The Big Questions
The undertaking that were are proposing is something that is meant to span not only centuries but millennia. It's taken 20 years of research, study and development to get to the point where we feel that we are beginning to understand the scope of what will be required and begin to ask the right questions.
To understand this we can't only look at man as an individual, but mankind as a species. in order to do that we need to ask; what is civilization and the nature of complex societies, how they emerge, grow, decline and fall and only then you can ask the most important question:
- What is our understanding of the nature of the universe at any given time in history – not only past and present, but going forward into the future?
- What is man (and mankind) and our place in the history of life on our planet? In other words can we come to an understanding of man as a species among many species that have lived on this planet over the past billion years?
- Is mankind and by extension our civilization worth saving? If the answer is yes, we can then start to formulate a methodology for preserving mankind as a species and the civilizations we have built….
Civilization is a bi-product of free time, a luxury born of safety and wealth. Civilization, and its advancement can only happen after base needs of survival have been met.
After a collapse, that free time is sharply curtailed, in direct proportion to how much of a civilization's infrastructure has been lost. The farther down Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs that a civilization descends, the less free time people have to rebuild civilization and the more time that will be required to simply survive.
In the past, when a civilization collapsed, there were always one or more civilizations in other parts of the world that would help reboot and integrate the remains of that civilization into something new.
But today, we only have a single, global civilization, located on a single planet that has already far exceeded it's carrying capacity. If our global mono-civilization fails, everything fails, and there will be nothing to rebuild from.
Tipping points are always dangerous, because you don't know, until it is too late, if the tipping point leads forward and up, exponentially, or if you have exhausted your growth and are teetering at the edge of the abyss. Mankind is approaching the cusp of such a tipping point and we won't know the outcome until it is too late.
When many people speak of the Long Now Foundation's 10,000 Year Clock, they are focusing on a hypothetical that doesn't exist. They are focusing on a time 10,000 years in future where the clock has survived. But there is a reason that the organization is named the Long Now Foundation, because the long now is not the future, is it now. And no matter how long humans survive, they will never see the future, they will only experience what is now.
The question people should be asking is, what are the consequences of a clock that has been in existence 100 years, 1,000 years or 10,000 years. In building such a clock we can look at scenarios of what could happen to the clock at any given time, calculate the probability of any of those things happening and then engineering the clock to survive any of those scenarios.
For example, the statistical probability that our Sun will go super-nova in the next 10,000 years is possible, but so improbable as to make the odds of winning the Lottery look like a safe bet. So, engineering the Clock to survive a super nova can be safely discarded.
It is critical that we grok, in the most fundamental way possible, that all we have is now, and that what we do now will have cumulative consequences that can not be reversed. This is so difficult because our neolithic programming has only recently (in evolutionary terms) given us the intellectual power to comprehend that this is true, but not yet the ability to internalize it enough to act on that knowledge.
And in a sense, we now have no choice but to re-engineer ourselves in the same way that the Clock was designed; anticipate all possible scenarios and engineer for those that are most likely.
That, in my opinion, is what the backup is all about. The backup is the first step in a long process of trying to survive long enough for our neolithic brains to internalize what we have recently been able to comprehend intellectually. And when that happens, with a bit of luck, mankind will begin to naturally act in it's own interest.
We don't need to mobilize the entire world to do this. But what we do need to is spark a movement that will attract enough people to dedicate their time and energy to the Backup. And in doing so we can take part in a project that has the possibility of echoing for millennia, beyond the point when we as individuals have passed out of living memory, and live on in future ages when the time we live in now is a little more than a trivial footnote about the ancients.
It is an epic, even heroic endeavour that is both intellectually challenging, and a pursuit that has both purpose and meaning. And that, I think, is not such a terrible way to choose to spend your time.