The Cataclysm Sentence

WNYC’s Radiolab recently released a podcast about what forms of knowledge are worth passing on to future generations.

One day in 1961, the famous physicist Richard Feynman stepped in front of a Caltech lecture hall and posed this question to a group of undergraduate students: “If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence was passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?” Now, Feynman had an answer to his own question – a good one. But his question got the entire team at Radiolab wondering, what did his sentence leave out? So we posed Feynman’s cataclysm question to some of our favorite writers, artists, historians, futurists – all kinds of great thinkers. We asked them, “What’s the one sentence you would want to pass on to the next generation that would contain the most information in the fewest words?” What came back was an explosive collage of what it means to be alive right here and now, and what we want to say before we go.

The episode’s framing is very much in line with our Manual For Civilization project. A few Long Now Members and past speakers contributed answers to the project, including Alison Gopnik, Maria Popova, and James Gleick.

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