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Nov
2nd
Sat
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Q: What kind of things make you worry?

Cormac McCarthy: “If you think about some of the things that are being talked about by thoughtful, intelligent scientists, you realize that in 100 years the human race won’t even be recognizable. We may indeed be part machine and we may have computers implanted. It’s more than theoretically possible to implant a chip in the brain that would contain all the information in all the libraries in the world. As people who have talked about this say, it’s just a matter of figuring out the wiring. Now there’s a problem you can take to bed with you at night. (…)

Well, I don’t know what of our culture is going to survive, or if we survive. If you look at the Greek plays, they’re really good. And there’s just a handful of them. Well, how good would they be if there were 2,500 of them? But that’s the future looking back at us. Anything you can think of, there’s going to be millions of them. Just the sheer number of things will devalue them. I don’t care whether it’s art, literature, poetry or drama, whatever. The sheer volume of it will wash it out. I mean, if you had thousands of Greek plays to read, would they be that good? I don’t think so.” “
Cormac McCarthy, an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, interviewed by John Jurgensen in Hollywood’s Favorite Cowboy, The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 20, 2009. Photo: Cormac McCarthy
Jun
7th
Fri
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Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.
Ayn Rand, Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter (1905-1982), The Fountainhead, Bobbs Merrill,1943, p. 715.
Apr
7th
Sun
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Colored Plates - Synergetics - R. Buckminster Fuller. Written by Robert W. Gray, Summer 1997

"Up to the Twentieth Century, reality was everything humans could touch, smell, see, and hear. Since the initial publication of the chart of the electromagnetic spectrum, humans have learned that what they can touch, smell, see, and hear is less than one-millionth of reality. Ninety-nine percent of all that is going to affect our tomorrows is being developed by humans using instruments and working in ranges of reality that are nonhumanly sensible." "
Buckminster Fuller, an American engineer, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist (1895-1983), R. Buckminster Fuller on Education, University of Massachusetts Press, 1979, p. 130.
Aug
26th
Sun
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“Our knowledge of the universe around us has increased a thousand fold and more. We learned that Homo sapiens was not forever imprisoned by the gravitational field of Earth … We’ve seen deeply into our universe and looked backward nearly to the beginning of time.” “
Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot upon the Moon. He was an American NASA astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor and United States Naval Aviator (1930-2012), in rare speech when NASA turns 50.
See also: ☞ July 21, 1969 on the front page of The NYT
Inspired Mankind With One Small Step, NYT, Aug 25, 2012.
Did Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have instructions of what to do if they couldn’t take off from the moon?, Quora
Apr
25th
Wed
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We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). (…) The paradigm shift rate (i.e., the overall rate of technical progress) is currently doubling (approximately) every decade; that is, paradigm shift times are halving every decade (and the rate of acceleration is itself growing exponentially).

So, the technological progress in the twenty-first century will be equivalent to what would require (in the linear view) on the order of 200 centuries. In contrast, the twentieth century saw only about 25 years of progress (again at today’s rate of progress) since we have been speeding up to current rates. So the twenty-first century will see almost a thousand times greater technological change than its predecessor.
Ray Kurzweil, American author, scientist, inventor and futurist, The Law of Accelerating Returns, KurzweilAI, March 7, 2001.
See also: ☞ Waking Life. Eamonn Healy speaks about telescopic evolution and the future of humanity
Sep
10th
Sat
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A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.
Will Durant, American writer, historian, and philosopher (1885-1981), Caesar and Christ, Epilogue, p. 665 (1944)
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It seems to me that you can almost define civilization by saying it’s people who are not willing to hurt other people because the other people are different.
Gene Wolfe, American science fiction and fantasy writer
Sep
3rd
Sat
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From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. It wasn’t a miracle, we just decided to go.
Jim Lovell, NASA Astronaut aboard Apollo 13, played by Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 movie
Jul
5th
Tue
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Michael Gove speaks to the Royal Society on maths and science

Euclid in Raphael's detail from The School of Athens

History is driven, above all, by mathematics and the power it gives us to understand, predict and control the world.

The emergence of the first, truly great, Western civilization, in the scattered city states of Ancient Greece, was intimately connected with the first systematic thinking about reason, logic and number.
 
Although Pythagoras himself is a figure shrouded by myth, the Pythagorean revolution he and his disciples set in motion was the prelude to the astonishing flowering of classical philosophy which laid the foundations of the Western world.

On those first foundations men such as Euclid and Archimedes devised a means of making sense of the world which enabled their contemporaries, and successors, to master it. Greece bequeathed her mathematical heritage to Rome and the achievements of the Caesars, their imperial highways, feats of engineering and centralised accounts, were all the fruits of mathematical knowledge.

Rome’s fall was the prelude to Islam’s rise and again mathematical innovation was the leading indicator of historical progress. While Western Europe was sunk in a Dark Age of dynastic squabbling, pagan aggression and superstitious poverty the Islamic world flourished, advanced and subdued its foes while also nurturing a series of mathematical thinkers responsible for transmitting wisdom and generating great historic breakthroughs. Whether it was the establishment of Arabic numerals as the principal method of mathematical notation or the invention of algebra, Arabic and Islamic culture was the world’s forcing-house of progress for centuries.

Europe only caught up again in the sixteenth century, but when we did it was with a burst of mathematical innovation which once more moved the world on its axis. Galileo and Descartes authored advances in mechanics and geometry which were hugely ground-breaking. They were followed by the arguably even greater geniuses of Newton and Leibniz.

Newton, the greatest President this society has had - so far - was the godfather of the Enlightenment, mankind’s great period of intellectual flowering, the liberation from ignorance on which our current freedoms rest.

In the nineteenth century, the greatest mathematicians were Germans - like Karl Friedrich Gauss and Bernhard Riemann - reflecting the shift of intellectual innovation, and economic power, to central Europe.

In the twentieth century, the flight of mathematicians like Kurt Gödel from a fascist Europe sunk in a new barbarism to a new world of liberty and promise again presaged a fundamental shift in economic, political and intellectual power. (…)

Richard Feynman has described the precision of quantum mechanics as like being able to measure the distance from New York to L.A to the nearest hair’s breadth. And for those of us navigating journeys even more fraught and perilous than an odyssey across America - such as driving from West London to Westminster without hitting roadworks - the precision of GPS satellite technology can guide us - and all thanks to the extraordinary precision of relativity’s equations.”

Michael Gove, British Conservative politician, journalist and author, Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove speaks to the Royal Society on maths and science (full speech), 29 June 2011
May
28th
Sat
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Andrew Potter on progress

“Progress is a stuffy old word, employed primarily by squares and ironists. But perhaps it is time to rehabilitate the very idea of progress: not the blind conviction that things are getting better all the time, but the simple faith that even when humans encounter obstacles, we’ll figure things out, through the exercise of reason, ingenuity and goodwill.

Faith in progress is nothing more, and nothing less, than faith in humankind, and if there is one thing we ought to be nostalgic for, it is for a time when progress was something that self-described “progressives” actually believed in. For too long they’ve been wallowing in an inert philosophy that has done considerable damage to the search for social justice and spiritual comfort.” “
Andrew Potter, Canadian philosopher, author, and magazine columnist, The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2010, p. 271.
Feb
28th
Mon
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The alphabet was civilization’s first abstract art form. As the actual shape of each letter became divorced from any connection to the image of the thing it might once have represented, the abstract quality of alphabets most likely subliminally reinforced the ability of those who used them to think abstractly.
Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light, New York: Harper Perennial, 1991. 2007 (tnx carvalhais)
Feb
15th
Tue
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We may be only one of millions of advanced civilizations. Unfortunately, space being spacious, the average distance between any two of these civilizations is reckoned to be at least two hundred light-years, which is a great deal more than merely saying it makes it sound. It means for a start that even if these beings know we are here and are somehow able to see us in their telescopes, they’re watching light that left Earth two hundred years ago.

So, they’re not seeing you and me. They’re watching the French Revolution and Thomas Jefferson and people in silk stockings and powdered wigs—people who don’t know what an atom is, or a gene, and who make their electricity by rubbing a rod of amber with a piece of fur and think that’s quite a trick.

Any message we receive from them is likely to begin “Dear Sire,” and congratulate us on the handsomness of our horses and our mastery of whale oil. Two hundred light-years is a distance so far beyond us as to be, well, just beyond us.
Feb
10th
Thu
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We’re engaging in a set of activities which go way beyond the individual life span, way beyond children, grandchildren, way beyond parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, to the whole frame of at least civilizational life. Once you get comfortable with that, then you start to go further out still, to three and a half billion years of life on Earth, and maybe we’ll do another three… and a half billion years. That’s kind of interesting to try to hold in your mind. And once you’ve held it in your mind, what do you do on Monday?
Stewart Brand, Afterwords, Edge, 18.6.2010
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The world is changing faster than ever in our history. Our best hope for the future is to develop a new paradigm of human capacity to meet a new era of human existence.
Sir Ken Robinson, author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts to government.
Jan
25th
Tue
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Civilization is an experiment, a very recent way of life in the human career, and it has a habit of walking into what I am calling progress traps. A small village on good land beside a river is a good idea; but when the village grows into a city and paves over the good land, it becomes a bad idea. While prevention might have been easy, a cure may be impossible: a city isn’t easily moved. This human inability to foresee — or to watch out for — long-range consequences may be inherent to our kind, shaped by the millions of years when we lived from hand to mouth by hunting and gathering. It may also be little more than a mix of inertia, greed, and foolishness encouraged by the shape of the social pyramid. The concentration of power at the top of large-scale societies gives the elite a vested interest in the status quo; they continue to prosper in darkening times long after the environment and general populace begin to suffer.
Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress, Da Capo Press, 2005, p. 109.