Notes on the book, The Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand

Unless otherwise noted, all notes are Brand quotes

After years of working with alchoholics the anthropologist and psychologist Gergory Bateson observed, "If the hangover preceded the binge, drunkenness would be considered a virtue and not a vice."

I propose six significant levels of pace and size in the working structure of a robust and adaptable civilization. From fast to slow the levels are:

  1. Fashion/art
  2. Commerce
  3. Inftrastructure
  4. Governance
  5. Culture
  6. Nature

…the Inner Shrine at Ise was first built in 4 B.C.E, the Outer Shrine in 478C.E. Every twenty years for well over a thousand years the all-wood shire has been totally reconstructed - a perfect replica built next to the previous building…Ise is the world's greatest monument to continuity - an unbroken lineage of structure, records, and tradition on a humid, earthquake-prone, volcanic island. Ise ancient rites are alive and meaningful.

[ computer emulators could be the modern equivilant, rebuilding old systems to work on new technology ]

Goethe wrote, "America, you have it better than our old continent; you have no ruined castles and no primordial stones. Your soul, your inner life remain untroubled by useless memory and wasted strife." Other Europeans, to be sure, are at pains to remind Americans constantly (and correctly) how shallow, callow, and fevered they are.

The scientist James Lovelock, best known for his Gaia theory of life-mediated regulation of the atmosphere, has proposed compiling a start-up manual for civilization, beginning with how to make fire, moving on through all of science and technology, from subjects such as ancient genetic design (domesticating plants and animals by selective breeding) to current genetic design (cloning)… It would earn the respect needed to ensure it a place in every home, school, library, and place of worship. It would then be on hand whatever happened."

[ Arthur Herman ] says that in Europe high-minded cultural pessimism began with the failure of the French Revolution and culminated in Nazi Germany. It was tremendously destructive. It still is.

[ Freeman Dyson says ] "Economic forecasting misses the real future because it has too short a range; fiction misses the future because it has too little imagination." …At any time the several 'probable' things that might occur in the futrre are vastly outnumbered by the countless near-impossible eventualisties, which are so many and individually so unlikely that it is not worth the effort of futurists or futurismists to examine and prepare for even a fraction of them…Fiction has to be plausible; reality doesn't.

Feedback is the primary tool for tuning systems; especially at the natural/artificial interface.

German military officers are required to eat what their troops eat and after they eat. That single tradition assures that everyone's meals are excellent and timely, and it enhances unit morale and respect for the officers. The feedback cycle is local and immediate, not routed through bureaucratic specialists or levels of hierarchy.

"Fast learners tend to track noisy signals too closely and to confuse themselves by making changes before the effects of previous actions are clear," says James March.

[ Industry and science working together ] "Those children you're studying are going to be our employees in twenty years. We plan to be in China for hundreds of years. I think you should get in touch with Motorola's foundation."

When you've been through enough winters you finally come to know and truly believe, in the dark of the year, that spring will come - just when you're no longer sure that you'll be around for it. Unlike the young, for whom each season is a world, the old can savor the passing of the seasons, actually feel them move through, charged with poignancy. [ last winter, at age 31, I felt this for the first time. I prepared for winter, prepared, I had no need to complain, and by February and March I was free of my usual cabin fever and complaints. ]

In one century elders have gone from being rare and honored to common and powerful.

Organic farmers have a bumper sticker: "Live like you'll die tomorrow. Farm like you'll live forever."

There are two ways to make systems fault-tolerant: One is to make them small, so that correction is local and quick; the other is to make them slow, so that correction has time to permeate the system.

Danny Hillis points out, "There are problems that are impossible if you think about them in two-years terms - which everyone does - but they're easy if you think in fifty-year terms."

Preserving and increasing options is a major component of a self-saving world. Making it a habit would be part of the answer to the question, How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare? Time-inclusive thinking began when the first farmers planted their seeds instead of eating them (it must have seemed a risky investment).