A Talent for Living: Cracking Myths of Mortality

Presented at the Fourth Alcor Conference on Life Extension Technologies, 2000

Natasha Vita-More
All rights reserved. © 2000

"To be, or not to be"
wrote William Shakespeare in Hamlet in Act III, scene 1,
"that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind
to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
and by opposing end them."

To die; or to be suspended; and by ending death
"to say we end the heart-ache and the
thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to."

‘Tis nobler to defy the claims of death
on our mortal minds and
to take arms against its eternal hold,
and by opposing death end it.


  Hamlet’s question "to be or not to be" is probably the most widely known phrase in the English language contemplating life and death. For us, as activists in preserving and extending life, it is the definitive question. How serious we are about answering it, reveals what we are doing about it.

The modern question: "What do you do" has become the ancillary, although the most socially repeated question in the English language. "What do we do for a living" has become the sin quo non for our lives. So much so, that what we do for a living characterizes our life’s role. To be, we must do.

But, "What do you do for living?" With the "a" taken out of the sentence, it is a totally different concept and a less taxing question. What we do for living relates to mental and physical pursuits—our curiosity, sense of adventure; our health and vitality; our pleasure and fun; and our mental well-being.

All three questions cause us to shed pretense, but to claim affiliation and purpose. To be—to live—is what we do. It is our talent, our business and our pursuit of well-being which we must carry out. The refinement of this built-in talent currently separates us from other life forms. It is our native, intrinsic talent, calling for the creative challenge to do something—anything—as long as we are "doing." To be, we must do. If not, we are busy dying.


What do you do?

  Many of my current friends, I've never met. Most of my communications are alphabetical letters arranged into words written in strings of algorithmic codes. Most of the time I don’t know what my friends look like, or what they are feeling. Feelings are sometimes difficult to express in written words for fear we may come off weak or soft, vulnerable or naive.


When I think of our culture, I see it as a body of electronically connected data filtering messages into its appendages. Out into the capillaries of culture, our technology has become far more exacting and more robust than our biological bodies. Our biological bodies are far too inadequate to keep up with our ideas and the new landscapes we venture. From the telegraph to telecommunications, from the Net into Space, it is no longer just the written symbol—the word—being transported, we are the new transportees.



What do you do?What do you do?What do you do?What do you do?What do you do?What do you do?What do you do?What do you do?What do you do?What do you do?What do you do?


  My own future body design, Primo 3M+ is engineered like a finely tuned machine and designed in the form of a human biological body, for aesthetics sake. The outward appearance is merely an illusion, a type of logo for mental association and visual recognition. Soon we will have bodies that do not age, are easily upgradeable, have meta-sensory components, gender options, 24-hour remote Net relay, and upload into cultural hives. We will have bodies that appear biological and bodies that have no form. I can remember many years ago envisioning various types of designs for mobility, as early as childhood, wondering how I could split myself in two parts that could simultaneously perform tasks of different natures. This stems from a intrigue of oxymorons, a desire for contradictory interests, and enthusiasm for enormously flexible and transportable mechanisms.  

  Mobility has catapulted our evolutionary desires by affording us opportunities for exploration. Mobility has catapulted our ability to arrange words in ways that intensify meaning providing emotional leverage. The human body is more than an appendage; it is a network of words and ideas pulsating across time. Our words about living and doing are emanating throughout the digital landscape—from Hamlet to AI and A-Life—with distinctive cultural jargon and digital acronyms, riffing on techno jive.  



  Cultural slogans change and myths merge, but they never disappear. They, like us, mutate. Get real, Yo, What’s cracking? sound like throw away phrases—knockoffs from the earlier times of Lay it on me or Where you coming from? They may seem flip, but not really. They function as a means—like an impulse which alerts us to pay attention, if only for a moment. These singsong slang-statements are impulses firing off from one mind to another in archetypal discovery of another person’s point of view. Views are like vistas. Both expressing landscapes, one internal the other externa  




Within the internal vista where I come from,
the broad attainable space for ideas and
innovation is bright and full of possibility.
Human creativity is the most fertile space
I have ever laid eyes on.
But it’s out in the unknown that I really feel at home.
All that space—the infinite space of discovery and the space for ideas,
like the vast space between stars.

But here in this landscape, we have the sun,
so its intimate too.
The way light touches our senses,
turns colors rich and bright,
kind of rubs a certain way,
and we start feeling ideas as part of our own being—
half buried in memory,
like a dream we can’t quite remember.
And as thoughts slip through our fingers,
its like sifting all the neurons of our minds
that we may ever leave behind.

Gets me to feeling nostalgic,
for something I may never have envisioned,
or something I thought of long ago,
or something far away, or the future.
Or something so unique,
I don’t want to stop thinking about it.
I just want it to be, and then to become.



  A Talent for Living: 20 World Class Thinkers Crack the Myths of Mortality, is designed to communicate certain specific qualities which cause us to want to break through the myths of glorifying and tolerating death. My strategy was to secure scientific and technological contributors and then to pull in cultural communicators. In many instances, contributors provide more than one area of knowledge, and this is actually what I am aiming for. Cracking the World War II Enigma code took a team of diverse thinkers. To crack the memetic code causing people to accept death, we need diverse thinkers envisioning varying and unique scenarios. Contributions to this anthology will not go quietly into old age. We are Post-War Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen-X and Mirror-Boomers with a panache for improvement and a penchant for discovery.

If a "talent for living" is a youthful and positive attitude, then a talent for living may indeed be the baton of wisdom passed on over the eons. Such a proliferate and infectious quality is easy to detect in others and to implement in oneself. It is inexpensive, unbinding, takes up little storage space, and by its own virtue—self-replicates. It also takes focus and elasticity. I find as I grow deeper, I have less and less tolerance for nonsense and more and more time for common sense. I have even greater stamina for sense-ability—the ability to use our senses for creating the future that our talents envision.

We are going to live many more years. We will finally be able to enjoy the wisdom acquired during our lives and refresh the meme pool of ideas. After all, some of the most memorable contributions have been accomplished by individuals well over middle age, and science keeps telling us that this is just a beginning.

The race to the moon has been replaced with the genomics and proteonomics race. We need to crack the genetic and mythic codes of mortality.





by Natasha Vita-More, June, 2000
All rights reserved. ©

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