Gennady Stolyarov is afraid to die, and not afraid to say so. He also strongly believes that human beings don't have to die, or at least, will live much, much longer in the future. A writer and transhumanist activist, Stolyarov sees death as something that can be "solved" by technology and science, and one day it will possible to extend life indefinitely. To that end, he's trying to buck the cultural perception that mortality is inevitable, and he’s starting with kids.
Stolyarov published the children’s book Death Is Wrong in November, and Zoltan Istvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager, unearthed the story in a post on Psychology Today. Now Stolyarov is promoting the book with an Indiegogo campaign, trying to crowdfund $5,000 to print and distribute 1,000 copies of the book and get the anti-death word out. (Hat tip to "The mainstream of society remains pervaded by the old death-acceptance arguments," the campaign page explains. To get rid of these "pro-death prejudices," the book gives an overview of the major reasons that life extension is feasible and desirable. It makes the case for immortality—for ages eight and up.
The life-extension movement is one faction of the transhumanism creed—the idea that we can transcend the limitations of being a human being by embracing technological progress. Both radical ideas are certainly gaining traction, thanks in no small part to Google's Calico moonshot project announced last fall, an initiative to study and defeat aging, and eventually even mortality itself.
Google, which also raised eyebrows by hiring renowned futurist and AI expert Ray Kurzweil as its director of engineering, has breathed new life into the H+ movement. So much so in fact that just this week, a handful of transhumanist activists gathered outside the Googleplex with signs saying ‘Immortality now,’ ‘Viva Calico,’ and ‘Google, please, solve Death.’”
"This is merely the beginning," wrote the blog the Proactionary Transhumanist about the “protest.” "This was the first ever street action to occur for Transhumanism in the US, which will soon turn into a stepping stone for future actions. Transhumanism is a growing international social movement, gaining speed as more and more people begin realizing the full potential of scientific and technological advancements toward humanity’s next evolutionary steps."
But Stolyarov's strategy to groom the next generation to grow up thinking they might not have to die is unique—and more than a little bit creepy. The way he sees it, the biggest hurdle to conquering death isn't that it's physically impossible—biotech is working on taking care of that—but rather a pervasive cultural perception that it's not natural, not "right."
The book makes a philosophical case for why death is the enemy. (The front cover shows a boy telling off the grim reaper.) It weaves in anecdotes from the author’s own childhood in Belarus, which seems to have been distinctly fatalist. Stolyarov also bucks the idea that aging inevitably means inching closer to death. He and other life-extension advocates make a point to differentiate between "aging," the passage of time, and "senescence," the biological breakdown of the body.
"One has to essentially achieve biological youthfulness, a reversal of senescence, in order to age in such a way as not to increase one's probability of death over time," he said in a recent interview with Fast Company. Obviously, society has been searching for some kind of fountain of youth for centuries, but now modern developments like cell rejuvenation, mind-controlled robotic limbs, trends like DIY cyborgs and body-hacking, and the realization that sci-fi concepts like uploading your brain to a computer could actually be possible are making it seem less and less like a pipe dream.
For a lot of people, tampering with the human body and brain is a line that shouldn't be crossed, but the transhumanist movement is going strong. Stolyarov will speak about his book at the Transhuman Visions 2.0 conference in California tomorrow, which also happens to be "Future Day." The attendees at the event, some 150 futurists, AI experts, immortalists, techno-optimists, transfigurists, and others will meet to discuss the "deep future."
They'll be tackling topics like nanotech, bioethics, nootropics, artificial intelligence, radical life extension, existential risks, bioethics, cryonics, the singularity, nanotechnology, and robotics, and 450 attendees will get a free dose of the popular CILTEP “smart drug," which is believed to enhance the brain function.
“Ultimately, there is an evolutionary dynamic in there,” Stolyarov told FastCo. “The people who choose not to terminate their own lives … are the ones who are going to determine the course of our culture, our philosophy, everyone else's attitudes.” Wacky as this still all sounds, he may have a point.