Tumblr Icon RSS Icon

Communicating With the Far Future

Posted on  

"Communicating With the Far Future"


google plus icon

My uncle once explained to me that the really hard problem of nuclear waste storage isn’t designing a facility that won’t leak, it’s designing a sign warning future people not to let the waste out. Probably the easiest way to grasp the challenges involved is, as Juliet Lapidos says, to think about ancient Egypt:

800px-Kheops-Pyramid 1

The tomb of the ancient Egyptian vizier Khentika (also known as Ikhekhi), for example, contains the inscription: “As for all men who shall enter this my tomb … impure … there will be judgment … an end shall be made for him. … I shall seize his neck like a bird. … I shall cast the fear of myself into him.” It’s possible that the vizier’s contemporaries took Khentika at his word. But 20th-century archaeologists with wildly different religious beliefs had no reason to take the neck-cracking threat seriously. Likewise, a scavenger on the Carlsbad site in the year 12,000 C.E. may dismiss the menace of radiation poisoning as mere superstition. (“So I’m supposed to think that if I dig here, invisible energy beams will kill me?”) Hence the crux of the problem: Not only must intruders understand the message that nuclear waste is near and dangerous; they must also believe it.

The good news is that insofar as we manage to avoid a major civilization-collapse and the attendant loss of knowledge, future people will probably be able to figure out that the danger is real. And if we can’t avoid a major civilization-collapse, then the collapse, rather than the post-collapse nuclear waste incident, is the really the main problem.


« »

By clicking and submitting a comment I acknowledge the ThinkProgress Privacy Policy and agree to the ThinkProgress Terms of Use. I understand that my comments are also being governed by Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, or Hotmail’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policies as applicable, which can be found here.