Writing that last entry reminded me of the incredibly evocative phrases that a team of experts came up with to describe the semantic content of the “Keep away!” messages needed for long-term nuclear waste disposal sites. When you think about the fact that whatever markers we construct will need to last 10,000 years and still be intelligible to whoever comes across them in year 9,999, the difficulty of the task comes into focus. They summarized the overall message in these terms:
- This place is a message…and part of a system of messages…pay attention to it!
- 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. This message is a warning about danger.
- The danger is in a particular location…it increases toward a center…the center of danger is here…of a particular size and shape, and below us.
- The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.
- The danger is to the body, and it can kill.
- The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.
- The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.
This is frightening, apocalyptic poetry. I have run across few pieces of writing more powerful; the first three lines are particularly striking. (I thought I had posted it here before, but I can’t now find it, so I may not have.)
The expert report itself is online, but be warned, the link goes to a 43 megabyte PDF; you can read much of it elsewhere. It’s compelling reading; these people thought very carefully about what is both a disturbing subject and also a fascinating design problem. (It’s also something of a testament to the Internet that I was able to track down the original report in about five minutes; I’d never before seen it in its entirety.)
UPDATE: My memory sucks. Here’s my 24 April 2004 post on the report. Tt looks as though I found the entire report the last time around, too.