Death has always been the great equalizer. It was the one unavoidable aspect of existence, the one sure thing everybody could bet on. King, peasant, and all inbetween knew no matter how hard they might fight, no matter what kind of gods they may have called on, The Grim Reaper would eventually take his captive kicking and screaming beyond The Veil.
If the wealthy techno-elite in Silicon Valley have their way however, this notion of universal death will become as obsolete as fax machines and beepers.
As I write this, far off from the sandy beaches and unforgiving swampland of Florida, labs you have never heard of are doing important research for people you’ll never meet. They go to all the functions you’re not allowed in, live lives you could only dream of, and mostly regard you as irritating peasants.
And they will be damned if they have to give any of that up, even to Death itself.
Becoming as Godlike as they Knew They Always Were
The quest for immortality among the well-to do is nothing new. Emperors, Noblewomen, Queens, and Kings have all sought the secret to perpetual earthly existence, from Taoist “elixers” of Arsenic and Mercury to literally bathing in the blood of virgin maids. So far none has been successful.
Transhumanism plans to change that.
Transhumanism, for those who haven’t heard of it, is an interesting blend of philosophy and science. The idea is that humanity can overcome its biological limitations, such as aging or disease, by combining our organic selves with technology. This can run the gamut of gene therapy and bio-mechanical “mods” to our existing bodies all the way to wedding our minds to AI’s, becoming new creatures altogether.
Escaping death and becoming immortal take the reins of most Transhumanist discussions however, Transhumanist thinkers go so far as to refer to those outside the movement as “Deathist.”
It is this aspect of the philosophy that is quite in vogue among the Silicon Valley elite at the forefront of the American tech industry. Folks like Bill Maris, Elon Musk, and a host of others are spear-heading anti-death research with funds that almost boggle the mind.
Google Ventures has close to $2 billion in assets under management, with stakes in more than 280 startups. Each year, Google gives Maris $300 million in new capital, and this year he’ll have an extra $125 million to invest in a new European fund. That puts Google Ventures on a financial par with Silicon Valley’s biggest venture firms, which typically put to work $300 million to $500 million a year. According to data compiled by CB Insights, a research firm that tracks venture capital activity, Google Ventures was the fourth-most-active venture firm in the U.S. last year, participating in 87 deals….
“There are a lot of billionaires in Silicon Valley, but in the end, we are all heading to the same place,” Maris says. “If given the choice between making a lot of money or finding a way to make people live longer, what do you choose?”
Maris has since retired from Google Ventures but the money is still there, still flooding in at rate that might make a stock broker blush. Tad Friend in “Silicon Valley’s Quest to Live Forever” has an impressive run down of the entire scene and highlights an interweaving nest of persons and labs most people have never heard of: Joon Yun, Verily, Andy Conrad, Unity Biotechnology, Peter Thiel, California Life Company, the list goes on and on. What becomes clear after even a casual reading is that, among the Tech Elite, not dying is a very serious matter.
“Joon Yun, a doctor who runs a health-care hedge fund, announced that he and his wife had given the first two million dollars toward funding the challenge. ‘I have the idea that aging is plastic, that it’s encoded,’ he said. ‘If something is encoded, you can crack the code.’ To growing applause, he went on, ‘If you can crack the code, you can hack the code!’…
“Clearly, it is possible, through technology, to make death optional,’ Rothblatt said. (She has already commissioned a backup version of her wife, Bina—a ‘mindclone’ robot named Bina48.)…’It’s enormously gratifying to have the epitome of the establishment, the head of the National Academy of Medicine, say, ‘We, too, choose to make death optional!’…
Last fall, Unity raised a hundred and sixteen million dollars from such investors as Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel, billionaires eager to stretch our lives, or at least their own, to a span that Thiel has pinpointed as ‘forever.’…
Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle, lost his adoptive mother to cancer when he was in college—and later donated three hundred and seventy million dollars to aging research. ‘Death has never made any sense to me,’ he told a biographer. ‘How can a person be there and then just vanish?’ Bill Maris, who conceived of Calico, said that, when he pondered the inevitability of death, ‘I felt it was maybe our mission here to transcend that, and to preserve consciousness indefinitely.’”
They certainly make the goal sound lofty enough, don’t they? Noble geniuses on a quest to free humanity from it’s biological chains so that we might live our lives forever?
For about $50 worth of candles, wormwood, and myrrh most Occultists could easily soothe the anxiety of these billionaires. I could offer them a discount and a tour through South Florida’s shadier graveyards, but even that wouldn’t be necessary. There is ample evidence for those willing to look that life carries on beyond our earthly shell, that consciousness is indeed indefinite: ghosts have been caught on video numerous times, even phone calls to the living from dead paranormal investigators have been recorded. 42% of Americans claim to have witnessed undead apparitions and 61% of the population say they believe that other people have had supernatural experiences.
For the great majority of the country then the quest for immortality is a non-issue, a puzzling and perhaps morbid line of questioning but one with a definite answer.
Why then the fervent focus on not dying?
Under the Heaven of the Rich Exists Hell for the Poor
We have a saying in the South: “everybody wants to get to heaven but nobody wants to die.” One anonymous scientist echoes this proverb when discussing Silicon Valley’s interest in immortality:
“It’s based on the frustration of many successful rich people that life is too short: ‘We have all this money, but we only get to live a normal life span.’”
Among much of the immortality research mentioned in Freind’s report is of a “healthspan,” or the time human beings can live healthy without major complications. The billionaires packing millions into research labs talk about “eternal twenty-fiveness” and achieving a “compressed mortality” where they simply go to sleep and never wake up. It’s an ideal life, born from a section of the country where personal nutritionists and plentiful cosmetic surgery aim to make “old age” an outdated concept.
Who wouldn’t want that? Let’s look at what death looks like to the poor.
After thirty, everything starts to change. From that year on the human risk of mortality doubles every seven years; the body wears down, muscles no longer move as they used to. We age, and often not gracefully.
Christmas, 2016: my stepmother’s father sits in a chair in the living room, on visit from the retirement home specializing in the elderly with dementia. He is rushed to the bathroom by my step-mother, who quickly..