In 1986, American mathematician and inventor Danny Hillis designed a clock that came to be known as the “Clock of the Long Now,” or the “10,000-year clock”. The clock was designed to keep time for 10,000 years, with the purpose of promoting long-term thinking and contemplation of the future.
Since many people promote the philosophy of “living for the moment”, Hillis found a way to show that time is a complex concept that transcends human understanding.
He began working on the prototype of the clock in the early 1990s, and in 1996 he co-founded the Long Now Foundation with Stewart Brand, an American writer, and environmentalist. The foundation made the clock one of its primary projects.
The first prototype of the clock was finished in 1999 and began working on December 31 of that year, just in time to announce the transition to the new millennium. Instead of counting seconds, minutes and hours, the clock counts years, centuries and millennia, so it ticks just once a year. The prototype includes a cuckoo that is supposed to come out every millennium over the next 10,000 years.
Compared to regular clocks which are calibrated to measure time as it is perceived by humans, the Clock of the Long Now was designed to measure time as perceived by the Earth itself. Namely, a year in the life of an average human being may be perceived as a second in the life of a planet.
The full-sized clock is currently being built in Texas. The construction is being funded by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who donated $42 million to the project. The clock will be located deep in the caves of Mount Washington in Nevada.
The whole mechanism will be housed in several specially designed rooms carved into the white limestone cliffs of the mountain. The site’s dryness, remoteness, and lack of economic value will protect the clock from corrosion, vandalism, and urban development.
The clock will not contain any valuable parts such as jewels, expensive metals, or special alloys that might be looted.
Instead of the cuckoo, every new millennium will be announced by a unique melody played by the clock’s chimes. The millennial melodies were composed by the renowned experimental musician Brian Eno, who also named the clock and is a member of the Long Now Foundation.
It is expected that the clock will be able to display the correct time for 10,000 years, but it will need continuous care and maintenance.
That is the reason why the Long Now Foundation wants to create the clock as an icon of human civilization, which would be properly maintained and cared for, and which would inspire people to contemplate the endless enigma of time. Hopefully, once it is finished and placed in the caves of Mount Washington, the clock will tick for thousands of years and become a timeless monument to the human contemplation of mortality and transcendence.