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"Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.
March 6, 2002 10:55 AM   Subscribe

"Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture. This place is not a place of honor ... no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here ... nothing valued is here. What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours. The danger is to the body, and it can kill." How do we mark our radioactive waste so the warning will be clearly understood for 10,000 years?
posted by webmutant (25 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
That freaks me out. As a child, I had a terrible time with fears of nuclear explosions and radiocativity. Thanks for the link.
posted by Firefly at 11:02 AM on March 6, 2002


You don't think that within 10,000 years, or within 100 years, someone isn't going to develop a way to shoot spent nuclear material into space, and gently nudge it toward the sun? In fact, this could be done today. Frankly, I'd just as soon they put it in rockets and send it to the moon. What has it cost so far to send up decades worth of space shuttles? What if, instead, we had invested that money in developing a cheap, reliable rocket for the purpose of sending spent nuclear material into space? I'm really interested in knowing why this is never considered an option.
posted by Faze at 11:04 AM on March 6, 2002


I hope they've made that into like... sentences... since 1996.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 11:05 AM on March 6, 2002


Faze: One reason can be that agencies like NASA have always been planning to build centers of life on the moon and planets like Mars.

I dont know what would happen if radioactive material is thurst into the sun. I know it must already emit some radioactive rays. But do we want to add to that specially with the diminishing level of the ozone layer.

I think the warnings should also be in the binary form, in case some alien life discovers a lifeless, abandoned, post-neuclear holocaust Earth.
posted by adnanbwp at 11:08 AM on March 6, 2002


Faze: While I do generally agree with your plea, I believe Challenger answers the question as to why we don't place radioactive waste on rockets. Now, if we could develop another "safer" method to launch harmful waste into the sun, that might be different. Railguns anyone?
posted by mathis23 at 11:10 AM on March 6, 2002


if they ever finish that orbital elevator, we could haul the stuff up onto a platform and perhaps sling it toward the sun from there.
posted by moz at 11:20 AM on March 6, 2002


maybe barney has a use after all, to guard nuclear waste!

oh yeah, and railguns :)
posted by kliuless at 11:21 AM on March 6, 2002


Yes, railguns.

This might be a good idea, or a grand waste of time. I think probably just a grand waste of time. Thanks for the interesting read though.

I think the warnings should also be in the binary form, in case some alien life discovers a lifeless, abandoned, post-neuclear holocaust Earth.

I don't think we have to worry about aliens, if they are smart enough to travel to our planet, they can probably take care of themselves.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:23 AM on March 6, 2002


Launching nuclear waste into the sun is harder than launching it out of the solar system forever.

But more importantly, if history is any guide to this kind of thing we should probably put the stuff somewhere that we can get to it. While it's a pain in the ass now, it'll probably turn out to be useful down the road. Like gasoline. And plastic feedstock.
posted by jaek at 11:28 AM on March 6, 2002


Wow. That stuff is Great. After reading thru everything there...i think that the warnings, if readable 10,000 years from now are going to read like the warnings on old tombs or the pyramids. The 'spike fields' drawings are very cool.

*****
11,000 A.D.

"what does it say?"

"hmmm...from what i can make out from the old writings, this is a place consecrated to some atom god. It says we will be cursed if we enter."

"Ha! silly ancient dead people. Lets check it out. Everyone, adjust your body's metabolism for increased radiation, and don't touch anything....this stuff is going to look great in my orbital art exposition."

*****
I have always thought that launching nuclear waste onto other planets or into the sun would be sure to summon some intergalactic EPA to give the earth a big fine.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:32 AM on March 6, 2002


All sillyness aside, I thought this was the most poignant part:

The very exercise of designing, building, and viewing the markers creates a powerful testimony addressed to today's society about the full environmental, social, and economic costs of using nuclear materials. We can never know if we indeed have successfully communicated with our descendants 400 generations removed, but we can, in any case, perhaps convey an important message to ourselves.
posted by ColdChef at 11:37 AM on March 6, 2002


if history is any guide to this kind of thing we should probably put the stuff somewhere that we can get to it. While it's a pain in the ass now, it'll probably turn out to be useful down the road.

Precisely. I am very familiar with the Yucca Mountain Project and this is exactly why, IMO, it's completely ass-backwards conceptually. Talking about storing something safely for 10,000 years, 100,000 years, is just preposterous and makes you look like a fool, and a fool is always suspect, so you lose the trust of thinking people. Talk about storing dangerous material safely where it can be protected and monitored until methods are developed to utilize or destroy it, and suddenly you would have the support of the reasonable.
posted by rushmc at 12:00 PM on March 6, 2002


Just found a book about communication over time here - Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia (or on amazon) Looks very interesting. I think I may get it. Thanks for the link webmutant.
posted by kokogiak at 12:13 PM on March 6, 2002


I think the warnings should also be in the binary form...

i risk losing any and all geek cred here, but isn't it just as much of an unfounded assumption to believe that binary code is really that universal a language? i mean, i cannot read binary at a glance or even really at a sustained glare. i understand the concept, i recognize its importance to our society and our mathematical understanding, but it is hard to grasp the idea of an alien culture stumbling over a series of 1s and 0s and knowing our communicative intent. what am i missing here?
posted by grabbingsand at 12:30 PM on March 6, 2002


The depiction of the "menacing earthworks" (potential rock 'n roll band name?) reminds me of Stonehenge, less a few millenia of erosion. Anyone ever walk around there with a Geiger counter?

The problem with including images of death and destruction in the message is that some future idiot will attempt to exploit it as a weapon. Human nature.
posted by groundhog at 12:48 PM on March 6, 2002


OT: Stonehenge is as much the work of 20th-century engineers as prehistoric humans

Researcher Brian Edwards has uncovered photographs showing fallen stones at the site in southern England being hauled into place using cranes and scaffolding during facelifts over the last 100 years.
posted by NortonDC at 1:13 PM on March 6, 2002


RushMC, the phrase is not Ass Backwards. If you are cool like me or my friends you say bass ackwards.
posted by Settle at 2:40 PM on March 6, 2002


Heinlein always said suspend the stuff in glass blocks, and stack the blocks in the desert until we find a use for it. Claimed the Romans were always having a problem with oil being in the way wherever they were digging, and disposal was a big problem. I have no idea if any of that is factually correct, but the idea of this waste being a useful commodity always appealed to me.

Probably hard to get much material to do basic R & D though. "Excuse me, may I please have 100 lbs. of nuclear waste? No?"
posted by dglynn at 2:56 PM on March 6, 2002


The benefit of a binary message is that it is made up of just two units. 1's and 0's. This shouldnt be difficult to grasp by any intellegent life being. And these 1's and 0's follow a pattern. Instead of a random language like English which has 26 alphabets. This increases the permutation.
posted by adnanbwp at 3:14 PM on March 6, 2002


or you could get soundwave to make energon cubes out of them! never was quite sure how that worked tho :)
posted by kliuless at 3:19 PM on March 6, 2002


The benefit of a binary message is that it is made up of just two units. 1's and 0's. This shouldnt be difficult to grasp by any intellegent life being. And these 1's and 0's follow a pattern. Instead of a random language like English which has 26 alphabets. This increases the permutation.

The problem is that binary, like any kind of a code requires a rosetta stone in order to be comprehensible. Is the code US ascii, Baudot, Morse, unicode, or extended ascii. 4 bits, 8 bits or 16 bits? In fact, binary just fuctions as a super-enchipherment. Once you convert the binary into symbols, you still need to find the meaning of those symbols. It is not a language in its self, it is simply an easy way for writing language onto streaming media.

Written languages usually contain multiple levels of structure, which makes it relatively easy to decrypt even complex substitution alphabets. For example, most written languages have easy-to-identify breaks between words and symbols. (In contrast to binary which has no symbol breaks.) In addition if you want a symbol system to be understood, you have to provide a huge quanity of text encoded in the symbol system. The huge number of artefacts with roman alphabet symbols enscribed on them make the roman alphabet your best bet (with a rosetta stone of text in Chineese and Russian as a backup.) Just about everything in the room I'm sitting in has Roman characters that could be used by a future linguist to piece together my life.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:44 PM on March 6, 2002


That is mega freaky. I only dug this obscure link out of my mind and posted it to Slashdot just days ago! What a funny world we live in.
posted by wackybrit at 4:30 PM on March 6, 2002


I love the coda near the end where he acknowledges that, just maybe, the mere fact that the site is deadly will be sufficient over time, when compared against any grand effort to completely prevent anyone from being sickened.

And another perspective is that we may as well put this kind of effort into preserving our own culture. 10,000 years is indeed all of human history (where history is understood as the written record). But is it that difficult to imagine lasting another 10,000? While it's a staple of science fiction, I don't know that there's reason to believe we would lose all knowledge of historical language and geography. Not impossible -- just fairly unlikely. The model people have in mind seems to be the Dark Ages in Europe after the Roman Empire, but some perspective shows that wasn't as precipitious or complete a break with history as it may seem. I suppose the classic example from history was when Charlemagne's soldiers came to Rome and stripped it of most of its metal, from copper roofing to brass braces. Without the roofing, and the braces holding up the historic walls, the city began to deteriorate pretty quickly. But was this ignorance or simple expedience? (The metal was needed for war materiel.) Even so, during this entire period knowledge of the classical languages was preserved, and ample connection with the past. Still, that's the optimisitc view, and if a future society were not a user of radioactivity they might find ways to forget about it or redefine it in terms of mythology.
posted by dhartung at 4:46 PM on March 6, 2002


The FORBIDDING BLOCKS would be a great place for Joanna Macy's Zen.

Why is it so important to go sit by the blocks in the desert?
-- To watch radioactive waste decay.
-- Howcome?
-- Because it's there.
-- How long do we sit?
-- Until it's done, or we're done.


What better place than WIPPS to experience samvega and develop the desire to renounce this world in favor of a spiritual path!

Nam Myo Ho Ren Gye Kyo.

I once went out drinking with a librarian trained in anthopology who worked on this project. (One keg of waste, and three kegs of beer ...) She said that she knows of no cultures with a traditional symbol for "permanently evil, bad, forbidden!"

Evidently "evil" is not the message that humans want to leave to posterity.

"The problem with including images of death and destruction in the message is that some future idiot will attempt to exploit it as a weapon. Human nature." Ditto for the maps. The "Forbidding Earthworks" look like a gigantic diagram of a computer chip, or some sort of burial mounds- too interesting. Human nature says someone will get curious and dig out what's inside. By contrast, the forbidding blocks communicate pretty clearly that some people went out of their way to prevent anybody from doing anything with this patch of ground. My vote is for the square of Forbidding Blocks around a bunch of rubble, because it's boring! (Haven't we seen this concept before someplace? Think about it, no hints.)
posted by sheauga at 7:42 AM on March 7, 2002




i dunno :) stonehenge? raiders of the lost ark!?

btw, thanks for that link above. i like this quote:
In Time Wars, Jeremy Rifkin writes that the spectrum of political identifications is shifting now from left/right, which is spatial, to more temporal terms. He suggests a shift from "expedient rhythms" to "empathetic rhythms" that are more suitable for ecological stewardship. I have become increasingly convinced of the need for this. I also believe our schools and churches - and any other educational institutions forming our minds and spirits - should join us and help us in reinhabiting time. It is our birthright. It'll be good for our health and good for our planet. And it'll be fun!
oh hey, there are sequels :)
posted by kliuless at 8:53 AM on March 7, 2002


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