British science fiction giant Arthur C. Clarke
By Charles Faris, Cosmic Trigger reading group guest bloggerWelcome to week 16 of the RAWIllumination Cosmic Trigger Reading Group. As I am writing this post I note that we are one day past the mid-point of Sirius’ journey “behind” our Sun, one day after Bob’s “July 23 experience with Sirius,” and that this week we pass through the exact halfway point of the book, which point is marked in the new Hilaritas edition with John Thompson’s illustration of “Space Travel is Time Travel,” which contains an image of a journey with an obvious halfway point—all of which brings to mind this bit from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
This week, starting on page 121 (Hilaritas) And/Or page 120, we are covering The prospects for immortality and Stopping the biological clock, both of which beg the question of how Bob could get so much so right while simultaneously getting so much so wrong. Only his metaprogrammer knows for sure, and I think it might have something to do with prognostication being a risky business at the best of times, and even more so when we are emotionally involved with the subject of our predictions.
The driving force for Bob’s interest in life extension and immortality appears to be Dr. Timothy Leary, at the time sitting in the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, theoretically serving a 30 year sentence which in his case would have been Life, if he hadn’t negotiated himself out of jail. (Ironically, Leary died in 1996, exactly 30 years after that sentence was first handed down.)
More irony—of all the predictions of imminent immortality that Bob pulls out for these two chapters, only that of Arthur C. Clarke has yet to be proven false, A. C. being clever enough to offer a prediction for immortality (end of the 21st century) far beyond his own expected lifespan (Clarke died in 2008).
Of course, there are still plenty of folks in the immortality game, mostly tech giants from Silicon Valley, and the conversation doesn’t seem much changed from 1977 when Cosmic Trigger was first published. Time traveling back to where we began?
That said, I must say that in the decade after I first read CT, 1979-1989, I was much convinced and enthused by Bob’s line of reasoning, at one point writing a paper for my favorite philosophy professor (in a class covering quite a few of Bob’s favorites (Nietzsche, Husserl, James, etc) taking contemporary philosophy to task for failing to deal with our eventual immortality, an idea my professor deemed “insane.” At the time I considered him hopelessly out of touch.
In the intervening years, as the predictions continued to fail, and my understanding of the statistical underpinnings of life expectancy increased, I began to notice more of Bob’s blind spots, and now hold a view that immortality “is” both unlikely and undesirable, for psychological, evolutionary, economic, and ecological reasons. Then again, in a hundred years I may be proven wrong, although like Arthur C. Clarke I won’t be around to find out.
Craig Venter, CEO of Human Longevity Inc., and one of the first to sequence the human genome
Continued irony—just a few days ago, on July 8, the oldest person in the US died at 113, and the next day the oldest person in the UK died at 113. Then on July 12 the oldest person on the planet died in Vietnam at age 123.
Timothy Leary lived to be 76. Bob died at 74.
Any thoughts on longevity, life extension, and immortality? Please chime in!
Next week, we will be reading 4 short chapters, beginning with Appearances and Disappearances (131 Hilaritas, And/Or 130) and finishing with Nikola Tesla, secular shaman. Until then, keep on making the most of the dog days.
Mack Reynolds wrote a book in which the reason we no longer hear much about immortality is that it worked and the 1% grabbed it. I don't think I believe that.
I doubt that is the case, and i figure that capitalism would pretty much insure something along those lines--another good reason to oppose.
The halo around the "T" in travel in the illustration on p. 126 reminds me of an Egyptian winged solar disc. Great illustration!
p.122 This statement still rings true: "Immortalism," says Carl Spann, an Immortalist activist, is a tremendous step in the evolution of man. It's the development of an immortal state of consciousness ..."
Developing an immortal state of consciousness contrasts with many religious beliefs that assume we are automatically endowed with an immortal state of consciousness. Quite coincidentally, I just read Deleuze's take on how Spinoza proposes developing an immortal state of consciousness in his brilliant book "Expressionism in Philosophy".
We do have some "chemical control of the aging process."
The "development" notion is central to the work of Gurdjieff, as well.
Lifespan continues to increase. We may live a very long time. Average lifespan in the US in 1966: 66.7 male, 73.8 female. Average lifespan in 2016: 78.8. Bob thought things would progress more quickly than they have, but S.M.I2L.E. continues.
Average lifespan is very different than life expectancy. Average lifespan is skewed by infant mortality, war death, accidental death, disease epidemics, etc. The imbedded link goes into that pretty well (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy). Life expectancy for 80 year olds has increased a mere 2-3 years since 1850, .5-1.5 years since Cosmic Trigger was published (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html).
I still like to entertain the idea that Wilson and Leary were correct in their timelines, but the technology has been suppressed, kind of like Reich or Tesla. However, this doesn't always require a shadowy conspiracy, or a 1% hoarding the secrets, just the regular inefficiency of top down management.....SNAFU!
Although, current research seems exciting, for your regular Walmart customer (this is how I measure success, when I can buy it at Walmart) the most exciting pill is reservatol. Not too paradigm shifting for 2016.....
My third circuit staggers when considering life extension for the Buddhaful "all sentient beings." I can't imagine the insect and animal populations.
:Should read Resveratrol
It could be that our dominant economic and scientific models are nearing the end of their lifespan. It might be that we've reached some sort of "peak scientific materialism" and the model is exhausted.
In other words, in the same way that the medieval period was somehow systemically incapable of inventing the technology of the industrial revolution, so our model may be proving for longevity research, space habitation et cetera.
It could also be that it's impossible to push human lifespan as far as Leary and RAW hoped. I would guess that there is some deep spiritual reason behind it and that our consciousness transcends our physical lifespan.
RAW's predictions on longevity have turned out badly so far, and his predictions on space travel/space colonization haven't worked out, either, but a lot of people have been wrong about the pace of space travel, including Arthur C. Clarke, who has generally done well with predictions. I've seen discussion about the unexpectedly slow pace of space travel and technology in general from Neal Stephenson, Tyler Cowen and Peter Thiel, among others. I'll probably do a blog post on this.
I don't think Bob's prediction on longevity and space migration have turned out badly. I think the changes have happened more slowly than he anticipated, but the he correctly saw the trends.
I find it interesting how Shakespeare wrote a lot about immortality in his sonnets, talking about transplanting his consciousness into his poems.
"transplanting his consciousness into his poems."--immortal consciousness--that's something I can get behind!
It seems to me that by reading his poems some of his consciousness is being transplanted into us.
p. 123 The inclusion of Pauwels and Bergier as a reference for immortality contrasts rather sharply with the other scientific references. "Morning of the Magicians" is full of fantastic, unscientific speculation. By the author's own account: "Let us repeat that there will be a lot of silliness in our book ..." RAW may have included it for the allusion the two book titles make to magic and immortality. A great deal of magick practice concerns the development of an immortal state of consciousness. The Golden Dawn and Crowley freely borrowed from the fragments known as The Egyptian Book of the Dead when writing their rituals.
"Perhaps we are even now in the process of building a culture that will know immortality on earth and in heaven..." It seems appropriate for Pauwels and Bergier to say that as it suggests the culture of magick practice. Earlier in CT RAW spoke of experiencing the knowledge of his own immortality. I don't remember the exact page, but wouldn't be surprised if that realization came after a magick experiment of some kind.
p.127 Love these names: "Carl Spann put me in touch with another local Immortalist, Paul Segall..."
p. 131 "Some readers of this book - the more determined ones - may never die at all." I consider this probable. The book will last a long time. Also, it doesn't predict their bodies will survive.
Oz--that bit about some readers--that "is" a real piece of genius on Bob's part., tying the extended life of the book with extended life of "some readers." Of course, all active readers of the book are "alive" and have not died yet!
While I am a fan of conscious immortality--beyond the body--I do read Bob as focusing on immortality in the body. His use of the Woody Allen quote reflects this. His use of the Aldous Huxley story reflects something else. Always multiples with Bob.
I keep reassessing my view on Bob and Tim's ideas on immortality. I've been following for some years the work of one of the most convincing proponents, Aubrey de Grey. Do check out this Ted Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/aubrey_de_grey_says_we_can_avoid_aging#t-954602
Chas - the interpretation of the Allen quote depends on how you define or represent "I" - "I prefer to achieve immortality by not dying." If defining I as the body, I = the body, then we can agree that the quote backs up physical immortality.
I and my body definitely agree that RAW advocated for extending physical life. As I read it, Cosmic Trigger contains tricks, false appearances, and intelligence tests.
I can envision two general attitudes to receiving the longevity information - actively or reactively. Someone can react to this data by waiting for a scientist to design a longevity shot or pill. If they have money, they can arrange to cryonically preserve critical body tissue and wait in deep freeze for a future solution. RAW chose to present a gloss of very optimistic longevity research and predictions. Now there appears a shared judgement among some that he failed when these predictions didn't pan out.
RAW's gloss includes one reference among the distinguished scientists that appears wishful fantasy when viewed materialistically, the Pauwels and Bergier quote. (p. 123) This flourish of subtle Discordia seems comparable to citing the National Enquirer in a Masters Thesis. The inclusion of a populist occult reference to support rapid physical immortality makes me question how seriously or skeptically RAW himself believed the predictions??
Practically speaking, what can the ordinary individual do to extend their life? Waiting for an Immortality Pill hasn't worked yet. Interestingly, the clue seems provided when Wilson has Leary lamenting that some people get stuck at the 5th circuit, Body Rapture, "They have become Hedonic Engineers, and no more." Hedonic Engineering, stage 14 as described in Leary/Wilson's "Game of Life" book, seems exactly the place where an individual can learn techniques to qualitatively and quantitatively extend life. This is the circuit where one begins to acquire bio-chemical mastery over the body and brain. Includes learning about nutrition, yoga, martial arts, wholistic medicine, etc. Learning to control the health and physiology of the body leads to longer and better quality of life.
Saying that Hedonic Engineering is where people get stuck regarding longevity when it can be exactly the opposite revisits the 69 leimotiv discussed earlier. The consistent exploration and practice of Hedonic Engineering seems an active response to life extension, intelligence increase and eventual space migration.
I have more to say.
should say "69 leitmotiv" in the penultimate paragraph.
Dustin--the "all sentient beings" notion boggles my mind as well--of course it also begs the question of deep identity!
Rasa--thanks for the video link--very informative for anyone interested in the topic of life extension.
Oz--I'm with you on the "tricks, false appearances, and intelligence tests." Bob also says, in Quantum Psychology," I wrote some nonsense myself in an early book called Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati (1987)." That quote is directly referring to Bell's Theorem, and I read somewhere else recently, though I can't recall exactly where, Bob referring to lot's of nonsense in Cosmic Trigger. Of course, if you can't risk nonsense you probably won't come up with anything bold at all, at all.
From my perspective, Leary is implicitly saying that once you've mastered Hedonic Engineering there is a further step that can lead to life extension. I'm very interested in your further thoughts on this matter.
Great discussion, everyone. Obviously Life Extension is a hot topic!
Eric, note the key words in my comment, "Have turned out badly SO FAR." I agree with you that the predictions are not so much wrong as they have not happened as quickly as Leary and RAW thought they would. But I think there's no gainsaying Charles Faris' point in the original blog post that the timetable hasn't worked out.
Dustin's comment about technology that he can buy at Walmart offers some balance, I think, to Charles' comment about how capitalism would affect the distribution of life extension technology. The usual path for new technology is that it is expensive and can only be afforded by early adopters, but that it becomes cheaper and available to almost everyone.
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