Of long-lived Methuselahs, Lazarus Long, and Hari Seldon

Just remembered I said the following a while ago regarding longevity and (time) accumulated wisdom, while responding to a quote and under the guise of one of my favourite science fiction characters, Robert Heinlein’s Lazarus Long:


Quotes of the Day, from Jeff Watson
March 30, 2011 |

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded—here and there, now and then—are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

–Robert Heinlein
Don Chu on March 30, 2011 8:28 pm

Ah, a Lazarus Long quote. Nice.

Here’s a tangential rejoinder:

If a science of history were achieved, it would, like the science of celestial mechanics, make possible the calculable prediction of the future in history. It would bring the totality of historical occurrences within a single field and reveal the unfolding future to its last end, including all the apparent choices made and to be made. It would be omniscience. The creator of it would possess the attributes ascribed by the theologians to God. The future once revealed, humanity would have nothing to do except to await its doom.

But while the above sounds very much like Hari Seldon‘s statistical predictive science of Psychohistory (or probabilistic mathematical sociology), they are not fictional words from a fictional Seldon. Rather, these solemn words were pronounced with much gravity by Charles Austin Beard, an American historian, in his address to the American Historical Association in 1933, titled “Written History as an Act of Fate”.

Alas, we do not have the benefit of a Lazarus Long/Robert Heinlein with his wisdom accumulated from a Methuselah-like thousand-year-long life, nor do we have access to Seldon’s Prime Radiant device coded with the right econometric equations to calculate the “totality of historical occurrences … and reveal the unfolding future to its last end”, and make faultless socio-economic-political predictions for judicious humankind planning and development.

To have a Prime Radiant code engine in our own blackbox algo trading model…

And here is a line from the swashbuckling Lazarus Long that inspired me a long time ago…

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Lazarus Long, Time Enough For Love

What a fantastic grifter and drifter Lazarus Long was, moving from place to place, generation to generation, over the centuries.

But Lazarus Long wasn’t my favourite character who was blessed/cursed with an almost immortal lifespan and forced to change identity and location every 50 years. No, it’s not Connor MacLeod either.

My favourite long-living, shape-shifting character will have to be John Furie Zacharias (alias “Gentle”) and his truly shape-and-gender-shifting companion, Pie’oh’pah, from Imajica


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