X-Message-Number: 4599
Date: 02 Jul 95 16:47:00 EDT
From: Jim Davidson <>
Subject: Myth and Purpose

Many nice threads on this list.  I'm responding in part to Ettinger on fear,
Darwin on evolution, Harris on myth, and Helweg-Larsen on perspective.

Fear is a natural, normal emotion, clearly having value for individual survival.
Like most individual-survival instincts, it is overridden by larger issues (eg,
species survival).  I have fear and anxiety, but overcome it.  For example, I

have a peculiar dread of falling that is almost certainly intense enough to be a
phobia.  That doesn't prevent me from rapelling off tall buildings in Houston.

A healthy fear of death is exactly what motivates my interest in cryonics.  I am
much more interested in dietary supplements, exercise, nutrition, and medicinal
intervention therapies to keep me alive.  Indeed, when my casual interest in

life extension became an active one around 1988, my first step was to initiate a
high dosage vitamin supplement regimen, followed by an exercise program.  I'm
just now getting around to signing up for life insurance to fund suspension.

Darwin notes, "Contrary to Dawkins, I do NOT find the idea liberating,
gratifying or otherwise
reassuring that I exist only for some 4-base pairs to keep on making copies of
themselves. He seemed to find this plenty enough reason to get up in the

Curiously, I find myself with Dawkins on this one.  That idea of
self-replication is incredibly motivating to me.  However, I see the idea of my
genes being replicated in a much larger context.  For example, I'm very active
in the space settlement community, very active in the sea settlement community,

somewhat active with the life extension community, and very interested in issues
relating to liberty.  All these things, it seems to me, relate to not only my
personal gene replication potential, but survival for my species.  

My space settlement activities are not only motivated by species survival but
also, by extension, the survival of terrestrial life in general.  It is my view
that carrying life with us to other planets is the only way to ensure our own
very long term survival, and incidentally provides nicely for the survival of
plants and animals we find familiar.  Ultimately, the only way to protect

terrestrial life from extinction due to the demise of our sun or the near future

supernova of a troublesomely nearby white supergiant (Sirius at 8 light years is
unlikely to remain on the Main Sequence for more than 100 million years and
might blow quite a bit sooner) is to spread our species among the stars.

If providing for my own particular genes' replication were sufficient to
motivate me, I would spend much more of my waking hours engaged in procreation.
As it is, I see the long term potential for my own particular replication as
irrelevant if adequate provision for the larger species survival and
terrestrial-type lifeforms' survival is not established.

In the largest scheme of things, I am in favor of life because it is the only
force in the universe that deliberately fights entropy.  While life clearly
makes its own contribution to entropy by adding more chaos elsewhere to collect
and organize matter and energy in its own locale, it contributes to extropy as
well.  Few non-living systems contribute to extropy.

Harris notes that myth serves the purpose of answering questions such as:
"* Who am I?
* Where did I come from?
* Where am I going?
* What is the far future going to be like?
* What is expected of me?
* Who are the heros?  (What is the Good?; What defines Cool?)
* What's going to happen to me when I die?"

I note that science also serves these purposes.  The science of cosmology
attempts to answer questions about our origins and what the long term future
will be like.  The sciences of biology, paleontology, and anthropology attempt
to answer questions about who or at least what we are and where we come from.
Obviously, the cyronics community is attempting to provide a rational,
scientifically valid answer to what will happen to us when we "die."

Of course, science and mythology aren't the only ways to answer these questions.
Literature works wonders, too.  Douglas Adams's answer to who I am reads
something like, "He's just this guy, you know?"  Science fiction literature did
a great deal for me in helping identify what was expected of me, where I was
going, how to identify a hero (from a long way away), and what the near future
is going to be like.

Literature and science are both products of reason.  Mythology may have origins
in reason, but is mostly based upon tradition.  It is often the case that
mythology predates literature, and as Julian Jaynes points out in his seminal
treatise _The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind_,

written language may be the catalyst for what we understand as consciousness.  I
mention this only to suggest that mythology need not be derived from reason.

Very early literature seems to be nothing more than the codification of existing
mythology.  That certainly seems true of the Bible and the Iliad & the Odyssey,
to name a few.  However, literature has built on these mythological beginnings,
and has, from time to time borrowed directly from science and deliberately

employed reason to create answers for the great questions.  It is the ability to
create a long-term work which can be referred to and built upon which
establishes literature as distinct from mythology.  It is literature that makes
possible the development of philosophy.

I do not believe the life extension movement could have come into existence
without a large body of scientific and literary achievement that predated it.
Keep in mind that it was a scant 370 years ago that a few learned folks in
Europe began to recognize the value of the scientific method.  Although one can
almost certainly trace the origins of scientific reasoning to the 13th century,
its ability to more clearly explain real world phenomena was not widely
recognized until the early 17th century.  It took the work of Kepler, Galileo
and others to demonstrate that science was better than mythology or traditional

Personally, it is refreshing that these early scientists also recognized the
potential of space settlement.  In a delightful letter to Galileo, Johannes
Kepler wrote, circa 1620, "Create ships and sails capable of navigating the
celestial atmosphere, and you will find people to crew them, people not afraid
of the vast emptiness of space."  It is also important to consider that

acceptance of scientific methodologies was becoming more widespread, even within
traditional institutions such as the Catholic Church.  Around 1320, Giordano

Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy for suggesting that stars might be suns
with planets and those planets might have people on them, people for whom the
Incarnate Word was not yet revealed, and people with shapes different from that

of humans.  Galileo, by contrast, merely got house arrest for his contributions.

Thus I come to Helweg-Larsen's comment on perspective.  We occupy a special time

in the history of humanity (again, making nonsense of the Copernican principle).

We are just ahead in time of what Vernor Vinge has described as a singularity in
human activities.  A set of amazing things is happening or about to happen.

We are about to see human beings lifespans extend radically, almost
asymptotically approaching infinity.

We are about to see human beings make a sustainable, permanent break out into

We are about to see amazing advances in the level of freedom enjoyed by large

We are about to see the "land" surface area available for human civilization on
Earth double.

We are about to see revolutionary advancements in all areas of science brought
about by the ability to manipulate matter on the nanometer scale.

These various developments are all related.  They are made possible by the
widespread acceptance of reason, the scientific method, the principles of
capitalism, and the ideal of enlightened self-interest.  It is enough to make a
scientific humanist very, very happy.

Jim Davidson
President, Houston Space Institute

Rate This Message: http://www.cryonet.org/cgi-bin/rate.cgi?msg=4599