Sep 10 2009

Immortality — An Ebullient 21st Century Technology That's to Die For!

The World Future Society’s journal The Futurist (Jan-Feb, 2009; David Gelles) highlights an intriguing analysis of Silicon Valley’s attraction to physical immortality. The people involved call themselves transhumanists which involves “part science, part faith, and part philosophy,” but their focus is “radical life extension and life expansion.”

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a world-class anti-aging champion, is head of the Methuselah Foundation. Click de_grey.jpg.

Some believers envision using biotechnology to reach ages near 1000 years, or “freezing the terminally ill…” using cryonics, in hopes of “…a second opinion from a future doctor,” and ultimately even uploading a human mind onto a computer. Drivers of this ebullient movement include the Who’s Who of Silicon Valley; e.g., dot-com millionaires like Peter Thiel (co-founder and former CEO of PayPal), technologist Ray Kurzweil (prolific inventer and Chancellor/Founder of Singularity University), and biologist Aubrey de Grey (Cambridge Univ PhD and head of the Methuselah Foundation).

Here at 21stCenturyWaves.com, Silicon Valley transhumanism piques our interest because it points to the growth of early ebullient thinking expected to be a key driver of the 2015 Maslow Window.

Over the last 200+ years, widespread ebullience has been at the core of fleeting and rare, but spectacular decades that we call Maslow Windows. Rhythmic, twice-per-century major economic booms trigger transformative clusters of Great Explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), macro-engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal), and even major wars (e.g., WW I). For a few brief shining moments, many ebullient members of society are catapulted to higher levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy where their expanded world views make great explorations and massive MEPs seem not only intriguing, but almost irresistible. Other ebullient individuals — who for personal reasons, do not ascend to elevated levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy — sometimes become involved in destructive pursuits, including major wars.

However, the key is ebullience — an intensely positive, almost giddy, feeling of confidence in the future — that drives Maslow Windows like the 1960s Apollo Moon program and the Lewis and Clark explorations over 200 years ago. The next one is expected near 2015, and the early ebullience of Silicon Valley transhumanism suggests it will be on time.

Interest in immortality was generated during the early stages of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window by physicist Robert Ettinger’s 1962 book, The Prospect of Immortality. Ettinger asserted that “if a body were frozen shortly after death, future technologies would be able to revive the recently deceased.” Ten years later, as the Apollo Maslow Window was closing, Ettinger brought transhumanism into focus by suggesting that “rather than relying on cryonics to revive the dead, forthcoming technologies might make death obsolete.”

Whatever questions you may have about the people and/or the technologies, this is truly the essence of 1960s Camelot-style ebullience!

After the 1960s Maslow Window, nearly 200 bodies were frigidly ensconced in the Arizona vaults of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. For a time Walt Disney was rumored to be among the elite 200 but he’s apparently buried in Forest Lawn Glendale near Los Angeles, not far from Michael Jackson’s new final resting place.

After the 1960s Maslow Window slammed shut, ebullience faded right on schedule as the long wave descended during the 1970s, 80s and into the 90s as “futurism gave way to materialism.” About the time of the Internet bubble burst (circa 2002) the famous Extropy Institute closed although scattered online discussions of transhumanism persisted.

During the early approach the 2015 Maslow Window, Alcor’s business was resurrected with over 800 ebullient members signing on to be frozen at death (and hopefully revived in the future), as the Silicon Valley became the “Galactic Center” for transhumanism, with several groups — e.g., Foresight Nanotech Institute, The Singularity Institute, the Immortality Institute — vying for prominence.

Today’s transhumanists see “the body as a machine, and the brain as a computer.” In a stunning display of ebullient techno-optimism, they believe that a Moore’s Law for medical technology will enable us to “fix, improve, and upgrade ourselves… (and) change the world.” And according to the popularizer of the most popular transhumanist concept — The Singularity — Ray Kurzweil explains that it is “a future period when the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”

The Transhumanists’ impressive early ebullience today virtually guarantees that the 2015 Maslow Window is right around the corner!

But even Kurzweil admits that The Singularity could ruin our entire afternoon if, for example, rogue nano-machines were to “disassemble everything on Earth…(or a) Cyborg army might decide to wipe out the human race.” And even Theil, a major transhumanist benefactor admits, “There’s always this big question about how much of this is too bizarre to be affiliated with.”

Others are more direct. For example, Johns Hopkins political scientist Francis Fukuyama labeled transhumanism “The world’s most dangerous idea…(because) the first victim of transhumanism might be equality.” Fearing a “new, high-tech eugenics,” Richard Haynes of the Oakland-based Center for Genetics and Society asks, “At what point do we start thinking of each other as humans and subhumans…Or humans and transhumans? And some wonder if there isn’t something sad about the incessant focus on avoidance of death in a Universe where “Life is a mystery and death is part of life.” It’s reminiscent of the first stage in Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ well-known “Five Stages of Grief“: denial.

However, all this may soon be beside the point. Indeed near 2015, when the next Maslow Window is expected to open, these issues will recede from our purview, because if the last 200 years are any guide, between about 2015 and 2025 we’ll be … simply … ebullient.

And for a brief few moments, like the transhumanists of today and the Maslow Window residents of the last 200 years, we’ll believe that almost anything is possible.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Immortality — An Ebullient 21st Century Technology That's to Die For!”

  1. Michaelon 11 Sep 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Dr. de Grey is no longer working for the Methuselah Foundation, but is Chief Scientific Officer of the SENS Foundation. The MF continues to do a valuable job of raising public awareness and excitement, and as their prize pot grows they will become more and more a real incentive for new research teams to step up to compete in the Methuselah Mouse Prize (MPrize) for increasing the lifespan of laboratory mice. Several have already done so now, when the Prize pot isn’t even enough to recuperate their lab costs!

    However, because the SENS platform for biomedical rejuvenation strongly appears to be the fastest route to the most effective intervention in the degenerative processes of aging, the new SENS Foundation has been established specifically to directly fund critical-path SENS research directly:

    http://www.sens.org/

    … and while continuing to have good working relationships with MF it is this medical charity with which Dr. de Grey now centers his work.

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