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    The Audacious beauty of our future - Natasha Vita-More ,an interview
    Project: Polytopia
    There exists certain kind of people about whom I do not think as people per se, but more as an event. Such is the case with Natasha Vita More, to my mind she is an event unto itself, an elegant forward thinking person that carries enough ambitions and interests, intelligence and visions to cater for a battalion of futurists.
    Though we have never met in person (this interview was conducted via email) I have a great sense of personal acquaintance with Natasha. An acquaintance based on similarities of thought and projections, ideas proximity and embedded realizations.
    I have a sense that here is a person whose straightforwardness may at times mask the truly audacious and adventurous nature of her life event, a life she intends to extend indefinitely.
    We need such humans as Natasha, minds that are at present free from the absolutism of their own views, free in such a manner as to allow themselves the divergent and the emergent, the convergent and the openness to work simultaneously towards the aesthetics of the future.
    The aesthetics of our common cyber emergent future is what I perceive in the work of Natasha and that is why I have asked to write about her and with her, this therefore is part essay, part interview, in short an event, just as Natasha is.



    W: "Natasha, you have been hailed as the first transhumanist female and such cultural icons as Dr. Timothy Leary said that: "You are a catalyst—a cultural agent in the virtual salon of ideas." ( Dr. Timothy Leary, Icon ) and FM-2030 said that :” "Natasha is a visionary whose 21st Century aesthetics crystallized early on." ( FM-2030, author, Are You A Transhuman?)
    Moreover the Atlantic wrote that you are a "A superhuman object of desire combining Madonna, Schwarzenegger and Marcel Duchamp." Atlantic Unbound ), these are only some of the adjectives that have been appended to you, could you give a more informal introduction to your life and the way you are presented in the media?"


    Natasha: “I am fortunate to have had many years of interest in my work by the media/press and I am thankful and appreciative of this. There is something to be said for being in the right place at the right time, which is often equated with being the "first." I have been called the first female transhumanist, both as an artist and a theorist/philosopher and I feel no loss by admitting that I am probably not the first, but the first within a timeframe where the media turned its cameras on and the presses started rolling.

    As a little background, I spent considerable time thinking about, and exploring geographical locations where I could enjoy unique landscapes. Simultaneously I was deeply involved with film, video and performance. Creating a home base in the ski resort Telluride, I was positioned in one of the world's most intriguing artistic communities, which provided enormous freedom. I believe it was my relationship with Telluride and the social status I gained there that intrigued the media. This was an opposite direction from what I had taken for many years as a performance artist, where my works were produced inside volcanoes, in the middle of oceans, on Indian reservations, and so forth, with, frankly, no time or interest in media attention or exposure. In hindsight, it was a pragmatic decision on my part to engage in because suddenly I had something thoroughly important to say to the world, and what made it very intriguing for me was that it was not about me or my work; it was about the human nature and technological change—what we might become and how we might experience the world in the coming decades.

    I try to look beyond the narrow focus, which is often restricted to a predisposed view of what is normal and normalcy for humans. Many people have freedoms that are often taken for granted. One is freedom of choice. It would be less than dignified for me to complain about being misquoted and misunderstood by the press when I have shared equal time in the media as being accurately quoted and highly understood. It is on the latter that I would like to focus.”



    W: In a paper that you presented in 1996 entitled: AGELESS THINKING Creating Positive Transhuman Attitude (link) you write in the introduction: “Ageless means to be free of the characteristics associated with age. Thinking means to bring thought to mind by exercising the power of reason. Ageless thinking means to practice the exercise of thinking about maintaining a youthful state, both physically and mentally. How and what we think about age depends on our individual goals.” Could you elaborate on this aspect of your thought?


    Natasha:” You ask about my term “ageless”. To explain, it fascinates me that chronological age is still used to define a person. Similar to relying on an IQ test to measure one's cognitive skills, relying on chronological age presupposes that all life is neatly defined by a linear calendar. This method of linearity for determining a person’s fitness is outdated and scientifically inaccurate. Aging is based in genetics and is affected by how we live our lives and choices of physiological intervention. A healthy, vital 50 year old can equal an inactive, sun-dried 30 years old. From a metaphorical perspective, being ageless is simply a way to begin anew each day. I don’t know what to say about the paper I wrote (“Ageless Thinking”) other than how we think about our lives and ourselves affects how we live our lives. The content of the essay considers how society predetermines who we are and what we should do based on our age, for the most part, rather than our capabilities. But that paper was written some time ago and in light of accelerating change and the novelty of technologies, which are breaking down generational gaps, it may not have the fervor it had when I wrote it.

    W: About your connection with Timothy Leary

    Natasha: “I enjoyed the short time I had in getting to know him. He had a marvelous sense of humor. I am not truly knowledgeable about his views on mind alteration, other than the use of d-lysergic acid diethylamide to alter perception and what I have read. We did not discuss it. He was someone it was simply fun to be “in the moment.” I did make a short video with him months before he passed away (he was ill and frail I remember he adored his black and white checked jacket and how he wanted to wear it on camera).

    W: About Mind enhancement?

    Natasha:"Human enhancement is the field I am most interested in primarily because it has a history in cybernetics, electronic/technological media arts and biological arts. Secondarily, it is a broad field and can be approached in a transdisciplinary manner—which gives me a lot of freedom to explore all sorts of relationships, which affect and are affected by design.

    Mind enhancement is one aspect of the boarder field of human enhancement. The areas of mind enhancement where I am mostly focused are related to cognitive augmentation, which includes memory, perception and communication. For the mind, I am interested in alternative personas, or multiple selves of person’s existence. I think this is a sub-field of human enhancement that will grow exponentially on its own as humans spend more time in virtual and synthetic landscapes and assume more than one, singular identity (which is just as outdated as basing one’s sense of worth on his/her chronological age :-))."




    W: How did you become a transhumanist? Could you recount your connection to the emergence of the extropy institute and your relations with philosopher Max More?

    Natasha:” I moved to Los Angeles to develop my film and video projects. I produced several events for the ‘Filmex’ International Film Festival and At Sunset on Sunset Strip, and was a stringer writer for the Hollywood Reporter. I met with a number of notables in the areas of global issues such as Buckminster Fuller, new technologies of creative artistic practices such as Francis Ford Coppola, and the future of social changes such as FM Esfandiary (FM-2030). I produced a few short high 8 films about social dogma and after learning about human-computer interfaces and the biotechnologies which could change human physiology and issues concerning human modification; I authored the Transhuman Statement (1982), a manifesto for human futures. I produced a number of video projects, which thematically addressed individual and global issues, and I created the educational cable TV show “Transcentury Update” which focused on transdisciplinary influencers of the future.

    I was making Transhuman works of art, but I did not know of transhumanism, per se. It was not until 1990 that I learned about the transhumanist philosophy. In fact, transhumanism as a philosophical outlook and a social movement is the direct result of Max More, who authored the philosophy, and the efforts of the Extropy Institute. Later, Max was a guest on my TV cable show (“Transcentury Update”). I was delighted to meet such a remarkable intellect who had carefully put together the ideas of transhumanism into a succinct manner and to have later also written the Principles of Extropy. While I came from a different transhumanist background than Max, we shared similar values and my deep regard and enthusiasm for Extropy Institute propelled me to join and later become involved in its magazine and conferences, and eventually lead to my becoming its president for three years prior to its closing. During that time, the board and I put together the first online Transhumanist event called the Vital Progress Summit, which goal was to unravel a protocol for identifying the pros and cons of accelerating change. We decided to counter the well-known Precautionary Principle with our own principle, the Proactionary Principle . Some keynotes included, Max More, Raymond Kurzweil, Marvin Minsky, Rob Freitas, Aubrey de Grey, and myself. My reason for putting on this summit was that we have a responsibility to protect ourselves, our children, and our loved ones in determining what choices to make about the future of our health.

    In short: I did not create or help to create Extropy Institute. I was a Transhuman before I learned of the philosophy of transhumanism. I met Max More in 1992 and later became a member of Extropy Institute because it was the most intelligent, advanced and high-profile international group of people who were thinking about the future and far out ideas such as nanotechnology, human-brain interface, multiple selves, uploading, radical life extension, ethics of emerging technologies, etc.
    Extropy had one of the very first email lists on the Web for discussions about the future and technological change, etc. After I joined Extropy Institute I became a Board member and later I was president for 4 years, during which time I chaired the VP Summit. The institute closed down, but the email list is still very, very active to this day!!”




    W: " I am aware that you have certain very specific ideas concerning the aesthetics and the future of art, how do you understand post humanist art and aesthetics?
    How do you see the changing paradigm of beauty and aesthetics? And if you can, describe the relation between your work, specifically the primo concept of the future human, the changes you advocate and the future of gender."


    Natasha:” My theory of the posthuman and posthumanism is that we currently do not know what a posthuman will be, but we have an idea of how it might come about. Posthumanism is directly related to and intertwined with transhumanism; the latter being a means to become the former. I think that our future will be one of distributed existence in multiple forms and will not necessarily relinquish the physiological body. The posthuman could have one body or many bodies comprised of biological, biosynthetic, or other types of substrates. In short, it is not a neither/or situation.

    Humans are far too inventive to limit ourselves with one future. Currently, posthumanism is too tethered to postmodernism and needs a good shaking up. It needs to separate itself from postmodernism and find its own future. Lastly, my view on transhumanism is that it is pioneering, intelligently formed, and a vital part of preparing for our posthuman future. Transhumanism embraces not only accelerating change, but also the socio-political issues that must be addressed, and the ethical issues, which must be engaged.

    I suppose that posthumanism and transhumanism had better think about where the aesthetics of human is headed. The cyborg imparts several interpretations, such as a self-regulating organism, science fiction’s man-machine terminator, or an ironic political myth.
    Alternatively, the Transhuman as an organism or entity is a technologically enhanced human, which conveys an emotional and intellectual desire to improve the human condition. Unlike the cyborg, the Transhuman is based in philosophy and its socio-political factors include ethics and human rights, although its process, like Manfred Clynes’ cyborg, is to self-regulate and evolve. As such, the Transhuman behavior suggests transitional stages of development (rather than a permanent state like a cyborg), depending on available sciences and technologies, along with the intellection and wherewithal to think about social and political issues, which could support or confront its progress.



    W:” Some other pioneers in the arts and aesthetics have made interesting headways into the PosthumanTranshuman conception of the body and its aesthetic evolution , could you relate your work to the works of Stelarc and Orlan emphasizing the differences and similarities and the way our conceptual understanding of our bodies are changing, especially as relating to beauty- acceptance-rejection..

    Natasha:” You ask how I differ from Orlan and Stelarc. We are all performance artists who use our bodies and identities as our art medium or form. We each embrace and employ various technologies to manipulate our biological bodies. We each display our bodies as exhibition objects or objects d'art. Yet, theoretically we differ, as we differ in our philosophical views. The most obvious difference between my work and Stelarc and Orlan is that my work is focused on human enhancement in regards to being different than what is considered the norm for a human and the process of evolutionary change brought about through enhancement. More specifically is the fact that my work concerns radical life extension, a concept that neither Stelarc nor Orlan, to my knowledge, embrace.

    Recently, I was asked to write a short essay for a French book series titled, 100 000 Ans de Beauté (2009, Gallimard pub- in French) in which I wrote, "Because beauty is a process of self-transformation, uniquely based on our individual values and experience of reality, one relevant question to ask is: What might beauty become in a world of Transhuman and Posthuman futures?” To answer this question, I bring into the discussion the Wired magazine cover story:


    “Wired magazine, at the launch of the 21st Century, declared ""Don't Die, Stay Pretty." , which featured an image of Jeanne Calment and myself as examples of longevity. [Ms. Calment passed away at 122 years, and I hope to live well beyond her reverent age]. The transhumanist view is that radical life extension means that humans can live longer, but not as exclusively biological beings. The human would have to redesign its internal biological system in order to overcome disease, injury, aging and death—a pattern of gradual senescence, which switches off reproduction and turns on the steady decline of physical and mental functions. The human would also have to examine its external environment, its relationship to all other species and the earth, and its use of emerging and converging sciences and technologies. Lastly, the human would have to critically investigate possible non-biological platforms to co-exist within. This is the new, mid-21st Century notion of beauty." (Vita-More)

    Regardless of whether bodies are bio or digital, sensorial pleasures are transferable. The telematic, immersive, and extended experiences of an enhanced existence lean toward a highly developed range of pleasures.

    Umberto Eco asked,” is beauty something ontologically self-subsistent, which gives pleasure when it is apprehended? Or is it rather the case that a thing appears beautiful only when someone apprehends it in such a way as to experience a certain type of pleasure?" Beauty can be one, the other, or both ways—taking it into a state of multiplicity. The idea that historically a person had to be located in one field, one ideology, one body, changes to the proactive prospect that it is not an eitheror scenario, but an array of possibilities.

    Artworks that shape our future continue to engage our enhanced existence through the virtual, telematic, nano-bio-info-cogno media. Artworks continue to engage our sense of style. They may also be invaluable in informing this new sense of self by pulling together all the distributed experiences that fluctuate in diverse spaces and time. The aesthetic of a radically enhanced existence may clarify the nature of human experience and the essential moments in the perceptions of experience.



    My practice-based work, “Primo Posthuman”, suggests mind enhancement, but I am working on the next version, which will address mind enhancement. One issue I am looking at is the symbiotic relationship of artificial general intelligence (AGI) and nano-macro sensing in the brain. I delivered a paper on this in the UK three years ago.
    The paper is online at Ieet.org: Wisdom through Neural Macrosensing

    Human enhancement aesthetics can be viewed as an outgrowth of philosophical aesthetics and the science of human enhancement. Prior to its development, aesthetics within the analytic tradition is mostly concerned with the philosophy of art. Human enhancement aesthetics originates as contingent to this emphasis with a focus on aesthetic appreciation of human futures, including the cyborg, transhuman, posthuman, and whole brain emulation upload.

    Aesthetics of enhanced existence, is basically design engineering which scope includes synthetic and natural environments, suggests bio-nano bodily design with enhanced cognitive processing power. The idea of human equivalent processing power (HEPP), brought about by the person(s) rather than institutionalized authority, may give new contextual meaning to the notion of biopower. Further, the activity of ‘giving style’ to one’s existence (Nietzsche 1974), through an explicit transformation, turns autonomous style into an open and enhanced network of styles. Thus, the Nietzschean self-hood as mortal, changing, and embodied (1989) gives way to the immortal, evolving, and distributed body.



    The basic concepts of aesthetics of enhanced existence could be imagined by introducing new media’s immersive, interactive role in constituting experience (Dewey 1980). This offers an opportunity to partially, if not naively, experience the sentiment of what enhanced existence might be like. In media aesthetics, logical description cannot replace personal participation (Schirmacher 1991). Nonetheless, there still remains a tension between the act of experiencing the world and a need that the experience depicts a world worth living (as a precondition) (Nozick 1990).

    Enhanced existence evokes dramatic narratives, which generate uncertainty. Taking it from one posthumanist perspective, embodiment will give way to its reconfigurement by the machine (Hayles 1999); from another it would upload (Kurzweil 2006). Taking it from a transhumanist perspective, identity will give way to distributed selves. The scenarios, if approached like events, forgo the experiential exploration into aesthetics of enhanced existence. Life simply is not a blatant shift in materiality; it includes sensory and emotional experiences along the way. (Vita-More “Design Aesthetics of the Radically Enhanced Human” 2009- pdf)



    “Primo Posthuman” as a work of art and a philosophical outlook suggests that the following will come about:

    • Experience transfer technology for “shared experience” will map out one person’s thoughts onto synthetic platforms, which will be available for downloading into another person’s mind.
    • Macro-sensing nanorobots will enhance human senses.
    • Human life-like avatars will function in more than one environment at the same time.
    • Death will become an option and reversible.
    • Molecular manufacturing will become as commonplace as plastics, the leading mainstay in society today.
    • 100% biological bodies are a thing of the past.
    • Exo-body AI supercomputing intelligence will function as silicon partners to assist human-level intelligence.
    • An internal network of nano-computers will continually detect cell disease and report status to the brain.
    • The Earth undergoes technological augmentation and enhancement.
    • Global Human Rights takes a new turn in encouraging Morphological Freedom as the right for a person to enhance and the right for a person not to be coerced to enhance.

    Primo Posthuman at KurzweilAi.net



    W:”First I would like to thank Natasha, on behalf of the Polytopia project, for the patient and gracious manner by which she approached this interview, moreover I would like to use this opportunity and congratulate her as recently she was chosen to be on the H+ board.

    Irrespective to her substantial attainments and creative work I think that Natasha offers something larger than the obvious.
    Natasha has a knack for presenting a view that is sorely lacking in many discourses of our futures. To my eyes she represents a combination of meliorism and aesthetics, in a packaged pragmatic and philosophical aesthetic realism. In a manner of speaking I think that the views presented by Vita-More are aligned to the current flow of events in the world of thought, especially as regards the need to re invigorate the distinction between posthumanism and postmodernism. As indeed Natasha mentions above, posthumanism is still tethered to postmodernism, as if it is a philosophy that needs a parent to recognize its own identity. Postmodernism, if it can be called a philosophy at all (and about that there are as many views as there are thinkers) is not in and of itself a view of progress as such, but a critique of the manner by which thought and art, philosophy and society operated before their time.
    Posthumanism and transhumanism on the other hand walk straight headed into the future carrying a progressive agenda of hope in the future of the human. There is a certain very clear assessment of current technologies and their offspring, possible consequences and potential risks are taken into consideration in a manner that though not anthropomorphist exalts the creative aspect of the human in re-inventing its mind, its body, its social system, and possibly its very nature. Having said that, I think that what worldviews like the one Natasha espouses, increase our capability and intelligence in developing new modes of seeing ourselves, as aesthetically self-enhancing beings, as ever evolving minds guided by our innate desire to upgrade the natural.

    I am a great believer in the art of collaboration a collaboration that extends across domains, using technology and science, philosophy and art to express and manifest in as many ways as possible the interdependence and interconnectivity of all life. (And that may very well be one of the possible definitions of posthumanism).
    The beauty arising under such conditions of exploration is the audacious beauty of our future.



    About Natasha:

    Natasha Vita-More is a Ph.D. candidate, University of Plymouth. Her research concerns the transformative human and radical life extension. Her academic lectures on human futures include Coeur des Sciences, Québec; Pecci Museum, Milan; University of Applied Design, Austria; Laboral Centro de Industrial Creatión, Spain; Servico Social do Comercio, Brazil; Cumulus International Association of Universities and Colleges of Art, Design and Media, Estonia Academy of Arts. Her writings have been published in Artifact, 2008 Volume 3, Nanotechnology Perceptions, Vol. 2, Technoetic Arts, Vol. 5.3, Annual Workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology, Death And Anti-Death Vol. 2, Cryonics, Vol. 22.1, and Extropy, Vol. 17. Her bi-monthly column on transhumanism is published in “Nanotechnology Now”.

    Her theoretical and practice-based works are featured at "Evolution Haute Couture: Art and Science in the Post-Biological Age", XXX Moscow International Film Festival and Moscow Museum, National Centre for Contemporary Design, Brooks Memorial Museum, Women In Video, Telluride Film Festival, U.S. Film Festival.

    Natasha is currently an advisor for non-profit organizations including Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Adaptive A.I., and Lifeboat Foundation, and a Fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.


    Endnote:

    This is the first in a series of interviews under the heading of a new project I am embarking upon.
    The project is temporarily entitled :
    Free Radicals- interviews with possibilities

    Free radicals are extraordinary humans that promote the emergent paradigm shift of post humanity.
    There is no claim of objectivity here but an unabashed bias towards a techno-optimistic, aesthetically pleasing future evolution of humanity.
    The humans I have chosen to interview reflect different perspectives of multidimentionality and multiversality as regards the change and transformation of human nature.



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