Say it’s midway through the final year of the first decade of the 21st Century. Say that, last week, two things happened: scientists in China announced successful quantum teleportation over a distance of ten miles, while other scientists, in Maryland, announced the creation of an artificial, self-replicating genome. In this particular version of the 21st Century, which happens to be the one you’re living in, neither of these stories attracted a very great deal of attention.
In quantum teleportation, no matter is transferred, but information may be conveyed across a distance, without resorting to a signal in any traditional sense. Still, it’s the word “teleportation”, used seriously, in a headline. My “no kidding” module was activated: “No kidding,” I said to myself, “teleportation.” A slight amazement.
Stewart Brand is an intellectual magpie, drawing on an incredibly wide variety of sources for his new book Whole Earth Discipline. Fans of Brand will not be surprised at much of the content, as he has written earlier on similar subjects: the scope and scale of climate change, the dynamism of megacities, the controversy and promise of genetic engineering and nuclear power. What’s new is the synthesis of all of these subjects into a narrative and argument that compels you with its strength while bewitching you with its range.
Brand has put much of the text online already to create an annotated version with links, photos, and source material — which is either an unbelievable resource or the end of your productivity for the week, depending on the degree of your willpower. If you never emerge from this list of recommended reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The hard copy version of Whole Earth Discipline launches today. Buy it here.
Inspired by this recount of famous shed-writers, I am putting forth my own favorite hermetic book-lover story: that of Joseph Campbell spending several years in a cabin, reading for nine hours a day. Something about the unlikely combination of dedication and freedom involved in this endeavor has wedged it firmly in place at the top of my list of fantasy life plans. Here, the man himself explains the setup, from The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work.
So during the years of the Depression I had arranged a schedule for myself. When you don’t have a job or anyone to tell you what to do, you’ve got to fix one for yourself. I divided the day into four four-hour periods, of which I would be reading in three of the four-hour periods, and free one of them.
By getting up at eight o’clock in the morning, by nine I could sit down to read. That meant I used the first hour to prepare my own breakfast and take care of the house and put things together in whatever shack I happened to be living in at the time. Then three hours of that first four-hour period went to reading.
Then came an hour break for lunch and another three-hour unit. And then comes the optional next section. It should normally be three hours of reading and then an hour out for dinner and then three hours free and an hour getting to bed so I’m in bed by twelve.
On the other hand, if I were invited out for cocktails or something like that, then I would put the work hour in the evening and the play hour in the afternoon.
It worked very well. I would get nine hours of sheer reading done a day. And this went on for five years straight.
The full story of how he came to find himself out there and what happened next is really worth reading, and is included after the jump.
Plus, all 59 (and counting) references to A Farewell to Alms on MR.