MEDIA: William Safire on Immortality

From: Joseph Sterlynne (
Date: Sat Jan 01 2000 - 12:49:43 MST

Well, what do you know. I'm posting news.

William Safire, in an op-ed column for today's _New York Times_, wonders if we
really should accept death.
    (free registration required.)

I may be experiencing a little less surprise every time I hear something like
this mentioned in the mainstream media. As usual, however, the transhumanist
subject is treated as though no one had ever thought of it before today.

Safire concludes:

    This calendar-induced speculation is not directed at those of us
    today who will probably keel over even before our genetic clocks run
    out. But for those readers of a distant tomorrow who will flip back
    through the millennia to access The New York Times Archive, one will
    say, "You know, this fellow was incredibly prescient." And another will
    respond, with all human skepticism, "Sure, he was right -- but do you
    really want to live forever?"

Oh, yes, Safire's a real visionary. No one ever thought of this before.
Maybe if all these all-too-human decendants read is the _New York Times_ op-ed
column archive.

There's a 1984 essay by Thomas Pynchon ("Is It O.K. To Be a Luddite?"
(available on the Web)). His conclusion:

    If our world survives, the next great challenge to watch out for
    will come---you heard it here first---when the curves of research
    and development in artificial intelligence, molecular biology and
    robotics all converge. Oboy. It will be amazing and unpredictable,
    and even the biggest of brass, let us devoutly hope, are going to be
    caught flat-footed.

"you heard it here first"? I can't tell if this is some sort of sarcasm. Or
if he knows that most people reading the _New York Times_ Book Review (where
this was originally published) would indeed be hearing it there first. Maybe
not. This is Pynchon, who should know better. He spends the previous
paragraphs praising science fiction but he's the first to foresee convergences
of these technologies? I must be missing something. And why does he hope
that we lack foresight?

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