The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 17 No. 2 (Summer 2015)

The New Immortalists

David Bosworth

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Summer 2015

(Volume 17 | Issue 2)

“In two hundred years, doctors will rule the world. Science reigns already. It reigns in the shade, maybe—but it reigns. And all science must culminate at last in the science of healing. Mankind wants to live—to live.”
—Comrade Ossipon, in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent



Tattoos drilled into every curving surface from neck to feet to advertise our latest beliefs and heartfelt allegiances; rings and studs protruding from every possible appendage; Botox shots whose neurotoxin, paralyzing facial muscles, temporarily removes the history of our moods by erasing laugh and frown lines; scalpel-sculpting surgeries that suck away ungainly fat from sides and thighs or nip-and-tuck to iron out the shriveling caused by too much sun and gravity; various and sometimes severe diets based on intricate theories of human development (paleo, Viking, very low calorie); fanatical physical training pursued either to hone a seductive appearance (the actor’s six-pack abs) or to win the laurels of extreme achievement (the Ironman Triathlon); pharmaceutical fixes broadly advertised and promiscuously prescribed for all manner of ailments, a new drug pitched, it sometimes seems, for every age-old pain and psychic misery: To borrow the title from a recent group of so-called reality TV shows, ours has been an age of the “extreme makeover.” And increasingly here in the land of opportunity, this radical remaking of the American self is being pursued through the perfection of the flesh—through beautifying, fortifying, and (just now commencing) digitizing the human body.

The remaking of the self is, of course, an old theme, and one central to the most traditional conceptions of the national character and the American dream. Both Protestant theology’s special emphasis on the born-again experience (our Puritan legacy) and the economic ambitions of the immigrants who landed here cultivated the expectation of a dramatic transformation of the individual’s status. For a long time, the dualistic nature of that expectation both energized and disciplined the American experiment in a liberated individualism; in particular, religious revivals periodically counterbalanced an avid pursuit of the main chance. Such a capacity for internal self-correction now seems to have waned, though. Attendance at religious services here does remain high, at least when compared to observance in Western Europe, but our fastest-growing congregations of late are ones that have replaced the old emphasis on the myth of the Fall with various versions of a “prosperity theology.”

Rather than counteracting it, that newer religious message confirms and abets the rampant materialism of a society whose every other domain is now being marketized for monetary gain. Our coins are still stamped with “In God We Trust,” but the money, not the motto, better defines the now dominant arc of American ambition. And as the “good news” preached in mainstream pews begins to model itself after the get-rich schemes of self-help gurus, the spirit of an age that idolizes its billionaires while obsessing over the perfection of the flesh gravitates toward a kind of evangelical Mammonism.

Still, even as they are co-opted and corrupted, those older beliefs do have an ongoing impact on their replacements. The underlying patterns of Christian theology and eschatology tacitly pre-shape the expectations of their most adamant opponents. Belief in a salvational God has, for these secular evangelists, been recast as faith in the redemptive power of technological progress, and lately, among the digerati especially, the old anticipation of the Second Coming is being replaced by a parallel belief in the imminent arrival of the Singularity: that pivotal point when, according to futurologists, we shall merge with our own super-smart machines and, in a kind of second but self-initiated Genesis, become new beings entirely, “born again” into a far better, if currently inconceivable, state. (“For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face,” 1 Corinthians 13:12, King James Version.)

Under this scheme, the incorporeal soul, once thought to be the essence of selfhood, naturally gives way to a purely physical conception of our core identity. Our bodies are our selves, and, it is presumed, their animated clay can be re-scripted and re-shaped according to our individual wills—wills empowered by our ever-improving technological tools.

Those tools are impressive, but, as the list that opens this essay suggests, the human desires they now bend to serve are as old as we can trace. Whether posting selfies, bloviating on blogs, or imbibing the products of today’s pharmacology, human beings still want to call attention to themselves; they still desire to be socially admired and sexually desired, to eliminate pain and escape disease. And, at once blessed and cursed with the unique capacity to imagine the future (however darkly), they still greatly fear death and seek any way possible to delay or deny it.

Conrad’s Comrade Ossipon spoke prophetically. Now, as then, “mankind wants to live—to live,” and although only one hundred years have passed, half of his predicted schedule, some of our physician-technicians are already focusing their “science of healing” on a final cure for the human condition. Forget the Christian’s Heaven, the Muslim’s Gardens of Paradise, the Buddhist’s escape from incarnation into Nirvana—and forget the spiritual and ethical labors required to attain those eternal states in otherworldly places. According to these latter-day doctors, death is not an inescapable fate but a technical problem, and one we soon will solve in the here-and-now by immortalizing the body itself.

You Only Live Twice

“The Cryonics Institute is an ambulance ride to the high-tech hospital that we’re confident will exist in the future. When the time comes and present medical science has given up on you or your loved ones, we ask for a second opinion from the future. The choice is yours—Do you take the chance at life or accept mortal fate?”
—“Why Choose Cryonics?”1



Recovering from battle wounds suffered during World War II, Robert Ettinger had mortality on his mind when he ran across research in the field of cryogenics (the formal study of materials subjected to extremely cold temperatures). Those readings led him to speculate that fatally ill patients might be frozen alive and then preserved until medical science had advanced sufficiently to revive them safely and provide new cures. His first expression of that far-out notion was in a work of speculative fiction, “The Penultimate Trump,” which appeared in 1948 in the magazine Startling Stories. Sixteen years later, with the implicit endorsement of Isaac Asimov, who was asked by Doubleday to vet the science cited, Ettinger published the nonfiction bestseller The Prospect of Immortality, to much acclaim and controversy. Then, in 1976, with the intention of turning his utopian theory into a real option, Ettinger’s Immortalist Society established the Cryonics Institute.

For a one-time fee, this nonprofit institution now “cryopreserves” its clients’ bodies, promising to store them until that day of reckoning when the ever-improving science of healing is ready to revive them and cure their diseases. The current preferred method, first practiced by the Institute in 2004, is called vitrification, and involves replacing more than 60 percent of the water in the body with chemicals that prevent freezing; saturated in such a way, clients’ flesh can then be stored at temperatures as low as minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit without the cellular damage that ice crystals normally cause.

Citing published abstracts and posting letters of support from researchers, the websites of the Institute and its primary (and better-funded) rival, Alcor, emphasize the scientific nature of their enterprise. But the fact remains that no one has been revived after undergoing vitrification, and the whole process floats on grand hopes even as it challenges traditional definitions of life and death. Is the cryopreserved body a patient, or is it a corpse? And are these new immortalists true physicians or merely high-tech morticians, producing postmodern versions of Egyptian mummies for a second life that will never come?

From a legal perspective, a client must be formally pronounced dead before cryopreservation can begin. In this sense, cryogenic intervention mirrors the dramatic sequence associated with organ transplantation: constant communication with the family of the mortally ill patient; an emergency team on standby to cool the body as soon as death has been declared; a private flight back to the home base (Michigan for the Institute, Arizona for Alcor), where vitrification commences and the body is stored to await its high-tech cure. As a surgically removed kidney is still viable for a time, so, too, these new immortalists insist, is the whole body. Death is not an on-or-off event but itself a process, and only occurs when irreversible damage has been done to our cells’ internal structures: a chaotic state that normally takes four or five minutes, but that can be slowed by immediate cooling after the heart has stopped and then suspended indefinitely via vitrification. So long as their team arrives in time to “beat the Reaper” in this redefined way, their clients, they claim, are true patients—unconscious, not dead, and as ready to be revived when the time arrives as any heart attack victim on an ER table now would be.

Many illnesses, however, can cause significant internal damage prior to death, diminishing the odds of a successful revival at some later date. This is especially true for diseases of the brain—dementia, multiple ministrokes, voracious cancers—the organ most closely associated with the very identity that the clients of cryonics are so desperate to preserve. One temptation for true believers with those diseases, then, is to hasten their entrance into cryopreservation in ways that society would define as assisted suicide, an action still illegal in most states.

One such case did come to light in 1990. A computer scientist with terminal brain cancer petitioned the California courts to force reluctant surgeons to fulfill his final wish—which was to be decapitated before the tumor destroyed most of his brain cells. He had an economic motive for the drastic means he had chosen. Although committed to cryonics, he didn’t have the funds to purchase a whole-body procedure, and Alcor was offering a “neuropreservation” special. It would store the brain alone, for about one-third the cost of a whole-body treatment: $35,000 versus $100,000. From the patient’s perspective, he was facing either decapitation then, when his brain was still largely intact, or later, when his cancer would have destroyed much of his ability to think at all. With the court’s permission, he was willing to sacrifice his remaining time and most of his body in the faith that “he”—or at least the core component of the self that he believed consisted of his brain alone—could be revived at a time when future oncologists could cure his cancer.2

The courts did deny the petition of this bargain-seeking immortalist, and, given its expense and the absence of anything like a scientific consensus on the viability of its methods, cryonics more generally remains a movement on the fringes. In pursuing their utopian mission, these organizations have also been dogged by further litigation and controversy. They have been sued by grieving family members who desire the finality of a traditional burial or cremation service, and Alcor has been accused of harvesting the DNA of its most famous patient, baseball great Ted Williams, for potential later sale.3

But even if true, that tawdry accusation doesn’t really capture the spirit of cryonics. If there is a corruption at its core, the source isn’t the usual profiteering found in our money-mad society but rather the inflation of hope—another key feature of our national character—into the boundless sphere of hubristic fantasy. Conceived by a mid-twentieth-century American, the movement supplies an extreme and thus illustrative example of postwar boosterism, its cultivation of an ever-expectant attitude, the irrepressible belief that Yankee can-do would do—whatever we wished, and soon. Fed by ceaseless marketing, that attitude was pitched in the exhibits of world fairs and in that mecca of American materialism, Disney’s Magic Kingdom; it was expressed in corporate slogans like “Progress is our most important product” and by that therapeutic mantra of perpetual self-improvement, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

However meretricious those anthems to optimism may seem, they do have a deeper source within the history of the West’s grand ideas. Since its origins in the seventeenth century, the logic of modernity has been promising us, to repurpose a phrase by W.B. Yeats, the “profane perfection of mankind.” But as William Irwin Thompson has observed, despite having donned the rhetorical robes of scientific probity, this “doctrine of progress cannot tolerate, or even perceive, disconfirmation.”4 Like millenarians throughout history, our latter-day prophets of “profane perfection” tend to be blind to their own predictive failures. Rather than recant, they keep resetting the date, place, and specs for that extreme make-over—call it the Workers’ Paradise, the “end of history,”5 or the Singularity—when the human predicament will be rationally solved once and for all.

Unlike the schemes we graph in our minds, our bodies don’t continue to get “better and better”; eventually, they do wither, sag, and weaken—they begin to die. And it is just then, its teams on standby, that cryonics steps in to save the day. With the reality of its patients’ deaths denied, the most devastating “disconfirmation” of the doctrine of progress is once again deferred. Along with all those skull-less brains and headless torsos, the incurable hopes of a utopian philosophy are cryopreserved.

Fantastic Voyage

“We have the means right now to live long enough to live forever.”
—Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near6



Still, it would be both inaccurate and ungrateful to deny that the science of healing has made impressive progress. Since Conrad’s novel was published in 1907, life expectancy has increased dramatically; and, insomuch as single-celled life forms reproduce through division, creating duplicates of themselves ad infinitum, it also has to be admitted that physical immortality of a certain sort is not utterly alien to the natural world. Cryonics’s earliest advocates lacked convincing credentials, but a newer cast has recently emerged—from prestigious labs and that epicenter of perpetual invention, Silicon Valley—to make a science-based case for a self-generated immortality in the near future.

Armed with new knowledge in many fields, these advocates insist that aging is not a metaphysical fate but a biological process, and, as such, one that can be arrested and eventually reversed. Aubrey de Grey, a Cambridge University−trained biogerontologist who focuses on the mechanisms of aging at the cellular level, claims that we already possess the basic knowledge to pursue those goals and only lack sufficient funding to make the dream come true. By 2100, he believes, “life expectancy will be in the range of 5,000 years.”7 The medical means for that radical life extension will include genomic and cellular repair using as yet undeveloped nanotechnologies, and the regeneration of living tissue through the cultivation of personalized stem-cell lines. Other, computer-based inventions are now also being applied to enhance the chances for life extension, one example of which will have to suffice here. Progress has recently been made in the field of 3-D printing by using “bio-ink” to grow replacement organs.8 If successful, this technique will eventually eliminate the need for human donors, and the body, like a classic car, might be sustained indefinitely through a ceaseless replacement of its various parts.

Today’s most adamant apostle of self-generated immortality, however, is neither a physician nor a biological scientist, but a high-tech inventor and entrepreneur—the professions most admired in a society driven by the profit motive. A prodigy whose software skills have been much enhanced by his endless zeal, Ray Kurzweil has accomplished seemingly impossible feats before. Called the rightful heir to Thomas Edison, he was instrumental in the development of digital scanning, revolutionized modern music by designing one of the earliest and best synthesizers, and wrote the first software program that could translate text into speech—a true boon to the blind that has already placed him high in the pantheon of can-do angels. In a future eulogy that, according to Kurzweil, no one will ever need to give, it would be fair to say that he was someone who, in his brief stay on our planet, made a real difference.

The methods for achieving a triumph over death are defined in detail in three of Kurzweil’s books, beginning with one he coauthored with Dr. Terry Grossman in 2004: Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. In it, the authors complain that “nature, for all its creativity, is dramatically suboptimal,”9 and insist that biological systems will eventually be supplanted by better biotechnologies. This will occur because of an exponential growth in our rate of technological progress—what Kurzweil calls the Law of Accelerating Returns, according to whose calculations the twenty-first century will produce the current equivalent of 20,000 years of high-tech advances. The challenge for us, then, is “liv[ing] long enough” to be the beneficiaries of the immortalizing inventions sure to come—and the way to do so is to follow the prescriptions of Ray and Terry’s Longevity Program, as it is detailed throughout Fantastic Voyage.

That program consists of three stages, or “bridges,” each timed to the predicted rate of medical progress. In the first and current bridge, we are instructed to exploit all the latest diagnostic tools and nutritional supplements even while heeding a series of psychological bromides and age-old maxims, the sum of which the authors conveniently supply in a long bulleted list of imperative advice, including “Take up a new hobby,” “Use a starch blocker,” “Be optimistic,” “Schedule a fasting homocysteine determination,” and “Be like the wise bamboo, and bend.”10 Kurzweil himself swallows 250 self-formulated supplements a day (that’s 91,000 capsules each year) and, once a month, visits a medical center to receive intravenous treatments.11 His aim is to survive until the second bridge, when, he predicts, the science of healing will have advanced sufficiently to “turn off” the aging process, leading finally to the third bridge, when, utilizing nanotechnologies, we will be able to rebuild our bodies and brains at the molecular level, re-creating our selves in ever more intelligent and durable forms.

The later stages of this giddy evolution are further defined in Kurzweil’s next two books, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (2005) and How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed (2012). In them, he predicts that during the 2020s computers will pass the Turing test and not only become intelligent but also “conscious.”12 In the following decade, we will replace most of our biological organs with better human-made ones, and, by 2045, the Singularity will have occurred—that is, an expansion of human intelligence by “a factor of trillions”13 through its merger with our super-smart computers—after which “there will be no difference between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality.”14 Through new technologies, we will then “vastly exceed the refinement and suppleness of the best of human traits”;15 “human civilization” will become “nonbiological for all practical purposes”;16 and, along with reversing aging, this new civilization will solve nearly all of our current social problems, including poverty and environmental devastation17—utopia as re-conceived by a computer engineer and enacted through his super-smart machines.

And that’s not all. In Kurzweil’s vision, the doctrine of progress is not limited merely to the perfection of our planet and the eternal preservation of those now living. He is also planning to use nanotechnology to resurrect the dead, including his own beloved father and great historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, so that we, the newly immortalized, might forever converse with the best and dearest minds of the departed. (Once again, a Christian belief, that we can be spiritually reunited with loved ones lost, has been revived in materialist form.) Further, because “intelligence is more powerful than cosmology,” this new non-biological civilization of ours “saturates the matter and energy in its vicinity,” and then, “will overcome gravity” and expanding at “at least the speed of light,” it will colonize the entirety of space-time and thereby “engineer the universe it wants.”18

Omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, immortality—insomuch as we (if we is still the proper pronoun) will achieve a status “as close to God as [Kurzweil] can imagine,”19 all the other happy endings previously predicted by the doctrine of progress seem picayune in comparison.

Genial Misanthropy

“Give me the folly that dimples the cheek, I say, rather than the wisdom that curdles the blood.”
—Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man



Kurzweil is, first and last, a software programmer, and so each problem to be solved—in this case, death—is reconceived by him in the manner of the machinery that he knows best. In his re-mapping of the human predicament, our minds are “software,” our bodies “hardware,” and immortality, therefore, a technical problem in “data retrieval.” All we need to do is find a way to “backup our mind files”—just as we now do our e-mails, photos, and memos—and we will surely survive the inevitable demise of our original “hard drives,” our digitized selves living forever in new physical “substrates” of our own invention.20 “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee/Mighty and dreadful,”21 for the superstitious station of a vaporous heaven shall soon be replaced by the certified science of the digital cloud.

Yet as the poet Robert Frost warned, “unless you are at home in the metaphor…you are not safe anywhere.… You are not safe with science; you are not safe in history.”22 Although our comprehension of the world is deeply dependent on metaphorical reasoning, each likeness we fashion is always imperfect; each is shadowed by a set of unlikenesses that, if left unacknowledged, can lead our thinking dangerously astray. And, as Marshall McLuhan observed, this is especially true of pervasive technologies, which, through their habitual use, can recast both our thoughts and actions after their own imagery. Instead of the masters of our new machines, we tend to become, in McLuhan’s view, their “servomechanisms”;23 we see the world through their looking glass, darkly—an observation confirmed daily by millions of smartphone users who, as if expecting a summons from the president, submissively stop whatever they are doing to open each incoming text.

So it is that in a society dominated by finance and marketing, people “shop” for a church, worry about their personal “brand,” and measure the final meaning of any event by its “bottom line.” Likewise, in an age when computers have become, for many, the primary means for personal as well as commercial communications, the metaphors that calibrate Kurzweil’s mind (hard drives, software, data retrieval) have also realigned the collective common sense. But just as in Newton’s era the universe was not really a clockwork, and in Freud’s the psyche was not a steam engine, people today are neither corporate brands nor personal computers, and as that old master of metaphorical thinking warned us, it isn’t safe—ethically, psychologically, or scientifically—to believe otherwise.

Kurzweil and his fellow cyber-utopians, such as Hans Moravec of Carnegie Mellon University,24 need to deny the ultimate unlikenesses between the machines they design and the nature they aim to emulate—they need to believe their machines can become conscious—because those unlikenesses evoke the unknown and so, too, the uncontrollable. For such thinkers, the uncontrollable (as epitomized by death) is always “suboptimal,” which is why biology for them must not only be improved on but finally transcended, evolution itself fully replaced by human invention. So it is that a project that begins with coddling the flesh, as evidenced in Kurzweil’s own fanatical devotion to supplements during the first stage of his Fantastic Voyage, is completed, ironically, by its obsolescence—that is, by replacing our bodies with a new-and-improved series of material “substrates,” our digital selves free to haunt the cyber-engineer’s new and ever better series of robots.

It does make sense, then, that, despite his adoration of science, Kurzweil objects to being called a materialist, preferring the term “patternist” instead.25 Reduced to a servomechanism of the profession he practices, his thinking can conceive of the self only as a software program’s digital pattern. For him, obsessing about the health of his body is just a strategic phase on the way to escaping it entirely, to replacing its physical reality with his virtual reality, where, he imagines, he can “engineer what [he] wants”—which is nothing less than that ultimate boost in individual status, the remaking of himself into a god.

And, in the end, this gnostic-like flight from the limits of the flesh becomes a total escape from nature as well. Expanding “at least at the speed of light,” our post-Singularity intelligence will, Kurzweil insists, saturate the whole universe, in which case there will be no more outer space or mysterious wilderness, no otherness at all to ponder or probe, or to challenge by contrast who we are and what we ought to do. In Kurzweil’s dream, the cyber-amplified “mind” not only becomes (as Milton’s hell-bound Satan desperately boasts) “its own place”;26 it becomes every place. As is commonly the case for captains obsessed with control, the final port of call for his Fantastic Voyage is a state of solipsism. Even if his utopian science were feasible—and the unlikenesses in the metaphor he rides (yea, even unto infinity) discount that possibility—we would have to ask if such a condition is finally desirable, or if instead the paradise he pitches is just the punitive loneliness of the mythic Narcissus inflated to fit an astronomical scale.

In The Confidence-Man, Herman Melville coined the perfect term for American modernity’s descent into folly while blindly following the doctrine of progress: “genial misanthropy.” Melville saw that in a society increasingly dominated by chipper salesmen and can-do engineers, the constant boosting of the next sure bet, free lunch, or final cure for pain and death cloaked a fear and loathing of the human condition as it actually is. Material confidence was being mustered to mask a metaphysical cowardice, providing a way to dodge those final questions of meaning and purpose that our mortality imposes, and inducing in their place an undue hope, which could then be exploited to close the sale on a whole series of the con man’s dubious wares.

Normally, I am not given to prophetic utterances, preferring to cite instead, as an antidote to arrogance, the Japanese aphorism “One inch ahead/the whole world/is dark.”27 In an era of hype, though, sometimes the obvious needs to be said. And so I will end with the following set of unexceptional predictions: Everyone reading this essay will die, as will Ray Kurzweil, as will I, as will eventually our entire species, men and women, enemies and friends, predators and prodigies alike. It is almost certainly the case that the average duration of our stay here will be further extended by the science of healing, for which we should be grateful. But “time and chance” will still “happen to us all.”28 And if a beloved father is to be resurrected, whether Ray’s or mine, it won’t be by our hands, for death and risk aren’t just technical bugs in our biological system but fundamental features of reality’s existence.

The final escape so confidently pitched by these new immortalists is at its core a fear-driven form of psychological denial and, as such, a betrayal of the gift of consciousness itself. The Fantastic Voyage they promise us, whether in their deep-freeze vats or nutritional labs, is just one more chapter in our passage on Melville’s “ship of fools.”29 22

Endnotes

  1. “Why Choose Cryonics?” Cryonics Institute; http://www.cryonics.org/.
  2. “Man Sues to Allow Freezing of Head before He Dies,” United Press International, May 2, 1990. See also Louis Sahagun and T.W. McGarry, “Investigators Believe Woman Was Dead before Decapitation,” Los Angeles Times, January 15, 1988.
  3. “Report Says Williams’ DNA Missing,” Associated Press, August 13, 2003.
  4. William Irwin Thompson, The American Replacement of Nature (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 124.
  5. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that with the triumph of the free-market democracies over communism, the perennial problem of political governance had been solved, and we had reached the “end of history.” See Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992).
  6. Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (New York: Viking, 2005), 371.
  7. Quoted in Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2004), 14.
  8. Dan Ferber, “An Essential Step Toward Printing Living Tissues,” February 19, 2014; http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2014/02/essential-step-toward-printing-living-tissues.
  9. Kurzweil and Grossman, Fantastic Voyage, 14.
  10. See online companion to Fantastic Voyage, “A Short Guide to a Long Life”; http://www.fantastic-voyage.net/ShortGuide.htm. Accessed March 11, 2015.
  11. Ibid., 139–145.
  12. Ray Kurzweil, How to Create a Mind (New York: Viking, 2012), 209–10.
  13. Kurzweil and Grossman, Fantastic Voyage, 123.
  14. Ibid., 9.
  15. Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near, 9.
  16. Ibid., 352.
  17. Ibid., 259.
  18. Ibid., 364.
  19. Ibid., 375.
  20. David Kushner, “When Man & Machine Merge,” Rolling Stone, February 19, 2009, 57–61.
  21. John Donne, Holy Sonnets, Number 6/10 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).
  22. Robert Frost, “Education by Poetry,” Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly, February 1931: “What I am pointing out is that unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere. Because you are not at ease with figurative values: you don’t know the metaphor in its strength and its weakness. You don’t know how far you may expect to ride it and when it may break down with you. You are not safe with science; you are not safe in history”; http://www.en.utexas.edu/amlit/amlitprivate/scans/edbypo.html.
  23. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: New American Library, 1964), 51–56.
  24. See, for example, Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988).
  25. Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near, 4.
  26. John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, lines 250–255 (New York: Penguin, 1998).

    …hail horrors, hail
    Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
    Receive thy new possessor: one who brings
    A mind not to be chang’d by place or time.
    The mind is its own place, and in itself
    Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

  27. W.S. Merwin, Asian Figures (New York: Atheneum, 1973), 44.
  28. “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all,” Ecclesiastes 9:11, King James Version.
  29. Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (New York: Grove Press, 1954), 25. Originally published 1857. An early skeptic in The Confidence-Man berates the passengers on Melville’s steamship for their willingness to believe in the con man’s initial scheme: “You flock of fools, under this captain of fools, on this ship of fools!”

David Bosworth is an associate professor of English at the University of Washington and a widely published essayist. In addition to two prize-winning works of fiction, he is the author of The Demise of Virtue in Virtual America: The Moral Origins of the Great Recession, published last summer; a companion volume will be published in 2016.

Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 17.2 (Summer 2015). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

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