Congratulations on living at a fortuitous moment in history. We enjoy a stable society that brags about technology, progress and opportunity. It proves difficult to imagine that all this -- our governments, our culture, our storytelling, our creations -- could fold up and collapse. How could our lofty glass-and-steel edifices fall into ruin? How could our proud national story shrink to a few lines in history texts of the future? How could our venerated deities go the way of Neptune and Kukulcan and Osiris? How could our culture degrade to the unremembered?
These possibilities feel distant, but you would have had exactly the same trouble envisioning collapse if you lived in the brawny empire of the Romans, or during the Golden Age of the Athenians, or during the pinnacle centuries of the Egyptians, the African Mali, the Babylonians, the Mesopotamians, the Toltec, the Anasazi, or any of the other societies that have risen and fallen before us.
An astounding number of great civilizations have collapsed. Centuries of progress and development have caved in on themselves, leaving nothing but archeological ruins and scattered genetics. Sensitive literature, inspired mathematics, and bold architecture have sunk down into the vapors of history. When it comes to looking at the civilizations that have come before us, hindsight is not 20/20. It's tragically hazy.
These are problems that almost all civilizations face at some point; those that survive have either been lucky or have developed new technological strategies to evade these unrelenting challenges.The most compelling reason to study collapse is to avoid it. The mysteries of disappearing cities and nations and civilizations have attracted thinkers and researchers to sift through the evidence to discern what happened. Although there are many vanished civilizations, they share in common a handful of reasons for collapse. Foremost are disease, natural disasters, poor information flow, political corruption, economic meltdown and resource depletion.
But we may be luckier than most of our predecessors, because we have developed a technology no one else possessed: a rapid, growing communication network that finds its highest expression in the Internet. I will present the case in this book that this technology obviates many of the threats faced by our ancestors--and that our largest threats may already be counterbalanced by our most popular technology. The advent of the internet represents a watershed moment in history that just might rescue our future.
In the wake of the Aurora movie theater shooting, many people had the same questions: What kind of derangement is indicated by the horrific acts of James Holmes? What is wrong with his brain? How will his mental state play out in the courts?
Francis Crick, one of the premier biologists of the 20th century, passed away July 28, 2004, in San Diego. On his 88th birthday, I brought him chocolates and spent the day with him in his home in La Jolla.
Hear British rocker Jarvis Cocker read the short story "Descent of Species" from Sum.
BrainCheck: A Simple Way to Track Brain Health
Interested in seeing your brain health data? Eagleman's BrainCheck has quick tests you can take anywhere to assess brain function. Sign up for free.
Eagleman and Brian Eno bring Sum to Sydney Opera House
In June, 2009, David Eagleman collaborated with musician/producer Brian Eno to perform a musical reading of Sum to 1,000 people at the Sydney Opera House. In May of 2010 they performed together again to 1,200 people at the Brighton Dome in England. Stay tuned for further performances.
SUM is Book of the Year: Chicago Tribune
SUM was chosen as the best book of 2009 by Chicago Tribune's Pulitzer-winning literary critic Julia Keller.