H. Keith Henson
Chapter 9 of Great Mambo Chicken And The Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly Over The Edge began:
In 1987, Keith Henson founded the Far Edge Committee. The group’s sole purpose was to begin planning for the Far Edge Party, an enormous gathering of downloaded multiple selves that was to be held in the far-off future and at the other side of the Milky Way.
Henson came up with the idea after realizing there was no way that he personally was going to make a grand tour of the Galaxy if there was only one copy of Keith Henson alive, even if that copy was supposed to live forever. He might live forever, but the Galaxy sure wouldn’t.
“There are 100 to 200 billion stars in our galaxy alone,” Henson said, “and even with nanotechnology to help, it will take a year or two per star system, not counting travel time between stars. Visiting ever interesting object in serial is literally impossible, since the interesting places won’t last long enough. I don’t want to take such a long time looking over this one small flock of stars that most of them burn out.”
Plainly there was a problem here: how could a single person see all there was to see if part of your destination went up in smoke while you were still in transit? You couldn’t, of course, not if you were just one person. But if you were many people a bunch of parallel selves well, then, that would be a different story. In that case your different selves could visit the Galaxy’s major hot spots simultaneously, before any of those great cosmic tourist attractions had a chance to evaporate. That way, all of you could see everything.
H. Keith Henson
is an American electrical engineer and writer on life extension,
cryonics, memetics, and evolutionary psychology. In 1975, he cofounded
the L5 Society, which promoted space
colonization and which was eventually folded into the National Space
Society. More recently, his
outspoken criticism of the Church of
Scientology and subsequent criminal proceedings has gained him
Keith was raised as an “army brat” attending seven schools before 7th grade. His father was a decorated US Army officer who spent much of his career in Army Intelligence. The science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein played a major role in influencing his early life. Keith graduated from Prescott High School shortly after his father retired, before attending the University of Arizona and receiving a degree in Electrical Engineering.
Keith was known at the University of Arizona as one of the founders of the Druid Student Center, where a campus humor newspaper, The Frumious Bandersnatch was published in the late 1960s. He later cited an incident that occurred in his student days as a good example of memetic replication. When asked to fill in a form that required him to disclose his religious affiliations he wrote “Druid”. His prank was soon noticed by other students and before long almost 20% of the student body had registered themselves as Reform Druids, Orthodox Druids, Members of the Church of the nth Druid, Zen Druids, Latter-Day Druids, and so on. The university was forced to remove the religious affiliation question, breaking the chain of replication and variation.
After graduation, he went to work for Burr-Brown Research, now merged into Texas Instruments. While there, he worked on extremely low distortion quadrature oscillators and non-linear function modules multipliers, vector adders, and root-mean-square modules. His first patent was a design for a 4-quadrant log-antilog multiplier. During this time he became familiar with the System dynamics work of Jay W. Forrester.
After Burr Brown, Keith worked for a company in Tucson, Arizona, where he was fired for refusing to certify an electronic module for a nuclear power plant that failed to meet a required MTBF specification. (Failure of similar modules contributed to the partial meltdown of the Fermi reactor near Detroit.) He then set up his own company, Analog Precision Inc., producing specialized computer interface equipment and related industrial control devices.
In 1974 or 1975, Keith’s occasional rock climbing partner, physicist Dr. Dan Jones, introduced him to the space colonization work of Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill of Princeton University. To promote these ideas, he cofounded the L5 Society in 1975.
He co-wrote papers for three Space Manufacturing conferences at Princeton. The 1977 and 1979 papers were co-authored with Eric Drexler. Patents were issued on both subjects vapor phase fabrication and space radiators.
In 1980, Keith testified before the United States Congress when the L5 Society successfully opposed the Moon Treaty. The society was represented by Leigh Ratiner (later a figure in the Inslaw proceedings). The experience eventually became an article by the name of Star Laws, jointly written by Keith and Arel Lucas and published in Reason Magazine.
Keith’s wife, Arel Lucas, was credited by Douglas Hofstadter in Metamagical Themas: Questing For The Essence Of Mind And Pattern for suggesting the study of memes be called memetics. Keith wrote two articles on memes in 1987, one published in Analog. The other, Memes, Meta-Memes and Politics, circulated on the internet before being printed.
Eric S. Raymond, a long-time friend of Keith’s, saw one of the early drafts of a later paper on cults, memes, and religion and has publicly credited it as an influence on the theory of peer-esteem rewards he developed to explain the open-source movement. Richard Dawkins, who originated the concept of memes, approvingly cites in the second edition of his book The Selfish Gene Keith’s coining of the neologism “memeoids” to refer to “victims who have been taken over by a meme to the extent that their own survival becomes inconsequential”.
Keith authored Sex, Drugs, and Cults. An evolutionary psychology perspective on why and how cult memes get a drug-like hold on people, and what might be done to mitigate the effects, More on Memes, Memes, L5 and the Religion of the Space Colonies, Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War, The Guru Trap, or What Computer Viruses Can Tell Us About Saddam Hussein, and Memetics: The Science of Information Viruses, and coauthored Memes, Evolution, and Creationism, and Cryonics, Religions and Memetics.
His patents include Method of launching payloads, Traffic control system, Heterodensity heat transfer apparatus and method, and Method for processing and fabricating metals in space.
Listen to Keith Henson’s Space Elevator. Read his profile in the Great Mambo Chicken And The Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly Over The Edge.