Special Report

A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality

by
Clifford A. Pickover.
 
Excerpted from A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality: Extraordinary People, Alien Brains, and Quantum Resurrection. Check out his site!
 
 

Overview

Every great work of art has two faces: one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.”

Daniel Barenboim, Parallels and Paradoxes

That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of our time.”

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty


The Lifeboat Foundation is fascinated and concerned with scientific advancements and the future of both technology and humanity. I thank the Foundation for asking me to excerpt from my latest book that deals with these subjects. The particular excerpts help set the stage for various topics that are explored more fully in the book; thus, the material here is brief and serves as a launch pad for further exploration. I welcome comments from readers.
 
 

A Celebration of Unusual Lives

I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever.”

Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss USA Contest, answering the question, “If you could live forever, would you?”

Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.”

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

After you die, will the world remember anything you did? Most of us rarely leave marks, except on our immediate family or a few friends. We’ll never have our lives illuminated in a New York Times obituary or discussed by a TV news anchorperson. 1 Even your immediate family will know nothing of you within four generations. Your great-grandchildren may carry some vestigial memory of you, but that will fade like a burning ember when they die — and you will be extinguished and forgotten.
 
Even writers, like myself, don’t have much of a chance. In fact, most best-selling books are destined to fade quickly. Consider, for example, how few of these hardcover bestsellers from the year 1950 are still in print or even remembered today?2
  1. The Cardinal, Henry Morton Robinson
  2. Joy Street, Frances Parkinson Keyes
  3. Across the River and into the Trees, Ernest Hemingway
  4. The Wall, John Hersey
  5. Star Money, Kathleen Winsor
  6. The Parasites, Daphne du Maurier
  7. Look Younger, Live Longer, Gayelord Hauser
  8. Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl
  9. Mr. Jones, Meet the Master, Peter Marshall
  10. Campus Zoo, Clare Barnes Jr.
Despite pop culture’s tendency to foster the rapid extinction of books, ideas, and people, A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality highlights unusual thinkers who punched through our ordinary cultural norms while becoming successful in their own niches. Here, we celebrate these extraordinary people and their curious ideas. Whether or not you recognize many of the names, these individuals dramatically changed the lives of those with whom they came in contact, and many have had a lasting impact on the world. In this book, I’ll avoid the typical celebrities and influential Nobel laureates and instead focus on counterculture and more “right-brained” thinkers. Through these people, we can better explore life’s astonishing richness and glimpse the diversity of human imagination.
 
Some of the “geniuses” in this book seem to have had peculiarities of one sort or another, or as Turin University professor Cesare Lomobroso once said, “Genius is often associated with anomalies in that organ which is the source of its glory.” Their works and ideas often bear a personal mark, and a striving to tear apart traditional thinking or to make an impact — whether it was for their brilliant writing, for making the world’s best chopped liver, or creating shocking new musical forms. Almost all of the people in this book had an irreverence toward authority and a self-sufficiency and independence. They were passionate about their work. Many of the trendsetters experienced social and professional resistance to their ideas. Most blazed a trail. I call these individuals “chameleons”.
 
 

A Symphony for Chameleons


Chameleons are lizards famous for their ability to alter their skins to display an amazing variety of colors, ranging from blacks and browns to green, blue, yellow, red, or white. These odd creatures have startling eyes that can be moved independently of each other, allowing the lizards to survey the world with nearly 360-degree vision. Chameleons are the only lizards with zygodactyle feet, or pincers, that help them climb tall trees.
 
The people in this book are chameleons because they looked in many directions, were constantly changing, and usually had numerous interests. For example, musician John Cage was an avid mycologist and mushroom collector, and rocket-scientist Jack Parsons explored the farthest reaches of the occult. Psychologist William James was equally brilliant — teaching physiology, psychology, philosophy, and religion.
 
Chameleon people reveal their creativity and humor in many ways. Many were part of countercultures, in opposition to mainstream society — iconoclasts driven by Promethean impulses to create. They tolerated ambiguity, were open to a cornucopia of experiences and areas of knowledge, were attracted to novelty, and wanted to influence the world. A typical chameleon would have the creativity and lateral thinking to answer this question if you handed it to them on a slightly soiled card: 3
 
Without using a pencil, how would you make this
Roman numeral equation true?
XI + I = X

When researching the chameleonic people for inclusion in this book, I was startled to find certain trends emerging. Many turned out to be homosexual, for example Truman Capote and John Cage, or appeared to have other nontraditional sexual lifestyles. A number of chameleons — including Truman Capote, John Cage, Jack Parsons, and the Wachowski Brothers — never completed college.
 
Going beyond the intriguing individuals, many of the concepts in the book are chameleonic, grabbing ideas from many fields such as mathematics, philosophy, zoology, and entertainment. We’ll tackle quantum resurrection, the religious implications of mosquito evolution, simulated Matrix realities, the brain’s own marijuana, and the mathematics of the apocalypse. If each area of human knowledge is likened to a spider web that glimmers in the sunlight, then these special topics come with unexpected connecting strands that unite the webs in a vast, sparkling fabric.
 
 

Pop Culture


Contrary to popular myth, when the chameleon lizard changes skin color, the morphing is not for the purpose of camouflage. The chameleon is not trying to fade away or blend into its surroundings. Rather, the remarkable colors are a reflection of the lizard’s mood, temperature, and health. Chameleons use colors to communicate with others and express attitudes such as the willingness to mate or their determination to fight.
 
Similarly, the chameleon people in this book never blend with their environment, but rather show their flamboyant colors when promoting their ideas and at their creative heights. The zygodactyle chameleon grasps and does not let go. The chameleon people seize many ideas tightly and persuasively. They are all lateral thinkers — reasoning in directions not naturally pointed to by society or by the discipline in which they work. I also use the term “lateral thinking” in an extended way to indicate action motivated by serendipitous results, and the deliberate drift of thinking in new directions to discover what can be learned.
 
I sometimes aspire to being one of the chameleons. Each day, as I survey the world, I look in all directions. In this book, I often have one mental eye on a person while the other is considering related quirky facts. You’ll find these digressions throughout this book.
 
The book is also about American popular culture. I love zany science-fiction movies from the 1950s, the recent history of ice cream empires and “Jewish” chopped liver, and beatniks who changed society by splashing new ideas onto the canvas of culture.
 
 

A New Age for America

If you are anything like me, your parents told you to get good grades, graduate from college, and pursue a career that offered a respectable living. Logical and analytical minds have always been at a premium. Careers as a physician, lawyer, engineer, or scientist were certainly good options in my home. However, a revolution in America is taking place in the early 21st century. According to writer Daniel H. Pink, we already have sufficient numbers of the linear, logical thinkers — including computer programmers and accountants whose tasks will be easily fulfilled by armies of Asian knowledge workers who increasingly contribute to American society. Pink believes:
“The future no longer belongs to people who can reason with computer-like logic, speed, and precision. It belongs to a different kind of person — [individuals with abilities like] artistry, empathy, seeing the big pictures, and pursuing the transcendent… We’re progressing to a society of creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers.” 4
Pink’s view is certainly controversial, but he is one of many who believes we are leaving the Information Age and entering the Conceptual Age. The most important people, and certainly the most interesting, will be those who create inventions that change our ways of life and break new ground. But more importantly, the hottest individuals will be those who are good at recognizing patterns in culture and belief, those who try to understand the forest and not just the trees. These pattern recognizers also help others become creative and dream daring dreams.
 
According to Professor Richard Florida of Carnegie Mellon University, America and Europe are seeing a startling rise of what he calls the “Creative Class”, people who are paid principally to do creative work for a living. Members of this class include scientists, engineers, artists, musicians, designers, and knowledge-based professionals. In 1900, fewer than ten percent of American workers were doing creative work. Many people spent their daily grind in factories or on farms. However, by 2000, nearly a third of the workforce was part of the Creative Class. Florida writes in The Rise of the Creative Class that creative work accounts for half of all wage and salary income in the United States, over $1.7 trillion.
 
Come with me for a walk down Fifth Avenue in New York City. Do you want to make a lot of money? Many American entrepreneurs look beyond logic and consider worlds beyond our ordinary reality. Consider yoga as one example. Americans spend over $20 billion a year on yoga products such as $400 leather-trimmed yoga mats created by New York designer Marc Jacobs. 5
 
For no utilitarian reason, people still burn incense, light candles, and burn wood. Americans spend over $25 billion a year to enhance the lawns of their suburban homes. TV shows reflect society’s interest in the offbeat, spooky, and transcendent. Medium, a TV show featuring a woman psychic, debuted in 2005 with over 16 million viewers. The popular show The X-Files featured the paranormal for seven seasons and led to a big-budget movie and loads of franchise merchandise. Point Pleasant featured a young woman in a New Jersey resort town who turns out to be the daughter of Satan. Charmed revolved around witches who battle their inner demons while tackling supernatural threats.
 
This interest in transcendent entertainment is clearly not limited to America. For example, consider the recent wave of spooky films that originated in Asia — The Eye, The Ring, The Grudge, Dark Water, Pulse, and other movies by the Pang Brothers, twin-brother screenwriters and film directors born in Hong Kong. According to John Hodgman, contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, these films all suggest a growing appetite for “the supernatural reasserting itself within the rational world, often by the very technology that had abolished it (be it VHS tapes, modern medicine or, as in Pulse, the Internet…).” 6
 
Spiritually focused American TV shows are ubiquitous, including such past hits as Touched by an Angel, Highway to Heaven, Revelations, and Joan of Arcadia. As old shows fade away, new ones leap to take their places. The 2005 TV season led with such curiosities as Supernatural (ghosts, spirits, haunted woods), Invasion (mysterious people, strange lights in the swamp), Night Stalker (things that go bump in the night), Surface (mysterious underwater happenings), Threshold (aliens invade our dreams), and Ghost Whisperer (a woman senses earthbound spirits that need psychological closure before entering heaven).
 
Some of these 2005 shows were quickly canceled and sent straight to an infinite afterlife in DVD heaven. In 2006, we saw a new crop of eerie TV movies or miniseries such as The House Next Door (successful suburban artist versus evil sprits) and The Lost Room (a motel-room key unlocks the door to a weird parallel world). Many of the themes of shows like Charmed were ancient, hearkening back to times when more people believed in miracles and fairies in the woods, felt a connection to nature, or used fire for sustenance.
 
Millions of Americans engage their atavistic impulses by investing in fireplaces for their homes or watching a televised “Yule log” burning on Christmas morning. Consider this amazing bit of Christmas trivia — TV station WPIX in New York City broadcasts a four-hour movie of a log blazing in a fireplace, which wins its time slot in the Nielsen ratings each year. Man misses his connection to nature — and the pseudorandom patterns of fire alter our brain waves, producing alpha waves and pleasure-producing neurochemicals. 7
 
 

The Butterfly Effect


I recently sat by my own fireplace as I finished watching The Butterfly Effect, a supernatural thriller in which psychology student Evan Treborn discovers that he can revisit his past and alter distressing events, hoping to improve their outcomes. However, his experiments have dreadful, personal consequences. Throughout the movie, Treborn surfs back and forth in time, witnessing variants of his life along multiple timelines. He discovers that fewer than ten words spoken in childhood can alter his life and, through the decades, perhaps the entire planet.
 
Chaos theory teaches us that our slightest actions can cause reality to change in profound ways. It’s the “butterfly effect” that says the flapping of the wings of a Monarch butterfly in New Jersey can change the weather in Iran a few weeks later, causing the downing of a power line, the fall of a repressive regime, and the blossoming of peace. Throughout this book, you’ll also see butterflies in several contexts as symbols of sensitivity, transformation, and beauty.
 
I see this butterfly effect in the evolution of my own life, and perhaps you see it in yours. How did you get your first job? How did you choose your career or mate? It’s obvious that history is contingent on the tiniest of forces. For example, imagine what might have happened if Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, or Mata Hari had an ugly but benign skin growth on the tips of their noses. The entire cascade of historical events would be different. A mutation of a single skin cell — caused by the random exposure to sunlight — will change the universe. If everyone in the world about to have sex today delayed by a few seconds, all the resultant children conceived today would be different people, because a different sperm would penetrate the egg. A one-second worldwide sneeze today would cause the conception of 720,000 new and different people on this day. 8
 
Even your own seemingly insignificant actions shape reality. A smile on a subway, a post on a Web bulletin board, or turning right instead of left alters the fabric of peoples’ lives in unpredictable ways. The chameleons in this book certainly influenced the world and touched countless lives.
 
Two poignant examples of the butterfly effect can be seen in World War II. The atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan on August 9th, 1945 occurred only because the clouds over the primary target of Kokura were just a bit too thick, and the pilot had trouble finding the city’s center. Over 80,000 were killed in Nagasaki and not Kokura because of a few clouds. Hitler survived an assassination attempt by German officer Ernst Stauffenberg because another officer nudged a briefcase bomb a few feet to the side of an oak table to keep things tidy. One of the table’s two heavy supports shielded Hitler from the blast. Hitler survived, and millions died because of a subtle movement and a single piece of oak.
 
A more recent cultural example of the butterfly effect is exemplified by Norma McCorvey who, through a seemingly random incident in the 1970s, caused the massive crime drop of the 1990s in the US. University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt writes:
“Like the proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings on one continent and eventually causes a hurricane on another, Norma McCorvey dramatically altered the course of events without intending to. All she had wanted was an abortion. She was a poor, uneducated, unskilled, alcoholic, drug-using twenty-one-year-old woman who had already given up two children for adoption and now, in 1970, found herself pregnant again. But in Texas, as in all but a few states at that time, abortion was illegal.” 9
Several powerful people adopted McCorvey’s cause and made her the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit seeking to legalize abortion. Her legal case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In order to protect her privacy, her name was changed to Jane Roe, and in 1973, the court ruled in her favor, allowing legalized abortion in America.
 
So how did Roe’s desire for an abortion cause the “greatest crime drop in recorded history”? Levitt points out that the millions of women most likely to have an abortion after “Roe versus Wade” were poor, unmarried, and teenage mothers for whom illegal abortions had been too risky and too expensive. And these mothers were the ones much more likely than average to produce criminals. But because of Roe, these potential thieves, drug dealers, murderers, and rapists were never born. 10
 
Before Roe, middle and upper-class women could have relatively safe, illegal abortions. After Roe, any woman could have an abortion, safely, and for a price that a poor person could afford.
 
 

Truman Capote, John Cage, Jack Parsons, and Beyond


Marilyn Monroe and Truman Capote

I’m a voracious reader and keep a diary of intriguing quotations that come across my line of sight each day. At the conclusion of each chapter of this book are quotations that relate to a book topic. These quotations continue in the appendix of the book titled “Cathedrals of the Mind”, and they serve to kick-start additional lateral thinking. I welcome your feedback and look forward to your own chameleonic or immortality quotation submissions.
 
In A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality, we’ll journey through the lives of famous and obscure people, while wondering how their lives might have turned out differently if small events had changed during their development. Would Truman Capote ever have become a famous writer if his mother had not abandoned him, and he fled to New York City? Would John Cage have become the famous avant-garde composer if his mother hadn’t told him to stay in Europe, when he wanted desperately to return to America? How would the world be different today if rocket-scientist Jack Parsons had never met the flamboyant redhead Marjorie Cameron or dropped a container of mercury fulminate in his private lab?
 
A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality launches from person to person, touching on aspects of their lives that I find personally interesting. Will these chameleons be remembered a hundred years from now? For some, yes. Others, no. Either way, I hope to lengthen the impact of their lives for a few extra years before they, like each of us, are forgotten.
 
Through the centuries, many have striven to achieve “immortality” through science, myths, religion, or dreams of lifelike heavens — and also through a creative work that left some lasting mark. Let us recall the words of King Gilgamesh, in that epic Mesopotamian masterpiece written centuries before the Bible. Gilgamesh realizes that the only way for him to transcend death is to seek achievement, to do something beyond the traditional, to enter the mystical Cedar Forest and kill the monster Humbaba:
“We are not gods, we cannot ascend to heaven. No, we are mortal men. Only the gods live forever. Our days are few in number, and whatever we achieve is a puff of wind. Why be afraid then, since sooner or later death may come?… I will cut down the tree; I will kill Humbaba; I will make a lasting name for myself; I will stamp my fame on men’s minds forever.” 11

 

Invisible Cities

In his book Invisible Cities, Italian writer Italo Calvino (1932–1985) discusses the inhabitants of a city who decide to connect their homes and apartments with various strings. Calvino writes, “In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, authority, [or] agency.” 12
 
As the days passed, the strings grew so thick, interwoven, and complexly textured that the people could no longer walk through the city nor distinguish all the intricate relationships. “When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave; the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain.” 13
 
Pop culture and today’s Internet function a little like the Calvino strings. Innumerable “threads” connect movie stars, scientists, priests, inventors, and composers. Sometimes I imagine drawing strings among all the inhabitants of the planet. The tangle of strings would offer us a glimpse of the invisible connections, the network of relationships that envelope the world like an infinitely complex spider web.
 
In Calvino’s tale of the strings, the inhabitants eventually abandon their town and study it from a distance:
“From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.” 14
The string weavers rebuild Ersilia elsewhere, and they weave a similar pattern of strings that they hope will form a different fabric than had emerged in the first Ersilia. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away. Whenever anyone travels to the territory of Ersilia, they encounter “the ruins of the abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spider webs of intricate relationships seeking a form.”
 
What if we could somehow stand outside of space and time and construct Calvino strings between people through all time? What if we also connect the strings to mythical characters or characters in novels, or to the extraordinary chameleonic people in this book — to better understand how people and myths affect one another and how they shape the past and present. I would enjoy stretching a string between me and Gilgamesh, colored red because the string connects such distant regions of time and space.
 
Let us imagine traveling with Gilgamesh through his long dark passage from this world to the world beyond. We finally emerge into the jeweled garden, glistening with bushes and trees made from lapis lazuli, rubies, hematite and emeralds. Amazingly, this vision recurs throughout literature and civilizations, and represents our need for transcendence. Consider that the Gilgamesh garden is something straight out of The Wizard of Oz. It’s a vision described by users of the drug DMT. It’s even the description of the city of New Jerusalem in the Bible’s Revelation 21:
The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.
I love this imagery of the afterlife or perhaps of a post-human world. It uplifts me. When I read my The DK Illustrated Family Bible, I feel a sense of mystic transport just looking at the illustrations!
 
On the other hand, only a few moments ago, I read Greta Christina’s essay “Comforting Thoughts about Death that have Nothing to do with God”, and felt depressed. After all, I’m a skeptic and unsure that an afterlife exists. Greta, a freelance writer, notes
“The fact that your life span is an infinitesimally tiny fragment in the life of the universe, that there is, at the very least, a strong possibility that when you die, you disappear completely and forever, and that in five hundred years nobody will remember you… [this] can make you feel erased, wipe out joy, make your life seem like ashes in your hands.” 15
And then I sigh. It makes me sad to look at my hands, eyes, and the eyes of my family members, and to understand that this will all be dust and ashes. Greta admits that she doesn’t know what happens when we die, but she doesn’t think this essential mystery really matters. She wants her essay to be upbeat as she reminds us that we should be happy because it is amazing that we even get a chance to be alive. We get to be conscious. “We get to be connected with each other and with the world, and we get to be aware of that connection and to spend a few years mucking about its possibilities.”
 
I suppose her essay does end on a bright note as she enumerates items that contribute to her happiness, like Shakespeare, sex, five-spice chicken, Thai restaurants, Louis Armstrong, and drifting patterns in the clouds.
 
In some sense, even the Calvino strings give me a great sense of pleasure. Imagine if we had Calvino strings following us wherever we go, from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Imagine that every molecule in our bodies had its own string. When you think about this more deeply, our Calvino strings never really begin or end. When we die, the Calvino strings of the molecules in our body keep going. When we are born, the Calvino strings of molecules from our mother coalesce into our embryonic form. At no point do Calvino strings break off or appear from nothing.
 
As we age, the molecules in our bodies are constantly being exchanged with our environment. With every breath, we inhale the Calvino strings of hundreds of millions of atoms of air exhaled weeks ago by someone on the other side of the planet. Thinking at a higher level, our brains and organs are vanishing into thin air, the cells being replaced as quickly as they are destroyed. The entire skin replaces itself every month. Our stomach linings replace themselves every five days. We are always in flux. A year or two from now, a majority of the atoms in our bodies will have been replaced with new ones. We are nothing more than a seething mass of eternal Calvino strings, continuous threads in the fabric of spacetime.
 
What does it mean that your brain has nothing in common with the brain you had a few years ago? If you are something other than the collection of atoms making up your body, what are you? You are not so much your atoms as you are the pattern in which your atoms are arranged. As we have discussed, some of the atomic patterns in your brain code memories. People are persistent spacetime tangles. It’s quite possible that you have an atom of Jesus of Nazareth coursing through your body. Gilgamesh, the historical king who ruled the city of Uruk, is part of your brain or tendons or heart. An atom in your retina may one day be in the tears of a happy lunar princess a hundred years from now. On this subject, English poet John Donne (1572–1631) wrote,
“No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” 16
If you were to try to draw a boundary around yourself when viewed as a seething nexus of Calvino strings, you would find the boundary to be completely imaginary. As mathematician Rudy Rucker has noted, “The simple processes of eating and breathing weave all of us together into a vast four-dimensional array. No matter how isolated you may sometimes feel, no matter how lonely, you are never really cut off from the whole.” 17
 
Deepak Chopra, M.D., goes further and says, “There is no such thing as a person. A person is the interwoveness of interbeingness and does not have a separate identity.” 18 Yet, he also believes that nothing happens to consciousness after we die and likens our connection to this world to talking on the phone. If the phone line is cut, nothing happens to the being who was speaking. Others have likened death to taking off a tight shoe. 19
 
I get pleasure by watching chameleons, such as the individuals we discussed in this book. Through their extraordinary stories, we get to share a little of spacetime with people like Capote, Cage, Corman, and the chopped-liver queen. These kinds of people make me smile and help me feel connected to other minds.
 
Harvard psychologist Stephen Kosslyn has made the remarkable suggestion that “your mind may arise not simply from your own brain but from the brains of other people.” He notes that all of us set up “social prosthetic systems”, or SPSs, in which we rely on others to “extend our reasoning abilities and help us regulate and constructively employ our emotions.” 20
 
A good marriage often occurs when two people can serve as effective SPSs for each other. In some sense, we “lend” parts of our brains to one another. Kosslyn concludes that your mind arises from the combined activity of your own brain and those of your SPSs. Using this line of reasoning, “one might argue that when your body dies, part of your mind may survive.”
 
Seth Lloyd, in his book Programming the Universe, conveys his sadness with respect to physicist Heinz Pagels, who died in an accident while he and Lloyd were mountain climbing. Lloyd seeks solace not in God but in information theory. “We have not entirely lost him,” Seth writes. “While he lived, Heinz programmed his own piece of the universe. The resulting computation unfolds in us and around us.” Seth likens the universe to a giant computer that feeds on information and generates reality. Our departed loved ones are not gone. Their essence and information is still with us because the cosmic computer has used their bits to define the world we encounter.
 
When we consider my fascination with the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is both amusing and profound that I read some of the text on a computer screen in the 21st century. How will people in the next century assimilate Gilgamesh? Perhaps Gilgamesh will be downloaded directly to your brain’s fissure of Rolando, and in a few seconds you would gasp and be just a tad wiser. To make Gilgamesh come alive, a computer will tickle your superior temporal gyrus. You’ll hear the scorpion beings. You’ll see new colors.
 
Yes, we can be happy that we have the chance to watch the chameleons — and perhaps become chameleons ourselves.
 
Blessed are the chameleons
For they will let in the light.

 
 
 


 

Notes and References

1
Siegel, Marvin, The Last Word: The New York Times Book of Obituaries and Farewells: A Celebration of Unusual Lives (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1997).
2
Publishers Weekly List of Best-selling Hardcover Books for 1900–1995.
3
You can turn the equation upside down.
4
“Revenge of the Right Brain”, Wired 13(2): 70–72, February, 2005.
5
Betts, Kate, “Yoga’s Growing Reach”, Time 165(5): 74, January 31, 2005.
6
Hodgman, John, “The Haunting”, The New York Times Magazine, Section 6, 22–27, July 23, 2006.
7
Stanley, Alessandra, “Once Again, Having Its 7 Minute Flame”, The New York Times, Saturday, Section E1, “The Arts”, December 25, 2004 (discusses the WPIX Yule log).
8
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 360,000 people are born each day in the world. The actual number of people conceived each day is roughly double this number because approximately 50% of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually without the woman knowing she is pregnant.
9
Levitt, Steven and Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (New York: William Morrow, 2005), 5–6.
10
Ibid.
11
Mitchell, Stephen, Gilgamesh: A New English Version (New York: Free Press, 2004), 27.
12
Calvino, Italo, Le città invisibili, translated by William Weaver as Invisible Cities (London: Vintage, 1997).
13
Ibid.
14
Ibid.
15
Christina, Greta, “Comforting Thoughts about Death that have Nothing to do with God”, Skeptical Inquirer, March/April, 2005, p. 50.
16
Dunne, John, “Meditation XVII”, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1624.
17
Rucker, Rudy, The Fourth Dimension: A Guided Tour of the Higher Universes (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1985).
18
Chopra, Deepak, “Quantum Spirituality”, in David Jay Brown, Conversations at the Edge of the Apocalypse (New York: Palgrave, 2005).
19
Ram Dass, “Here, Now and Tomorrow”, in David Jay Brown, Conversations at the Edge of the Apocalypse (New York: Palgrave, 2005).
20
Stephen Kossyln, World Question Center.