,000 years time?

Jean Remy said...

I posited a environmental catastrophe as impetus to go into space because it seems slow enough to give time to achieve substantial spaceflight tech and has the ponderous implacability to make it happen.

Think of how many industries are NOT geared toward space, yet have the necessary technological knowledge. There is a more than substantial manufacturing base that can be swiftly converted if the need arises. In WWII the US converted nearly its entire industrial output to the manufacturing of war materials, and the output was considerable for its time.

In desperate times, desperate measures. Convert the entire industrial output of the G9 toward space and you could create an Ark Fleet capable of moving millions to, say, a Lunar Base.

No, the Third World cannot do it. They get left behind. In fact I made some rapid calculations to get a plausible number, starting with a tech and population base a hundred years ahead of our own and pre-established commercial bases on the Moon. I figured over the span of a fifty year evacuation plan 1 billion people (of an estimated 12 billion) could be evacuated in a herculean lifting effort.

Yes, it would be a disaster beyond anything we have ever seen, but Humanity could endure. Survival of the Species has worked decently well for us so far.

The underlying point is that Earth need not survive the next three-hundred-and-eighty-some centuries for humanity to. Earth That Was could be a legend for all it matters.

VonMalcolm said...

. . .and then there will be a blog called The Fusionpunk Proclamation where the blogger and his or her commenters will speculate on the prospects of terraforming and recolonizing Earth.

I Googled Fusionpunk and came across this fusionPUNK airship on Deviant Art:

Rick said...

I tend to agree with the diminishing-returns argument. In fact, any story with readily recognizable human characters almost has to make this presumption.

Language Log ruins so many urban legends, starting with 'X many Inuit words for snow.' On the other hand, without Language Log I'd never have learned about 'crash blossoms.' (Newspaper headlines that can be read in unintended, generally funny ways.)

Truth to be told, what is most entrancing to me about the 40,000 year time span is the sheer bulk of history, and the challenge for any worldbuilder of making it up in any detail. What filled those 10,000 years of Dune's back-history? What happened just during the 12,000 years of the first Galactic Empire in the Foundation books. (Kingsbury's time scale is c. 72,000 years.

Any millennium out of these periods is just a sliver, but still a thousand years.

And yes, the future could play a joke on me and have militaries with chest salad and even acronyms, the same way that garage in San Diego had hieroglyphics on its walls.

On a more sobering and immediate note, the current Western v Muslim tensions have something of that weirdness, because it is something that when I was growing up belonged to the fairly distant past, only barely overlapping with the national history of the US. Jihad was something out of history books, not a word I ever expected to hear on the news.

Jean Remy said...

"On a more sobering and immediate note, the current Western v Muslim tensions have something of that weirdness, because it is something that when I was growing up belonged to the fairly distant past, only barely overlapping with the national history of the US. Jihad was something out of history books, not a word I ever expected to hear on the news."

And Bush wanting to call the Iraq War a "Crusade" was a cherry on that anachronistic cake.

However the term Jihad has been on the news ever since I was a kid. Granted it's not all THAT many years (I'm not old damnit) but I can't actually remember a time when it *wasn't* on the news. Beirut was on the 8 o'clock news (Le Vingt-Heure) daily, pictures of newspapermen with ever-increasing numbers as they were held hostage for years, were numbing routine in the headlines, the Hezbollah and Israel exchanged rocket fire at depressingly short intervals...

Only recently has Jihad been extended to the U.S., perhaps, but Europe, and its large Arabic population, has been under that particular cloud for at least three decades. If Islamic terrorism is a new fact of life for 'Murricans, it has been a litany of blood more than three decades long on the Old Continent. Perhaps names like Lockerbie ring a bell, but only because of the blue planet logo still visible on the eerily intact nose fuselage laying inside a crater in the English countryside. If 'Murricans care to remember anything about that era it was France's denial of U.S. overflights for a mission to shake up Lybia's General Qaddafi. Of course France was seen as the bad ally. The fact that the possibility of riots that would put L.A. to shame hung over the country should its Arabic population decide to revolt and burn Paris held little sway in Washington. The Arab problem was mostly a European thing, after all.

The U.S was too far, too safe, for the problem to be seen as a threat.

ushumgal said...

@nqdp: I guessed I assumed that any advanced civilization that found our storage devices would have the know-how to figure out how they worked and decode their contents. But reading other comments, I guess it may not be as simple as all that. This is what happens when ignorant historian-types speculate about technology they don’t understand. :D

nqdp said...
I just realized that calling someone's post "better than most of the internet" isn't much of a compliment. Sorry about that, ushumgal. I really did like your post. And "History" is right at the top of the blog... so anyone attacking you should learn to read more carefully :D

Lol, no worries! And these days, there are actually some very good resources on the net, not the least of which is the blog you are reading. Of course, there’s plenty of crap too (why would my students *never* listen to me when I said wikipedia is NOT a valid academic source…).

Jim Baerg said...
"I think our sense of 'ancient' comes from the Renaissance, who looked back to classical times, but to the Greeks Egypt, and to an extent the Hebrews, were ancient. But just 5000 years of written history, 10,000 of agriculture, and 40-100,000 years of modern humans. Bit of a creepy feeling, for me. All that time we know nothing about."

That is indeed, and there are some hints that a lot more was going on than we commonly assume. Catal Hüyük in southeast Turkey was a very large, well-developed settlement (some scholars argue against calling it a city based on their definition of the term ‘city,’ but it was a pretty damn big place whatever it is called!) that clearly had a very complex society. It existed about 4000 to 2000 years before writing was invented…as long as the literate ancient world was before us. So imagine how much human culture there was building up to Catal Hüyük, and then following it, never to be remembered? There is also a very large site not very far away called Göbekli Tepe, with megalithic shrines that would have rivaled temples from many millennia later. Our ancestors were busy little bees long before they thought to start writing about it, and it is indeed amazing to think of how much there was that we will never know about (except from the paltry record of the physical remains of their civilizations).

ushumgal said...

Thucydides said...
Modern stories and entertainments recycle the past as well; "The Phantom of the Opera" is a retelling of "Cupid and Psyche", while other tales have hidden meanings that we might discover by accident; "Hamlet's Mill" suggests precession of the Earth's axis was known and understood in the very distant past, and this knowledge was retained in a variety of myths passed down over the millennia.

Hamlet’s Mill is…a matter for debate. But your point is quite correct. Babylonian astronomy is very well documented, and they were perfectly well acquainted with precession by at least 1000 BC, and probably well before then, and they had extremely precise mathematical models (so complex they make you bleed from the ears), all without the benefit of Arabic numerals.

It would indeed be a rich area for speculation to look at the things likely to be remembered from our civilization, and how their memory might be distorted over time. It reminds me of a scene from the film Reign of Fire where, in a post-apocalyptic world, some of the characters act out a scene from Star Wars as if it were a play.

I think Rick made a good point that, if our electronic data is available to researchers of a future civilization, they will likely be overwhelmed by the sheer volume. We have a similar state of affairs (though of course orders of magnitude smaller) in Assyriology, as there are hundreds of thousands of cuneiform tablets in the museums of the world, and every year new ones are found, sometimes by the thousand (and alas, sometimes by looters). Because of the complexity of the writing system, and when reading Sumerian, a certain amount of uncertainty about the language, any one researcher can only read a small fraction of that in his whole career. And the majority of tablets do not yet have translations, which would allow a much faster assimilation of data. If we had data on the level of the internet, it would take generations of research just to get some kind of overview.

jnutley said...
Love this Thread!

Some of the posts though, are unsatisfying. By proposing that +40,000 will be as different from today as -40,000 they imply some linearity of change.

What you say is profoundly true, but also, don’t confuse technological advancement with cultural change. Even if the technology level remains pretty constant, the culture will be ever changing. On a grand scale, technology between, say, 1500 and 1700 did not change enormously (some will argue this, and I don’t deny there was indeed significant developments, but the average person still would have had much the same kind of technology at their disposal in both times), yet the culture changed radically. Cultures are always changing, and 40,000 years is a long time for cultures to change in. Perhaps not in such a linear way as from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers to cell phone-wielding office workers, but that doesn’t mean the change won’t be of the same kind of magnitude. For another perspective, consider how many different cultures we have *right now* on our tolerably technologically advanced Earth.

At risk of getting into politics (that is, current politics, not future politics), I must say I rather take issue with Jean’s characterization of the ‘jihad’ issue, and personally think that the growing use (or promotion) of the term ‘jihad’ has little or nothing to do with the local Arab population and much, much more to do with US foreign policy in the Middle East, which I think any candid observer must admit has a strong ideological bias that it did not have a few decades back. And let us not forget that ‘terrorist’ is an absolutely classic loaded word, which invariably says more about the person saying it (i.e., their views/biases) that the people it is said of. After all, it is a matter of fact that one man’s terrorist is another man’s hero, and that definitions of the term ‘terrorist’ are invariably self-serving.


ushumgal said...

Speaking of forgotten history, here's one more tidbit i just remembered which i thought i would offer up for you to amaze your friends and confound your enemies:

The Sumerians were huge fans of beer, and many early texts were lists of beer rations to workers. Assyriologists have even made reconstructions of Sumerian beer using an ancient hymn as a recipe (the infamous Nisaba Beer). They had a well-developed beer-making technology, complete with it's own jargon (including the lovely onomatopoetic word gunganna, which refers to the sound of the beer bubbling).

But interestingly, many of the technical terms for beer-making were *not* Sumerian, and appear to belong to an unknown language spoken by an unknown people who presumably lived in southern Iraq before the Sumerians showed up. Makes for interesting speculation on who the real inventors of beer were! :3

Rick said...

On the contemporary use of 'Jihad,' I'm old enough to (kinda sorta) remember Nasser in Egypt. Then, and until I was out of college, Arab anger at the US or the West in general seemed couched in the language of secular Arab nationalism, a la Nasser.

Then came the Iranian revolution, and very soon Islamist rhetoric supplanted secular nationalism in the Arab world as well. It seems like it was very generational. (Saddam Hussein was a harbinger of the past, a wannabee Nasser holdover, which made obsessing over him an amazing distraction.)

Iran was at the front of that curve, and seems to be at the front of the next one, a generation that will regard Islamism (not Islam itself!) as another ideology that failed to deliver.

[/contemporary rant]

I imagine that we only know some Inca history because it was recorded while there were still Inca around who could use quipu records to 'anchor' their oral recollection of the past. But the history of other pre- or protoliterate civilizations is lost beyond recovery.

This is the first I've heard of Hamlet's Mill! From the superficial account in Wikipedia it sounds very iffy, but it is clear that civilizations back to the bronze age knew an awful lot of predictive astronomy. Predicting solar eclipses, very rare in any one location, and obviously terrifying if they come as a surprise, was one of the most remarkable achievements of human intellect.

Jim Baerg said...

"a generation that will regard Islamism (not Islam itself!) as another ideology that failed to deliver."

Possibly Islam itslf too.

I wish I could remember where I saw the argument (from an ex-muslim IIRC) that Islam will implode as thoroughly as Communism now that the internet means that people in the muslim world can read criticisms of Islam & Mohammed without the critics getting immediately executed.

On my more optimistic days I think religion in general could dwindle & die over about he next century before it does much more harm.

Anonymous said...

I usually don't let myself get involved in religious discussions...passions tend to overpower intellect. However, I've thought about this for a while and so I'll take a stab at it.

In my opinion, Islam is at the same point, now, that Christianity was during the Crusades; a large population of devout but illiterate adherants that rely on a small number of highly educated but less-than-devout elite to give them the Holy Word...or what these elites tell them is the Holy Word. This sad state of affairs is simply a rerun of one of the less-desirable patterns of history.

I doubt that we will escape these patterns even in 42,010 A.D.


ushumgal said...

I think you're right, Rick, that Iran - that is, the people of Iran - are leading the way back to secular nationalism. Some of my wife's relatives who were recently back in Iran say that things are much better there, and the government has seemed to lighten up on the morality police stuff, obviously because they realized that was the only way they could stop the revolt and not be overthrown.

I think that fundamentalist governments generally do not last long. The generation that put them into power may support them, or at least not actively oppose them because they feel responsible (or saw what they replaced). But the next generation, who did not chose that government, is likely going to chafe under its restrictions. The two results are that it is either violently overthrown, or it slowly adapts to pressure until it is a more or less secular government. I still think that, despite their mellowing out a bit, the government of Iran is running for an outright clash with its people. But either way, it is the business of the Iranians and no one else to decide how they want their government.

The one situation that can strengthen the grip of an unpopular government is foreign attack, since many if not most people will be willing to defend their country from invaders, even if they dislike their present government. And that is why one of the absolutely innumerable reasons I dread a short-sighted attack against Iran, since it will re-enforce the power of the mullahs and drive back progress by decades.

@Jim Baerg: I rather doubt Islam is going to dissappear any time soon. Don't forget that people are always predicting the implosion of Islam/Christianity/capitalism/etc. One could certainly argue that right now, the Catholic church at least is on its deathbed...until you come somewhere like here in Spain, where people get in fist fights in order to be able to touch a statue of the Virgin Mary and weep with emotion once they do (as an added bonus, the processions with cult statues are without any shadow of a doubt actually survivals from religious practices that looong predate Christianity in any form).

Christianity survived some shrewd blows, such as the Enlightenment, so never fear, Islam will still be with us for the forseeable future as well. Also, don't overgeneralize about Muslim countries. There are some places, such as Saudi, where criticizing Islam may well put your life in danger, but right next door in Jordan, you have a very secular population, and even more no in Lebanon.

ushumgal said...

@Ferrel: In a metaphysical way, you may be right, though I think the parallel is much closer with Islam now and Christianity at the time of the Enlightenment, not the Crusades. This is because the "large population of devout but illiterate adherants" most certainly does not apply to the modern Middle East, where literacy rates are quite high, where nearly every teenager is texting away on their cell phones at all hours, and the country with the highest level of PhDs per capita in the world is Jordan (partly because of its large populace of Palestinian refugees, who value education with great intensity). We have a lot of illusions about the Middle East in the west, but take it from this country boy from Wisconsin who has studied the Middle East (ancient, admittedly) all his life and has traveled there pretty extensively, even the bedouin are not ignorant peasants riding camels today. They drive pickup trucks and many of the go to university. Though it *is* true that the religious elite in many Muslim populaces does TRY to preach them the one true word and channel how they think and act...but they are up against the internet today, and the majority of Muslims have access. But it is hardly only Muslim religious elites that try to control the way people see the world and what they know about it. Much the same could arguably be said of western governments...including one particularly large one, wherein nearly all the media is owned by a handful of enormous companies who all have similar political agendas. So it is not just a task for Muslims, but for everybody in the world to take the initiative to learn about the world and to question what is told them by their authorities.

Back to ancient astronomy...Rick is quite right about Bronze Age knowledge of eclipses, etc. But there was certainly a great interest in the heavens even long before then. After all, there are many neolithic and chalcolithic megalithic buildings (that's a lot of lithics!!!) that clearly have astronomical alignments or functions, Stonehenge being the most famous example. People were obviously intensely interested in what was going on in the heavens. Carl Sagan even suggested that the prevalence of the swastika in ancient religion and art was due to a comet being seen all over the world in prehistoric times. The idea is that the comet passed close enough to Earth that it was seen more or less head-on, ejecting 4 streamers of gas, which curved due to the rotation of the comet. It can't be proven of course, but it is an interesting theory.

Thucydides said...

Religion, or more broadly, beliefs will probably power our thoughts and emotions for as long as we are recognizably human. It remains to be seen if "post humans" can even understand or interact with this aspect of humanity, and thus, us.

WRT overthrowing of autocratic, despotic or totalitarian regimes, history shows this rarely happens without some sort of outside intervention. Looking at the DPRK, for example, we see the regime still fully in power even after massive famines in the 1990's, and many other outrages which you would think should cause the population to explode. Farther in the past, we saw how appeasement actually emboldened aggressive and predatory regimes, and I don't think anyone on this board could successfully demonstrate that Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy would have fallen on their own. The "best case" scenario would be decades of twilight similar to Spain under Franco or Argentina under Peron after an Axis victory or stalemate. In the distant past, empires could last centuries since the population density was low enough and the technology primitive enough that it was hard to raise, equip and transport enough forces to take on the Imperial metropole (especially if the empire was still vigorous). Egypt lasted as a distinct civilization from approximately 3150BC to 31 BC for many of these reasons.

Today, we see other aggressive systems of belief, the most visible is environmentalism in the extreme form resembles a full fledged religion, including heretics (global warming "deniers"), indulgences (buying carbon credits to offset your carbon footprint[sins]) and attempts to control all aspects of life in the name of the "Environment". Marxism had many of the same characteristics during its heyday, and various forms of social engineering are trying to use subtle nudges in order to make us follow the correct path.

Looking at how these sorts of people react when we ignore them or actively resist being nudged does not inspire confidence in the future.

One other contest in the systems of belief is between Liberal Democracy (which places value on the rights of the individual and is practiced in the West) and Conservative Democracy, (which places value on the rights of society and is practiced in much of the orient, including Singapore, Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea and at the local level in China). This is an interesting idea I have seen on the board, and interested readers should search for in depth discussions there.

Rick said...

I plan a future post on the future of religion - a risky topic, but this group seems to handle explosives with due caution.

But since it comes up, I'll offer one line of speculation in brief. There has in the last 50 odd years been a spectacular growth in the West of pantheism, an identification of 'the holy' with the physical world itself.

One wing of modern pantheism is typified by the environment movement in popular stereotype: hippie dippie tree huggers. I'll call this 'Catholic' pantheism, not in any doctrinal sense, but emotional and sensual.

Another wing of modern pantheism is 'atheism' of the Dawkins school. I call it puritanical pantheism, because it has a rather Calvinist severity. No smells & bells in this church, in fact no church, just the stark awe of the universe.

These groups are about as fond of each other as Catholics and Calvinists in the 16th century, but they are sides of one faith, and the hinge is space travel. The Pantokrator ikon of the environmental movement is Earth over a moonscape, and greenhouse heating of atmospheres was a research issue in planetary science before it became any kind of issue here on Earth.

Jim Baerg said...

"Another wing of modern pantheism is 'atheism' of the Dawkins school. I call it puritanical pantheism,"

IIRC Dawkins referred to pantheism as 'tarted up atheism'. :-)

Rick said...

So Dawkins thinks being Low Church gets him off the hook?

Anonymous said...

Faith and belief don't have to be religious to be just as fanatical and unshakable by facts.


Rick said...

The 20th century gave impressive evidence of that ...

VonMalcolm said...

I have been avoiding the religious part of this thread; despite my reservations here goes nothing. . .

I think humankind goes awry when their beliefs/faith turns into fact. Beliefs are there for a reason: science can't explain everything (at least not yet) so we have to reach with our imaginations, our feelings, and extend our limited knowledge to 'forecast' the truth -which is perhaps tainted by our own selfish wishes: the problem becomes (IMO) when people take that forecast/belief/religion and make into indisputable fact: God IS this and God IS that: Jesus IS this and Jesus IS that: 'There is no way I can be wrong and there is no way you can be right!' -So says the Zealot.

You can also extrapolate this way of thinking into science, politics, justice, etc. I hate it when science becomes dogmatic, when politics becomes we/they and when justice has one family and one side of the aisle and another family on the other side of the aisle. We can only judge things on what we perceive to be true, regardless on how much evidence there is. . . there always maybe some little fact that might topple everything we 'know' to be true down to the ground.

Einstein is the King so I will give him the benefit of the doubt over everyone when it comes to a Theory of Everything, but even he I must question, not because he is flawed, but because I am flawed: and if I have a hard time understanding him how can I possible understand God (or the Universe if that's suits you better) -hasn't Hubble humbled every single one of us yet? The Universe is an, apparently, BIG, BIG, BIG, f-ing complicated place!

Even if God is perfect and his (her?) laws are perfect: In all likelihood that religious fanatic is flawed, that zealot politician is flawed and even that know-it-all scientist is flawed. BELIEVE in whatever you want: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Scientology, Scientific Atheism, etc: Just don't tell me what your Monkey Brain KNOWS about anything! I have more faith in my ignorance than in your so-called knowledge.

'It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.'
-John Wooden