I see your nine hours and raise you 10,000 years

The visionary Brian Eno has outdone the nine hour performance concocted by Dorothy Sayer in The Nine Tailors. He’s imagined a change ringing method that will last 10,000 years.

See these gorgeous, noble Bristlecone Pines? They are some of the oldest living things on earth—the oldest known specimen is over 5,000 years old. And they grow right here in the western United States at high altitudes.

Bristlecone pines.
Bristlecone pines. “Prometheus Wheeler” by James R Bouldin (talk · contribs) – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Grook Da Oger.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the location for the second clock that will ring out this 10,000 year change ringing method is near a grove of these Bristlecone pines in eastern Nevada.

The 10,000 Year Clock is the product of Danny Hillis. His impulse behind the project was to draw attention to long spans of times—millennia!—and our current stewardship of the planet and humankind in the context of these scopes of time. He and Stewart Brand started a nonprofit foundation to fund at least one clock (two are in the works right now). Brian Eno came on board and named the organization “The Long Now Foundation.” Eno also came up with the idea of the bell ringing method, with mathematical help from Hillis.

Eno recognized the cultural significance and material resiliency of bells, so a set of bells was settled upon to ring out the passing of time. He noted the coincidence that the possible number of row permutations for ten bells is equal to 3,628,800, which is very close to the number of days in 10,000 years. Hillis devised an algorithm that would perform each one of these 3,628,800 combinations, one per day. The brilliance of the sequence of permutations is that the listener can calculate exactly how long ago the entire series started playing.

Eno admits, though, that the algorithm breaks traditional change ringing rules. Bells are rung in succession, such as when a bell ends one row and starts the next. So Eno is cheating a bit here.

Groovy! So when can we visit this gigantic feat of human ingenuity? Don’t know! There’s no deadline for the project. But check out all the other current happenings at the Long Now Foundation until then.

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