Today is Juneteenth. I encourage you to set aside some time today to research the history of this holiday.

If you actually take the time to learn what this holiday is all about, you might find yourself thinking very differently about a number of important topics that affect all of us. And that’s a good thing.

Walt Disney was right

Today I read a fascinating article in the New York Times about the recent discovery, in South Korea, of an ancestor of the modern crocodile. It seems to be an entirely new species, heretofore undiscovered.

What’s fascinating is that it lived 100 million years ago, was nine feet long, and walked on its hind legs. Pretty cool stuff.

When I read this, it reminded me of something I had seen, and then I realized what. Walt Disney’s Fantasia anticipated something similar, as you can see in the image below.

Amazing foresight, yes?


Cars, reconsidered

Imagine trying to describe cars to pretty much anyone in 1870. You’d need to explain that hundreds of millions of people own these crazy futuristic contraptions. Each such contraption weighs about 3000 pounds, can go faster than 60 miles per hour, and can be controlled by anyone from a teenager to a senior citizen.

Also, to make this entire system work, much of our world will need to be radically transformed by an insanely expensive system of paved roads and highways. Just to make cars practical to use.

The person you are talking to would probably think you are crazy. And given what they know about reality, they’d probably be right to think so.

It is thoughts like this that allow me to believe in radical visions for our future. No matter how crazy an idea might seem in one era, it can end up being perfectly ordinary reality in a later era.

We don’t know what will be possible in the future. But we are always right to dream.

Virtual talks and panels

Today I’m on yet another Zoom talk followed by a Zoom panel. It is amazing to me how our communities of intellectual thought are re-forming themselves around this completely non-physical space. In some ways it is inconvenient but in other ways it is very powerful, because people are getting the opportunity to experience each other’s ideas without needing to fly places, book hotels, or incur an expense that is beyond the means of many students. I wonder, when we look back on this time, will we see it as a time of intellectual growth and greater community, despite the terrible and tragic dimensions of the pandemic?

Everybody works from home

I wonder whether things will ever really go back to the way they were. Right several things are happening in parallel.

One thing is the race for a vaccine. Yet we know that the fastest development of a vaccine in history was for mumps, and that took four years. So it might be a while before we can stop social distancing.

But another thing is our gradual adjustment to life with social distancing. We are developing new technologies, social customs, business practices, in a massive and highly parallel effort just to deal with this new reality.

At some point, the results of all this might lead to a permanent shift in the way things are done. Entire industries may simply vanish, and entirely new industries will arise, tabula rasa, to take their place.

We might be seeing the beginning of a new era in human history. In a few years we might just take it for granted that everybody works from home.

Happy accidents

This morning on my phone over coffee, I was reading a wonderful interview with Bob Dylan in the New York Times. At some point he mentioned Ginsberg, Corso and Karouac.

I have loved the work of Ginsberg and Karouac since I was a teenager, but Corso was off my radar. I promptly Googled him, and then spend a happy 20 minutes reading the Wikipedia article about this fascinating Beat poet of the streets.

I love the way our modern world allows for random connections and happy accidents of discovery. I wonder whether those happy accidents will increase in the coming years, as SmartPhones are replaced by wearables.

That would be pretty cool.

When science fiction becomes reality

One of the salient qualities of science fiction is that it talks about things that might happen, but have not yet happened. This distinguishes it from fantasy, which talks about things that can never happen.

But one odd thing about predictions of the future is that they sometimes come true. The geosynchronous satellites that Arthur C. Clarke described as a possible future because the actual geosynchronous satellites of a later time.

Similarly, Captain Kirk’s amazing pocket communicator became the SmartPhone of a later age. There are lots of similar examples.

I wonder which science fiction visions of today will become the ordinary of tomorrow. I also wonder whether there is any better way to predict this than simply to guess.