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.