Our Identity Schism: The Brain or DNA?
In this updated 2019 interview with TFN I discuss the rationale of "Continuance"
The following is excerpted from two interviews with The Future News (TFN) speaking with author Dwight Gilbert Jones, discussing his Vol II “The Humanist: Continuance” as the sequel to “The Humanist: 1000 Summers” (Amazon).
TFN “What was your purpose in speculating about the cloning of Johnny Cash?”
DGJ “As a writer I’ve had a lifelong interest in the man, his music, his career, his beliefs - and it’s advisable to try to write about subject matter you know. So it was part indulgence on my part, but also because I took up Cash’s own faith in an afterlife, and imagined some continuing chapters. I also saw a lot of congruence with religion’s search for validation - which is there, given the right narrative, as an envelope. Beyond that, I do feel that regeneration of humans is now feasible and imminent, because of the advent of long term cryobanking and the escalating maturity of ectogenesis (EG), the science of artificial wombs. To a former network designer like myself, this is what we used to term a known path, in this case toward sequential lifecycles. If we know all of the components along the network are functional, at least in theory, the task becomes one of configuration and provisioning, toward optimal network operations. My lifetime quest has been to get to work on the particulars of that pathway. The tech already exists and it’s truly a matter of sequestering away our DNA for some interval, then retrieving it for regeneration within an EG facility, once the procedure is accepted and reliable.”
TFN “How then does cryobanking compare to the whole-body freezing of cryonics?”
I see cryonics as the first-generation instantiation of Robert Ettinger’s ‘Prospect of Immortality’ vision, wherein he explored the notion of low-temp biostasis, 50+ years ago. Cryonics plans to resuscitate individuals, or at least their brains, to working order, so there are fundamental differences with cryobanking. Cryonics considers the Self to be centered in our brain, memories, personality et alia, whereas with cryobanking a single sample of whole blood, with routine lab cryopreservation, adopts the DNA-centric model. There’s a fork in the road here, and anyone contemplating a route around the finality of ‘death’ will likely have to choose which model to place their faith in. Cryonics requires that the ‘patient’ be dead beforehand, while cryobanking can be initiated, along with DNA stewardship and smart contracts oversight, in the present. There is no real urgency with cryobanking, as its success will hinge only on the maturation of ectogenesis, and our species incorporating it as one more mode of human reproduction. Evolution will wait on the outcome, because it is itself a blockchain system that welcomes all possibilities, as we see in the many modes of replicating, including parthenogenesis, across Earth’s millions of species. So I guess cryobiology can be viewed as 2nd generation cryonics, with far lower costs and less chance of failure, which I needn’t detail here.
TFN “Do you anticipate this cryobanking approach to happen anytime soon?”
DGJ “In the first volume ‘1000 Summers’ (2010) I pictured the process being centered in a repository I termed the Archenteron, which would resemble a miniature Roman Colosseum with solar panels on top (laughs). I guess the proper name for that would be a mausoleum, which sometimes has little niches throughout, reserved for the remains and burial items of each occupant. Shortly after publication it became clear to me that the commercialization of biobanking (BB), particularly the most recent technology whereby specimens are stored above liquid nitrogen and not within it (vapor NO2) constituted a literal sea change, and that’s not yet largely appreciated. In Vancouver there is an advanced facility offering this service, currently for the storage of umbilical cord and blood samples as a continuing source of a baby’s stem cells, for use later in life. They will store those tissues for periods of 15+ years, as an example, for a few hundred dollars a year. Effectively these are time machines that can maintain your seed in biostasis for centuries, vitrified at -137C or lower. The Humanist Union Society offers that program now as one of its member services, so there’s no reason not to hop aboard. Genity is knowing that your seed is held securely, without deterioration, in multiple venues. This can alter your own attitude to species cooperation, wealth, power and friendships for the better, as a rationale for supporting harmonization with our heavenly planet - when this quid pro quo is there for anyone. As it is today.”
TFN “In the book you briefly describe the procedure by which Cash was ‘regenerated’ as you say, using SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) which was the technique used for Dolly the Sheep’s cloning back in 1996. Is that the same technology you are contemplating, using artificial wombs?”
DGJ “Yes, because the technique will likely continue to require the replacement of the DNA in a cell with one’s own DNA. This is actually a holistic method that carries with it some key attributes. For example, the Buddhists talk about two candles passing a flame, as a metaphor for how the spirit moves from one life form to another. In SCNT exactly one molecule of DNA actually is transferred to another zygote, and provides physical continuance between your departing and succeeding life cycles. So this process is far from being metaphorical, the Humanist Union as a society treats the whole process as a blockchain transaction of smart contracts. These remain immutable in their outcome – a positive DNA test asserting duplication completes the (gestation) contract.”
TFN “I’d like to discuss the blockchain aspects later, but would first want to mention that contemporary science doesn’t really describe the Self as residing anywhere outside the human brain. The entire longevity industry is devoted to squeezing a few more years out of our existing lives, especially toward expanding our healthspan. You seem to assume that our identity is actually found in our DNA?”
DGJ “Entirely. And it’s not found in consciousness nor memories either. If you’re going to be reborn again, it makes complete sense that you enter your new life cycle as a tabula rasa newborn, an identical twin of your existing phenotype, born of your own seed. Your DNA is at the center of every one of your trillions of cells. I will make many ‘notes to myself’ before stepping down between life cycles - perhaps Facebook can fill in the rest (smiles). For example, I’ll take proper guitar lessons early in my next life cycle and know to actually practice my scales. Of course, some will hold that cultural and epigenetic influences impact the Self, and of course they do so in the brain intimately, even physically - but only temporally. These are not heritable - period. That’s all we have to know. We are reborn as an organic version of ourself, and this is as it should be. It is very much in keeping with humanity’s existential realities, as we understand that the pace of life has gone far beyond historical, even evolutionary norms. We must adapt by any means we can manage, and one way of doing that is staying on the planet for a few more shifts.”
TFN “Please elaborate, compared to conventional ideas around longevity.”
DGJ “Which would be easier to carry forward into your extended life – an aging brain with implants per Ray Kurzweil or, as an infant, becoming your de facto identical twin? Which logical vehicle would you adopt as your path to the future ? Transhumanism? No contest - we must understand the need for biological conservatism now, or fold in this poker hand. It’s well known that I have little use for the ‘science of longevity’, I see the greasy fingerprints of Big Pharma all over that proposition. They want to sell us a few years more via intrusive, experimental biochemistry, with little or no probability of lasting effects. I already rely on a low carb diet for my own longevity, and it’s working well enough.”
TFN “Since you have described the human brain as a ‘data diaper’ built for a 40 year duty cycle - is this your defense of our Neolithic origins, as found in your nutrition works?”
DGJ “Perhaps on Twitter, around nutrition, it might be. I do try to keep the role of a proper human diet, that is animal-based as always, out of my books. That said, I also liken ‘longevity’ schemes to Cuban cars - that must be rebuilt continuously - to little avail. The business of ‘curing or solving aging’ is not something worth discussing, IMHO. It’s a medical research adjunct complementary to this life cycle at best, within the realm of food guides, which are patently wrong to date. Let them come clean there, first. When I was an Internet designer in the 1990’s I went straight to wireless, bypassing cabling, and that’s what I’m doing here. I’m not questioning the magic of rebirth before we get a chance to run a few tests - we can always ask the ‘patient’ if EG worked... Cash’s putative appearance in Continuance was to demonstrate that regeneration is plausible, possible, eventual - and one ‘resuscitated’ celebrity would resolve this question for good. I don’t use the lab word cloning - Hollywood abuses the concept to drive their own zombie dystopias. I’m a designer, and since we have all the parts - let’s get going. With the time machine in place within commercial cryobanking, the rest is just Humanism. I see ectogenesis as a suitable Manhattan Project, once we begin to pour deep technical resources into current EG tech and facilities. It will drive itself. ”
TFN “What is the connection with Humanism, or was that left over from ‘The Humanist: 1000 Summers’ from 2010?”
DGJ “Humanism is the credo of our species. It has a long and valiant history, regardless of the fact that we’re taking a long time to incorporate it. My prime concern, then as now, remains the paucity of our own species governance, the way we continue to defund the United Nations, as well as its vulnerable dependents. That is certainly a main theme in the first book ‘1000 Summers’- my frustration with militarism and how it contributes to poverty and acrimony across all nations. If we are to rescue our planet from climate change, surely it is farcical to permit one individual to declare a nuclear war as his option alone—but that’s where we stand. This is all we’ve got?? Essentially I’m just an old man trying to set up my next lifetime, but I can see that we would have to start doing a lot of things very differently, very soon, for me to scoop another century or two. We have to broaden our perspective far beyond being the young species of killer apes that we are.”
TFN “How would you accommodate Transhumanism, then, or the growing menace of AI and the Singularity, the advent of robots, the prospect of our brains having implants, being uploaded to the digital Cloud etc.?”
DGJ “I see them all as being cut from the same cloth, which makes me a biological conservative. For somebody championing EG, with all its valid ethical concerns the word ‘conservative’ may seem amiss, but not from my viewpoint. The central point is that our human franchise now finds itself in a dangerous poker game with a bunch of players all too willing to gamble the species and our planet on science fiction tangents, that have no respect for the ante or all-in status that every living human being already has in this poker pot today, and there may be characters in the past like Johnny Cash who may someday like to take a seat at the table, one more time. It is possible using this BB-H-EG model, it can happen, and it’s not entirely everyone’s business. It’s personal. These concepts are not being examined by philosophers today, and they should be because once they shuffle this deck, you may be out of the game unless you bet on this hand. Biobanking is clearly a time machine that can carry our unaltered seed centuries into the future. Why am I the first guy to mention this to you? As a network designer I see death as a waypoint in each life cycle, from where we will welcome the option to step down from a painful death, once we anticipate regeneration via our smart contracts. This is more like philosophy than science at this stage, but that was my subject in university, and philosophy is little more than an academic shadow of itself these days. For network design though, we used to term this mockup a ‘known pathway’ when the tech hardware was emerging, with integration yet to come. That’s where the overlap between BB/EG sits today, and established BB has unlimited patience for EG to catch up, pull alongside, and coalesce as a reproductive option - most notably for women. For individual destiny, yes - which is not to to the detriment of family structures. They will be richer, better considered and longer-term. Thoreau claimed that ‘…men lead lives of quiet desperation…’ but sequential lives could modify that predicament, shortly.’’
TFN (Updated) “You cite DNA stewardship and Genity forming the foundation of your HU Society and sequential life cycles. What do these aspects actually entail?”
DGJ “Genity is the science of maintaining your human franchise in this virgin Universe. It begins with DNA stewardship, and can be as simple as submitting a blood sample to a Society biobank contractor, to assure vitrified biostasis over centuries, if required. It’s a few hundred dollars a year, and you’ve bought your genetic identity a ticket far into the future. Then, you can make arrangements within an oversight agency to structure the disposition of your DNA samples on the blockchain, which is immutable. The Humanist Union (HU) is a registered Canadian Society, a non-profit similar to a private golf club, where members can privately commission smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. The HU oversees all member instructions as Oracles. In the simplest format, your fees support the Society, which in turn supports your blockchain presence and validates all funding and (optional) smart contract transactions. When appropriate, you can be gestated, nursed through infancy and then funded through childhood, for each sequential life cycle. The Society provides the internal operations that enable all of these, as its sole raison d'être and purpose. The evolving Society is expected to become a DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) based on the Ethereum blockchain, so that there are no third parties, nor nation state intrusions, and your samples are handled per your wishes, via HUS.ETH - its future ID in Web3. These eventualities all depend on a stable planet and a responsible species, ready to defend itself against threats such as AI, robotics and trans humans as a threat to any living human’s organic franchise - our native and unmodified DNA. This is why Humanism is important, because it must be part of the package. This is not a ‘silver-bullet’ solution from Big Pharma for ‘longevity’. As we harmonize with our planet and our sister species over the coming centuries, we might hope that this will be the time in ‘heaven’ that our ancestors envisioned, as freshly validated religion and life’s eternal incentives bring us together to steal a few centuries for ourselves, before we must investigate temporal threats. We shall then manage these as one confident, empowered and mature entity - homo truly sapiens.”
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