by Bill Atkinson, as told to Leo Laporte
In 1985 I swallowed a tiny fleck of gelatin containing a medium dose of LSD, and I spent most of the night sitting on a concrete park bench outside my home in Los Gatos, California.
I gazed up at a hundred billion galaxies each with a hundred billion stars, and each star a giant thermonuclear fusion reaction as powerful as our Sun. And for the first time in my life I knew deep down inside that we are not alone.
I knew that life on planet Earth is not the only pocket of consciousness in the universe, and likely not the most advanced. But we still have a role to play in the unfolding drama of creation.
It seemed to me the universe is in a process of coming alive. Consciousness is blossoming and propagating to colonize the universe, and life on Earth is one of many bright spots in the cosmic birth of consciousness.
But the stars are separated by enormous distances of darkness and vacuum, which may hinder communication between them. I lowered my gaze and saw the street lamps below glowing brightly, each casting a pool of light but surrounded by darkness before the next lamp. As above, so below.
The street lamps reminded me of bodies of knowledge, gems of discovery and understanding, but separated from each other by distance and different languages. Poets, artists, musicians, physicists, chemists, biologists, mathmeticians, and economists all have separate pools of knowledge, but are hindered from sharing and finding the deeper connections.
My vision distorted by thick eyeglasses, I witnessed the curvature of the Earth’s horizon, and I felt the pull of gravity toward its center, such that every one of us is standing at the very apex. Each of us stands at the top of planet Earth, and each of us is a leader or captain of the “Blue Marble” team.
How could I help? By focusing on the weak link. If I were captain of a soccer team, I would look for the weak link and work on it. If the goalie was letting too many through, I would spend extra practice time with him, and the whole team would prosper.
It occurred to me the weak link for the Blue Marble team is wisdom. Humanity has achieved sufficient technological power to change the course of life and the entire global ecosystem, but we seem to lack the perspective to choose wisely between alternative futures. But I was young, without much life experience or wisdom myself.
Knowledge, it seemed to me, consists of the “How” connections between pieces of information, the cause and effect relationships. How does this action bring about that result. Science is a systematic attempt to discover the “How” connections.
Wisdom, it seemed to me, was a step further removed, the bigger perspective of the “Why” connections between pieces of knowledge. Why, for reasons ethical and aesthetic, should we choose one future over another?
I thought if we could encourage sharing of ideas between different areas of knowledge, perhaps more of the bigger picture would emerge, and eventually more wisdom might develop. Sort of a trickle-up theory of information leading to knowledge leading to wisdom.
This was the underlying inspiration for HyperCard, a multimedia authoring environment that empowered non-programmers to share ideas using new interactive media called HyperCard stacks.
Each card in a HyperCard stack included graphics, text, interactive buttons, and links that took you to another card or stack. Built-in painting tools, drag-and-drop authoring with a library of pre-fab buttons and fields, and simple event based scripting made HyperCard flexible and easy to use.
It took a lot of hard work and a dedicated team to complete this mission. Apple shipped HyperCard in August 1987, and included it free with every Mac so any user could create and share HyperCard stacks. Many creative people expressed their ideas and passions, and several million interactive HyperCard stacks were created.
HyperCard was a precurser to the first web browser, except chained to a hard drive before the worldwide web. Six years later Mosaic was introduced, influenced by some of the ideas in HyperCard, and indirectly by an inspiring LSD experience.
Leo Laporte did a great interview with me in April 2016. You can watch it here — with the part about hypercard inspiration starting at 22:43
Check out Bill Atkinson’s Nature Photography