Re: SOC: Immortality and Historiography

Mark Crosby (
Fri, 2 Jan 1998 10:33:26 -0800 (PST)

GBurch1 wrote:
< The sheer DENSITY of the historical record is
growing exponentially, as data collection and mass
storage technologies advance. I have pondered
without much insight the problems such a massive
record will present to future historians. Instead of
the challenge historians of most eras of the human
story have faced in the past, that of a too-small
record requiring deductions and interpolations based
on largely theoretical mental constructs, future
historians will have the contrary problem of
SELECTION from a perhaps too-rich record, requiring
the guidance of actors at the time. >

In another recent thread, I mentioned my research
into the movers and quakers of the 'Nation of
Nantucket' (Nathaniel Philbrick's _Away Off Shore:
Nantucket Island and Its People, 1602-1890_). The
interesting thing about Nantucket for this thread is
that the people were mostly related to each other,
and had been for almost 200 years (a condition that
might also become very applicable to a society of
Uploads, especially if cloning becomes popular).
Each family (or "phyle") had to continue doing
business with the others while knowing about some
unsavory skeletons in their closets. They had, of
course, had their share of feuds and asset/liability
disputes. For example, during the American
Revolutionary War, many Nantucketers were
opportunistic smugglers and not always sympathetic to
the American colonies' desire for independence. This
continued even through the War of 1812.

By the 1830s, the feuds and allegations were
threatening to tear the island's long-standing and
unique social structure apart. In 1835, Joseph C.
Hart wrote a 'novel' called _Mariam Coffin or the
Whale-Fishermen_. Most of the characters were
historical persons, but various fictional licenses
were taken - such as condensing the scope of history,
merging several characters together, etc.
Descendants of many of the historical persons
collaborated with the author to produce a quasi-myth
that romanticized some of the more unsavory elements
while also spreading their ancestor's most virtuous
legacies more evenly among the various families.

The publication of Hart's novel helped to heal many
of the rifts that had built up during some difficult
historical periods. It was also accompanied by the
much more accurate, though still selective, _History
of Nantucket_, co-authored by two elders of the
warring factions. We see a similar sanitization and
dramatization of history in recent movies such as
Disney's "Pocahontas" and Spielberg's "Armistad".

In a future of immortal 'persons', or 'teleological
threads', especially in light of the deluge of
historical data that will be accessible, a 'mythic'
view of history might become even more widespread,
especially for those who aren't scholars of history.
(Though I suspect that endless genealogical and
historical forums will also become an enduring
entertainment industry for a society of immortals.)

Still, in the situation I describe above, the ability
to 'move on' flowed from the passing of older
generations. Perhaps, in an immortality milieu,
eventual, if not constant, self-transformation will
have to substitute for these generational tides.

Mark Crosby

"The honor and glory of the past, as always, are just
symbols - and as such they can be (and some say
should be) bought and sold on the open market". Greg
Bear, SLANT.

Get your free address at