Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia

23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0380793464
ISBN-10: 0380793466
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Editorial Reviews Review

Physicist and science fiction author Gregory Benford says there are two main impulses behind human efforts to communicate with future societies. The first, "High Church," shouts beauty, ego, and awe across the millennia: See how amazing our pyramid-building skills were? The Seven Wonders of the World would fall into this category--if they had lasted. Monuments, cathedrals, tombs, anything that says, "This great object meant something to us." On a much more mundane (and human) level is the "Kilroy" impulse: I lived! You needn't look hard to find evidence of this temporal communication: graffiti is as old as humanity, and latter-day taggers are following in the footsteps of Greek mercenaries (who left their names all over Egyptian monuments, Lord Byron (who carved his name into the Temple of Poseidon), and legions of anonymous ancient scribblers.

So, humans want and are able to communicate (wordlessly and otherwise) over thousands of years. But, asks Benford, can we accurately convey information over millions of years, or longer? We may need to do just that in order to responsibly protect future beings from our current, long-reaching messages--nuclear waste, climate change, extinction of species. Benford was part of a team of artists and scientists trying to come up with ways of saying "WARNING" to humans (or other beings) in the distant future. Deep Time is a fascinating look at the nature of communication and the future implications of things we do today. It's a terrifically intelligent, detailed, and comprehensive long view, with a message sorely needed by short-lived, but brainy, humans. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In his first foray into book-length nonfiction, acclaimed science fiction writer and physics professor Benford (Timescape, Cosm etc.) combines a scientist's perspective and a novelist's imagination to produce a provocative and disturbing look into "deep time," the far future that may be beyond the limits of our civilization and our species, but not beyond the reach of our technology. He begins with tales of the messages we have purposefully left for the intelligent beings who may exist thousands or millions of years in the future. Benford draws these stories from his experiences as a member of the teams that designed the message placed aboard the 1998 Cassini mission to Saturn and that defined the characteristics of warning markers for the radioactive waste storage sites that will still be dangerous 10 millennia hence. He ends with a look at the messages that we are inadvertently sending into deep time, messages written not in media but on Earth itself and the life it supports. Here, Benford deliberately provokes controversy by arguing that humans must take on the task of geoengineering?controlling the evolution of both life and climate?if we wish to survive. That message and his mind-stretching book leave readers with a frightening question: Where will we find scientifically knowledgeable, technologically enlightened political leaders to guide us to the right choices? Illustrations throughout.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (November 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380793466
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380793464
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,541,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gregory Benford, author of top-selling novels, including Jupiter Project, Artifact, Against Infinity, Eater, and Timescape, is that unusual creative combination of scientist scholar and talented artist; his stories capture readers - hearts and minds - with imaginative leaps into the future of science and of us.

A University of California faculty member since 1971, Benford has conducted research in plasma turbulence theory and experiment, and in astrophysics. His published scientific articles include well over a hundred papers in fields of physics from condensed matter, particle physics, plasmas and mathematical physics, and several in biological conservation.

Often called hard science fiction, Benford's stories take physics into inspired realms. What would happen if cryonics worked and people, frozen, were awoken 50 years in the future? What might we encounter in other dimensions? How about sending messages across time? And finding aliens in our midst? The questions that physics and scientists ask, Benford's imagination explores.
With the re-release of some of his earlier works and the new release of current stories and novels, Benford takes the lead in creating science fiction that intrigues and amuses us while also pushing us to think.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book really gets you thinking in a new way: going beyond your own petty life and petty concerns to think about the far past and the far future. So you think computer disks are so cool? Egyptian pyramids have a better record of surviving down the ages - already some of our data media are disintegrating and we don't have any working equpment to read them! When you call something the "way of the future," Benford points out, you need to think about exactly how far in the future you are looking.
Time capsules? We go to so much trouble to send trivial junk into the future...sometimes for only a few decades. A future archaeologist would probably learn more from mining our landfills, as we do from digging in ancient garbage heaps.
Benford also distinguishes between serious, scientific efforts to send a message to aliens (eg the plaques/records on the Pioneer space probes) and the "Kilroy was here" impulse ("Send your name on a CD-ROM to the stars!") being marketed so heavily. The latter, he notes, amounts to graffiti, worthless in the end except to someone's ego.
Finally, there are sections on saving the environment and biodiversity, to make sure we HAVE a future. Benford strikes a balance between the in situ/ex situ (conservation/zoos) approaches to saving species and the Puritan/technology prophet approaches to solving the greenhouse effect, a balance that is desperately needed when most so-called experts seem to be passionate ideologues one way or the other.
This book draws broadly on numerous disciplines and from a lot of research but leaves you really thinking in the end, and perhaps rethinking some of your assumptions about the future.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By G. Christopher on July 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is really two different books connected by a quick segue. The first half of the book sprints through a summary of the different ways that humans have intentionally left evidence of their lives long after their death. It continues to chronicle recent and ongoing efforts to leave evidence of our civilization to future humans and in outer space. I found the discussions of the petty infighting at NASA and the chaotic process of government-sponsored monument design particularly interesting. Benford is quick to note that for the money we spend on a radioactive waste marker that might save 100 lives over 10,000 years, we could save many thousands of lives right now. Comments like these help the reader keep a grounded perspective of the silliness of leaving long-lasting monuments, as well as highlighting the drive that makes us ignore our present concerns in favor of leaving messages for future generations.
The second half of the book is entirely about how future generations will interpret the environmental state of the planet as a monument to our current society and how we can take action to change the state of the planet. This section strays more heavily into the realm of speculative fiction than the first half of the book. Benford argues for "responsible stewardship" of the planet as the only option for sustaining our current level of population and energy. He calls for active efforts to influence the patterns of energy exchange over the planet's surface. While he is almost certainly right, his argument is a bit aggressive. He warns that we must start with extremely limited experiments, but does not stress the fact we do not yet have the mathematical modeling techniques to accurately assess and predict the worldwide effects of our experimentation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Christine M. Rodrigue on June 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
I very much enjoyed reflecting on the ideas presented in Benford's discussion. The content and organization of the book are not specifically addressed in previous reviews on this site, so for the reader wondering what the book is about, a road map might be useful.
Deep Time has four sections:
(1) Ten Thousand Years of Solitude describes a project in which the author was involved, which addressed how (or if) society can design safe repositories for nuclear waste with effective means of communicating across millenia to people who will not share our culture, technology, or language, "don't go near this place." Past epic attempts to communicate over the millenia and present attempts to preserve computer data for even a few years do not build confidence that this critical message will speak properly to its unimaginably distant audience.
(2) Vaults in Vacuum is a rather darkly amusing discussion of the etched plates NASA sent out on some space missions intended to communicate with whoever finds them about Earth, Sol, and humans. The unintended humor of the political process surrounding their design communicates more to us about human nature than the disks themselves could ever communicate to aliens! The fate of the diamond disk that was supposed to ride with Cassini-Huygens to Saturn is nothing short of hysterical.
(3) The Library of Life is a depressing description of the potentially Chicxulub-scale loss of biodiversity caused by humans in the last few centuries. It argues almost poignantly, perhaps quixotically, for building cryogenically-preserved DNA libraries to store the basic information on biodiversity, so our far descendants, if we manage to leave any, might be able to resuscitate what we are destroying -- "Jurassic Park" on ice.
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