In a message dated 96-03-24 00:34:14 EST, Doc Artym writes:

>Hmmm, I can't recall any bits in 2001/2010 with >H resonance ...

Of course, the films make a lot more sense and have a lot more depth if one's read the books (I'm sure you have, Rich -- they're classics), but I think 2001 is the >H film. The over-all theme of the book and movie is the idea that consciousness is all but infinitely expandable and that it can and usually is the result of a process of consciousness' own efforts at self-engineering. For instance, the idea that humanity itself was the result of an "engineering" intervention by a more advanced race, one that has itself been in a process of transcendant self-transformation, points at what for me is the essence of the "big" ideas in >H.

I feel so strongly that 2001 is amongst the most important works of transhumanism, I offer the following from the chapter entitled "Experiment", on page 184 of the yellowing 1968 Signet paperback from my shelf:


Call it the Star Gate.

For three million years, it had circled Saturn, wating for a moment of destiny that might never come. In its making, a moon had been shattered, and the debris of its creation orbited still.

Now the long wait was ending. On yet another world, intelligence had been born and was escaping from its planetary cradle. An ancient experiment was about to reach its climax.

Those who had begun that experiment, so long ago, had not been men -- or even remotely human. But they were flesh and blood, and when they looked out across the deeps of space, they felt awe, and wonder, and loneliness. As soon as they possessed the power, they set forth for the stars.

In their explorations, they encountered life in many forms, and watched the workings of evolution on a thousand worlds. They saw how often the first faint sparks of intelligence flickered and died in the cosmic night.

And because, in all the galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fileds of the stars; they sowed, and sometimes they reaped.

And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed.

The great dinosaurs had long perished when the survey ship entered the Solar System after a voyage that had already lasted a thousand years. It swept past the frozen outer planets, paused briefly above the deserts of dying Mars, and presently looked down on Earth.

Spread out beneath them, the explorers saw a world swarming with life. For years they studied, collected, catalogued. When they had learned all that they could, they began to modify. They tinkered with the destiny of many species, on land and in the ocean. But which of their experiments would succeed they could not know for at least a million years.

They were patient, but they were not yet immortal. There was so much to do in this universe of a hundred billion suns, and other worlds were calling. So they set out once more into the abyss, knowing that they would never come this way again.

Nor was there any need. The servants they had left behind would do the rest.

On Earth, the glaciers came and went, while above them the changeless Moon still carried its secret. WIth a yet slower rythm than the polar ice, the tides of civilization ebbed and flowed across the galaxy. Strange and beautiful and terrible empires rose and fell, and passed their knowledge to their successors. Earth was not forgotten, but another visit would serve little purpose. It was one of a million worlds, few of which would ever speak.

And now, out among the stars, evolution was driving toward new goals. The first explorers of Earth had long since come to the limits of flesh and blood; as soon as their machines were better that their bodies, it was time to move. First their brains, and then their thoughts alone, they transformed into shining new homes of metal and plastic.

In these, they roamed among the stars. They no longer built spaceships, they were spaceships.

But the age of Machine-entities swiftly passed. In their ceaseless experimenting, they had learned to store knowledge in the structure of space itself, and to preserve their thoughts for eternity in frozen lattices of light. They could become creatures of radiation, free at last from the tyranny of matter.

Into pure energy, therefore, they presently tranformed themselves; and on a thousand worlds, the empty shells they had discarded twitched for a while in a mindless dance of death, then crumbled into rust.

Now they were lords of the galaxy, and beyond the reach of time. They could rove at will among the stars, and sink like a subtle mist through the very interstices of space. But despite their godlike powers, they had not wholly forgotten their origin, in the warm slime of a vanished sea.

And they still watched over the experiments their ancestors had started, so long ago.


Admittedly, this text is obscured in the film; the two works must be appreciated together. But sitting here today, I can't think of anything that was more influential on my intellectual development than that one passage and Kubrick's mythic images that accompany them. The ten year old boy that read those words -- before Neil Armstrong had left a footrpint in the dust of Mare Tranquilitas -- was changed forever.

Thanks for prompting me to go back and retrieve the memory of my first encounter with transhumanism, Rich!

Greg Burch

"Earth is the cradle of mankind,
but man cannot stay in the
cradle forever"
-- Tsiolkovsky

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