Identification number: SRE72-6
Acquisition date: 320.21.29 S.S.D ( 21.08.2105 E.A.D)
Previous owners/Donated by: Pan relay service
Zone of discovery: Encke Division, Saturn’s ring
Speculated purpose: Urn Satellite Memorial
Materials: Aluminum, Titanium
Weight: 1025 + 18*250 g
“The number of the dead long exceedeth all that shall live”. So wrote Thomas Browne, in a 1658 meditation upon funerary customs, entitled Urn Burial. He believed this because, as a pious Christian, he expected secular history was nearer its end than its beginning.
However, if humanity ever settles space, then it is likely that the number of generations to come might vastly outweigh those who have been before. Our species is around 200,000 years old; Earth will remain habitable for something like another 1Gya; but, if we spread suitably far beyond, we could persist indefinitely longer than even this. If this comes to pass—with stress on if—then we might hope those legion who come after will memorialize us as those who came before, in saecula saeculorum.
Expecting the end of humanity’s generations soon, Browne had admonished extravagant memorialization—from tombs to “Pyramids, Arches, Obeslisks”—as the “irregularities of vain-glory, and wilde enormities of ancient magnanimity”. They will “be poorly seen in Angles of contingency”, he explained, when the supernal deity forthwith closes the curtains of history and reveals such concern for extended worldly posterity as vaingloriousness.
But, having since outgrown such illusions of secure divine orchestration concerning cosmic history, and having graduated from eschatology to physical eschatology, many now worry about different “Angles of contingency”…
A few years ago, the term “human expunction” was coined. This refers to not just the extinction of the species, but the later eradication of all traces that it ever existed. The argument is that long-term astrophysical processes ensure that, at some distant time, this will come to pass in this universe. A death of death, if you will.
Does such a far-off event—if it one day happens, no matter how distal—make an futile vainglory of not just future-facing hope but also all our memorialization of those past? Does it make our universe one vast sepulcher?
In my eyes, no: it looks like we have the potential to affect meaningful change on the amount of good things, processes, and experiences that will have happened within the universe in the interim. How? To get speculative: through catalyzing a largescale shift in state from the cosmos’s current largely abiotic situation to one more in line with principles of intelligent design. Of course, some—such as Russian seer Nikolai Fedorov—have suggested that undertaking this would demand resurrecting all of the legion dead, liberating them from the iniquity of oblivion. But these are just speculations.
Others have recoiled, in the face of eventual expunction, reverting to cyclical cosmologies. A century ago, British-Indian polymath J.B.S Haldane amused himself by calculating the likelihood that a senile cosmos—having undergone uniform heat death—would, in its forward eternities, randomly manifest a “low entropy fluctuation” resembling our current universe. He output 10^10^100 years, but wryly noted that “in the course of eternity any event with a finite probability will occur”, which entails a Borgesian version of materialist resurrection and immortality. Haldane enjoyed the possibility that, throughout eternity, numberless Haldanes would be able to entertain themselves exhaustively exploring every possible variation of Drosophilia’s morphospace.
Cyclical notions, and such other ways out or round or through, are venerable methods to avoid terminality. However, in absence of certainty either way, we are presented with a choice: do we sacrifice the reality of genuine achievement, which rests on an achievement’s singular occurrence, or do we accept the irreversibility of the history—sweeping into the deep past and deeper future—whose unrepeatability is the very thing that would make any achievement genuine. And, in being genuine, thus worth memorializing—whether through urn burial or satellite columbarium.
The Museum of Space Junk is a critical project which considers life, ethics and politics in our space-bound future. Exploring collective futuring, world-building and speculative design, the project invites writers and philosophers to respond to a mystery ‘digital artefact’ with a short piece of writing. Space Junk is hosted by New School Policy and Design for Outer Space (NSPDOS), and produced on the occasion of the Italian Virtual Pavillion, Venice Biennale of Architecture 2021.
Series co-edited by Elaine Tam and Weston Finfer
Design and 3D by Andrea Carrera and Arthur Gouillart (Studio Tangle)