Thanks to Slashdot [RTFA], I’ve just been introduced to one of the most ambitious projects I’ve ever come across. The Clock of the Long Now, also known as the Millennium Clock, will be a sempiternal machine constructed in Nevada; a clock that ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and whose cuckoo comes out once every thousand years. Danny Hillis, one of the world’s leading computer architects, has spent the last thirteen years envisioning this massive testament to long term thinking and responsability, and I have to say, I’m completely entranced.
Long term planning is nothing new. The Antikythera Mechanism, for one, was designed long before computers and had the task of calculating(very accurately in fact) the exact paths and positions of the local celestial bodies. However, while the mechanism itself withstood enough chronological decay to allow current epoch researchers to piece it back together, it’s unlikely that it was constructed with forethought, and no documentation or preparation seemed evident in its discovery. As Hillis mentions in his essay:
I think of the oak beams in the ceiling of College Hall at New College, Oxford. Last century, when the beams needed replacing, carpenters used oak trees that had been planted in 1386 when the dining hall was first built. The 14th-century builder had planted the trees in anticipation of the time, hundreds of years in the future, when the beams would need replacing. Did the carpenters plant new trees to replace the beams again a few hundred years from now?
Fiction explores this concept often. The Kwisatz Haderach in Frank Herbert’s Dune is a great example. The Babylon 5 series and it’s undercurrents of recursive history is another. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. The Lexx series – the original movies, not their child series that has been recently run. I’m currently writing the beginnings of such a project myself; the Dowager Shadow sequence on Maredran will explore some of the consequences of long-term planning gone wrong.
I think I need to explore this in a little more depth. So I’ve added “Sempiternal” as a category to my posts. It won’t encompass only the Dowager Shadow project, as that’s a purely fictional work. Rather, my intention is to research the ideas behind lasting structures and how they came to be that way; centuries old institutions such as governments and religion, orders and so on. If I’m going to get the Order of Shadow right for Maredran, I need to know what I’m talking about. Similarely, whenever I pegin the Shad Hazar project for Aragos, I’ll need to apply the sane tenets and strictures to the histories of Grimuard and Han Vessa. The Na’ai are a long-lived people, so I’ll need to learn how they think, in terms of planning for centuries-long research projects, decades rather than eyars of intra-disciplinary training and so on.
It’s going to be a long ride.