String theory and the decade of anniversaries


This is a longer blog post that I would even read – let alone write. So here is the headline.

The past is important we should learn from it. But it is the past. We need to think more about the future … We can learn from that too.

I know something about string theory. I watch Big Bang Theory and I’ve learned from Sheldon that there is more than one flavour (although he probably wouldn’t use that word). And the other thing I know I heard on a trailer for Radio 4’s In Our Time is that the past, present and future have equal value.

In Northern Ireland and Ireland this is the decade of anniversaries. 1912 to 1922 was a crucial time for the history of the island. It was also a divisive time and the challenge for us here is to observe, commemorate, celebrate, remember those days without being divisive.

Not really String theory:
If the present is N, how come the the importance placed on the past seems like N x Y and on the future is N/Z? In other words, the past is more important than the present. And the future is less important than the now. In Northern Ireland/Ulster/the North/the 6 counties (you choose, I don’t care much) we struggle to deal with the past. Do people talk about struggling with the future? I think that this is a bigger and more important struggle. Yes past present and future are not inseparable. But where should the focus and the energy be?

It’s tougher to deal with the future. We can see the past -albeit with different coloured lenses with different prescription strengths. We, if we try hard enough, can see the future. We have to envision it to make it. We don’t always get the the past right and we won’t always get our vision the future right.

At NISP Connect over the last few months, a group of people from business, science, academic and voluntary organisations has been struggling with the future. They are trying to define the next 20/25 years. I was among that group.

A week before, I was at a dinner to commemorate one of the anniversaries. A promised theme was to look into the next 100 years. At one point I tried to introduce the Stewart Brand’s Long Now project. It didn’t take long until we returned to talking about the past.

Looking forward 10,000 years is a big ask for anyone. I’m inspired by the NISP Connect project to look at the future. looking forward 20 years might seem a longtime, but believe me at my age, looking back 20 years does not feel like looking back all that far.

I wonder if just some of us get together to think about 2112 to 2122 rather than 1912 to 1922. Rather than the Long Now, let’s look at the Not Very Long Here.

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