For such a weighty subject there was a lot of guffawing going on in the Seminar Thursday night.
The topic was "The Art of the Really Long View." Peter Schwartz chatted through his slides for tonight's lecture, then the discussion waded in. Present were Danny Hillis, Leighton Read, Angie Thieriot, Ryan Phelan, David Rumsey, Eric Greenberg, Kevin Kelly, Anders Hove, Schwartz, and me.
The event was very well audio and video taped, so we can link you to a fuller version later. For now, here's a few of my notes.
Much of discussion circled around Schwartz's assertion that the most durable and influential of human artifacts are IDEAS. And a distinction worth drawing is between POWERFUL ideas and GOOD ideas. Not all powerful ideas turn out to be good, in the long run. For example, Schwartz proposed that monotheism has been an extremely powerful idea, dominating all kinds of human activity for millennia, but its overall goodness is increasingly questionable.
Or take the powerful idea of Communism and the powerful idea of Capitalism. Looking at them when both were being touted as world solutions around, say, 1890, how would you distinguish which one was likelier to play out as good? Most of us, then, would probably have given the nod to Communism, particularly in light of robber-baron excesses in the US, etc.
Danny Hillis proposed that bad powerful ideas are essentially collective hallucinations which mask reality, whereas good powerful ideas have built into them all kinds of reality checks. So Capitalism---expressed as markets---has prevailed so far because it is an emergent, distributed, out-of-control feedback system.
Some notable quotes (among many):
"The future is the ONLY thing we can do anything about." --Hillis
"Denial is a special case of optimism." --Leighton Read.
Revisiting Long Now's frequent chant that multiplying options is the great good to do for future generations, we examined the idea of "toxic choice"---for instance the stupefying multiplicity of choices in a supermarket or department store that make you long for a good boutique. "But lots of boutiques," said Ryan Phelan. "I've got it! " said Read, "We'll have two big toxic choice emporiums, connected by a bunch of boutiques! I think we've just invented the mall."
Contemplating work to be done, Schwartz said: "We know it would be a good idea to have the rule of law extended to include ecological systems, but we haven't figured out how to make that a powerful idea yet."-- by Stewart Brand