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  • When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 02000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 02000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium."

    Computer Scientist Danny Hillis

    Foresight is defined in part as “Care or provision for the future, an act of looking forward.”

    How far do you look ahead?

    Do you think it is a good idea to keep in mind various possibilities, and plan for them, or at least plan for contingencies?

    Have you ever studied the beneficial effects of long-range planning, as it might impact your personal, family or community life?

    I do not ask these questions casually.

    While long range planning is not often discussed outside of think tanks and esoteric institutes, it is a subject worthy of our consideration.

    You might, for example, find it provocative and educational to join Stewart Brand’s Long Now Foundation, which looks ahead to the next 10,000 years:

    The Long Now Foundation was established in 01996* to develop the Clock and Library projects, as well as to become the seed of a very long-term cultural institution:

    "The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide a counterpoint to today's accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common. We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years."

    You read correctly: “The next 10,000 years.”

    Charles F. Kettering wrote: “My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.”

    To spend some time thinking about the future is a healthy discipline, especially today, when we live in “accelerating culture.”

    We are often completely without any sense of the impact, for good or ill, of our actions, such as the spraying of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, the depleted uranium bombs used in several recent wars, the negative impacts of current methods for extracting minerals from the earth, and the devastating consequences of nuclear power accidents when things go horribly wrong as is happening right now at Fukushima.

    If we make far-sighted, wise and responsible decisions today, the results of this thinking and the actions they invite can make a profound difference generations hence.

    There is much going on right now that suggests we need to develop pro-active foresight to heal ourselves, our communities, and our planet.

    One of the most instructive and compelling stories I have ever heard about foresight is told by Gregory Bateson.

    Bateson recalls a time, several decades ago, when the huge ceiling beams in the Great Hall of King’s College in England were starting to rot away. The beams, of a special kind of black oak, were, after all 400 years old.

    Committees were formed and meetings held to try and figure out where to get exactly the right kind of oak for replacements. Alas, no such oak could be found.

    Finally, it occurred to the College Administration to invite in the Resident Forester and ask him if he had any ideas of what could be done.

    The Forester was quick to provide an answer, being the solution to the problem of replacing the old beams with exactly the same strong, long lasting wood.

    He told the Administrators that when the Great Hall was first built, over 400 years ago, the architects knew that at some point in the future, the original beams would rot, and would need to be replaced.

    Knowing this, they planted a special forest of the Black Oaks, so that when it was time to replace the beams, there would be an abundant supply of oak right on hand for the new beams.

    How can we learn to think this way?

    Should there be a course in schools called “Foresight 101” ?

    Is there anything you can do in your own life right now which looks ahead: A year? Ten years? One hundred years?

    Novelist Michael Chabon wrote in DETAILS Magazine (2006) about the Clock of the Long Now:

    When I told my son about the Clock of the Long Now, he listened very carefully, and
    we looked at the pictures on the Long Now Foundation’s website. “Will there really
    be people then, Dad?” he said. “Yes,” I told him without hesitation, “there will.” I
    don’t know if that’s true, any more than do Danny Hillis and his colleagues, with the
    beating clocks of their hopefulness and the orreries of their imaginations.

    But in having children—in engendering them, in loving them, in teaching them to love and
    care about the world—parents are betting, whether they know it or not, on the Clock
    of the Long Now. They are betting on their children, and their children after them,
    and theirs beyond them, all the way down the line from now to 12,006.

    If you don’t believe in the Future, unreservedly and dreamingly, if you aren’t willing to bet that
    somebody will be there to cry when the Clock finally, ten thousand years from now,
    runs down, then I don’t see how you can have children. If you have children, I don’t
    see how you can fail to do everything in your power to ensure that you win your bet,
    and that they, and their grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren, will
    inherit a world whose perfection can never be accomplished by creatures whose
    imagination for perfecting it is not limitless and free.

    And I don’t see how anybody can force me to pay up on my bet if I turn out, in the end,
    to be wrong.
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