Is Death the Ultimate Journey for a Transhumanist? - from Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager” -

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Is Death the Ultimate Journey for a Transhumanist? - from Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager”

Posted: Sun, May 19, 2013 | By: Transhumanism

[Read this fantastic, crucially important, entertaining book! highly recommends the new novel, “The Transhumanist Wager” by Zoltan Istvan. To find out more about it, you can read THIS REVIEW, or this excerpt entitled Transhumanist Revolution Now!, or this excerpt entitled Should Transhumanists Abandon the United States? A third excerpt that Zoltan has generously provided is below. His book is available HERE]

from Chapter 9

Jethro Knights and Zoe Bach were sitting in the shade on rusty foldup chairs outside the Kundara hospital tent. He was wearing ripped jeans and a black T-shirt, clutching his worn journal in his hands. She was wearing light blue scrubs spotted in blood, the result of a successful operation on an Indian soldier who had arrived earlier that morning with life-threatening shrapnel wounds.

Zoe turned to Jethro and asked, “Aren’t you worried you’ll miss something if you don’t die? Something possibly amazing? You—the explorer who sails the world, and reads everything he can, and wants to leave no stone unturned?”

“I doubt there’s anything there, afterward,” answered Jethro. “Otherwise, it would hardly be worth it to call myself a transhumanist.”

“Dying and being a transhumanist have much more in common than you realize,” Zoe answered sharply. “Death is the ultimate arbiter of life, a perfect expression of the soul of the universe. Perhaps death is even the ultimate journey for the transhumanist to undergo. Accepting death and where it leads has nothing to do with not being a transhumanist.”

Jethro sighed. “You know Zoe, I don’t really understand your issue with death. You seem obsessed with it.”

She looked at him, shocked. 

“My issue? Are you being funny? Look in the mirror sometime.”

“But you’re obsessed with what it might do for you.”

“And you’re obsessed with what it might not do for you.”

“Yeah, well that sounds far more reasonable since we’re actually living on the life side of the death issue.”

“Jethro, that’s just what your mind tells you to think. We might be stuck in some vortex where we’ve already died, and are reliving our lives in a nanosecond in some laboratory vat. Or more likely, a parallel universe where our greater minds have recreated all these realities using unknown quantum technology. Or maybe we’re just controlled experiments of super-intelligent aliens from one of the hundred billion galaxies in our universe that contain planets capable of supporting life. Or possibly we’re just dreaming and still asleep in bed. And one morning we’re going to wake up and be late for our job flipping hamburgers, or maybe running a country as its president. Or maybe fighting as a soldier in Kashmir.” 

Zoe stared at him, wondering if she was making any impact. “You’ve said it yourself—if we reach immortality in the future, and we’re a million years older than we think, and a million years more evolved, then why can’t all these things take place? They probably have. And it would be wise then to die, to meet our greater self, our larger destiny. To meet each other again, in more amazing forms. If that’s the case, then why don’t we just speed up the process and kill ourselves? Or at least cryo-preserve ourselves right now? Though I think the suicide option is the most romantic,” she said, her lips forming a deliberate smirk.

“Now you’re really scaring me.”

“And your naivete scares me,” Zoe fired back.

“I’m not saying you’re wrong; however, I’ve told you again and again about the Transhumanist Wager. For me, it’s the only reasonable choice to make and to follow in life. There’s nothing else that makes sense.”

“Ugh. Not that again.”

“Yes, that again. What’s there not to agree with?” asked Jethro. “The Wager is the most logical conclusion to arrive at for any sensible human being: We love life and therefore want to live as long as possible—we desire to be immortal. It’s impossible to know if we’re going to be immortal once we die. To do nothing doesn’t help our odds of attaining immortality, since it seems evident that we’re going to die someday and possibly cease to exist. To attempt something scientifically constructive towards ensuring immortality beforehand is the most logical solution.”

“I’ve told you already—it’s not that I disagree. The logic is fine. It’s that I just don’t like it that way. Do you understand? I just don’t like it. It doesn’t feel like me. And what I like and feel is more important than being logical or sensible about something.”

“Come on. That’s the biggest cop-out ever. That’s what religious people say; that’s what the Christians, the Hindus, and the Muslims say. It’s the same blind argument as their leap-of-faith positions. They want you to dedicate your life and subjugate your reasoning to some mentally ill carpenter that lived two thousand years ago. Or to some blue-skinned deity with four arms. Or to the teachings of some suicide-prone warlord with twelve wives. All because they like it and it feels right to them. Their beliefs are absurd, completely lacking sound judgment.”

“It’s an acceptable position, Jethro, even if they’re fools. It’s their right to think and feel that way. And it’s your right to think and feel otherwise. There’s no right or wrong here.”

“Yet, when they found out you helped cryo-freeze some of your atheist patients at San Aliza, evangelical Jesus freaks threatened to kill you and keyed your car. Is that their right?”

“Philosophically, yes; legally, no. That’s what the government and its various institutions—like the judicial system and law enforcement—exist for: to keep all parties protected.”

“But Zoe, they’re often not doing that. These vacuous institutions, and the individuals or oligarchies that run them, mostly just protect their own interests; specifically, their conservative likes or dislikes. And they usually do so blindly and stupidly, led by irrational feelings and erroneous ideas, especially if they’re religious—which is just about all of them. How people and institutions act based on their likes or dislikes—when it’s stupid and irrational, when it’s biased by heritage and cultural positions, when it’s steered by centuries-old religious tenets, when it’s so obviously anti-progress—should not be tolerated anymore. This is the twenty-first century. Not only is it dangerous in a world with suitcase-sized dirty bombs, anthrax-laced postal letters, and 25,000 armed nuclear missiles pointed in every direction, but it’s also very wasteful of our potential on this planet.”

Zoltan Istvan
Zoltan Istvan

“I understand where you’re coming from, Jethro. But that’s not realistic in our world. Not with so many nations, governments, institutions, cultures, viewpoints, faiths, and especially, individual egos around the globe, all clumsily tangled together and in constant conflict.” 

“The conflict stems from people’s ignorance and the cowardice to overcome that ignorance.” 

“I’m not sure about that. It could simply come from their indifference, a general nonchalance about achieving something better or more significant in their lives. Not everyone can exist as functionally, rationally, and as strongly as you can, dedicating their existence to a logical conclusion like aspiring to immortality because they love life. Not everyone wants the best and highest in themselves, Jethro. Not everyone should.”

“Think about what you’re saying. That’s insane if people don’t want to live for the best and highest in themselves. Yet more importantly, what then? What’s their wager in life? What’s their motive for living? What are most people on Earth even doing other than goddamn consuming, polluting, and overbreeding? Should they really have the right to be stupid, irrational, wasteful, destructive, and backwards? Pulling down the world—my world—with them?”

“Yes, if that’s their destiny,” Zoe replied, almost blasé about it. “If that’s what they like or dislike. If that’s what they feel like doing. And if they have the power and initiative to do so. But I don’t think they will sink our world—your world. At least not too much. Because people like you will do something about it.”

Jethro shook his head, frustrated. She simply refused to make a stand, even when her own safety and existence were concerned.

Zoe pulled her rusty chair across the dirt to be closer to him. She was almost grinning. “Don’t worry, baby. Everything will work out in the universe, one way or the other. You’ll see. There’s a beautiful plan already in the works. A magnificent cosmic wager not yet understood. Whether you acknowledge it or not. Whether you like it or not.”

Jethro turned away from her. How could someone be so irrationally optimistic, he thought? Is she toying with me? With herself? She’s taken her art of positive thinking way too far. Her infallible belief in universal quantum mechanics—with a dash of Zen—was enmeshed in her core psyche. It was indispensable to her; it bridged gaps in reason whenever they were expedient. 

“You’re killing me,” he said.

“Not as much as I will one day.”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Zoe watched the afternoon sun shower rays over Kundara. Jethro let her premonition pass without discussion. It was just like her to throw in a clairvoyant Zen bomb right as the conversation was nearing a tense close.

“You know I partially agree, or at least I technically defer to some of what you’re saying,” he said finally. “I do believe in people’s rights and actions if there’s power behind it. But that bears a perilous promise. Because if so it goes for the world, then, definitely, so it goes for the transhumanists. Eventually, we will win. The smarter and more powerful entity will triumph over others, whether they like it or not.” 

“Sure,” she said, with smugness. “At least for the time being. But my deeper point is that all the wagers, rights, likes, dislikes, and feelings of the world are determined by a plethora of possibilities, any of which might happen, can happen, and probably should happen. And formulas along the way that people devise for guidance and action—like yours—can easily fail. There may be an anomaly or a black swan that no one saw coming, that no calculation foresaw or computed, regardless of how logical or proven everything seemed.” 

He threw up his arms. “You’re making this utterly difficult.”

“Baby, I just don’t think you’re accounting for the universe being spectacular enough. It’s far more elaborate than you give it credit for. I’m in love with transhumanism too—just not in the inflexible, hard-nosed way you are.”

He gave up. There was no point in discussing it any longer. Besides, she was right in her own crazy way. There was no arguing against her. She could prevail in the short term by remote default. She could prevail in the long term by remote default. There were exceptions to nearly all rules. Especially, when not all the rules appeared logical. Some people, like Zoe Bach, managed to live their whole lives under special stars, feeling their way through the universe’s jagged disparity, prospering despite unfavorable odds. 

But living that way wasn’t practical or rational, at least not to Jethro. The landmine click sounded in his head. 

Jethro believed life took place in a statistically relevant and consequential universe. And it was no place for blind optimism when you were sure to die someday. It was no place for allowing stupidity and irrationality when you had one shot to live forever. The battle was on for his existence. That’s where he was. Growling. 


I have problems with Zoltan’s novel, and I find it amusing that this website keeps promoting it as something revolutionary.

Reality check: No more than a few hundred geeks will ever read it, tops, while Dan Brown sells more copies of his new novel “Inferno,” with its transhumanist villain, every few minutes.

It doesn’t follow that this novel lacks value, however. “The Transhumanist Wager” doesn’t have to motivate the culture; it just has to motivate a few transhumanists with stern stuff in their characters to recognize their potential in Jethro Knights, get off their asses and do feasible, effective things to bring us closer to becoming “immortal supermen.” The current transhumanist play-acting, with those foolish BIL/Singularity/Extreme Futurist/2045/H+ conferences, accomplishes nothing, and I suspect Zoltan’s portrayal of the fictional, feckless conferences in his novel reflects similar frustrations. The transhumanists who waste their time on this nonsense might as well go to church instead, for all the difference it makes.

In other words, if you take Zoltan’s philosophy in the novel at face value, how would you operationalize it? You wake up tomorrow morning with the goal of working to become an “omnipotender” from then on, so what would you do that very day? And in the days after? And how would you quantify progress towards that goal? I’d like to read some answers to these questions from people who call themselves “transhumanists.”

By Mark Plus on May 21, 2013 at 10:21am

The trend toward virtual immortality is implied by evolution, and has been the subject of hundreds if not thousands of science fiction novels, movies, TV shows, and god knows how many other media.  I mean the simple fact is that there is a limited time that a planet can exist in the Universe. Eventually its supporting star will super Nova or collapse. As we are a relatively young sentient species (50,000 years?)  in this 17 billion year old universe, it is just dawning on us that our survival is seriously affected by everything we do, and to migrate and survive in a younger, fresher star system we are going to have to be able to live a long, long time, some way to get to those distant stars.  If the sun were the size of an orange the earth would be piece of sand circulating around it 60 feet away, and the nearest star would be in Hawaii!.  Get it?

By Alan Datscots on May 23, 2013 at 4:56pm

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