By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photos by Anne Fishbein|
IN THE FUTURE, MARTIN AMIS HAS WRITTEN, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes -- but only inside their own heads.
Listening to the self-proclaimed "transhumanist" and "extropic" artist Natasha Vita-More, I am inclined to say that the future has arrived. But that can't be right. First, I only know about Natasha because she is already, to some extent, famous -- being dubbed "a superhuman object of desire" by the Atlantic Monthly online and featured on a "Great Thinkers" Web site doesn't happen to just anyone. Second, there's a TV crew in her living room. The interviewer, an English woman from the Discovery Channel, is earnestly asking Natasha questions about life extension. Crouched on a small carpeted staircase, I sit and watch, feeling vaguely ashamed of my profession. It's an irony of the age: You show up to cover a story, wondering if it really deserves to be written about, and someone else from the media is already there.
But who knows? Perhaps this is an important story. Southern California has brought us bodybuilders, joggers, Ronald Reagan, Mickey Mouse, the Internet and alfalfa-sprout salads. Now there are transhumans among us.
Natasha with her Transfelines, Quasar and Quark
Natasha Vita-More is a pretty, petite, extremely fit and youthful 50-year-old artist and writer whose philosophy of "transhumanism" appears to consist of a boosterish vision of technology and the future combined with a taste for space exploration, genetic engineering, body sculpting, plastic surgery, a greatly extended life span and, if all else fails, cryonics. The basic idea behind transhumanism is this: Humans are destined to evolve beyond their current earthbound, biology-based condition. Right now we are entering a transhuman phase of history, and transhumanists can be defined as people who understand and welcome this change. People with pacemakers, handicapped athletes with robotic limbs, to take just two examples, are already in some sense transhuman, since they have been technologically "augmented." Posthumans (which we are destined to become) will be almost entirely augmented -- human minds in artificial, eternally upgradable bodies with built-in sex and gender options.
A frank adversary of death ("I have no tolerance for it, no time for it. It just makes me angry. It's the cruelest thing to happen to any human being"), Natasha has managed to look like a woman who, though clearly not 30 or even 40, doesn't look 50, either. Thanks to good bone structure, weightlifting and a brother who is a plastic surgeon, in Natasha's case age seems to have become blurred, confused, to some extent even vanquished. Though not entirely: One has only to look at the long legs of the interviewer's 20-something assistant, languorously stretched out on the other side of the living room, to see that age is not so easily conquered as that. The 50-year-old may not look like a 50-year-old, but the 25-year-old does look 25. To erase the obvious signs of age is not to recapture the bloom of youth.
A journalist who visits a woman with as rosy a vision of the future as Natasha is perhaps bound to focus on the more humdrum -- not to mention mortal -- aspects of her existence. To notice, for instance, the everyday sadness that clings to the somewhat sterile furnishings of the compact Marina del Rey apartment she shares with her 36-year-old husband, fellow transhumanist Max More; the absence of light on the cramped, dark balcony; the sense that, whatever claims are being made for the future, the present is being financed by routine freelance office work.
Still, Natasha remains optimistic. For her, the effort to live a long time is a kind of performance art. She's a life artist, and she plans on having a longer career than most. A former girlfriend of film director Volker Schlöndorff, she was once a stringer for The Hollywood Reporter and appears to have spent much of the 1970s and '80s on the fringes of the film and performance-art communities. In person, she laughs a great deal and has a brittle vivaciousness that is alternately charming and unnerving. On another visit, I ask her exactly how she thinks we'll get from the human to the "posthuman." We're sitting in her "studio," which turns out to be no more than a small split-level office space decorated with posters of her futuristic artwork and arranged around a desktop computer with a model of a human brain resting on top of it.
"How will we get to the posthuman? It sounds strange, it sounds like an oxymoron, but it will probably be a naturalprocess," she says, laughing and showing her pearly teeth. "We're at the early transhuman stage now. Then we'll get to mid-transhuman stage, where we start shedding more and more of our biology, start interfacing more and more with machines, prosthetics, implants, transplants. It's a process, and it's becoming more rapid all the time. As we start extending life span, what seems absurd today will no longer seem absurd 30 years from now, because our values change over time."
Just as the art of the Futurists in the early part of the 20th century was always pushing a Futurist viewpoint, transhumanist or "extropic" art (the neologism "extropy" denotes the opposite of entropy) functions as a series of advertisements for the transhumanist vision of the future. If extropic art is a reliable indicator, the future will be pretty chilly, not to mention cheesy. Anders Sandberg, one of the movement's better-known artists, gives his comix-visionary images names like Air Castle, Dance of the Replicators and Metastep, and the images are about as beguiling as the titles. Perhaps posthumans would like them, but for now they are almost entirely lacking in interest. Without the Internet, one suspects, the extropic art movement would barely exist at all.