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Clifford Pickover

Also, despite the opinion of people like George Bush, stem cell research will become more common and help us evolve and keep healthy. On one of my RelalityCarnival.Com web pages, I wrote a letter to President Bush, asking him to keep an open mind and foster a liberal attitude with respect to a woman’s option of having an abortion and with respect to embryonic stem cell research, which he has limited. The notion that an embryo or fertilized egg should be considered human is certainly open for debate. As reported in Science magazine, “zygotic personhood” (the idea that a fertilized egg is a person) is a recent concept. For example, before 1869, the Catholic church believed that the embryo was not a person until it was 40 days old. (Aristotle agreed with this 40-day threshold.) Thus, the Church did not believe a human had a soul until day 40. If the early embyro was souless, perhaps early abortion was not murder. Pope Innocent III in 1211 determined that the time of ensoulment was anywhere from three to four months. If we truly believed that a zygote is a person, we would incarcerate women who use the pill because the pill may sometimes prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. We do not jail such women or their physicians; hence, we do not actually believe a zygote is a person.

Because of various birth-control methods, millions of unwanted children have not been produced, and countless suffering has been abolished (including decreases in crime, child abuse, and ecological nightmares). If people can overcome the fallacy of zygotic personhood, he can then ease restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research, which has the potential to help people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes. Although nonembryonic stem cells (such as multipotent adult progenitor cells) may eventually be suitable substitutes for embryonic cells, we should not restrict stem cell research now. Similarly, those who hope to ban cloning because it may entail the discarding of zygotes should rethink their position. 

With women gaining more control over their reproductive fate, society has changed. Reliable birth control became as easy as taking a pill, which, along with education, is one of the greatest factors in helping women achieve equality with men and preventing overpopulation in less-developed parts of the world. Although religious people may debate whether a fertilized egg (zygote) should be accorded the same rights as a child (and therefore destruction of the zygote should lead to imprisonment), no one debates that the pill and other methods of birth control have decreased the suffering of fully formed, multicellular humans. Very few people today believe in gametic personhood (the idea that sperm and eggs are people) or homuncular personhood (the 18th-century idea that the entire human organism–the homunculus–is contained in the spermatozoa); similarly, the notion of zygotic personhood may someday fade from the world scene. And this leads me to the more mind-boggling issues that we will face in the next century: the notion of cybernetic personhood.

In the coming years, we will be able to create sentient creatures in software running on computers. We will be able to simulate ourselves in software. This, of course, will affect laws, politics, and religion. The termination of sentient software may one day be much more egregious than termination of a zygote. Returning our attention to present technology, I hope that future US Presidents consider the appointment of individuals–both to the judiciary and to positions of policy making–who have not taken extreme positions in opposition to abortion or embryonic stem cell research. 

Many colleagues believe that we’ll enhance our senses using genetic engineering. Perhaps someday we will be able to have a whole range of new senses, like echolocation, infrared vision, and other senses we can barely imagine. Some say that increased racial mixing will continue to take place, and that the last blonde will die in Finland, in 400 years. Because more than 50% of Jews in America are marrying people from other religions, the last practicing Jew will die in America in 300 years. According to Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard study predicts that the American Jewish community is likely to number less than 1 million and conceivably as few as 10,000 by the time the United States celebrates its tricentennial in 2076. Jews may only consist of isolated pockets of ultra-Orthodox Hasidim.

Sometimes I mourn the fact that the ultimate fate of the universe involves great cold–or great heat if there’s sufficient gravity to draw all matter together in a single point in a final Big Crunch. It is likely that Homo sapiens will become extinct. However, our civilization and our values may not be doomed. Our heirs, whatever or whomever they may be, may find practical ways for manipulating spacetime as they launch themselves throughout the Galaxy. They will seek their salvation in the stars.

David: What are your thoughts on the possibilities of time travel?   

Clifford: Today, we know that time travel need not be confined to myths, science fiction, Hollywood movies, or even speculation by theoretical physicists. Time travel is possible.  For example, an object traveling at high speeds ages more slowly than a stationary object. This means that if you were to travel into outer space and return, moving close to light-speed, you could travel thousands of years into the Earth’s future. In addition to high-speed travel, researchers have proposed numerous ways in which time machines can be built that do not seem to violate any known laws of physics. These methods allow you to travel to any point in the world’s past or future and are discussed in my book Time: A Traveler’s Guide.

Various theoretical work shows that backwards time travel is possible–given our current level of knowledge. Through history, physicists have found that if a phenomena is not expressly forbidden, it usually occurs. Today, designs for time travel machines are proliferating in top science labs. These include wild concepts such as wormhole time machines, Gott loops that involve cosmic strings, Gott shells, Tipler cylinders, and Kerr Rings. Psychologists are talking about how human consciousness shapes our concept of time. In the next few hundred years, our heirs will explore space and time to degrees we cannot currently fathom. They will create new melodies in the music of time. There are infinite harmonies to be explored.

David: What are you currently working on?  

Clifford:  We can divide my current projects into four major activities that revolve around: 1) Pickover.Com, my web site, which has received over one million visitors, 2) RealityCarnival.Com, which is currently my most popular page, 3) My science writing (currently, I’m working on my 31st book on the topics of numbers, God, brains, and transcendence), and 4) promoting my Neoreality books with titles like: Liquid EarthThe Lobotomy ClubSushi Never Sleeps, andEgg Drop Soup. These novels are currently published by a small publisher, so we must be creative in thinking of ways to let people know of their existence. I have an agent trying to sell another science-fiction novel dealing with technology and the afterlife. Whatever you believe about far-out speculation in my Neo reality science-fiction series, be humble. Our brains, which evolved to help us run from lions on the African savanna, may not be constructed to penetrate the infinite veil of reality. We may need computers, brain augmentation, drugs, and even literature and poetry to help us tear away the veils. For those of you who read the Neoreality series, look for the hidden mechanism, feel the connections, pierce the cosmic shroud, and sail on the shoreless sea of love. 

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