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Clifford Pickover

David: What do you think happens to human consciousness after death? 

Clifford: If we believe that human consciousness is a product of the living brain, then consciousness evaporates when our brains die. When you fall asleep at night, consciousness seems to disappear, and then comes back upon awakening or when dreaming. If so, perhaps consciousness disappears when an individual dies as it does when a person enters non-dreaming sleep. Someday, we may prevent this death by uploading our minds to machines, so in that sense our consciousness will survive brain death. I have non-religious friends who speculate that consciousness exists as some kind of fundamental property of spacetime, and I know of people who take DMT and who become certain that consciousness survives our bodily deaths, but of course all of this is speculation.

If we believe that consciousness is the results of patterns of neurons in the brain, our thoughts, emotions, and memories could be replicated in moving assemblies of Tinker Toys. The Tinker Toy mind would have to be very big to represent the complexity of our minds, but still it could be done, in the same way people have made sophisticated computers out of Tinker Toys. In principle, our minds could be hypostatized in the patterns of twigs, in the movements of leaves, or in the flocking of birds. 

In any  case, I believe that we all live happy  lives, coded in the  endless digits of π. Recall that the digits of π (in any base) not only go on forever but seem to behave  statistically like a sequence of uniform random numbers. This means that somewhere inside the endless digits of π is a very close representation for all of us- -the atomic coordinates of all our atoms, our genetic code, all our thoughts, all our memories. Given this fact, all of us are alive, and hopefully happy, in π. Pi makes us live forever. We all lead virtual lives in π. We are immortal .

You can read a large group discussion of this topic, which I initiated at my web site http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/pickover/pimatrix.html. At this site, I state the controversial notion: “This means that romance is never dead. Somewhere you are running through fields of wheat, holding hands with someone you love, as the sun sets — all in the digits of pi.” 

My favorite novel dealing with near-death experiences is Connie Willis’s Passage, which describes physicians studying and inducing near-death experiences. In my own novels, the characters often cope with death, uncertainty, and strange realities separated from ours by thin veils. For example, in The Lobotomy Club, scientists and amateurs perform brain surgery on themselves in order to see religious visions and a ‘truer’ reality. The new reality turns into a nightmare filled with military conspiracies, insectile aliens, bioengineering, biblical imagery, and prodromic dreams.  

David: Have you ever had a psychedelic experience, and, if so, how has it influenced your writing and your perspective on life?    

Clifford: I have not had drug-induced psychedelic experiences, although many people who read my Neoreality books seem to think I have had some kind of hallucinations. In some sense, I have to put a damper on my creativity and visions. Some of my publishers even say I write too much and should slow down. Speaking about publishing, I find that selling fiction is much more difficult than selling my nonfiction. If the ability to find a publisher for nonfiction can be compared to walking across the street, finding a publisher for fiction is like walking from New York to California, backwards. Nevertheless, my mind, visions, and ideas continually fly.  As Salvidor Dali said, “I am the drug!”

My Neoreality books deal with beautiful women and their surgically altered brains, fractal sex, Noah’s Ark, hyperspace physics, hallucinating androids, prophetic ants, vitamin B-12, cosmic wormholes, novel plastics, intelligent spiders, and quests for God and the structure of ultimate reality. Is that sufficiently psychedelic for you? My artwork is also quite psychedelic and featured at such places as Erowid.org, alongside art produced by people under the influence of psychedelic drugs. 

 David: Do you think that the human species is in any danger of extinction? Do you think we’ll survive the next hundred years? 

Clifford: The first question to consider is whether the human race could destroy itself even if it wanted to. The easiest Doomsday Machine to construct is the cobalt bomb cluster. Each cobalt bomb is an ordinary atomic bomb encased in a jacket of cobalt. When a cobalt bomb explodes, it spreads a huge amount of radiation. If enough of these bombs were exploded, life on Earth would perish.  In another recipe for Doomsday, large hydrogen bombs are placed at strategic locations on Earth and exploded simultaneously. As a result, the Earth may wobble on its axis. If placed at major fault lines, the bombs could trigger a worldwide series of killer earthquakes. 

It would also be possible to capture one of the larger asteroids and send it crashing to Earth by exploding nuclear bombs at specific locations on the surface of the asteroid. Biological Doomsday Machines include weapons utilizing bacteria, viruses, or various biological toxins.  For example, a few pounds of poison produced by botulis bacteria is sufficient to kill all human life. 
Many believe that the Earth is like an inmate waiting on death row. Even if we do not die by a comet or asteroid impact, we know the Earth’s days are numbered. The Earth’s rotation is slowing down. Far in the future, day lengths will be equivalent to 50 of our present days.  The Moon will hang in the same place in the sky, and the lunar tides will stop.

In five billion years, the fuel in our Sun will be exhausted, and the Sun will begin to die and expand, becoming a red giant. At some point, our oceans will boil away. No one on Earth will be alive to see a red glow filling most of the sky. As Freeman Dyson once said, “No matter how deep we burrow into the Earth… we can only postpone by a few million years our miserable end.” 

Our good friends at the “Voluntary Human Extinction Movement” (www.vhemt.org) believe that we should phasing out the human race by “voluntarily ceasing to breed” to allow the Earth’s biosphere to return to good health. I don’t see this movement making a major impact. Do you? Let’s consider other possible agents that might decimate our population: prions (infectious proteins); nanotechnology gray goo (sub-micron-sized self-replicating robots programmed to make copies of themselves and which get out of control, forming a gray goo that envelopes the Earth); and terrorists production of a biological agent like Ebola (an infectious virus).

On the other hand, I’m a bit more optimistic in the short run. Some researchers have even suggested that humans are at less risk for extinction now than at any other time in history, and that risk decreases proportionately to advances made in technology. For example, aside from AIDS, it seem as if epidemics are less dangerous than in the days when the Europeans wiped out the South American Indians through disease and when Europe suffered from the Black Plague.
As I indicated, in this century, we will probably become immortal, due to our understanding of the biological basis of aging and our merging with computers. Long before the Sun envelopes the Earth, we will have left it.

David: What do you think of the possibility–which is a common theme in many science fiction stories–that our own machines may one day rise up and destroy or dominate us?
   

Clifford: I think it more likely that we will blend with machines. We will become them. Similarly, we may one day be able to download ourselves to software and dispense with our physical bodies.

 
David: Assuming that we do survive, how do you envision the future evolution of the human race?  

Clifford: We’ll become immortal. For the rich, genetic manipulation will cause us to become taller, more intelligent, more attractive, healthier, and stronger. For rich people, ugliness fades from the world. Our preoccupation with sexual pleasure will continue to increase in many segments of the population. One hundred years from now, humans will elect to have orgasms that last for hours, even days. With virtual reality, you’ll be able to share the orgasm with whomever you want, from Paris Hilton to Queen Elizabeth.

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