Twenty or thirty years seems like a long time because American time-perception appears to use the 401k plan like an anchor. When it comes to authentically long time-scales, pop-culture doesn’t have a clue.
Unless you count Futurama. They are our last, best hope for contemporary math & science humor. A recent episode (The Late Philip J. Fry) painted a story that brought me in mind of Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar.
The story takes place in the show’s present (3010 AD). The professor builds a time-machine that can only take jumps into the future – not the past. He takes our sort-of-hero (Philip Fry) and Bender along with him to conduct a test. The objective is to go a mere one minute into the future.
But due to a snag, the three end up in the year 10,000. Future civilization is in ruins. In fact, a whole bunch of future civilizations are in ruins, as you can see from the accompanying picture. And there’s no way to go back.
The group’s only hope is to keep taking jumps into the future. They hope to encounter a sufficiently advanced strain of humanity that has developed time-travel technology that can allows for travel backwards.
Ridiculous timeline of the future
Here’s a run-down of the time-periods the crew encounters while traveling in the time machine.
- 105,105 AD – Ice world
Walrus-mounted ice warriors roam the frigid earth.
- 252,525 AD – Retro-medieval world
Ostritch-mounted knights on a primitive earth.
- 351,120 AD – Water world
Like the Kevin Costner film, it’s best just to leave.
- 1,000,000 (and a half) AD – Retro-medieval giraffe slavery
That’s slavery by the giraffes.
- 5,000,000 AD – High-tech alternate human strain exists
This authentically advanced species of human could produce a time-machine in five years if they tried. The dumblocks, a dumber alternate strain of humanity, live beneath the earth.
- 5,000,005 AD – Civilization wiped out by the dumblocks
So much for that idea.
- 10,000,000 AD – Rise of the machines
Just like in Terminator 3, only way past the expected time-frame. Humans are being slaughtered by robots.
- 50,000,000 AD – Buxom females-only future society
See the following embedded clip to understand just how close to success the crew was and how infuriating Bender can be.
The crew continues on, stopping next at a billion AD. The earth is an uninhabitable rock; all life is gone. The reality of the situation sets in and our protagonists decide to drink some beer, crank the time-machine up to high-speed, and watch the universe end.
Once it does, a funny thing happens. The big bang happens again and (in a substantial nod to the concept of determinism and the big bounce) the same universe occurs again. This one instance of the same universe that goes through its growth/death cycle.
The crew gets to watch the formation of their own galaxy, of the earth, and the rise of civilization. Then, oops. They screw up and have to make another pass to get it right and re-materialize at the moment they originally left.
Companion to the cosmic calendar
The merits of the story or its depiction of the repeating-universe are debatable. What is not debatable is that this is a fantastic way to introduce someone to the temporal thinking that under-girds The Long Now Foundation.
Our world will not truly end for quite a while, but by then, all the sustainability efforts in the world won’t change anything. In the mean time, we (hopefully) have the time to alter our species’ narrow perception of same. Is it a silly cartoon? Most definitely. But this silly cartoon depicted the entire evolution of the universe. That counts for something.
Futurama’s writers think intelligently about science and humanity and Carl Sagan would have loved to watch the results.