My brothers-in-law, my husband, and I have been writing late into the night and early in the morning, and on the road, in a vast e-mail conversation about the implications of technological development and futurism. Bill and I have now spent hours discussing some of the ideas that have emerged. Both of us have recently finished reading works with transhumanist themes. We ask questions of each other about our vision for humanity, the role of technology in our evolution, and about the function of the universe itself. We have attempted to tease out definitions for “progress,” “good,” “bad” and many more terms. Each of us come to the conversation with our own approaches and lenses (I am intellectually obsessed with the encryption and transmission of information in any form, especially as it pertains to getting it off our planet and as widely dispersed as possible), as well as millions of years of genetic material affecting our personality traits and biases. So many of these conversations took place against the backdrop of the most sublime and beautiful landscape Oregon and California offer: the purest icy blue waters of Crater Lake, the remote and craggy solitariness of Point Reyes, the mighty waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge, the lonely and foggy beaches of Bodega Bay and Brookings, and the majesty of the ancient California redwood trees.

We’re nerds, on the move, on a road trip, on the quest.

In everything, ask how. In everything, ask why.

Be brought to tears as your mind opens to these questions in the presence of giants:

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Here. I have never seen the Avenue of the Giants in my life, although I have seen a few redwoods in Muir Woods. There is nothing to prepare you at all for standing in their presence and feeling the awe surge through your body. It is many forms of awe at once: the sublime nature of the enormous trees themselves, as well as the sublime nature of the unbounded universe, as well as the sublime working of science and millennia of adaptation that brings the DNA of these trees into the presence of my DNA, that we should coexist for any small period of time. Even though these trees will long outlast me or my immediate descendants, on the timeline of the universe it shall appear in retrospect that we existed perfectly at the same time, so small will that dot be. So we are a small blip together, those trees and me, if we zoom the mind’s lens out; yet we are ages and generations apart if you zoom the lens in. To hold that duality in your mind is an immense undertaking in the space of a moment, breathing in that scent of redwood forest floor—and that immensity is itself sublime.

And so there is nothing to do but give all the way in to the epiphany of it and weep at the utter wonder of it. I did not expect my own tears, yet there they were.

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Within the life span of these trees (the average age is something like 500 years old, and they can live to be 2000 years old), almost all the significant developments of civilization and science have taken place. This picture makes me think. I am using technology to capture a piece of our narrative, and Bill is using his Glass to capture the capturing of the narrative. There are many degrees of authorship and chronicling going on here, and it cannot be lost on anyone that the trees are characters, as well, in this story. Can nature ever be fully unmediated? As soon as we act upon it with our minds and our interpretation of nature, we are giving value and meaning to its function. We play the role of artists, whether we use words to re-render our experiences, our paintbrushes, or our iPhones, or our Glass. Technology may be a way of consuming nature—and even preserving it, or at least a record of it—after it is gone. Technology is an extension of the way we interface with the world, or it can be. I do not see nature and technology as inherently adverse entities. And man, being part of nature, has given rise through his mind to technology. To what extent is our technology the offspring of these very trees, of biological DNA/information? These are the kinds of questions I feel our species needs to be asking.

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If I could live as long as this redwood tree, or longer, or forever…I would. Would you? What does it mean to want to live, to be really alive? The greatest adventure is right now. The reward is the joy of this moment. My function is to be part of the consciousness of the universe, a function that demands continual curiosity and questing for information. I am a gatherer. I never want to die. I am going to have to be taken kicking and screaming and fighting for my life, which is the life of the mind connected to my body, using both as a tool to figure out as much as I can about the hows and whys.

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The group of young guys below didn’t quite believe I could actually succeed in climbing to and onto the burl. Ha ha, they clearly don’t know me at all! The bigger the challenge, the more of life, the more I want it…Everything, on the other side of fear. And then I took a flying leap off. And landed in a bit of a crumple (I will work on my landings later) on the soft forest floor amid bark and leaves and ages of growth and death and assimilation back to the earth.

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Reverse ducklings.

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Of all the pictures that exist of Bill on this trip, some of my favorite of him…exist of his mind. Or, more precisely, of his mind’s eye. Even ignoring his hands in this picture, he is present in the picture, moreso I feel than if I had captured his body. This is Bill’s mind recording both his objective reality and subjective viewpoint simultaneously through his Glass. Who is more present? Me, on the tree in the picture above? If you get a sense of my emotion and mental state from it, then yes, I am very present. Yet arguably, this picture through Bill’s very eyes is much more of an intimate peek at what his mind experienced that day. He gives us his perspective, and invites us to step into it for a moment. We are looking out through his brain to the trees here, stepping into his life for a brief nanosecond.

Ever since the 19-year-old Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (arguably the first novel length sci fi), the theme of technology/scientific creation as monstrous has haunted the science fiction genre in both literature and film. Seldom do works of western civilization portray technology as heroic or transcendent; Dr. Frankenstein’s monster is the symbol of all that could go awry with AI, or any technology that gets away from its creator, so to speak, or which takes on a life of its own. What is it that drives such trepidation with respect to technology? What is the basis for the historical fear associated with scientific creation? What would have to change within the human psyche/experience in order for technology to be a source of comfort and optimism?

What is most worth preserving about our current way of life in the universal timeline, and why?

How does life endure and gain forward momentum? Do you want biological life to endure in spacetime for millennia, really? If not, why not? If you do, by what process will we survive and endure and adapt?

When will human life last as long as these redwoods?

“We are surrounded by all of these lies/And people who talk too much./You’ve got the kind of look in your eyes/As if no one knows anything but us./Should this be the last thing I see,/I want you to know it’s enough for me/’Cause all that you are is all that I’ll ever need./I’m so in love, so in love/So in love, so in love/You look so beautiful in this light,/Your silhouette over me./The way it brings out the blue in your eyes/Is the Tenerife Sea./And all of the voices surrounding us here/They just fade out when you take a breath./Just say the word and I will disappear/Into the wilderness…”

Ed Sheeran, Tenerife Sea 

 

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