Semiotics and Ritual: Or How Do You Make Something Perpetually Frightening?

An interesting debate I had with one person at uni two days ago has stuck with me concerning what she thought was the truest threat of various types of pollution and envronmental hazards. She posited the biggest dangers to the human race's survival were entirely manmade, which is unsurprising looking at the world, but the truest threat would not come from accident, terrorism, or war, but rather the passage of time.

To clarify further, let me paint a picture.

As a scientist, soldier, chemical plant worker, doctor, decontaminator, whatever ... you, unlike most people, understand the true power of symbols to represent the weight of circumstances attached to their usage.

Now across the world, there is more or less a semiotic frequency around these very crucial symbols. These symbols are presented in more or less a universal way. People are educated about them in more or less a universal way. Their true relevance to their specific field will be lost on most people (particularly specific colour co-prdinations), but their shape and connotations are legitimized by exposure and modern educational practices.

Now these symbols are, actually, quite overwhelmingly new and they were insanely difficult to develop.

First off ... they couldn't represent existing symbols in popular culture or religions. They needed to be instantly understandable whether upside down or back to front (so if viewed from the otherside of a small, clear vessel). They needed to be created from easily stencilable forms so they could beeasily applied to any surface with a simple template (sides of drums, doors, walls, etc). They needed it to be intrinsically memorable (thus bold contrasts, jagged edges, and unusual yet symmetrical patterns). It had to be a symbol even if partially worn away still obviously manmade, unceremonial, and yet that tels you something fundamental about its properties or nature.

And developing such symbols is actually painstakingly hard.

To create the current international biohazard and radiation hazard signs took art historians, anthropologists, behavioural scientists, field-specific scientists (who wanted them to have additional utility to people in that field) and more.

The reasoning was fairly simple. When in terms of things like, say, nuclear waste with dump sites that will be dangerous to humans for thousands of years permanently frightening long after a possible disaster?

She posited that while no nuclear or biological threat could truly exterminate all of humanity ... what if through the process of civilization building and the pollution that is caused mean we can never allow ourselves to go backwards because of the irrevocable way we have used the resources of Earth that can allow no loss of meaning?

And the way she framed this was in the context of perhaps another 'Great Filter' event of the potential Fermi paradox. That through the process of civilization itself nullifies any capacity for reversion given the cost of such is exposure to hazards that will perpetually bar human development once again after a great catastrophe.

So this leads to the question of how do you make semiotic 'arguments' permanent without evolution? Singular, without capacity for deconstruction or transformation?

I thought it was an interesting argument she brought up, and I figure we could use a break from discussions about U.S. politics.

How fucked do you think humanity would be if we attempted to rebuild civilization in a post-apocalyptic catastrophe where so many threats rely on the status quo of nations and semiotics retaining its current usage and powers to exclude people from thedangers we have created?

Do you think humans would truly be fucked if wehad to rebuild, and yet so many partsof the world are invisible death traps for which wecan no longer interpret their threat to humanity? How would you go about making something perpetually frightening that transcends semiotic evolution? Imagine a nuclear dumpsite, that will be for all intents and purposes permanently dangerous long after the nation that built it has passed on into the annals of an unwritten history.

How do you make this being plastered all over it...

image

... permanently frightening?

Addendum_Forthcoming:
How would you go about making something perpetually frightening that transcends semiotic evolution?

Do you have to? I mean, assuming your symbols are no longer relevant, and nobody bothered updating or translating them and you've got parts of the world where people die if they go to...then those people who go there die and people learn to stay away.

Sure, you're failing duty of care, but that's not stopping you from rebuilding civilisation, that's very slightly increasing the average death rate.

...maybe if the medium for communicating in this case was far more advanced, then the information could be conveyed in a more universal method? An animated depiction that sustained itself on some sort of as-yet undeveloped means- that could cycle an animation or sequence of images that clearly convey without symbols or otherwise abstract visuals, and endure centuries of common wear and tear and power usage, not to mention an apocalyptic event...

...so no, I don't really know how that could be implemented without some sci-fi, or at the very least some just-beyond-the-cutting-edge tech, to create some sort of clear illustrative narrative that may have to somehow transcend cultural barriers.

EDIT: or pheromones! Like, some sort of compound that could either self-perpetuate in a specific way or region, or some sort of delivery system that could endure ages and an apocalyptic event, that when deployed creates a sense of impending danger or innate fear for one's safety.

Well, there are always pictographic symbols..

Sure, some of the elements like the stylised lightning arrow might not be immediately obvious, but as long as artistic convention allows us to guess that the human shape represents a human body, we can probably infer that the spiky line is doing something doubleplusungood to the person. It stands to reason that people living in a dangerous world would at least be cautious enough to consider the possibility.

Like, we can't completely preempt that representational art will survive the apocalypse, but if it does, then it seems quite possible that people might realise that the literal drawing of a fire on a flammable sign represents fire. Sure, it doesn't explicitly tell them to beware of fire, but in a way that information could be just as counterproductive. We would want our post-apocalyptic friends to be able to use our flammable materials just as we did, not to avoid them out of irrational fear.

Radiation falls into that unique category of being quite difficult to represent pictographically. But in our world as it exists it's also extremely rare. Sure, there are tons and tons of nuclear waste out there, but the storage of nuclear waste is concentrated enough that the chances of anyone stumbling on it is individually quite low.

Sticking skulls on things seems a pretty good way of getting the point across. Pretty much everyone equates skulls to death, its a fairly clearly message

Thaluikhain:

Do you have to? I mean, assuming your symbols are no longer relevant, and nobody bothered updating or translating them and you've got parts of the world where people die if they go to...then those people who go there die and people learn to stay away.

Sure, you're failing duty of care, but that's not stopping you from rebuilding civilisation, that's very slightly increasing the average death rate.

That's assuming, of course, that hypothetical global near-extinction event happens tomorrow. How about 50 years down the track? Now admittedly much of the nuclear waste is part andparcel to do with the race to have city-killer nukes. But after decades, or perhaps centuries of nuclear waste development and other industrial contaminants that have been stored up in underground facilities?

the December King:
...maybe if the medium for communicating in this case was far more advanced, then the information could be conveyed in a more universal method? An animated depiction that sustained itself on some sort of as-yet undeveloped means- that could cycle an animation or sequence of images that clearly convey without symbols or otherwise abstract visuals, and endure centuries of common wear and tear and power usage, not to mention an apocalyptic event...

...so no, I don't really know how that could be implemented without some sci-fi, or at the very least some just-beyond-the-cutting-edge tech, to create some sort of clear illustrative narrative that may have to somehow transcend cultural barriers.

EDIT: or pheromones! Like, some sort of compound that could either self-perpetuate in a specific way or region, or some sort of delivery system that could endure ages and an apocalyptic event, that when deployed creates a sense of impending danger or innate fear for one's safety.

Actually, I really like this idea. Like a hypothetical super-battery powered projector with a centuries long life? With automated sensors detecting thepresence of human-sized movementto produce a projected image with a myriad of symbols and an easy to digest visual image of the dangers of proceding into a dumpsite, or former lab containing dangerous chemical or radiological hazards? Or maybe simply producing a sound along with images so that it's grating to hang around it and iteven scaresoff potential animals that might be drawn nearby that people might follow and thusfind themselves onto dangerous sites?

evilthecat:

Sure, some of the elements like the stylised lightning arrow might not be immediately obvious, but as long as artistic convention allows us to guess that the human shape represents a human body, we can probably infer that the spiky line is doing something doubleplusungood to the person. It stands to reason that people living in a dangerous world would at least be cautious enough to consider the possibility.

Like, we can't completely preempt that representational art will survive the apocalypse, but if it does, then it seems quite possible that people might realise that the literal drawing of a fire on a flammable sign represents fire. Sure, it doesn't explicitly tell them to beware of fire, but in a way that information could be just as counterproductive. We would want our post-apocalyptic friends to be able to use our flammable materials just as we did, not to avoid them out of irrational fear.

Radiation falls into that unique category of being quite difficult to represent pictographically. But in our world as it exists it's also extremely rare. Sure, there are tons and tons of nuclear waste out there, but the storage of nuclear waste is concentrated enough that the chances of anyone stumbling on it is individually quite low.

That is a concern ... that last thing we would want is the inevitable burnt remains of cities (say from failing power plants and steel smelters, and your average household oven or lightning-started bushfire) and people making the assumption between obvious remnants of fire hazard signs and the assumption humans did this to themselves because of said fire. Which may or may not be true, but being afraid of fire may not be the message we want to promote.

I will note that while that sign can suggest death by dangerous looking arrows, the problem is all our other warning signs might lead people to a different conclusion.

image

There is also the problematic issue that so many things people will have to worry about is incredibly hard to be pictographic. Like hypothetically a century or two of broken human discussion concerning said hazards isn't liable to be threatening. Like sources of electricity centuries after humanity has suffered that semiotic loss to begin with.

We perhaps don't have to worry about biohazard... because viruses and bacteria hotlabs containing them have a shelf life, and the semiotic meaning of the biohazard sign will still be known for as long as humans can articulate it. Maybe in the case of some deadly strain of prions? Maybe? Some nanotechnological semi-grey goo event that can last for centuries if not millenia after the pandemic?

The big concern, naturally, with radiological materials is not only is its accumulation, but all the failing powerplants on top of that that while its immediate effects will bethe best known, even if shut down at the time of hypothetical catastrophic event ... will still have spent fuel rod storages and coolant pools.

Palindromemordnilap:
Sticking skulls on things seems a pretty good way of getting the point across. Pretty much everyone equates skulls to death, its a fairly clearly message

Palindromemordnilap:
Sticking skulls on things seems a pretty good way of getting the point across. Pretty much everyone equates skulls to death, its a fairly clearly message

The big problem with that is culturally skulls have different motifs people in the future might discover.

Like jewellery...

image

Spiders. Big hairy spindly hairy yellow and bright orange hairy spiders. And they all have red frowny angry eyes with drooling sharp chelicerae. Thats got to tickle some primal hesitation, surely? Could even add a severed human torso gripped between their fangs for good measure.

Addendum_Forthcoming:

Actually, I really like this idea. Like a hypothetical super-battery powered projector with a centuries long life? With automated sensors detecting thepresence of human-sized movementto produce a projected image with a myriad of symbols and an easy to digest visual image of the dangers of proceding into a dumpsite, or former lab containing dangerous chemical or radiological hazards? Or maybe simply producing a sound along with images so that it's grating to hang around it and iteven scaresoff potential animals that might be drawn nearby that people might follow and thusfind themselves onto dangerous sites?

It reminds me of the Slo-Trans engines from the Dark Tower series - made by the Old Ones to last, even as the world moves on, capable of powering the technology for hundreds and hundreds of years...

I think there'd be bonus points if it could be rigged to run off of the irradiated waste somehow, too.

The sound is a great idea, too. Set to motion sensors to emit a pulse that simply made humans and mammals uncomfortable, and yeah, it would be better paired with some visual reinforcement, too- a connection that could be made between stimuli to reinforce the message of warning.

Xsjadoblayde:
Spiders. Big hairy spindly hairy yellow and bright orange hairy spiders. And they all have red frowny angry eyes with drooling sharp chelicerae. Thats got to tickle some primal hesitation.

Actually, reading about this subject prior of future proofing hazardous sites in the case of catastrophic social devastation, some behavioural scientists posited lining future made facilities with spindly legged, jagged, ominous looking pikes as if the site itelf invokes that idea of many legged installations that tap into that primordial fear of many-legged beasts.

Like, think unnatural looking palisades that might tap into that latent subconscious fear.

The problem is then we run the risk of attracting individuals who can tell we purposefully made a place looking primordially unattractive, and thus be liable to enter them whether as initiation rights, orsimple curiosity. Plus imagine working in a nuclear dumpsite that was made to look like you were approaching a gigantic centipede every day?

That being said ... I like it ... putting up signs of spiders might have that effectas well.

Not only that, but transposing that idea of 'poisonous animal' to things like chemical and radiological dumping sites might be something that directly links known fears, observed events, and thus understanding similar effects of getting sick and dying from them.

I like it...

Addendum_Forthcoming:

Palindromemordnilap:
Sticking skulls on things seems a pretty good way of getting the point across. Pretty much everyone equates skulls to death, its a fairly clearly message

The big problem with that is culturally skulls have different motifs people in the future might discover.

Like jewellery...

I mean, I'd say getting people to not wear jewellery that looks that trashy would be a good thing personally XD

But putting on my hard hat and high vis vest to speak in proper archaeologist mode, I find a bit of jewellery with a skull on it in something I'm excavating, I'm going to assume its some kind of grave good. You do not give skulls for a baby shower. It doesn't have to be a negative connotation (eg, the Day of the Dead which is more about remembering and celebrating), but it will still be death. You come across a factory with big ol' skulls slapped on its machinery and your first thought will be "hang on, better be careful around here"

Addendum_Forthcoming:
The problem is then we run the risk of attracting individuals who can tell we purposefully made a place looking primordially unattractive, and thus be liable to enter them whether as initiation rights, orsimple curiosity. Plus imagine working in a nuclear dumpsite that was made to look like you were approaching a gigantic centipede every day?

No doubt there will be some who dare. Those that do not heed the warning shall serve as useful examples for the rest that this particular warning is worth heeding. They will learn. You gotta break an omelette to save a few eggs.

Not only that, but transposing that idea of 'poisonous animal' to things like chemical and radiological dumping sites might be something that directly links known fears, observed events, and thus understanding similar effects of getting sick and dying from them.

As long as there isn't any mysterious cataclysm that rids the world of all spindly poisonous beasties of death, there is hope that they will spark subconscious recognition. Nature is a handy plethora of fears!

the December King:

It reminds me of the Slo-Trans engines from the Dark Tower series - made by the Old Ones to last, even as the world moves on, capable of powering the technology for hundreds and hundreds of years...

I think there'd be bonus points if it could be rigged to run off of the irradiated waste somehow, too.

The sound is a great idea, too. Set to motion sensors to emit a pulse that simply made humans and mammals uncomfortable, and yeah, it would be better paired with some visual reinforcement, too- a connection that could be made between stimuli to reinforce the message of warning.

Like something that absords the decaying materials like some solar powered esque machine? Yeah, why not? As long as it only has to feasibly recharge some super long life series of batteries. Combine it with solar panels or the like and basically hope for the best. Not like any of us will know whether it worked or not, and we've done all we can. Plus finding a way to implement nuclear waste will probably be a useful technology assuming we have so much of it it becomes a real concern of human survival (or simply profitable) should worse comes to the worst.

Xsjadoblayde:

No doubt there will be some who dare. Those that do not heed the warning shall serve as useful examples for the rest that this particular warning is worth heeding. They will learn. You gotta break an omelette to save a few eggs.

-----

As long as there isn't any mysterious cataclysm that rids the world of all spindly poisonous beasties of death, there is hope that they will spark subconscious recognition. Nature is a handy plethora of fears!

That's true ... and frankly we could implement and heighten the effect with something like low power draw lights resembling moving arachnids and centipedes in the dark... in a facility that ominously looks as if the head of such beasts itself. People who get sick, well they'll probably call it the 'cave of a thousand bites' ... assuming whatever tribe that moved nearby doesn't all enter it at once.

Either unknowingly, or because people want to slay the evil wizard responsible.

If it does, then chances are there's nothing that will save us from ourselves despite our best efforts.

Just remember, we're also capable of spending hours praying to metal birds in the sky that routinely used to drop supplies to soldiers fighting in the Indo-Pacific...

Who suffered tremendously when the battles ended and no more drops were lost and discovered by natives in the jungles.

Palindromemordnilap:

I mean, I'd say getting people to not wear jewellery that looks that trashy would be a good thing personally XD

But putting on my hard hat and high vis vest to speak in proper archaeologist mode, I find a bit of jewellery with a skull on it in something I'm excavating, I'm going to assume its some kind of grave good. You do not give skulls for a baby shower. It doesn't have to be a negative connotation (eg, the Day of the Dead which is more about remembering and celebrating), but it will still be death. You come across a factory with big ol' skulls slapped on its machinery and your first thought will be "hang on, better be careful around here"

There is that, but I think it may just lead to confusion... I think part and parcel is we can't afford to send mixed messages, and at the same time we want people to figureout perhaps on discovery of more sites like it we're being figurative rather than quasi-magically literal. Like if they find cheap garbage jewellery with skull and crossbones, and discover sites with giant skulls and crossbones, they might come to the conclusion that we used our 'magic' or 'sorcery' and some humans were capable of surviving it ...

Or perhaps these other motifed items were like protection charms in a deadly world of horrors they constructed for themselves.

So they're either going to be shocked or appalled by that, or simply be confused.

Use a scary face/angry face. That always has a natural fear response for normal people. A gas mask symbol makes sense in today's world, and for those who have no idea what a gas mask is it would appear to be some ominous face.

Addendum_Forthcoming:
There is that, but I think it may just lead to confusion... I think part and parcel is we can't afford to send mixed messages, and at the same time we want people to figureout perhaps on discovery of more sites like it we're being figurative rather than quasi-magically literal. Like if they find cheap garbage jewellery with skull and crossbones, and discover sites with giant skulls and crossbones, they might come to the conclusion that we used our 'magic' or 'sorcery' and some humans were capable of surviving it ...

Or perhaps these other motifed items were like protection charms in a deadly world of horrors they constructed for themselves.

So they're either going to be shocked or appalled by that, or simply be confused.

I'm just not sure what kind of mixed messages you think are being sent out here. Its a skull. It is a human head separated from its body and flayed of all flesh. Bad shit happened to this skull. Bad shit will happen to you if you go in the skull area. We've been using skulls to denote mortality since we worked out what skulls were.

Gonna level with you, you ever hear something described as "ritual purpose" or "ceremonial" then thats archaeologist code for "we have no idea what the hell this is". So we already do shit like that, where we tell everyone that we've discovered some great find of religious significance because we want to look clever in front of the crowd, while knowing that really its probably just something Jemima the Celt wore because she thought it looked pretty. So why would future people not do that, realise that someone might have worn the shiny pretty thing because they wanted to look shiny and pretty?

On the other hand, if you're worried what superstition would do I'd be more convinced that they'd believe skull jewellery to be some sort of death totem, a curse on either the person its placed with or the person who disturbs it. However if you're that concerned about jewellery, surely you can say the same about any symbol? Even if you create a whole new symbol to act as your Eternal Warning, I give it about a week before someone has an Eternal Warning Symbol necklace or keychain

I don't like my name anymore:
Use a scary face/angry face. That always has a natural fear response for normal people. A gas mask symbol makes sense in today's world, and for those who have no idea what a gas mask is it would appear to be some ominous face.

Your assuming that it would be people in the future. What would happen if we died out and another species became dominant. Their angry or dangerous face may not be the same as ours. They may think we were laughing or talking. It has the same problem as the mask symbol

Palindromemordnilap:

On the other hand, if you're worried what superstition would do I'd be more convinced that they'd believe skull jewellery to be some sort of death totem, a curse on either the person its placed with or the person who disturbs it. However if you're that concerned about jewellery, surely you can say the same about any symbol? Even if you create a whole new symbol to act as your Eternal Warning, I give it about a week before someone has an Eternal Warning Symbol necklace or keychain

Well it's more so I'm worried about the fact that the skull and crossboneshas been evolved in the centuries of its usage that we've had it and it requires a certain degree of overdesign that allows people to invest into it something beyond its own dimensions. Ideally you want something that is simpler geometries and configurations, yet strikingly obvious, yet devoid of emotional weight on its own in reference to popular culture or other evolving identification.

The international radiation hazard symbol is striking, and because it has specific connotations and was heavily researched to not be compounded with religious or othersocial significance means its appearance would not be unintentionally miscommunicated.

trunkage:
Your assuming that it would be people in the future. What would happen if we died out and another species became dominant. Their angry or dangerous face may not be the same as ours. They may think we were laughing or talking. It has the same problem as the mask symbol

No ... no ... none of that. This is specifically about future-proofing the (for all intents and purposes) permanently dangerous for the sake of humans that may lose that semiotic meaning.

You also have to think of all he hazards humans will have to hypothetically deal witha thousand years from now... plastic fibre refuse sites. Like hypothetically when plastic microfibres reach saturation points that are toxic and thus we perform planetary-sized projects like environmental filters and longterm storage sites of plastic microfibre materials that is, also, worryingly on the horizon.

Just specifically humans.

So effectively, how exactly do we expect humans to function in a world of hypothetical dangers and very current dangers on the horzon when semiotic meaning is lost and could this actually be a Great Filter event of its own if it ever eventuates? How do you deal with the permanently dangerous?

Addendum_Forthcoming:
No ... no ... none of that. This is specifically about future-proofing the (for all intents and purposes) permanently dangerous for the sake of humans that may lose that semiotic meaning.

It is an interesting discussion, but i don't think it is that important at all.

There is little that is permanently dangerous. And yes, that does include nuclear waste.

the interesting thing with nuclear waste is that the more radioactive a material, the sooner it is decayed. Most of the really high radioactive stuff is gone in a couple hundred years. The rest will still be dangerous, but not that dangerous. If they don't start digging it up and using it for things, it is not that much of a problem.

Satinavian:
It is an interesting discussion, but i don't think it is that important at all.

There is little that is permanently dangerous. And yes, that does include nuclear waste.

the interesting thing with nuclear waste is that the more radioactive a material, the sooner it is decayed. Most of the really high radioactive stuff is gone in a couple hundred years. The rest will still be dangerous, but not that dangerous. If they don't start digging it up and using it for things, it is not that much of a problem.

Well a couple of centuries isa longtime. And we also have to consider that, okay, let's look at Chernobyl NPP. That place was evacuated and naturehas reclaimed it perhaps faster than a far larger urban environment. So its attractiveness might be amplified by the fact that even after a century some structures will still be viable, it's surrounded by nearby water resources, and animals have even made ita home precisely because of the cordon people have put around it and for decades prevented large numbers of people from getting close and redeveloping close-lying areas.

But what if education skips a beat, and we go 60 years, 80, a century without formal education systems.

And what if that such a catastrophe meant the CNPP never had that fancy sarcophagus constructed around it to prevent it continually irradiating the nearby area?

The area surrounding Chernobyl (by modern safety standards) will be rated 'uninhabitable' for roughly 250 years even with our best efforts. Now of course what wewould consider uninhabitable might not be that big a deal to a nomadic successor or other minor or temporary exposure. But modern civilization isn't built on merely temporary exposure.

My first thought is what makes you think we will forget? History might show that we do forget symbols, but for most of history we have not had all these different ways of storing information that we do now. We print books, record everything and discuss it over and over. Theres a lot of new things to knowledge storing and maybe it will play out different to the rest of histoy. But hey maybe we do lose all this information.

Why dont we focus less on the symbols and more on planting clues to understand our language? We could place on top of all these nuclear waste dumps a new rosetta stone, deeply carved stainless steel monuments with the same messages in various languages, crafted in such a way that hopefully if one language is every forgotten, they could use the other languages on the stone to try and rediscover our language. Then they could simply read the radiation signs, and learn enough about our by then ancient culture to figure it out.

Satinavian:

the interesting thing with nuclear waste is that the more radioactive a material, the sooner it is decayed. Most of the really high radioactive stuff is gone in a couple hundred years. The rest will still be dangerous, but not that dangerous. If they don't start digging it up and using it for things, it is not that much of a problem.

Yes and no.

A lot of the problem of reactor waste is that it is highly concentrated in substantial amounts. You can wait 200 years, but even something with a half-life of 1000 years is problematic when there's a lot of it in one place, as also is a ~2% remnant of something with a half-life of ~30 years.

Fieldy409:
My first thought is what makes you think we will forget? History might show that we do forget symbols, but for most of history we have not had all these different ways of storing information that we do now. We print books, record everything and discuss it over and over. Theres a lot of new things to knowledge storing and maybe it will play out different to the rest of histoy. But hey maybe we do lose all this information.

Why dont we focus less on the symbols and more on planting clues to understand our language? We could place on top of all these nuclear waste dumps a new rosetta stone, deeply carved stainless steel monuments with the same messages in various languages, crafted in such a way that hopefully if one language is every forgotten, they could use the other languages on the stone to try and rediscover our language. Then they could simply read the radiation signs, and learn enough about our by then ancient culture to figure it out.

Yes, but just like the Rosetta stone, it was a major archaeological discovery in part because it helped us illuminate languages that were once common but had died out through a combination of factors. Language can quite easily die, and often in a matter of decades. There is only a few hundred true Assyriologists that can truly call themselves as """literate""" as possible in one of the multiples of cuneiform.

These were languages of global significance. We have hundreds of thousands of untranslated (and untranslatable) tablets and other inscriptions. The languages were so alien to conventions of what early archaeologists considered writing that many people prior things like the Rosetta stone thought they were mostly decorative.

If you were to murder a handful of people... that knowledge may remain a permanent mystery if not already.

Another example I want to point to that I think has direct argumentation about navigating a hostile climate in a post-formal education environment is Aboriginal Australians.

Now prior European conquest and colonization, the native population had a flourishing system of languages. They had 'Songlines' whereby regardless pf the languages you spoke, through paintings, dances, and common ancestor and land spirit stories, the First Australians could travel across hostile jungles and deserts. They could identify medicinal plants and edible plants and animals and where to find water. They could interpret tribal lands, trade networks, law and customs across the continent.

It was art, astronomy, ecology, medicine, religion, cartography, law and diplomacy in one.

The first system of formal education and cartography humans arguably created. With the permanent colonization of Australia, the Songlines are now incomplete. Almost dead. You can no longer use them to navigate the continent safely.

And this degradation had happened in a very short period of time.

That was a catastrophic social event which, yes, involved multiple moving parts. But then again... such hypothetical catastrophes are going to be quite complex with multiple moving parts.

Agema:

Satinavian:

the interesting thing with nuclear waste is that the more radioactive a material, the sooner it is decayed. Most of the really high radioactive stuff is gone in a couple hundred years. The rest will still be dangerous, but not that dangerous. If they don't start digging it up and using it for things, it is not that much of a problem.

Yes and no.

A lot of the problem of reactor waste is that it is highly concentrated in substantial amounts. You can wait 200 years, but even something with a half-life of 1000 years is problematic when there's a lot of it in one place, as also is a ~2% remnant of something with a half-life of ~30 years.

30 years, you are probably talking about either Sr90 or Cs137. That is indeed the most problematic group.

There are roughly three groups of radioactive elements in toxic waste. There is one with really long halft life in tens or hundreds of thousand years. You can't wait them out, but those are hardly radioactive at all. Then there is a group of
mostly fission products with halflives between 30 and ~1000 which continue to be a real problem even after centuries. They are several magnitudes more radioactive than the former group. Then there is a group that is even far more radioactive so much that it accounts for nearly all the radioactivity of fresh nuclear waste and decays even faster. That third group is the main reason why fuel rods often stay in water basins near the reactors for some time before being moved somewhere else. That is already enough to get rid of most of that material and as a bonus makes them cold enough for easy transport. That group won't matter in centuries at all.

How to treat the problematic middle group there are quite a lot of different approaches. But several of those lead to radiation levels in 300 years that are indistinguishable from natural background radiation in the hotter places of the world. To me that is enough. Yes, people could still hurt themself if they start to mine this stuff the same way as regular uranium miners are hurting themself nowadays.

Addendum_Forthcoming:

Fieldy409:
My first thought is what makes you think we will forget? History might show that we do forget symbols, but for most of history we have not had all these different ways of storing information that we do now. We print books, record everything and discuss it over and over. Theres a lot of new things to knowledge storing and maybe it will play out different to the rest of histoy. But hey maybe we do lose all this information.

Why dont we focus less on the symbols and more on planting clues to understand our language? We could place on top of all these nuclear waste dumps a new rosetta stone, deeply carved stainless steel monuments with the same messages in various languages, crafted in such a way that hopefully if one language is every forgotten, they could use the other languages on the stone to try and rediscover our language. Then they could simply read the radiation signs, and learn enough about our by then ancient culture to figure it out.

Yes, but just like the Rosetta stone, it was a major archaeological discovery in part because it helped us illuminate languages that were once common but had died out through a combination of factors. Language can quite easily die, and often in a matter of decades. There is only a few hundred true Assyriologists that can truly call themselves as """literate""" as possible in one of the multiples of cuneiform.

These were languages of global significance. We have hundreds of thousands of untranslated (and untranslatable) tablets and other inscriptions. The languages were so alien to conventions of what early archaeologists considered writing that many people prior things like the Rosetta stone thought they were mostly decorative.

If you were to murder a handful of people... that knowledge may remain a permanent mystery if not already.

Another example I want to point to that I think has direct argumentation about navigating a hostile climate in a post-formal education environment is Aboriginal Australians.

Now prior European conquest and colonization, the native population had a flourishing system of languages. They had 'Songlines' whereby regardless pf the languages you spoke, through paintings, dances, and common ancestor and land spirit stories, the First Australians could travel across hostile jungles and deserts. They could identify medicinal plants and edible plants and animals and where to find water. They could interpret tribal lands, trade networks, law and customs across the continent.

It was art, astronomy, ecology, medicine, religion, cartography, law and diplomacy in one.

The first system of formal education and cartography humans arguably created. With the permanent colonization of Australia, the Songlines are now incomplete. Almost dead. You can no longer use them to navigate the continent safely.

And this degradation had happened in a very short period of time.

That was a catastrophic social event which, yes, involved multiple moving parts. But then again... such hypothetical catastrophes are going to be quite complex with multiple moving parts.

I have heard before that the Aboriginals here are rather remarkable and unique in that their culture had remained the same for so long. If you took an average European into a cave and asked him to translate a cave wall painting because its his culture you'd fail. But from what I hear a modern Aboriginal could do that with ancient art, still understand it.

It is pretty crazy how they went like that for so long with an unbroken culture and then we did so much damage in such a short time. Pros and cons of being isolated I guess.

Fieldy409:

I have heard before that the Aboriginals here are rather remarkable and unique in that their culture had remained the same for so long. If you took an average European into a cave and asked him to translate a cave wall painting because its his culture you'd fail. But from what I hear a modern Aboriginal could do that with ancient art, still understand it.

It is pretty crazy how they went like that for so long with an unbroken culture and then we did so much damage in such a short time. Pros and cons of being isolated I guess.

Well we know that things were't peaceful with indigenous cultures. There was conflict, there were hostilities, and part and parcel of what may have driven human migration across the continent as far south as Tasmania that dates prior the Holocene era. What we do know is that mainland Aboriginal nations were culturally dstinct. Because we know they weren't nomadic as the colonists claimed. They built permanent structures like manmade tidal fishing pools and cultivated domestic plants for long stretches of the year. They also had distinctive language divergence and had systems of complex external communication between themselves.

Aboriginal Australians have eerily quite accurate stories of the likely development and effect of the Holocene Epoch still in circulation.

For example, Dreamtime stories concerning the Great Barrier Reef.

The largest organic structure on Earth and can be seenfrom space, the Great Barrier Reef and the extant of it actually only dates back largely to the Holocene Era and the rising sea levels allowing corals to explode across what would have been a perpetually exposed land shelf. And Indigenous Australian mythology of it is eerily quite accurate to the sea level rise that have been computer generated and scientifically modelled.

And we're talking stories that were carried over through word of mouth, dances, and paintings... There is no historiographical model in any other dialogue of human history that is arguably as successful at maintaining its own legitimacy and accuracy over such time.

And given the wealth of different languages, yet highly transposable systems of education and shared symbolism suggests people that largely stayed in one place, but routinely met with and traded with others from other locations.

Estimates wax and wane between 750K ~ 1.25 million Indigenous Australians prior European colonization. Which is decent when you consider that global population at the time was jut shy of 1 billion.

And keep in mind, despite that isolation managing to maintain what was in actuality a pretty good living quality prior colonization on what is a mineral rich, but rather soil poor land. One that largely lacked outside resources to consume beyond its own shorelines ... which would have necessitated land trade across multiple biomes between people than other cultures around the planet during the times they inhabited.

And on top of that they did this without horses, bison, or other beasts of burden...

So developing what turned out to be an incredibly complex system of land navigation, law, customs, semi-shared religious and social contexts and symbolism would have been imperative. Much in the same way in how we measure wealth and prosperity now is underpinned by consumption and advanced industry requiring global trade has created complex shared symbolism now.

So in short, these Songlines and Dreamtime stories are (were) incredibly strong and persistent historiographical and shared-symbolic statements of a collection of diverse cultures that were very insulated against change... and yet they still failed to find cohesion in theface of a massive social catastrophe.

And they began to fail to find cohesion in the face of that massive social catastrophe event in a matter of decades.

So we went from a collection of cultures being able to tell you about the creation of theGreat Barrier Reef 11,000 years ago and actually point out landmarks of significance during the volatility of the early Holocene ... to no longer being a shared historiographical account of the landscape in a matter of decades of a catastrophic social event.

How fucked are we if we face a similar scale of catastrophe? We can't even get a decently viable historical account of the Siege of Stalingrad, and that wasn't a global catastrophe...

The flipside of the argument might be that in the case of such a global catastrophe, like the volatility of the early Holocene Epoch and massively rising sea levels causing profound changes upon the Earth that maybe constructing something like Dreatime mythology might be the only way of us accounting for the past.

It's the only historiographical method we have proof that will work for the length of time we might need it to, but we also have quite clear evidence of just how easy it can stillbe broken. There is also the argument whether asociety can, in a time of emergency, inorganically create these types of historiographical traditions.

Addendum_Forthcoming:
Well it's more so I'm worried about the fact that the skull and crossboneshas been evolved in the centuries of its usage that we've had it and it requires a certain degree of overdesign that allows people to invest into it something beyond its own dimensions. Ideally you want something that is simpler geometries and configurations, yet strikingly obvious, yet devoid of emotional weight on its own in reference to popular culture or other evolving identification.

The international radiation hazard symbol is striking, and because it has specific connotations and was heavily researched to not be compounded with religious or othersocial significance means its appearance would not be unintentionally miscommunicated.

Okay, but you were previously referring to the future people as so primitive and lacking in knowledge of our present that they thought necklaces might be totems...but if they're lacking that context then there's no way they'd be worried about the radiation symbol. Its only worrying to us precisely because we know its the radiation symbol. I mean, at the least the biohazard symbol looks vaguely insecty or horned so sort of fits into what Xsjadoblayde was saying. But its entirely likely radiation could be read by the morlocks as "We put sliced pie in here"

Amazed that I've never seen anyone suggest this as a way to keep humans away

I think a foolproof idea is impossible, but you can make the area as unappeasing as possible.

Palindromemordnilap:

Okay, but you were previously referring to the future people as so primitive and lacking in knowledge of our present that they thought necklaces might be totems...but if they're lacking that context then there's no way they'd be worried about the radiation symbol. Its only worrying to us precisely because we know its the radiation symbol. I mean, at the least the biohazard symbol looks vaguely insecty or horned so sort of fits into what Xsjadoblayde was saying. But its entirely likely radiation could be read by the morlocks as "We put sliced pie in here"

Which is something I addressed in the OP. That there were reasons why we don't just stick skull and crossbones on everything that is dangerous, though not inan immediately obvious way. You can't see radiation, bacteriological, viral, prion or many gas hazards with the naked eye. We created thes symbols so they would be informative, but haven't yet been used, can be easily identified through that enculturation of them even if parts of them are worn away, and yet they're informative of the threat.

Certain protections against one threat will not protect you from others. A positive pressure suit will do wonders to protect you from infection, but it won't protect you from other threats... They're also symbols for which are not overdesigned, yet incredibly informative on their own.

Addendum_Forthcoming:

Palindromemordnilap:

Okay, but you were previously referring to the future people as so primitive and lacking in knowledge of our present that they thought necklaces might be totems...but if they're lacking that context then there's no way they'd be worried about the radiation symbol. Its only worrying to us precisely because we know its the radiation symbol. I mean, at the least the biohazard symbol looks vaguely insecty or horned so sort of fits into what Xsjadoblayde was saying. But its entirely likely radiation could be read by the morlocks as "We put sliced pie in here"

Which is something I addressed in the OP. That there were reasons why we don't just stick skull and crossbones on everything that is dangerous, though not inan immediately obvious way. You can't see radiation, bacteriological, viral, prion or many gas hazards with the naked eye. We created thes symbols so they would be informative, but haven't yet been used, can be easily identified through that enculturation of them even if parts of them are worn away, and yet they're informative of the threat.

Certain protections against one threat will not protect you from others. A positive pressure suit will do wonders to protect you from infection, but it won't protect you from other threats... They're also symbols for which are not overdesigned, yet incredibly informative on their own.

If the future people have the technology for a pressure suit, they have the technology to at least recognise the threats of their own accord and don't need our symbols everywhere. The examples you've been using the rest of the time in this topic where of fairly low tech people, which means we need to go for something that causes an instant gut reaction of "Thing is Bad". Hence skulls. Nobody trusts something with a skull plastered around it

Palindromemordnilap:

If the future people have the technology for a pressure suit, they have the technology to at least recognise the threats of their own accord and don't need our symbols everywhere. The examples you've been using the rest of the time in this topic where of fairly low tech people, which means we need to go for something that causes an instant gut reaction of "Thing is Bad". Hence skulls. Nobody trusts something with a skull plastered around it

And yet if a post-post-apocalyptic society see how we've used the Jolly Roger on surviving movie paraphernalia or the like, they might assume 'pirates be here' as per Emanuel Wynn or Edward England. The reason why the skull and crossbones isn't effective is precisely because throughout history it hasn't survived its alternating usage because of evolving semiotics. The overdesign, and using it as a symbol of basicall 'all bad things' also allows crude misinterpretation or transformation. Where as people might reinterpret something with simplistic designs such as the international radiation hazard sign in popular culture (STALKER, etc)... it still plays into a sense of enculturated dread of 'killer thing I can't see...'

Radiation hazard doesn't look like anything on the planet, thus symbolic of nothing but itself. That was the whole purpose of groups getting all sorts of different people in a variety of different fields to design it. They wanted to make sure it wasn't as misinterpretable or unrelational to existing semiotic concepts as possible.

Addendum_Forthcoming:
And yet if a post-post-apocalyptic society see how we've used the Jolly Roger on surviving movie paraphernalia or the like, they might assume 'pirates be here' as per Emanuel Wynn or Edward England. The reason why the skull and crossbones isn't effective is precisely because throughout history it hasn't survived its alternating usage because of evolving semiotics. The overdesign, and using it as a symbol of basicall 'all bad things' also allows crude misinterpretation or transformation. Where as people might reinterpret something with simplistic designs such as the international radiation hazard sign in popular culture (STALKER, etc)... it still plays into a sense of enculturated dread of 'killer thing I can't see...'

Radiation hazard doesn't look like anything on the planet, thus symbolic of nothing but itself. That was the whole purpose of groups getting all sorts of different people in a variety of different fields to design it. They wanted to make sure it wasn't as misinterpretable or unrelational to existing semiotic concepts as possible.

For the record I'm talking about merely a skull rather than a whole skull and crossbones. This as opposed to this.
But even then if you assume they think its pirates, they're still going to realise there is something bad in there. The skull still communicates the essential idea of "danger". Don't go here because there's marauding bands of thieves and murderers and don't go here because there's an invisible force that will melt you on a cellular level lead to the same result of them not going there. And since you brought up pirates, you realise we are now going down the exact path of that Mitchell and Webb sketch Silentpony linked right? XD

Also, you realise your argument keeps flip-flopping on how much knowledge the morlocks have, right? If they have knowledge of the Jolly Roger flag and other similar pirate designs, then of course the radiation symbol works to communicate danger because they're going to recognise it as the radiation symbol those 21st century guys used in the Old Times. But you've tried to insist before that they'd have no such context because they're that primitive, in which case the radiation symbol fails because not only does it not really convey any sense of threat or danger (like the aforementioned spikiness of Biohazard does), but they're not going to understand what specific threat it represents which is the same reason you think the skull would fail. What about the radiation symbol tells me that it stands for radiation other than the fact that I exist in this time and recognise it as such? I have the context, the morlocks do not

 

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