Extropy logoGet a life – forever!

Toby Howard

This article first appeared in Fortean Times, August 1996.

"NO MYSTERIES are sacrosanct, no limits unquestionable; we reject blind faith and the passive, comfortable thinking that leads to dogma, mysticism and conformity".

So might have said Charles Fort, but these are not his words. They belong, instead, to Max More, who, along with his colleagues Tom Morrow and a fellow with the unlikely -- but legal -- name of FM-2030, are founding members of the Extropy Institute. They want to live forever, and they don't believe in taxes. Meet the Extropians.

Punning on `entropy' (a measure of the disorder of a system), `extropy' is defined by Extropians as `a measure of intelligence, information, energy, vitality, experience, diversity, opportunity and growth'. Sounds familiar? Maybe, but your average Extropian is far removed from your average New Ager. Extropians reject all claims of the paranormal and pseudoscience, and deny any supernatural being, force or destiny. Their `religion', if we may call it that, has two strands: organised optimism, and complete devotion to the power of science. Whereas Fort was deeply suspicious of scientific dogmatism and `experts' of any persuasion, Extropians believe that science, technology and the scientific method offer the only possible hope for our future.

Extropians are unrepentent techno-freaks. Stimulated by the Internet, Virtual Reality, designer drugs, Artificial Intelligence and fuzzy logic, they look forward to a time when we have control over the ageing process; when we can directly stimulate intelligence using `smart' drugs; when nano-technology will create tiny machines the size of cells, which will travel through our body and repair it; and ultimately a time when our minds can be `uploaded' into computer networks, freed from the fragile neurochemical substrate of the brain. The final step is to take humanity into space, to start civilisation again, and to get it right this time.

The `Bible' of the Extropians is the `Extropian Principles', a dynamic document which changes in parallel with developments in Extropian thought. Rather like a piece of computer software, the Extropian Principles has a `version number', currently 2.6. There are five principles: Boundless Expansion, Self-Transformation, Dynamic Optimism, Intelligent Technology amd Spontaneous Order. BEST DO IT SO, say the Extropians, mnemonically.

`Extropianism is a transhumanist philiosophy', Max More states, claiming that we become `transhuman' when `technology allows us to reconstitute ourselves physiologically, genetically and neurologically'. But the transhuman is merely a transition phase. The ultimate goal is to become `posthuman': to progress beyond our unreliable and fickle biology; to become an ex-person.

What Extropians visualize is nothing short of the complete transformation of the human race: they envisage a new, self-organising society, comprising `posthuman' humans with dramatically enhanced physical and mental abilities. The idea isn't particularly novel. Friedrich Nietzche wrote about this over a hundred years ago: `I teach you the Superman. Man is something that should be overcome' (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 1, 1883). Nietzche, tragically, spent his final years insane and paralysed. The Extropians intend never to die, and to remain saner and healthier than the rest of us unenlightened slobs for eternity.

Extropians are bright. They realise that technology isn't yet quite up to the job of backing up our personalities onto computer disks. So, many Extropians are opting for the `freeze your head to save your ass' solution, a sort of `buy now, pay later' philosophy where they surrender their heads to a cryogenic Dewar flask, to be frozen in liquid nitrogen, until such time as technology is advanced enough to either revive their brains or scan the frozen neurological structure to extract the encoded `self'. Quite a gamble.

In addition to their posthumanist manifesto, Extropians have a heavy political agenda. They don't want an imposed government of any kind. They favour a free market in which cooperative corporations trade ethically and establish holistic price structures (remember, most Americans haven't heard of Robert Maxwell). In 1994, at an Extropian party, Romana Machado, one of the more colourful Extropians, turned up in shiny leather dominatrix gear, with her boyfriend on a leash. She was 'the State', her boyfriend `the taxpayer'. Those wacky Extropians! Subtle, they ain't.

But I worry about these VEPs, these Very Extropian Persons, as they refer to themselves. Although their optimism makes a welcome change from much current fatalistic pre-millennium thinking, I can't help but detect a whiff of self-satisfaction and -- dare I say -- selfishness. Their optimism appears to be focussed squarely on themselves. The idea of a `me' generation which might last forever is rather scary. Somehow I can't picture these Extropians manning soup kitchens or distributing clean needles in an inner-city ghetto. I hope they'll prove me wrong.

`Our whole "existence",' said Charles Fort in The Book of the Damned, `is a striving for the positive state'. On this, Fort and the Extropians would agree. Thank goodness the world is big enough for both of them.

Toby Howard contributes to The Skeptic magazine, PO Box 475, Manchester M60 2TH, UK. Email: reviews@skeptic.org.uk.

The Extropians are, of course, electronically contactable. Email exi-info@extropy.org, or visit their web pages at www.c2.org/~arkuat/extr0. Snail mail: 13428 Maxella Avenue #273, Marina Del Ray, CA 90292, USA.