What if we lived in a world where the long-term was taken seriously?
At an event hosted by the Long Now Foundation, science fiction author Neal Stephenson reads from his latest novel ANATHEM. Afterwards he participates in a conversation with Stewart Brand and Danny Hillis.
Stewart Brand is co-founder and president of The Long Now Foundation and co-founder of Global Business Network. He created and edited the Whole Earth Catalog (National Book Award), and co-founded the Hackers Conference and The WELL. His books include The Clock of the Long Now; How Buildings Learn; and The Media Lab. His most recent book, titled Whole Earth Discipline, is published by Viking in the US and Atlantic in the UK.
Danny Hillis is chairman and co-founder of Applied Minds. Previously, he was vice president and Disney fellow for Research and Development at Walt Disney Imagineering, and a co-founder of Thinking Machines Corp.
While completing his doctorate at MIT, he pioneered the concept of parallel computers that is now the basis for most supercomputers, as well as the RAID disk array technology used to store large databases.
He is the recipient of the inaugural Dan David Prize, the Spirit of American Creativity Award, the Hopper Award, and the Ramanujan Award. He is a fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the International Leadership Forum, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
Neal Stephenson is the best-selling author of such novels as Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, and The Baroque Cycle.
He is best know for writing science fiction (in the postcyberpunk genre) and his interests often lead him into investigations of society, mathematics, cryptology, currency and the history of science.
Neal Stephenson speaks to the connection between mathematics and music in his newest novel ANATHEM, discussing how the music was composed to represent the monastic traditions contained in the fictional world of the book.
Author Neal Stephenson discusses the philosophical concept of mathematical Platonism that appears throughout his novel ANATHEM. It is a belief in the constancy of mathematical concepts, irrespective of its discovery by people.
Neal Stephenson describes how he created new words for his book ANATHEM, which is set on a fictional world. Though he denies comparison to Tolkien's fictional languages, a glossary of terms is included with the book.
Fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals, or more generally, literary fantasy including a scientific factor as an essential orienting component. Precursors of the genre include Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726). From its beginnings in the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, it emerged as a self-conscious genre in the pulp magazine Amazing Stories, founded in 1926. It came into its own as serious fiction in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction in the late 1930s and in works by such writers as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. A great boom in popularity followed World War II, when numerous writers' approaches included predictions of future societies on Earth, analyses of the consequences of interstellar travel, and imaginative explorations of intelligent life in other worlds. Much recent fiction has been written in the cyberpunk genre, which deals with the effects of computers and artificial intelligence on anarchic future societies. Radio, film, and television have reinforced the popularity of the genre.
I hope there will be a more complete transcript of the talk soon as the audio is quite bad in some parts of it. Other than that, it's a really interesting talk, complete with performances! I wish I could have been there.
So IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m just going to read. This is the very opening of the book.If I read something from the later, itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s full of spoilers and vocabulary you donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t know yetso it seems like starting from the beginning itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s the way to do this. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œDo your neighborsburn one another alive?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ was how Fraa Orolo began his conversation with artisan Flec.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œEmbarrassment befell me. Embarrassment is something I can feel in my flesh like ahandful of sun-warmed mud clapped on my head. Do your shamans walk around onstilts?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ Fraa Orolo asked reading from a leaf that judging by its brownness was at leastfive centuries old. Then he looked up and added helpfully, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œyou might call them pastorsor witch doctors.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ The embarrassment had turned to running. It was horrifying my scalpalong a spreading frontier. When a child gets sick, do you pray? Sacrifice to a paintedstick for blame it on an old lady? Now a sheeting warm down my face, clogging myears and sanding my eyes. I could barely hear Fraa OroloÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s questions. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œDo you fancyyou will see your dead dogs and cats in some sort of afterlife?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ Orolo had asked mealong to serve as amanuensis. It was an impressive word so IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d said yes. He have heardthan an artisan from extramuros had been allowed in to the new library to fix a rottedrafter that we could not reach with our ladders. It had only just been noticed and wedidnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t have time to erect proper scaffolding before Apert. Orolo meant to interview thatartisan and he wanted me to write down what happened. Through drizzly eyes I lookedup the leaf in front of me. It was as blank as my brain. I was failing. But it was moreimportant to take notes of what the artisan said. So far nothing. When the interview hadbegun, he had been dragging an insufficiently sharp thing over a flat rock. Now he wasjust staring at Orolo. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œHas anyone you know ever been ritually mutilated because theywere seen reading a book?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ Artisan Flec closed his mouth for the first time in quite awhile. I could tell that the next time he opened it heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d have something to say. I scratchedat the edge of the leaf just to prove that my quill had not dried up. Fraa Orolo had gonequiet and he was looking at the artisan as if he were a new found nebula in the eyepieceof a telescope. Artisan Flec asked, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œwhy donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t you just speell in?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ Speel in,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ Fraa Orolorepeated to me a few times as I was writing it down. I spoke in bursts because I wastrying to write and talk at the same time. When I came, that is before I was collected, weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ I mean they had a call thing called a spilly. We didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t say it was ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œspill in.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ We saidcruise the speely. Out of consideration for the artisan, I chose to speak in Fleccish and sothis staggering drunk of a sentence only sounded half as bad as if IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d said it in Orth. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œItwas a sort of moving picture,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ Orolo gasped. He looked to the artisan and switched toFleccish. We have guessed that to spill in means to partake of some moving pictureproxies what you would call technology that prevails out there. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œMoving picture thatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s afunny way to say it,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ said the artisan. He stared on the window as if it were a speelyshowing a historical documentary. He quivered with a silent laugh. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIt is proxic Orthand so it sounds quaint to your ears,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ Fraa Orolo admitted. Why donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t you just call it byits real name? Speeling in? Yeah, because when Fraa Erasmus here came into the mathten years ago, it was called cruising the speely and when I came in almost 30 ago, wecalled it fire spark. The avowed who live on the other side of yonder wall whocelebrated apert only once every hundred years would know it by some other name. I wouldnot be able to talk to them. Artisan Flec had not taken another word after fire spark. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œFirespark is completely different,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ he said. You canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t watch fire spark content on a spilly.You have to up converted and reparse the format. Fraa Orolo was as bored by that as theartisan was by a talk of the hundred years and so conversation thudded to a stop longenough for me to scratch it down. My embarrassment had gone away without mynoticing it as with hiccups. Artisan Flec, believing that the conversation was finallyover, turns to look at the scaffolding that his men had erected beneath the bad rafter. Toanswer your question, Fraa Orolo began. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWhat question?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThe one you posed just aminute ago. If I want to know what things are like extramuros, why donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t I just speel in?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œOh,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ said the artisan, a little confounded by the length of Fraa OroloÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s attention span. Isuffer from attention surplus disorder, Fraa Orolo like to say as if it were funny.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œFirst of all, Fraa Orolo said, we donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t have a speely device.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œSpeely device?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ Wavinghis hand as if this would dispel clouds of linguistic confusion, Orolo said, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œwhateverartifact you use to speel in. If you have an old fire spark resonator, I could bring you adown converter thatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s been sitting in my junk pile.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWe donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t have a fire sparkresonator either,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ said Fraa Orolo. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWhy donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t you just buy one?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ This gave Orlow apause. I could sense a new set of embarrassing questions stocking up in his mind. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œDoyou believe that we have money? That the reason we are protected by the secular poweris because we are sitting on a treasure hoard? That our Millenarians know how to convertbase metals to gold?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ But Fraa Orolo mastered the urge. Living as we do under theCartesian discipline, our only media are chalk, ink, and stone, he said. But there isanother reason too. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYeah, what is it?,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ demanded artisan Flec barely provoked by FraaOroloÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s freakish habit of announcing what he was about to say instead of just coming outand saying it. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWell, itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s hard to explain but for me just aiming a speely input device orfire spark chamber or whatever you call it. A speelycaptor at something doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t collectwhat is meaningful to me. I need someone to gather it in with all their senses. Mix itaround in their head and make it over into words.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWords,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ the artisan echoed and thenaimed sharp looks all around the library. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œTomorrow, QuinnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s is coming instead of me,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬he announced and then added a little bit defensively, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI have to counterstrafe the newklanax recompensators. The fan out free is starting to look a bit clumpy if you ask me.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI have no idea what that means,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ Orolo marveled. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œNever mind, you ask him all yourquestions. HeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s got the gift of Gab.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ And for the third time in these many minutes, theartisan looked at the screen of his Ji-ja who insists that he shut down all of itscommunicationÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s functions but it still served as a pocket watch. He didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t seem to realizethat in plain sight out the window was a clock 500 feet high. IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d put a full stop at the endof the sentence and aimed my face at a bookshelf because I was afraid that I might lookamused. There was something in the way heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d said ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œQuinnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s coming instead of meÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ thatmade it seem he just decided it on the spot. Fraa Orolo had probably caught it too. If Imade a mistake of looking at him, I would laugh and he wouldnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t. The clock beganchiming provenur. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s me,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ I said then I added for the benefit of the artisan,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œapologies, I must go wind the clock.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI was wondering,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ he said. He reached into histool box and took out a polly bag, blew off saw dust undid its seal which was of a typeI had never seen before and withdrew a silver tube the size of his finger. Then he looked atFraa Orolo hopefully. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t know what that is and I donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t understand what you want,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬said Fraa Orolo. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œA speelycaptor!ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œAh, you have heard about provenur and as long as youare here, youÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d like to view it and make a moving picture?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ The artisan nodded. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThatwill be acceptable provided you stand where you are told. DonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t turn it on.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ FraaOrolo raised his hands and got ready to avert his gaze. The world regulant will hear of itshall make me do penance. IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ll send you to the Ika, theyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ll show you where to go. Andmore in disdain for the discipline who has made up of many rules and we had alreadymade a model of them in artisan FlecÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s mind by allowing him to venture into theDecenarian math. IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve been using my sphere as a stool. I trace counter clockwise circleson it with my fingertips and it shrunk until I could palm it. My bolt had shifted whileIÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve been sitting. I pulled it up and yank to the pleats spade as I careered around tables,chairs, globes, and slow moving frost. I passed under a stone arch into this cryptorium,the place now richly of ink maybe because an ancient fraa and his two fids werecopying out books there but I wonder how long it would take to stop smelling that way ifno one ever used it at all. A lot of ink has been spent there and the wet smell of it must be deepinto everything. At the other end, a smaller doorway led to the old library which was oneof the original buildings that stood right on the cloister ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s stone floor 2300 years oldthan that of the new library was so smooth under the soles of my feet that I could scarcelyfeel it. I could have found my way with my eyes closed by letting my feet read thememory worn into it by those gone before. The cluster was a roofed gallery around theperimeter of a rectangular garden. On the inner side, nothing separated it from ourweather except the row of columns that held up its roof. On the outer side, it wasbounded by a wall openings in which gave way to buildings such as the old library, therefectory and various charcoals. Every object I passed the carved bookcase ends, thestones locked together to make the floor, the frames at the windows, the foraged hingesof the doors and the handmade nails that fasten them to the wood, the capitals of thecolumns that surrounded the place, the pads and bed of the garment itself, everyone hadbeen made in a particular form by a clever person a long time ago. Some of them such asthe doors of the old library had consumed the whole lifetime to those who had wroughtthem. Others looked as though theyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d been tossed off in an idle afternoon but with suchoff sight that they had been cherished for a hundreds or thousands of years. Some werefounded on pure simple geometry. Others reveled in complication and it was a sort of ariddle whether there was any rule governing their forms. Still others were the pictures ofactual people who had lived and thought interesting things at one time or another orbarring that of general types. The diolator, the physiologer, the burglar, and the slime. Ifsomeone had asked, I might not be able to explain a quarter of them. One day, IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d beable to explain them all.So thatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s the opening of the Anathem. ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s being narrated by a roughly eighteen-year old avowed which means somebody who has literally sworn a vow to live in thisplace called the math which is build around the giant clock and has a wall in it pierce by agate that opens once every ten years. So by definition of the people who lived there,people who decided that they only have contact with the outside world every ten years orso and the society in this world, they tend to be the literate people, the scientist, themathematician and so on. IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve been working on this project for three or four years nowand in the early going as a way of getting into the mood, I would go to concerts ofmedieval and renaissance music whenever I could in Seattle area and that meantfrequently attending concerts by a couple of groups called Capella Romana. ThatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s aPortland-based group that does byzantine chant and the tudor choir which is a Seattle-based group that does renaissance polyphony kind of similar to the Talent Scholars if youknow who they are. So a couple of years ago I was going out to dinner with David Stutz,a friend of mine, ex-Microsoft person who is retired and now works as a professionalmusician and he and our wives will go into a concert of a group called Trio Medievalwhich again as you can guess from the name does really acapella choral music and I ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“over a couple of bottles of wine, explain the perimeters of this book. And we spun out anidea that I assumed would disappear and never been heard of again after we sobered upwhich was thatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ll be amusing to try to actually create the music that the avowed, thepeople in this Constants would actually make and structurally, it might have a lot incommon with medieval liturgical music of the planet earth but the key difference is thatinstead glorifying a religious idea, this music would have the purpose of glorifying someidea from mathematics or science or philosophy that the avowed felt to be particularlybeautiful. And David went to work on that and has composed a number of pieces whichare being released today on a CD that is available through the Long Now Foundation.All profits from the sale of the CD once weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve recoup the fairly minimal cost ofproduction are going to the Long Now Foundation and David is here this evening withsome of the singers who performed on the CD. YouÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ve already heard a coupleof pieces. All of them are built around anathematical themes except for one called theLament for the Third Sack which is a historical piece. So weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢re going to use ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢regoing to have performances by the singers as interludes between the other parts of theprogram today and I canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t remember which piece is next but weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢re going to transition tothat now.